My son wasn’t yet born when 9/11 happened. Those of us alive today in affluent countries are lucky that our kids haven’t experienced many of those world-changing crises. But he’s living through COVID-19 now and I wonder how the social isolation and the daily body count on the news are affecting him.
In some ways we can see this crisis as a warmup to more on the way if we don’t change course on climate change. Suddenly all those warnings from scientists feel a bit more real. Bad stuff really can happen to us and our kids, with nowhere to escape to since we share a common biology and a common planet.
The immediacy of the health crisis makes it hard to think much beyond the next few weeks, all of us transfixed by evidence of whether we are “bending the curve.” This is true too for decision-makers, rightly focused for now on public health and meeting people’s basic needs during this economic shut down.
But we’re also heading into a recession the likes of which few of us in Canada have ever lived through, probably much worse than the crash of 2008. Massive government intervention in the economy will be the only way to dig us out. The shape of that intervention will determine whether we swap one crisis for many more, or whether we give our kids a secure future.
Some see a silver lining that the economic slowdown has cleared the air and water in many places and will likely lead to a drop in greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet, those results are both temporary and tied to real human hardship. Emissions came back after the 2008 crash and will do so again if people think the only way to get beyond their hardship is to go back to polluting again.
This is a key point: there is no political bandwidth right now for any climate action that isn’t also a core part of the recovery we need, and this may prove true for the duration of the next decade that scientists tell us is critical to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. A green recovery is our best shot at solving both crises.
What could a green recovery look like in Canada? It would invest in projects, programs and infrastructure that both create jobs and reduce emissions, along with a transition plan to get us there.
For those who think it’s too early to have this debate, it’s already started. The oil industry and its political supporters are already lobbying hard for more public money — and remember that even before COVID-19 we gave them more than $3.3 billion in annual subsidies on top of the billions of taxpayer money going into new pipelines, all of which has been keeping Canada on the wrong climate track.
While we need to support workers of all kinds through transition, using public money to bolster industries that have an increasingly limited role in a low carbon world is a betrayal of our kids who will be the ones dealing with the increased fires, floods, droughts and increasing global insecurity resulting from climate chaos.
Instead, a massive retrofit program would result in both jobs and more efficient and comfortable homes and buildings. A major boost to public transit investments would employ engineers and construction workers and make moving around our towns and cities faster and cleaner.
Electrifying our vehicle fleet could create automotive jobs with the right industrial investments on the manufacturing side, something we should have done in the 2009 auto bailout. Electric buses and trucks are already being made by companies like Lion in Quebec; work in such places could be expanded.
Alberta and Saskatchewan — home to most oil and gas jobs — also happen to have some of the best solar energy potential in Canada. We could fund a program to place solar arrays on every home and building in the southern part of those provinces, installed by local electricians. That would also help those provinces transition from coal-fired electricity.
And Canada has already pledged to plant two billion trees, which would both help store carbon and potentially improve habitats. A public works program putting people to work planting trees and doing other natural restoration could put thousands of Canadians to work.
Those are just examples and by no means an exhaustive list. The best green recovery plan would be developed in conjunction with First Nations, workers and other governments across the country.
At the same time, this is something we will need to fight for. The vested interests of the pre COVID-19 system that was leading us to climate chaos will not simply go away. Absent countervailing public pressure, our politicians will be lobbied towards trying to recreate the world that was, rather than the world as we need it to be.
That’s why we’re helping parents push for a #GreenRecovery for their kids. Just because we’re social distancing doesn’t mean we can’t participate actively in our democracy — at a safe distance. I hope you’ll join us.