You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. Although one of the more cynical phrases ever uttered by a politician, the pilfered phrase[i] of the former mayor of Chicago and Obama adviser are also among the most honest.
The COVID-19 contagion is proving no exception to the Emanuel rubric. Over the past several months, Republicans and Democrats have attempted to use the pandemic to political advantage—not just as it applies to healthcare but as it pertains to other issues of the day. Within their statements and acts can be found messages—some subtle, some not—of their intentions towards climate change in the post-pandemic period.
In what can only be called “remarkable,” a deeply divided Congress and antagonistic White House were able to come to agreements on four pandemic-related pieces of legislation—culminating with the CARES Act. A repeat of such cordial cooperation is unlikely going forward. With the national election less than six months away, the gloves and masks are coming off as old positions are being defended and contentious new ones staked.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The thousand words of the lead image have to do with how differently Democrats and Republicans in Congress view the relationship of the current coronavirus contagion and the other great existential threat to the nation—climate change. Their opposing views are again coming into focus as debates over the next rounds of stimulus legislation break out on Capitol Hill. Their differences are as stark as that between someone sees a rabbit instead of a duck in the drawing.
Congressional Republicans, like Senate Majority Leader McConnell, and leading conservative groups like the Heartland Institute gesture to today's empty streets, idled factories, and historically high unemployment rates, and ask Is the Coronavirus Lockdown the Future Environmentalists Want? They look up to the clearest skies in a generation—temporarily bereft of visible pollution and airplanes—and say the price is just too high!
The view across the aisle is predictably different. Congressional Democrats and climate activists point to the administration's haphazard response to the COVID-19 contagion and the blocks-long lines at community food banks and say--this is what happens when the nation's leaders ignore the scientists and fail to plan for existential threats! They look up at the clearest skies in a generation and advocate investing in low-carbon technologies and community resilience and adaptation measures as both the way to get America working again and rise to meet the threat of global warming.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.