The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our concept of business-as-usual upside down. But when it comes to environmental safeguards, business-as-usual wasn’t good enough to begin with. The COVID crisis has only further brought to light the need to keep pushing for stronger policies to protect our air and water, our climate, and our most vulnerable populations.
As we celebrate Earth Week in the midst of communities coping with the far-reaching impacts of this pandemic, it’s the perfect time to reassess how stronger environmental policies also mean stronger public health policies.
Our Shared Public Health
The current pandemic has served as an important reminder of our shared responsibility to protect public health, and it’s been inspiring to see communities coming together to support and protect each other. But once the pandemic ends, there are still pressing public health issues that need our attention, like air and water pollution. More than 70,000 people in the US are estimated to die from air pollution impacts annually. Communities in areas with higher air pollution also face a higher risk from COVID-19.
Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency has recently taken measures that will worsen pollution. By rolling back enforcement of environmental regulations during the pandemic, they are essentially ceasing to hold companies accountable for pollution until further notice. Mass Audubon and other environmental groups have been speaking out against this decision.
Previously-announced rollbacks on federal clean car standards were also recently finalized. Fortunately, there is still a chance to reverse this decision in court, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is helping lead the charge.
This all comes at a time when we need to be buckling down on stronger pollution enforcement policies, not weakening them. The year 2020 is also when countries participating in the Paris Climate Agreement will be updating their targets. While the US is set to withdraw from the Agreement in November, it’s more important than ever for states like Massachusetts, along with communities, businesses, faith groups, and health organizations, to demonstrate bold commitments to our greenhouse gas reduction goals.
An Opportunity to Do Better
Despite these rollbacks, we have an opportunity here to reassess our priorities. What if we truly viewed pollution and the climate crisis as the wide-reaching public health issues they are? What if once we recover from this pandemic, we pivot toward addressing those urgent issues by cutting emissions and supporting our most impacted communities?
Here are a few ways you can help us get started:
Contact the EPA to tell them you oppose the recent environmental rollbacks. Let them know that our collective response to the COVID-19 crisis shouldn’t come at the expense of other public health and climate protection measures.
Share student climate stories. As a Youth Climate Strike partner, we’re helping Boston event organizers gather students’ stories on how the climate crisis has impacted them – particularly those from marginalized and frontline communities. A good opportunity if you’re home with kids, are a student yourself, or just want to spread the word!
Support stronger state climate legislation. These priorities for Mass Audubon would set net-zero emissions goals and expand renewable energy use.
Make the switch. By choosing to add more renewable energy into your electricity supply, you can add more clean power – and remove fossil fuel use – from the grid. It only takes a few minutes! Live in a city or town that participates in Community Choice Aggregation? See if there’s an option to “opt up” to cleaner power for your home.
Despite living in challenging times, we’ve banded together worldwide to take action and protect our most vulnerable from the threat of COVID-19. This Earth Day, let’s pledge to carry that action forward to protect the biggest public health resource for our global community – a healthy planet.