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Climate One: COVID-19 and Climate: Economic Impacts

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The COVID-19 recession has happened faster and hit deeper than most people could have imagined. Perhaps not surprisingly, the people most at risk in a shuttered economy are often the same people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

“This crisis has served to expose some of the vulnerabilities of the economy,” says Kathleen Day, Finance Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, “and one of those is that we have such a large number of people living from check to check.”

Day is author of the recent book, Broken Bargain: Banks, Bailouts, and the Struggle to Tame Wall Street and a student of economic crises in the 20th and 21st centuries. While every crisis is unique in its causes and effects, she believes that the current one may help recognize the links here between disease, climate, and the economy.

“I’m hoping there’s going to be some more thought about how to bolster the economy long-term and not just look for quick fixes from cheap energy,” says Day.

One result of the record-shattering economic collapse has indeed been a steep drop in energy prices. But that go-to economic sparkplug isn’t providing the boost it normally does – which opens a chance to think differently about coming out of this crisis. 

“We have a really unusual opportunity now to really evaluate when we need to transport ourselves and when we don’t,” says Amy Jaffe, Director of the Energy, Security, and Climate Change Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. She believes the radical realignment of economic activity resulting from half the planet sheltering in place could fast-track technological replacements for some of our most destructive habits. 

“The big trick on climate change is to change behavior and lower the use of fossil fuels,” she says, “and that means getting out of your car, that means not having extreme commutes, that means thinking thoughtfully about the size of your home and other kinds of things.”

So how will the coronavirus recession reshape the economy and prospects for addressing climate in a post-pandemic world?

“Now is the perfect time to actually make those investments,” says Matt Rogers, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company. ”We've shifted the curve down and we now have the opportunity to lock in those gains and extend those gains and really take the next big risk off the table.”

This program was recorded at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on April 15, 2020.

Tune-in Monday, May 4 at 7:00 PM.

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