Sorry, Environmentalists. There's Nothing Good About COVID-19
Environmentalists think they've found an upside to COVID-19. Although the outbreak has claimed over 150,000 American lives and upended the economy, it has also caused pollution to plummet in cities across the country.
Climate activists have pointed to this development as proof that our country can and should quickly bring carbon emissions to a halt by eliminating cars and restructuring the economy.
This argument is absurd and offensive.
The COVID-19 outbreak has only reduced emissions because it has forced businesses to close and kept Americans locked up in their homes. This is a crisis, not a model for a sustainable solution to climate change.
Climate activists have no problem exploiting a deadly disease to advance their agendas. COVID-19 can cause permanent lung damage, septic shock, and organ failure, before sentencing patients to a lonely death in quarantine. Still, Hugo Observatory president François Gemenne, said "the death toll of the coronavirus at the end of the day might be positive" if it saves people from pollution.
Such statements are ignorant, cruel and disgusting. Our nation's response to COVID-19 has already cost more than 40 million people their jobs. Food banks across the country are overwhelmed, and calls to suicide hotlines are up. COVID-19, and the economic devastation it has caused, will almost certainly claim far more lives than the decrease in pollution might save.
Regardless, shutting down the economy to save the environment won't work over the long term. Americans have only complied with stay-at-home orders to help defeat the virus. They've agreed to make sacrifices now so that life can return to normal once we have effective treatments for COVID-19.
There's no vaccine to end climate change. People wouldn't comply with endless travel restrictions and business closures, no matter the purpose. Where defeating COVID-19 required fast, drastic action, fighting climate change requires a more gradual approach.
Fortunately, we already have a solution at hand. Advancements in hydraulic "fracking" and other technologies have enabled the United States to harness lots of natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide per unit of energy than other fossil fuels. This abundance of natural gas has helped wean the country off coal, which produces the most carbon dioxide of any fossil fuel. In 2019, coal-fired power generation fell by 18 percent.
Energy companies have also taken steps to reduce carbon emissions. Many firms have invested in carbon capture and storage technology that reduces the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. Recently, an alliance of 75 energy companies formed a partnership to identify and control harmful methane leaks. These measures help reduce greenhouse gas emissions without halting economic activity.
Combined with a shift to natural gas, these industry efforts have helped reduce emissions. In January, the Energy Information Agency forecast that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from energy use would decline 2 percent in 2020 and another 1.5 percent in 2021. Between 2012 and 2021, energy emissions will have declined seven out of 10 years.
We don't need a permanent quarantine to save the environment. To reduce emissions once COVID-19 subsides, we simply need to return to normal.
Drew Johnson is a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.