Coronavirus, Energy, and the Climate Crisis
It seems fitting that a virus originating from bats displaced by deforestation would have a significant impact on climate change and environmental policy for decades, if not centuries to come. COVID-19 has had an unprecedented effect on every aspect of our lives, shaping our everyday routines, elections, and environment. But to truly understand the extent of this virus’s impact on our world, we must turn our attention towards the gas, oil, and renewable energy industries, all of which have been drastically changed by coronavirus.
Oil and gas companies have largely benefited from coronavirus aid packages, often using the bailout money to pay off debts incurred prior to the pandemic. These industries have and will continue to struggle in a world where the climate crisis is no longer up for debate, but this has not stopped lobbyists and politicians from working together to extend its last dying gasps. Congress’s March $2 trillion relief bill included $600 billion for small and medium sized businesses that were in good economic condition before the pandemic. Originally, the bill prevented companies from using this money to pay off previous debts, but according to NPR, oil and gas companies lobbied Congress to allow them to use the money for this very purpose. Propping up the failing gas and oil industries not only prevents money from reaching businesses that actually deserve aid, but allows Shell, Exxon Mobil, and others to continue to pump out billions and billions of tons of greenhouse gasses for years to come, raising temperatures worldwide and endangering the lives of billions of people.
Renewable energy sources and policies have also been altered as a result of coronavirus, with both beneficial and harmful consequences. The American Progress Organization warned that the wind industry could be among the most affected by the pandemic, as thousands of projects have been delayed or canceled, and a third of the industry’s workforce is at risk of losing their jobs. Furthermore, the solar industry reported that almost half of its 250,000 jobs could disappear because of COVID. Even as Republicans have appeared eager to bail out the fossil fuel industry, they openly mocked providing stimulus to renewable energy companies, and in the aforementioned $2 trillion dollar relief bill, direct renewable energy subsidies were not included, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell complaining about the “Green New Deal.”
This is not to say that renewable energy has only suffered in the wake of this crisis. Both wind and solar power have remained stable and actually increased their market share amid a sharp decrease in volatile gas and oil prices caused by decreased overall energy demands. As The New York Times reported, “...utilities, as revenue suffers, will try to get more electricity from wind and solar farms, which cost little to operate, and less from power plants fueled by fossil fuels.” With gas and oil companies already struggling before the pandemic, COVID-19 could act as the nail in their coffins while cheaper and more stable renewable energy sources continue to thrive.
Much of coronavirus’s impact on the renewable energy industry will occur after the crisis becomes less severe. Investing in jobs in green energy after COVID-19 wouldn’t only provide thousands of unemployed individuals with steady careers, but would help to support a cleaner future. According to Daniel Kammen, professor of energy at Berkeley, “localized renewable energy projects are also quicker to get off the ground, in general, than new oil and gas infrastructure like pipelines that cross state borders and often get held up in court for years.” This positions renewable energies to encourage faster and more effective growth than other energy sources. Much of this, of course, is dependent on the outcome of the November elections, and whether or not Democrats are able to control both houses of Congress and Biden is able to secure the Presidency.
Renewable energies are not only safer and more reliable than fossil fuel sources, but are now also cheaper and more accessible. There is absolutely no excuse for more money to be pumped into the dying oil and gas industries. Economic relief for a public health crisis should not include money for industries that ensure further public health crises. As the climate crisis worsens, billions more people will suffer from heat stroke and respiratory issues, and even infectious diseases will now be better able to spread in warmer climates. The climate crisis is a disaster of degrees, and for every million dollars from the government used to build new fossil fuel infrastructure, we are actively damning ourselves and future generations to live on an increasingly harsh and inhospitable Earth.