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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Earth Day has reached the ripe old age of 50. In all those years, the day of action on behalf of the planet has never produced the real-world impact of the current coronavirus contagion. Now that climate activists have witnessed what a genuine global emergency looks like, their passion for a repeat may prove irresistible. The segment of society that feeds, clothes, shelters and heals humanity — that is, almost everyone — should beware of efforts to hitch an environmental crisis to the ravages of a pestilence the world is already battling.

April 22’s Earth Day 2020 brought the annual occasion to promote environmental protection, but it finds a world radically altered from a year ago. From college campus teach-ins, megaphone speeches in the park to class-cutting students, “green” energy promotions and roadside trash pickups, activists have seized upon the current pandemic as a model for civilizational transformation.


“Climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable,” reads the Earth Day 2020 website. Continuing, the message feeds the urgency and anxiety triggered by the pestilence ambush that nature occasionally springs on the human species: “On Earth Day 2020, we seize all the tools and actions that we have, big and small, to change our lives and change our world, not for one day, but forever. While the coronavirus may force us to keep our distance, it will not force us to keep our voices down. The only thing that will change the world is a bold and unified demand for a new way forward.”

Deferring to the danger of disease, this year’s Earth Day unfolded as a digital happening rather than physical one. Prospective participants were invited online to choose from 10 types of virtual events, including “Artists for the Earth,” “Citizen Science” and “Faith,” that were available in languages ranging from English to Urdu. In an era of digital dating, why not online tree-hugging?

Other environmentalists, though, are not satisfied with simply taking an electronic page from these Earth Day devotions and expect more than a “unified demand for a new way forward.” Where most see calamity, they see serendipity: “While COVID-19 is causing untold suffering, the international response to this unprecedented health crisis in modern times offers an opportunity to direct finances towards bolstering climate action,” reads a recent statement from the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund.

Since President Trump announced in 2017 the United States would withdraw from the greenhouse-gas-limiting Paris Climate Agreement, its backers have floundered in their efforts to latch onto a new de-growth strategy for upending humanity’s planetary dominance. Along comes coronavirus and … problem solved.

Politician-turned-environmentalist Al Gore demonstrated the link between viral and environmental threats during an April 10 televised video conference with HBO host Bill Maher: “The scientists have warned us about the coronavirus and they’ve warned us about the climate crisis, and we’ve seen the dangers of waiting too late to heed the warnings of the doctors and scientists on this virus. We should not wait any longer to heed their warnings about what we’re doing to radically destabilize the earth’s climate.”

The pandemic has sent shudders through the global economy, among them the utter collapse of the oil market. Green New Deal champion Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, rhapsodized over the development. “You absolutely love to see it,” she tweeted Monday when U.S. oil prices fell below zero for the first time ever. “This along with record low interest rates means it’s the right time for a worker-led, mass investment in green infrastructure to save our planet.”

Miss Ocasio-Cortez fails to grasp that rock-bottom oil prices also destroy the business models for already-costly renewable fuel sources like solar and wind, which she envisions would power her post-fossil-fuel world. Americans are all-too-familiar with the worn-out cliché about never letting a crisis go to waste. To “absolutely love” the arrival of economic devastation is of a similar vein. Neither figure of speech would occur to someone who has personally experienced the hardship it visits upon hardworking families.

Diehard environmentalists dissatisfied with Earth Day activism and looking to the coronavirus pandemic as a lesson in engineering an emergency shutdown of world commerce would likely produce more death through deprivation than the contagion itself has caused.


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