The COVID-19 pandemic offers a stark warning regarding the cascade of crises that the climate emergency will bring. We will face these crises within our respective nations, but we are all in this together globally.
The pandemic has exposed that we are vulnerable and unprepared, and it has made plain the gross injustice of the distribution of harms and burdens, within the U.S. and across the world, with the most vulnerable people bearing outsized burdens and suffering the worst harms. At the same time, it has shown that no one is immune from mass harm on a global scale.
The Vision for Equitable Climate Action includes numerous provisions relevant to this crisis:
Justice. The VECA is grounded in a commitment to remedying injustice, repairing historic inequities ,and ensuring that the most vulnerable share fully in the benefits of the climate transition while being shielded from harm rather than bearing burdens. The platform states that communities that have suffered the worst adverse impacts from the extractive economy — particularly environmental justice communities, census tracts with high levels of poverty or unemployment, and indigenous communities — should be prioritized for the benefits of the clean-economy transition. The transition should be used as an opportunity to build household and community wealth among these populations, which historically have had wealth and resources extracted from them.
Health. Addressing the climate crisis through the policy recommendations provided in VECA will significantly improve public health. Among many other benefits, we will all but eliminate air pollution from burning fossil fuels, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. and globally and a significant aggravator of the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities subject to higher levels of air pollution face significantly higher rates of hospitalization and mortality from COVID-19 — a stark example of the harsh inequity of our extractive, fossil-fuel-based economy.
In addition, lessening our reliance on industrial food production and unsustainable agricultural and livestock practices will reduce zoonotic disease, conserve natural resources, and reduce noncommunicable disease risks, ensuring less exposure to pandemics like COVID-19 and mitigating their potential harms.
Economic Recovery. The economic transformation that runs through the VECA’s policy prescriptions offers a pathway for recovery from the COVID-19 economic crisis. The platform includes the following measures, among others, that are labor-intensive and collectively would provide millions of jobs while renewing American infrastructure, public facilities, and public space:
- Building enough renewable electricity generation, transmission, and storage to power the entire national economy
- Replacing all vehicles that run on internal combustion with electric vehicles
- Upgrading and building new rail
- Dramatically expanding public transit
- Retrofitting all buildings
- Converting all heating systems and other appliances to run on electricity
- Protecting, restoring, and enhancing natural ecosystems
Many of these actions can be undertaken in whole or part immediately, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating jobs and stimulating the economy. Any of the work that can be done safely should move forward without delay.
Financing Critical Public Needs. The VECA also rejects the claim that critical public needs must be fully funded, contemporaneously, by tax increases or cuts to other government programs or services. As the COVID-19 pandemic shows, when the U.S. faces a crisis, we must respond—and we do. We do not ask where the money will come from.
We must support each other through the present health crisis and ensure that no one is left behind. Then we must rebuild a just and sustainable economy, both ending the pandemic-induced economic downturn and meeting the challenge of the climate emergency.
Throughout the VECA is an implicit assumption of strong, competent government, driven and steered by the hands of the people. The climate emergency is the worst crisis in human history. We must respond with all due speed and scale—together.