Earth Day: We Have Propped Up Our Economy to Deal with the Pandemic. We Can Bolster It to Beat Back Climate Change | Opinion

This is not just the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It is the intersection of the climate crisis, the global health crisis, and the economic crisis that are fundamentally altering our ways of life.

It has been shocking for Americans to find out how unprepared we were for the COVID-19 crisis, but the inability to confront and deal with the climate crisis that has been unfolding for years has even worse implications and more dire consequences all around the world. The horrific fires in Australia, persistent drought in the United States, and extreme weather events elsewhere have made this last year the worst and most obvious ever in the unfolding crisis of our planet. That's why this Earth Day, I am proposing that we must respond to our current crisis by addressing the ultimate crisis, our climate.

The Coronavirus has forced us to put the economy in a coma. Small businesses have shut their doors or shifted their business models, tens of millions of people are out-of-work or working from home and construction projects have stalled. Meanwhile, global oil prices have cratered as demand plummets producing a negative value, yet some countries continue to produce at record rates.

Congress has been able to respond with trillions of dollars of emergency spending to help us get through this current period. While not as targeted as I would have liked, it's nonetheless an important step in the right direction and it is only the beginning. There will be a time when the government will have to act to kick start things again with a massive stimulus package. More spending will be required for infrastructure, and rebuilding devastated communities dealing with impacts to housing, transportation and health facilities.

A bright spot that should not be obscured is that this spending should also help us achieve critical environmental goals. It can finance an economy less reliant on oil and more reliant on efficiency and sustainability.

We need a modernization of the electric grid and this stimulus can invest billions of dollars in green energy – spurring deployment of wind and solar energy across the country. These investments should build upon promising new technologies like offshore wind farms and cutting-edge energy storage technology. Not only will these projects be good for the climate, but they'll put hundreds out thousands of people to work.

Another element of this response should be the electrification of our transportation systems. Gasoline engines waste about 80 percent of the energy in a gallon of gasoline as heat, and they force our economy to be subjected to the impacts of unpredictable oil prices. Electric cars are three times more efficient and face no such quandary. They are better for the climate and for our way of life. We should expand incentives for drivers to purchase electric vehicles and pour our resources into charging infrastructure. Congress should also provide investments into electrifying transit systems like buses and trains – not only ensuring that everyone has carbon-free forms of transportation available to them that take cars off the road but expanding equitable commuting options. Upgrading, maintaining, and expanding these systems will actually put more people back to work protecting our climate, our social well-being, and our economy.

The response to the Coronavirus should bring about a revolution in building low-carbon materials to achieve net zero in this critical sector, while investing billions of dollars in green energy that put people to work in good paying jobs. We should expand these opportunities to retrofitting existing buildings and making these upgrades affordable to all Americans. Not only will these investments save people money up-front through reduced utility costs, but they will reduce energy usage and improve air quality. We will create jobs, save people money, and create more livable communities.

We can also restore vitality of American manufacturing by making many of these components in America. If our bid to kick-start the economy includes investments in advanced energy manufacturing, we'll not only put people back to work in jobs in American factories that can't be outsourced.

I understand that, right now, when Americans are told to stay home and shelter in place, this may seem a distant future. Yet, this Earth Day is a unique opportunity to translate this bold vision of a healthy planet and a healthy economy. These investments are essential to overcome the current economic crisis with the ripple effect of money in people's pockets, revitalizing small business, while we invest in projects essential to saving the planet.

The stakes have never been higher, and the opportunity never greater to tie the pieces together. It's critical that the current crises not divert our attention from the ultimate crisis of the climate. Today let's commit ourselves to this fight. We will not have a better opportunity to utilize our resources to deal with a pandemic and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D) represents Oregon's 3rd congressional district

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​