WBUR Boston Public Radio

16 Ways The Pandemic Recovery Could Be Green

Jun. 25, 2020

It is said, “a good crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

As the world continues to confront the coronavirus pandemic and the deep economic fallout, environmentalists say this is a golden opportunity for a green recovery — using federal funds to avert the next global crisis on the horizon: climate change.

With Congress considering a second multi-trillion-dollar stimulus spending package, WBUR asked local environmental thinkers how they’d use pandemic funding for a green recovery. Here are some of their responses:

Insulate All Buildings For Free

This would lower everyone’s energy bill, help small businesses grow and provide many new jobs for energy assessors, insulation technicians and inspectors. It would also have an especially positive impact on gateway cities like Lawrence, where high carbon pollution and high energy bills cause negative health consequences for the community.

— Susan Almono, co-founder of Merrimack Valley Interfaith Team, which is affiliated with Massachusetts Interfaith Power and Light

Rethink Streets

A recent study showed a clear link between air pollution and COVID mortality rates. We need a sustainability response to COVID that builds public health and improves air quality, and a cornerstone of that recovery will be building density without crowding. That means redesigning urban streetscapes to widen sidewalks and install protected, dedicated bus and cycling lanes. And it means running transit service more frequently and all day long.

— Jim Aloisi, former Mass. transportation secretary

Fund Nuclear Energy

The global economic system needs an immediate conversion to low carbon energy sources that must be clean, reliable, safe and affordable. New nuclear technology fits the bill and is available now. In fact, today nuclear energy is by far our nation’s largest source of clean electricity. And we can make it the backbone of the war on climate change. Decision time is now.

— Jacopo Buongiorno, professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT

Grow More Food In The City

Since the pandemic hit we’ve been growing more food and seedlings for our folks experiencing higher rates of food insecurity. The pandemic has exposed how badly our food chain needs repairing. The solutions we’re coming up with in this crisis should be continued. With increased recovery funding we can acquire more land and train more urban farmers so we can do our part to meet the other rapidly approaching crisis: climate change. More farms, more food in the city, means lower global warming emissions and a decrease in rising temperatures.

— Patricia Spence, president, Urban Farming Institute

Quadruple Each State’s Energy Efficiency Investments

Efficiency is the cheapest source of energy, and unleashing efficiency would grow millions of jobs that can’t be exported, reduces our need for foreign energy, lowers energy bills, can increase economic equity, and spurs innovation of new technologies.

— David Cash, dean at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies

Change The Flow Of Capital

This pandemic has been devastating on my community and shown us that we need a wholesale change in how money moves. We’ve got to localize and diversify the decision makers of our capital flows, and the system itself can’t just keep rewarding and thinking about future profits. We’ve got to take into consideration: does it renew, does it restore, does it revitalize our soil, our air, our communities? We think like that, maybe we have a chance.

— Glynn Lloyd, executive director of the Foundation for Business Equity

Create A Green Jobs Service Program

We can build essential skills in the green economy, in areas like wind and solar. Beyond just providing a paycheck and health insurance, it also can provide skills training and apprenticeship opportunities for those involved. This can set up for good-paying careers into the future and contribute to the shift away from fossil fuels.

— Tim Cronin, policy manager at the Climate Action Business Association

Make Concrete Greener

I want the economic stimulus to move us closer to the goal of net zero carbon concrete, which is the most used building material in the world and accounts for over 7% of greenhouse gas emissions. We need to increase investment in research and incentives for the use of captured carbon dioxide in the production of concrete and aggregates, which will result in permanent carbon sequestration in buildings and infrastructure.

— Jeremy Gregory, executive director at MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub

Create Car-Free Districts

These six to 10 permanent blocks could include open-air cafes, outdoor markets, concerts, picnics and lots of green and open spaces that encourage people to walk, bike, relax and practice physical distancing. The beauty of super-blocks is that it can be done anywhere — on a main street, urban area, suburban community, along a waterfront. This solution is good for our well-being, good for small businesses and good for our climate and environment.

— Mary Skelton Roberts, co-director of the Barr Foundation Climate Program. (Editor’s note: The Barr Foundation is a financial contributor to WBUR). 

Increase Composting

A third of all food today is wasted in the United States — that weighs in at 400 pounds per person per year. That’s 8% of global carbon emissions. We can reduce emissions and create badly needed jobs when local governments create diversion mandates and businesses are incentivized to increase composting. With centralized composting for every town and city, from farm to factory to fork, we can reduce waste.

— Rachel Kyte, dean at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

Make Businesses Buy Recycled Products

I would like to see businesses that get government support be required to buy office products made from recycled materials. By “buying recycled” these companies support the local waste system, create jobs, save energy and save municipalities money by increasing the value of what gets put in the recycling bin. Let’s encourage more businesses and individuals to close the loop.

— Gretchen Carey, president of MassRecycle

Invest In Black-Owned Businesses

Recovering from COVID-19 is an opportunity to embed equity into our response to climate change, so those most impacted receive the benefits of investments. Federal funding should be made available to prepare Black, small businesses to be contracted to support the recovery from COVID-19. The same approach can be used for underestimated groups to conduct the building retrofitting necessary to help cities reach net-zero climate goals by 2050.

— S. Atyia Martin, CEO of All Aces

Create A Climate Corps

The pandemic has left over 33 million Americans unemployed, and many of them may not be able to return to the admittedly low-wage jobs they had before. We can build on existing models to create a “Climate Corps” that works in cities and rural areas to prepare our communities for climate change. It could serve as a green jobs pathway that trains individuals in growing fields like renewable energy and adaptation planning, and would be a down payment on the just transition that we need.

— Nina Schlegel, director of the Global Center for Climate Justice

Use New England Wood More Wisely

Coronavirus shows global supply chains are risky. New England’s abundant forests could support tall buildings made from engineered wood, sourced from local, well-managed woodlands, reducing imports and the use of highly-emitting steel and concrete. Stimulus incentives for lower carbon construction, and in support of new wood manufacturing facilities, could help solve the climate crisis and create new jobs.

— Frank Lowenstein, deputy director at New England Forestry Foundation

Frank Lowenstein, deputy director of the New England Forestry Foundation. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Frank Lowenstein, deputy director of the New England Forestry Foundation. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Build Micro-Grids

The communities most impacted by COVID-19 will be the hardest hit by the climate crisis. We know that energy systems play a key role in our communities’ sustainability and resilience. By developing community led micro-grids, we democratize energy distribution, move away from an extractive economy reliant on fossil fuels, and provide resiliency to our neighborhoods. Community micro-grids are a powerful tool in the creation of a green economy that advances people’s sovereignty and self-determination.

— Maria Belen Power, associate executive director of GreenRoots

Tax Carbon

I live in East Boston, a minority-majority community that has exponentially higher rates of asthma and pollution-related diseases. And now not only do we have the second-highest rates of COVID in Boston, but one of the highest populations of essential workers on top of that. It’s time we put a price on carbon with rebates going back to communities for mitigation. Our essential workers deserve it.

— Sonja Tengblad, coordinator for Mothers Out Front, East Boston