By Tom Wheeler
Economists warn that we are at the beginning of a prolonged recession. Congress has already appropriated vast sums to stave off a more pronounced financial collapse, and many predict additional rounds of economic stimulus spending aimed to jumpstart the economy. This money should go towards building a more equitable future. If the New Deal was built in response to the Great Depression, now is our time for the Green New Deal to move us towards a more just and verdant future.
We face numerous converging crises: COVID-19 and its effects on public health and the economy, global climate change, and growing social and economic inequality. These crises are interrelated. Climate change affects the emergence of novel diseases and disproportionately affects people of color and poor communities around the planet. COVID-19 has hit communities of color hardest in the United States due to underlying inequality in society (such as higher air pollution in communities of color and the inequitable distribution of healthcare resources). And so on. Because these crises are interrelated, taking action on one can either exacerbate or moderate the effects of another. By funding better public housing, we can create healthier communities more resilient to disease, reduce energy use by creating well-built housing, and put people back to work in well-paying jobs. Conversely, misapplication can mean more greenhouse gas emissions and further inequality.
On the Northcoast, we have a number of “shovel-ready” projects that, if funded, can immediately begin to build a fairer, stronger economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Set the table for offshore wind: The Northcoast is uniquely positioned to develop floating offshore wind — our wind resources are par none and we have the essential on-land requirements to make and service floating turbines. But floating offshore wind is still off on the horizon, as construction and operation is not expected for almost another decade. To make floating offshore wind a reality, we can start taking steps so that the Northcoast becomes the hub of this emerging industry. Increasing investment in sustainable port infrastructure and advance mitigation for impacts will increase the odds that we become a future clean energy hub.
Build the “restoration economy”: One of the lessons from the 2009 stimulus is that money spent on restoration is some of the most effective in promoting job creation — for every dollar invested, we are anticipated to see $2.40 in returns. Ecosystem restoration will help to maintain our fisheries, improve water quality, and sequester more carbon. If allotted funding through the next stimulus packages, watershed restoration groups can increase the size and scope of their work, which is often only limited by funding and not by imagination. Forest restoration, such as the Redwoods Rising collaborative, can increase in-forest storage and improve wildlife habitat by encouraging the development of older forests. Restoring bay salt marshes will improve our ability to withstand sea level rise and increase “blue carbon” sequestration and storage.
Promote healthy movement: Transportation is a major target for reductions in greenhouse emissions. This is only going to be accomplished by reducing vehicles miles traveled and electrifying those trips still taken. Towards reducing the energy expended by movement, Humboldt has many miles of shovel-ready pedestrian trails ready to be laid, including the last section of the Humboldt Bay Trail. Electrification offers a lot of immediate opportunities too, from electric school buses (so that kids don’t have to breathe toxic diesel fumes) to clean, efficient electric public transit buses. Increasing electric transit options and adding transit lines not only takes fossil-fuel burning vehicles off the road, but it increases the mobility of lower-income community members and can give them access to better economic opportunities.
Building better buildings: Healthy communities begin at home. By expanding existing weatherization programs, we can make homes safer and more comfortable and create schools that are safe from toxic materials and comfortable to learn in. By improving building, we are putting people to work now and creating long-term carbon savings by improving their efficiency.
It is imperative that we move forward to create the world where we and our children and grandchildren can thrive. These are just some of the potential opportunities open to us at this moment. Let’s not waste it.