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Could Coronavirus Save Us from Climate Change?

Oil supply is booming while demand is crashing. Oil Price Information Service chief Tom Kloza predicts that by early May, gasoline will cost perhaps half of what it did a year ago but we’ll be spending less than a third as much each day on gasoline, from $1.1 billion per day last year to $350 million per day. But gasoline can drop to below a dollar a gallon, and people still won’t have anywhere to drive other than their local drive-through coronavirus testing site or to Costco for one last binge-buy before retreating their bunkers in the woods.

But on the brighter side…

I was listening to The Current Friday and heard the announcer say that the sky over Minneapolis was a remarkable shade of blue, not just because the air was unusually dry but also because traffic and thus auto emissions had dwindled significantly. The shutdown of industry in China, Italy, and Spain has reduced air pollution, which has the bonus effect of reducing other respiratory illnesses and deaths. Travel less, buy less, pollute less.

How long might we enjoy coronavirus-depression-induced bluer skies? Various economists are forecasting a 12% to 24% contraction in the U.S. economy over the next three months. 23 million jobs could be lost. Between 2007 and 2009, during the last recession, U.S. carbon emissions dropped 10%. This economic retraction would be more intense than the last, and while some see signs of a quick industrial restart in China as evidence that our coronavirus freeze will thaw quickly, others see the combination of physical and economic sickness having longer-lasting effects on consumer psychology that will slow the economic recovery.

So on the even brighter side, consider the possibility that coronavirus could buy us an extra year or two to respond to climate change. Our consumption rates had us on a collision course with imminent ecological disaster. A sharp downturn in consumerism and carbon emissions could turn down the heat just long enough for the United States to kill some unnecessary pipelines, elect a new President capable of long-term planning (Biden isn’t perfect, but maybe he could bring Al Gore back as Veep, or at least climate tsar?), rejoin the Paris Agreement, and get back to saving the world.

I don’t wish coronavirus, unemployment, or economic depression on anyone. And I don’t really want to spend two years in rolling lockdowns trying to keep my family from catching a deadly disease. But maybe pandemic and depression will work together to change how we think about our society, our economy, and our planet. Maybe the crushing impacts of one scientific phenomenon that certain powerful people until very recently denied dismissed as a political hoax will give us both the time and the resolve to finally take seriously another scientific phenomenon that those same people have similarly steadfastly denied for purely selfish reasons. Maybe a couple weeks or months or years of rationing groceries and walking past 99-cent gasoline signs with a shrug will help us realize we don’t need to buy and burn nearly as much stuff to lead a good life. Maybe as we recover from this global double-sickness, we’ll recover from our overconsumption and anti-intellectualism and save the planet.

Go outside today. Get some fresh air. Look up at that blue sky and consider what buying less stuff and doing more science can do to keep that sky blue, the air clean, and the planet livable.


  1. grudznick 2020-03-22

    I regret that this morning’s Conservatives with Common Sense meeting will be postponed to later today in the yard of Motion Unlimited and there will be no breakfast served. We expect a larger than usual crowd. Bring your own lawn chair. And wash your hands and don’t wear your filthy clothes.

  2. John 2020-03-22

    Israel reported this morning an unemployment rate of over 16%. Expect when the US announces US unemployment on Thursday — that from 2-6 million may be unemployed. The range depends on the predictive model.

    Allegedly the Saudi oil-pumpathon is to punish the higher cost producer, Russia, whom refused to limit production in order to prop up the price. The Saudi’s cost to pump a barrel is $3. Saudi’s need $80 a barrel to balance their budget. The real fallout of the pumpathon may well destroy the US high cost shale oil industry and its millions of primary, secondary, and government jobs. Saudi’s are gaming that their flood-the-market gaming may last 12-24 months.

  3. Jason 2020-03-22

    This moment gives us an opportunity to shift to a Green Economy. Instead of bailing out dirty energy corporations we should invest in the transition to Green Energy. The Green New Deal can be used as a guide to help us construct this new energy system.
    This moment also gives the corporate capitalist class an opportunity to raid the public treasure for profit in the form of bailouts. At this moment the corporate lobbyists are crafting such a bailout plan.
    We need FDR Democrats right now. We need leaders not followers. Katie Porter, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, AOC, Ro Khanna give me hope. Pelosi, Schumer and Biden need to listen to this group of progressive Democrats.
    No corporate bailouts. No public money to dirty energy firms. Use that money to move us toward a sustainable furure.

  4. o 2020-03-22

    Fundamental questions about how we interact with our environment and each other will be raised and answered on the other side of this quarantine period. Some changes that we are making in lifestyles might be ones we should choose to continue – like some that affect the environmental impact listed here. Hopefully issues like child care, unemployment, sick leave, health care access (we have seen non-NBA rationing of resources), health care capacity (all of a sudden, the “greatest health care system in the world” doesn’t seem so great), local industry, even city planning and REAL neighborhoods are all being viewed through a different lens.

    I have long believed that US industry needs to become LESS efficient – focus on putting people to work at good wages rather than lowering prices (through employment displacement) OR shift toward a universal guaranteed income and let the prices fall (and the taxes rise).

  5. o 2020-03-22

    Jason, ON POINT!!

  6. jerry 2020-03-22

    Spot on Jason. No Bailouts, they’re a waste of money and resources.

  7. jerry 2020-03-22

    Cut military spending in half, covid-19 has proven beyond doubt the absurdity of a bloated and unnecessary defense black hole.

  8. mike from iowa 2020-03-22

    Airlines have threatened employment Armageddon if Uncle Sam does not give them 29 billion buck bailout.

  9. jerry 2020-03-22

    Nationalize the airlines, problem solved. Workers would then be federal employees with an actual pension rather than the crooked piggy bank for bankers called a 401k.

  10. jerry 2020-03-22

    The insurance companies will soon be next in line for a bailout. More reasons to nationalize these critical industries. Health insurance premiums would be like $15,000.00 a month for a $15,000.00 deductible and $500.00 office visit in order to recoup the losses that will most assuredly occur.

  11. jerry 2020-03-22

    Catholic drive thru confessional. Washington Post 03.22.20

    “For the Rev. Scott Holmer at St. Edward the Confessor Catholic church in Bowie, along with a handful of other Catholic priests across the country, the answer was drive-through confession. He set up cones in the church parking lot and sat down in a chair. Each person wanting to confess stayed in their car, with Holmer a CDC-recommended six feet outside their window.”

    A drive thru confessional, amazing.

  12. John 2020-03-22

    The COVID-19 crisis exposes 2 huge societal flaws. 1. Tying child nutrition to school lunches. (Well intended by Senators Dole & McGovern — it’s a failed policy. The right policy is a combination of an anti-poverty floor of a guaranteed basic income for adults AND living wage jobs. Do not increase basic income for kids as that perversely incentivizes low thinkers to pump out kids.)
    2. Tying healthcare to employment. ‘Promoting the general welfare’ is all the edict for nationalizing healthcare. Even huge capitalist Warren Buffet advocates the economic benefit of nationalizing healthcare, of removing it from being tied to employment.
    The US needs to fix these social flaws as it comes out of the COVID-19 crisis.

    According to an Israeli doctor’s report from Northern Italy, at 1 hospital all patients older than 60 are denied respirators.

  13. Donald Pay 2020-03-22

    The air quality in Beijing improved, according to my daughter.

    My understanding of what they want to do with “the bailout” is to keep employees on the payroll. The intent is to make interest free loans, partly or wholly forgiveable, as a pass through: government to company to employee. The reason for that is to not have companies ax employees, not have employees miss a pay check, not have those employees go through unemployment, and then not to have lots of costs and delays associated with rehiring. Of course, how long it will last and how that is structured is critical, as are the restrictions on the use of that money and the requirement for collateral or equity. I’m not sue where they are at with this, but the latest report that I saw was there is still disagreement over the Senate version, so Pelosi is hinting she might propose a House version. And things could be worked out over a longer time frame.

    My view is they should have not look at this as a one off bill. There may be need pass something fast to prevent this from affecting the financial system. They should agree on a general framework and announce what they agree on. They should also be transparent about what the sticking points are, and let the American people weigh in. I think that would bend the curve toward the working folks side, as opposed to the corporate honcho side.

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-03-22

    The Green New Deal 2.0: reëstablish the Civilian Conservation Corps and put displaced restaurant, bar, hotel, and tourism workers to work planting trees.

    Put all the college athletes who now have nothing to do into green vo-tech training to build windmills, electric cars, solar panels, straw bale houses, and whatever other clean-energy innovations the economy needs.

    Include a public health component: free training and immediate placement for any displaced worker willing to learn how to build medical equipment and provide emergency medical tech assistance at clinics.

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-03-22

    Climate change happened too slowly to trigger a paradigm shift; apparently it takes a threat of immediate death and/or economic collapse to shift the American capitalist worldview. We cannot allow society to slide back into the status quo ante that thought the Presidency was sufficiently trivial to allow the election of a TV-show caricature to the office. We have to take things seriously after this.

  16. mike from iowa 2020-03-22

    Last updated: March 22, 2020, 19:23 GMT
    United States
    Coronavirus Cases:
    Currently Infected Patients
    37,384 (98%)
    in Mild Condition

    795 (2%)
    Serious or Critical

  17. John 2020-03-22

    What, if anything, do Beadle County healthcare providers need to treat those afflicted with COVID-19? Food? Shoppers? Childcare? Medical equipment – which in numbers? Other?

  18. grudznick 2020-03-22

    Beadle county needs to have a virtual wall put around it by the national guard, and the stores in Rapid need to figure out better packaging for to-go food.

  19. Debbo 2020-03-22

    John, 1 point. Do you have anything to support this claim: “(Do not increase basic income for kids as that perversely incentivizes low thinkers to pump out kids.)”

    From what I have read it appears that Pelosi and Schumer are stopping the GOP from doling out huge chunks of cash to Big Bidness. Sen. Warren has been very influential in designing this bailout to serve citizens who are not already wealthy.

    It would be a good idea to contact your legislators, regardless of how brain dead they may be, and tell them what you want and do not want to see in this plan.

  20. bearcreekbat 2020-03-23

    Debbo, John repeats a myth that has been debunked for at least 25 years. Here are the actual facts found in study after study:

    Repeated studies show no correlation between benefit levels and women’s choice to have children. (See, for example, Urban Institute Policy and Research Report, Fall/93.) States providing relatively higher benefits do not show higher birth rates among recipients.

    In any case, welfare allowances are far too low to serve as any kind of “incentive”: A mother on welfare can expect about $90 in additional AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) benefits if she has another child.

    Furthermore, the real value of AFDC benefits, which do not rise with inflation, has fallen 37 percent during the last two decades (The Nation, 12/12/94). Birth rates among poor women have not dropped correspondingly.

    The average family receiving AFDC has 1.9 children — about the same as the national average.

    These studies were finished before the serious reduction in welfare implemented by 1996 Wefare Reform Bill that replaced AFDC with today’s TANF program. The claim that an “increase basic income for kids as that perversely incentivizes low thinkers to pump out kids” is a false narrative likely developed by people ashamed of their actual anti-welfare motive, namely, personal greed coupled with an offensive antipathy toward needy others, particularly minorities, with the hope that this fiction will be believed and spread by low thinkers.

    This false narrative was one excuse for the 1990’s Republican’s Contract with America, which has continued into the twenty first century, openly emphasizing the racist element by adopting so-called “family caps.” Yet more studies demonstrated the that this claim was a flat out fabrication.

    . . . in the 16 states where caps exist—including California, Mississippi, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and Arizona—the most affected women look like Ortiz, women of color who have been penalized based on a racist stereotype about their worthiness as individuals and fitness as mothers. Indeed, of all of our country’s discriminatory policies, family caps are one of the few that actualizes this prejudice into policy, and in the process, it echoes some the ugliest chapters of our past.
    . . .

    Of course, the policy was based on a myth, the idea of the sexually irresponsible “welfare queen.” In 1990, just 10 percent of households that received Aid to Families with Dependent Children—the precursor to today’s federal welfare program—had three or more children (most had two or fewer). Those figures were down from the 1960s, when 32.5 percent of such families had four or more children. In 2013, the Bureau for Labor Statistics noted that “average family size was the same, whether or not a family received assistance.” Public perception notwithstanding, there’s no difference in family size between those that collect welfare and that those that don’t.

    Moreover, the notion of family caps presupposes that welfare recipients are somehow gaming their reproductive choices in order to gain the maximum return. It’s an absurd idea, as few people—of any income level—have the necessary time or sophistication to make that kind of calculation, which hinges on a web of federal and state regulations. And it’s even harder to believe that anyone who did would go through the challenge of pregnancy and childbirth for $40 or $50 more a month.

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