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Building Back Greener: How COVID-19 recovery could shape a brighter climate future

As the world imagines emerging from the pandemic, can we create a different world instead of simply going back to old normal?

Building Back Greener: How COVID-19 recovery could shape a brighter climate future
[Photo: eberhard grossgasteiger/Unsplash; Mike Marrah/Unsplash]

We are in the crosshairs of multiple crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic downturn, clear signs of climate catastrophe in the wildfires in the American West, and a record-breaking hurricane season. It can feel impossible to think past these moments, in which the pandemic seems never-ending and yet the time left to stave off irreversible climate change is running out.

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But the world is not ending (yet). There will be a future after these times, and that future will be shaped by decisions made right now. As politicians and business leaders plan for an economic recovery once COVID-19 has been suppressed, they have a choice about how to shape that recovery, and a chance to forge a different future, by putting climate at the center of the rebuilding.

The pandemic has exposed deep-seated inequalities in who has access to health, wealth, and safety and also just how much human activity has wreaked havoc on our Earth. In just weeks of lockdowns—in which people stopped driving to work and flying across the country—we saw the potential promise of fewer greenhouse gas emissions and cleaner air. It was proof both that we’re the ones causing this climate destruction and also that it’s not too late to reverse that tide.


Read all the stories in the series:


COVID-19 has already ushered in changes, from a dramatic surge in remote work to a better understanding of how climate change is linked to our health. More changes are sure to come in our recovery plans, but will those changes be enough to stem the worst of climate catastrophe? Will differences in how we work and where we live only create new environmental issues? And will that recovery really benefit everyone, or, as we’ve seen all too often in these converging crises, will those already marginalized be left further behind?

This week, we’re thinking about how a climate-focused COVID-19 recovery is connected to how we live and work. First, we’ll look at the moment we’re in and how COVID-19 recovery plans could tip the climate scales. We’ll explore how these crises have exposed another inequality: the issue of environmental injustice, and how a climate-friendly COVID-19 recovery needs to benefit those who have long borne the brunt of climate change.

At a time when individuals, companies, and entire countries are struggling financially, how can we pay for the green transition we need? We’ll look at the case for a national climate bank.

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And since COVID-19 has reshaped our daily lives, the recovery must do so as well. Remote work, it seems, is here to stay. We’ll explore what that could mean for a company’s corporate climate goals. And as remote work affords people the opportunity to move away from high-cost urban centers, where many jobs were previously clustered, what do we need to do to make suburbs better for the environment?

The way we resume life after the pandemic could future-proof us to further crises, or we could just return to business as usual. Now it’s up to us to decide. Read the entire series here.

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