COVID-19 is a wake-up call: It’s high time for action on our climate crisis | Opinion

September 1, 2020 6:30 am

By Chrissy Houlahan and Flora Cardoni

We are facing multiple crises at once. As we grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and a national reckoning with racial injustice, we cannot forget that the climate crisis is reaching a boiling point.

We do not have the luxury of solving one crisis at a time — and when it comes to climate change, our window of opportunity for meaningful action that can prevent catastrophic change is urgent. If we’ve learned anything from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that we must be proactive in addressing global crises. After decades of science denial and delay, we need climate action now.

Throughout the pandemic, climate change has been the elephant in the room. But environmental degradation is already adding a layer to the compounding impacts of the coronavirus crisis.

For example, a Harvard study found that areas with higher levels of air pollution are experiencing higher death rates from COVID-19. This shouldn’t be surprising — decades of research have documented that air pollution increases the danger of respiratory and cardiovascular disease and also increases our susceptibility to infections.

Too often, the communities bearing the brunt of this exposure to pollution are low-income and communities of color. And climate change is making our air quality even worse.

Climate change-fueled threats are also interacting with and exacerbating the crises in other ways. These threats, such as more frequent and intense unhealthy air days, extreme heat waves, flash-flooding, and increasingly severe storms will only intensify without bold action.

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This brewing storm is staring us in the face right now in California, where climate change is causing hotter temperatures and more frequent and intense droughts. This is helping to fuel the wildfires that are blazing across the state, displacing thousands of people from their homes in the midst of a pandemic where home is the safest place to be.

This compounding danger makes it imperative that we take comprehensive and immediate steps to address global warming.

The science is clear: if we delay action any longer, we will be hard-pressed to halt the worst effects of climate change. And furthermore, many of these consequences will continue to hit low-income communities and communities of color the hardest.

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Despite this, many of our leaders are making policy decisions that are taking us further away from a solution. On Aug. 13, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a new rule that rolls back important regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry, further putting our health and climate at risk.

Thankfully, we have solutions, and momentum is building. Just last month, the Congressional Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a comprehensive report detailing programs and policies to tackle climate change at the federal level. It is a bold blueprint for how we can transform our transportation system, preserve natural resources and public lands, increase clean energy, and improve clean water infrastructure.

We have the technology we need to transition our society to 100 percent clean energy– and we need action at every level of government to do so. That’s why we are proud to be supporting legislation that will implement solutions at the federal level, including the 100 Percent Clean Economy Act in Congress.

We are at a crossroads. We can use this moment to chart a path to a more sustainable future for Pennsylvania, where everyone has cleaner water to drink, cleaner air to breathe, and a livable climate to call home, or we can continue to put both lives and our planet in jeopardy.

Let’s put people’s health and safety first, and get ahead of the next crisis while responding to this one.

U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a Democrat, represents Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District. Flora Cardoni is the field director for the environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment.

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