Why we fight for climate action, even now

Keith Gaby

When Congress was considering a $50 billion dollar bailout for airline companies as part of the latest COVID-19 relief package, EDF and others asked a simple question: As we deal with this urgent crisis, can we do it without adding more pollution that hurts American families?

The idea was to ask the airlines, who produce a large and growing amount of climate pollution, to limit their emissions as part of the deal for taxpayer money. It was a way we could’ve moved aggressively to fight COVID-19 and help the economy, while asking the companies — once the immediate emergency was over — to do something for the American public in return.

Trump’s befuddled response

The reaction from President Trump and his allies was mocking, dismissive and familiar.

Trump tweeted that we were asking for “things that have nothing to do” with the current crisis like “Open Borders & Green New Deal.” Senate Leader Mitch McConnell echoed Trump’s claims, adding, “Are you kidding me?”

Never mind that we were pushing for a fast and strong government response to COVID-19, and that the proposal had nothing to do with the policies Trump referenced. He and his allies were sending the not-so-subtle signal that anyone concerned about pollution or climate change didn’t care about the pandemic. Meanwhile, very little was asked of the companies in return for their bailout.

But let’s take the president’s complaint at face value: Why are we still talking about climate change in the midst of this national health emergency?

The climate and COVID-19 connection

The short answer is that we shouldn’t solve the COVID-19 crisis in ways that hurt American families. As we invest in our future, we should make sure that we’re building a safer, healthier and cleaner one — and fulfilling our responsibility to our country and our children.

The world has fallen far behind in the effort to reduce climate pollution. We should have started moving aggressively to clean energy decades ago, but faster progress was blocked by some of the same people mocking the need for action today.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown us a fast-forward version of what happens when you ignore the warnings of scientists. This pandemic is spiraling out of control precisely because some leaders, including President Trump, delayed action. Countries like South Korea, that have substantially slowed the spread of the virus, show what happens when we listen to the advice of scientists instead.

It’s no coincidence that Trump has used the same word, “hoax,” to dismiss both climate change and criticism of his administration’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. Trump’s answer when faced with inconvenient truths is to dismiss them as fake news. He’s had to change his rhetoric on COVID-19, because the damage to lives and our economy appeared so quickly. But he could still get away with ignoring climate change, with its slower moving — though longer lasting — impacts.

We must follow the science to protect human health

That’s why we need to keep fighting for climate solutions even as we join others in addressing the COVID-19 crisis. Without millions of climate activists keeping up the pressure, those in power will continue to ignore the science on climate change, endangering us all.

These crises are not the same. The more immediate one — COVID-19 — deserves our attention right now. If you’ve lost your job and health insurance, climate change is not going to be your first concern. It is all of our responsibility to support people facing such devastating circumstances. But it is the job of our government to consider all the threats we face.

So the question shouldn’t be why we’re still working to solve climate change. We should ask why the White House thinks we can afford to ignore it.