Talking about the coronavirus... and climate change
March 6, 2020

Coronavirus and climate change

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is spreading fast, with each day’s headlines rapidly eclipsed by the next. The international health crisis is also a regional crisis in the Northwest—and our communities have been quick to respond. Why are we fairly good at responding to some crises, yet really not very good at responding to others (e.g. climate change)? A number of psychologists consider the question. Climate activist Bill McKibben is also asking: what can the coronavirus teach us? A number of people have observed that airborne fossil fuel pollution causes nearly 8.8 million deaths a year, wondering whether we should call that a pandemic as well. As with the environmental threat of climate impacts like air pollution, some communities are far more vulnerable to coronavirus disease than others; thanks to unequal access to healthcare, work flexibility, and basic infrastructure.  

“Grassroots” groups show up, with extremist ties and industry funding, to block climate progress

For the second year in a row, Oregon Republican lawmakers shut down the state legislature by denying the Senate a quorum—preventing the body from voting on major climate legislation years in the making. This time, the Republican walkout brought the entire legislative session to an ignominious and unproductive end. Ignoring widespread criticism of their brazenly undemocratic actions, the absent legislators were backed by a vocal, if ultimately small in number, cheerleading squad. “Timber Unity” touts itself as a grassroots uprising of working people, but receives funding from logging industry owners and has built common cause with the fossil fuel industry. They have staged dramatic actions in which group members descend on the state capitol, practically encircling the building with dozens of logging rigs and other heavy trucks. Now as the group’s activities expand (the most recent anti-climate action Timber Unity protest took place not in Salem, but in Olympia, WA), a number of journalists and researchers have highlighted deep connections between Timber Unity and an array of white supremacist and other hate groups.

Stop making it worse: ending fossil-fuel subsidies would be a climate game-changer

In 2018, the United States paid the fossil fuel industry a staggering $400 billion in various subsidies. These handouts are massively unpopular with the American public, and for good reason; those subsidies are directly implicated in the global climate crisis. A number of researchers recently confirmed that switching existing national oil subsidies to the renewables industry would help massively, providing the push needed to bring clean energy systems fully into the mainstream. Their conclusion: “fossil fuel subsidies must end.”

Boston now spends 10% of its capital budget on climate mitigation

Boston is one among many US cities vulnerable to accelerating sea level rise, and city leaders there are rising to the challenge of staying a step ahead of this climate impact. The city plans to spend more than $30 million a year—ten percent of its entire capital budget—on local measures such as berms, raised streets and flood gates, to protect vulnerable neighborhoods and key infrastructure. Boston reckons that the considerable investment now will be a bargain compared with the cost of not preparing for disasters which are almost certain to come in the next few decades.

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Author Bio

Jonathan Lawson

Digital Communications Manager, Climate Solutions

As Digital Communications Manager, Jonathan uses online tools to extend the reach of Climate Solutions programs, and to expand the community of people and organizations working together for clean energy and sustainable climate policies. He serves as managing editor of, and oversees our email list communications and social media.

Before joining Climate Solutions in 2014, Jonathan served as Executive Director of the communications rights organization Reclaim the Media, where he played a catalytic role in fueling the growth of a national movement focused on media justice and democratizing media and communications policy. He also spent more than eight years providing communications strategy, digital communications and design to statewide labor organizations including SEIU and WFSE/AFSCME, writing op-eds by day and designing giant puppets by night.

A past board member of the Washington News Council and of Seattle Improvised Music, he is also a veteran of the Independent Media Center movement, and has worked in community radio since 1986; for 19 years he produced the weekly creative music program Flotation Device on KBCS. His articles on media and communications issues have appeared in numerous northwest and national publications. Jonathan holds a masters degree in Theological Studies from Harvard University.

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