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Coronavirus recovery could be stronger with less carbon pollution

Shared from the 4/23/2020 The Denver Post eEdition By Chris Hansen
Guest Commentary

We are facing a challenge unlike anything we’ve seen in a century. When it’s over, we will face another one: how to recover. The economic and social recovery is likely to be slow. It will take time to adjust to the “new normal.” But I am optimistic that we will not just bounce back, but come back stronger than ever.

Part of coming back stronger is making sure our recovery efforts confront the persistent threat that has loomed over us for decades: climate change.

In the past several months, many have correctly drawn analogies between the new coronavirus and climate change — two seemingly intangible threats that, while serious, do not inspire action until the most serious effects are felt. We have known the dangers of climate change for decades now and how it is linked to the spread of disease, but we are still far behind reaching the goals that will mitigate climate destruction to the extent we desperately need.

This sort of short-term thinking was also evident in our response to the virus. Remember how far off and distant the threat of COVID-19 felt when it was just an issue in Wuhan? How the only people issuing credible warnings about the threat were scientists?

When it comes to climate change, that’s where we currently stand. However, the difference is that we now know just how vulnerable and unprepared we are, which is why we must do everything we can to mitigate the impact of carbon pollution in the rebuilding of our societal structures after COVID-19.

Unfortunately, we’re starting from a more severely weakened position than we were in even a few years ago. During the Trump administration, we have lost some serious ground in the fight against climate change.

This means going forward, we need to prioritize reinstating protections that have been dismantled, including restoring EPA clean car standards and Obama-era methane rules, reconvening disbanded entities like the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment and NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System, and piecing back together intentionally broken policies like the Clean Power Plan. But this would only be the bare minimum.

We are going to have to go above and beyond to get our economic and environmental priorities aligned to avoid irreversible ecological damage. In Colorado, we’ve only reduced our emissions by 1% since 2015, which makes it clear that we must be more aggressive in our long-term planning, and more assertive with our near-term policy proposals.

Climate change is an enormously complex and multi-dimensional problem that will require coordinated action and diversified approaches to solve. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach. And as we plan for the future, we must integrate deep decarbonization into every sector of our economy — transportation, energy, building, agriculture, commerce, public health, and everything in between. Doing so in a way that also addresses the needs of our most marginalized and disaffected communities. This must be a just transition that results from a broad and inclusive stakeholder process and a well-coordinated and comprehensive planning process.

In this respect, Colorado has been leading the way with the passage of both long term climate targets and sector-specific measures to reduce carbon pollution, such as Senate Bill 236 which passed in 2019 and will rapidly eliminate emissions from the power sector while also protecting workers. We now need to build on this progress and move forward with policies that can simultaneously create clean energy jobs while taking significant steps to reduce emissions. This means more electrification in transportation and addressing pollution from commercial and residential buildings.

It will not be easy, but together we can build a carbon-free economy that spurs our recovery, puts Coloradans back to work quickly, and leaves our state more resilient for the next crisis.

Chris Hansen is a Colorado state Senator representing Senate District 31 in parts of Arapahoe and Denver counties.

 

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