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Tucson Opinion: Lessons from COVID could help with the climate
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Tucson Opinion: Lessons from COVID could help with the climate

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The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

Since Earth Day 2020, the pandemic has caused more than 550,000 U.S. deaths, financial ruin for many, and emotional turmoil for everyone. The year has left deep scars, yet vaccines were developed with miraculous speed that shine a bright light for our future.

Early investments in research played a crucial role and by March of 2020, the U.S. government, universities and biotech firms had invested heavily. Within months of the first outbreak, three American companies began delivering effective and safe vaccines.

Collaboration among public and private entities contributed to this success and at every level of government there was cooperation with communications, shared resources and pulling together for the public good.

The third factor in successful rollout of the vaccines has been the thorniest to get right — public policy. Emotions, opinions, lobbying, political campaigns all clouded our collective vision. Despite these roadblocks, we now anticipate 50% of our population being vaccinated within 18 months of the first outbreak!

Another serious problem threatens our collective welfare and requires our urgent attention.

In Arizona, the impacts from rising temperatures mount: continued drought, cuts in water from the Colorado River, pollution-caused asthma and heart disease, wildfires that are mushrooming in size and cost.

Elsewhere flooding, hurricanes and tornadoes increase intensity and like COVID, these climate-caused disasters are causing economic destruction, social upheaval and despair across the globe.

Analogies between COVID-19 and climate change are impossible to ignore. Can our experiences solving one global crisis help solve the other?

Like medical research, investments in climate research have been ongoing for decades. NASA, the Pentagon, universities and non-profits have all been studying climate — and warning of the dangers and costs of runaway carbon emissions.

Economists, too, have been studying costs of climate change, searching for the most efficient and effect way to cut emissions. Nobel Prize winner William Nordhaus developed a carbon pricing model that 3,600 economists, including Janet Yellin and Ben Bernanke, have endorsed.

From universities to Wall Street, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to the World Bank have carefully studied the policy. The results show that transitioning energy sources from fossil fuels to clean energy will result in new, good paying jobs, investments in infrastructure, save millions of lives with cleaner air and halt rising temperatures that cause climate disasters.

Coupled with a dividend to all Americans, it’s a plan that will protect low and middle income families from rising prices and allow us to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Collaboration and cooperation happens in the marketplace where venture capital, science, engineering and entrepreneurs create the strongest economy in the world. With monthly dividends to U.S. households, consumers are the driving force to a quick transition to clean energy.

As with COVID, the hardest part of solving the climate crisis is at the policy level. Non-stop climate disasters have caused heightened public alarm. Not only the public, but now business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are calling for an effective national policy of carbon pricing to curb carbon and halt climate caused disasters.

Multiple bills in this Congress put a price on carbon and will cut emissions nearly as fast as scientists say we need. One of them, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, will reduce carbon pollution by 30% in the next five years and move us to net zero by 2050.

It will put money in people’s pockets, create jobs and save lives. The research has been done — this Earth Day it’s time for elected officials to step up. We need Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, Reps. Raúl Grijalva, Ann Kirkpatrick and Tom O’Halleran to support policies that halt climate change and preserve our way of life.

Jane Conlin is a former business owner and Tucson teacher, and co-leader of Greater Tucson chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.

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