Post Covid-19 Economic Recovery and the Local Green New Deal.
Author: Gladwyn d'Souza | Category: Business | Career | Economics | Environment | Food | Health | Date: 07-15-2020
I love a Banh-Mi sandwich. I used to stop by on 4th Street in San Jose just to pick up one on my way to work. So I was thrilled thirty years later to see that Witch Wich Sandwiches near my house in Belmont had a Banh-Mi. I’m going to go get one, I said, in early March. Then Covid-19 closed down everything and the first business I saw go under was the Banh-Mi place.
Through much of the spring Governor Newsom was the rising star in the Democratic Party. He had shut down the state and saved lives by flattening the curve and his accomplishments were a clear contrast with those of New York Governor Cuomo. But come summer the fortunes have reversed. Early this week was the first day with zero deaths from Covid-19 in New York. Meanwhile deaths in CA remain steady but have not dropped. Newsom is now chided for listening to people who cried for the good old days and demanded reopening. If only he had been a leader like Cuomo and used science to guide his reopening, California could have avoided the crisis it has reentered.
Across the country George Floyd showed vividly that the good old days were not good for large segments of the population. One group got to keep it’s knee on your neck and enact cheap chained work through whips, guns, and the US Constitution. The other barely gets by and gets shot for selling single cigarettes on a street corner or for not having a light on a bicycle, an injustice we are only beginning to see because of the camera on a cellphone. Meanwhile, a large segment of the workforce doesn’t even exist because the people in the group are classified as belonging to the "not-looking-for-work" category. Along with those in the now busted Gig Economy ("contract" workers such as Uber drivers), fully a 1/4 of the work force is now unemployed, many without health insuarance in a pandemic.
The same police also shot water cannons at indigenous Dakota Access Pipeline protestors in the dead of winter last year and set dogs on them--acting in ways that are reminiscent of Bull Connor's good old days. In this horrendous incident, the fossil fuels the police protected over the indigenous water rights of Native Americans threaten to cook the planet. The police also forced workers to go back to the slaughter house without social distancing or masks--thereby, setting the stage for rapid transmission of the virus among workers and between workers and their famlies.
From the food on our table to the way we move around and communicate, a major upgrade is necessary for neighborhoods. These neighborhoods aren’t just work sites for commuting employees. Instead, families walk over to parks together and adults take breaks to work or relax outdoors. As we rebuild after the closure of local businesses like Witch Wich, we need to rebuild low energy neighborhoods that work for residents today. That means high speed internet available everywhere as a public utility. Many jobs will arise from building greener neighborhoods. And jobs will be created by setting up local manufacturing facilities for making masks, tests kits, and PPEs instead of importing them from China. Governor Newsom should answer this question: how has our reopening proceeded without adequate supplies of testing and PPE where they're needed the most? Producing PPE, masks, and testing kits locally and setting up local labs capable of analyzing test specimens, so that results are quickly obtained, are essential jobs for the emerging local economy.
Our homes in turn need to be more efficient in how we use energy, water, and waste systems. Efficiencies in all these categories create green local jobs and ensure that we can get off fossil fuels. Decarbonizing the economy is both a function of decreasing demand and changing fuels to renewable sources so as to make the problem manageable. Compost systems in turn can make the neighborhood less dependent on the grocery store as we found out in April during the lockdown.
Neighborhoods in the path of high fire zones and sea level rise need to be strategically withdrawn and resettled in safer areas like city centers. We see from cities like Singapore and Taipei that these city-centric neighborhoods are safe from all types of crisis including pandemics. There will be a lot more good jobs available-many within walking or biking distance--if people strategically withdraw from crisis regions and resettle in city centers.
As our neighborhoods become more walkable and denser, the surrounding landscape should sequester carbon in green infrastructure that will restore its ecosystem services. That means that the hydrologic cycle needs to be restored over the land so that it is not liable to burn and green infrastructure such as wetlands should be allowed to migrate landward. There are more green jobs that will be generated--for example, work that restores wetlands/baylands. Once restored, natural landscapes such as wetlands/baylands and forests will provide ecosystem services to humans by acting as natural buffers to sea level rise; by filtering toxins from water; by sequestering carbon. And, by providing healthy ecosystems for wildlife, biodiversity will flourish.
To come out of this depression, leaders should follow the example of Cuomo. Like Minneapolis, they need to see the opportunity to fund a new city by defunding the police. Employees should have a say in their own safety and not be penalized economically for keeping their families safe. Maybe when that happens, I’ll be able to take my laptop, pick up a Banh-Mi and go work by a stream where people are trout fishing.