We can address the pandemic while deterring climate change

March 19, 2020

Allan Cooper

OPINION by ALLAN COOPER

Catastrophic events involving profound threats to our livelihoods, to our environment and to our health are converging into a perfect storm. More than ever, we now depend on our essential service providers – our health workers, our utility workers, our police –  to continue working while many of us shelter in place.

But during this pandemic, those who find themselves suddenly under- or unemployed need not despair. There are other badly needed essential services that those job-seekers can provide without forcing them to congregate. The government could create telecommuting jobs focused on badly needed public works projects. The government could also incentivize job seekers to do physical work – work done outdoors and in isolation – that could be one of the most inexpensive and effective methods in combating both pandemics and climate change.

Nearly 80 million jobs in the U.S. economy are at high or moderate risk today, according to Moody’s Analytics. That’s more than half of the 153 million jobs in the economy overall. To address this problem we need a new Work Projects Administration perhaps similar to the Green New Deal employing millions of job-seekers to carry out public works projects.

These projects could help pave the way out of our current financial crisis. These projects would include the construction and repair of our poorly deteriorating infrastructure. These projects would pair labor programs with measures to combat the climate crisis. Through state-sponsored jobs, this new deal would address poverty by focusing improvements on our more vulnerable communities.

In addition to building energy-efficient, distributed, and ‘smart’ power grids, and working to ensure affordable access to electricity, this new deal should pay unemployed job seekers a living wage for planting billions of trees. These trees should be planted in places that used to be forests using native species.

Instead of mandating the unemployed to shelter in place over the next 18 to 24 months, why not fan the able bodied out over the countryside planting trees in predesignated locations. These paid jobs could be done with minimal human interaction and would be a means toward overcoming cabin fever while getting badly needed exercise.

Of course we all understand why we would address massive unemployment by undertaking projects that would include the construction and repair of our poorly deteriorating infrastructure. But why plant more trees?

Around 2.2 billion acres of land is suitable for reforestation, according to a study in the Journal Science. That could capture two-thirds of human-made carbon emissions and, according to authors of the study, would be the most effective method of combating climate change.

Nearly half of the world’s trees have been destroyed since the start of human civilization. Worldwide, there is a net loss of 10 billion trees every year. At this rate this would mean the loss of all trees within the next three centuries. In California over the last ten years, more than 147 million trees have died across 9.7 million acres of federal, state, local and private land.

With a remaining habitat of only 10 percent, California’s forests are ranked 7th among the world’s top 10 most endangered forests. Moreover, most U.S. cities are experiencing declines in urban forest cover, with a net loss of 4 million urban trees every year, or about 1.3 percent of the total tree stock. New tree planting isn’t keeping pace with the mortality of existing trees, either from natural causes or from clearing of trees for new development.

In recent years, study after study has found that living in neighborhoods with abundant green space is linked to positive health outcomes. These include better heart health, stronger cognitive development, and greater overall longevity. No wonder these areas are also linked to lower levels of Medicare spending.

The University of Illinois, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service and the National and Urban Community Forestry Advisory Council supported research that indicated that each 1 percent of a county’s land that was covered in forest was associated with an average Medicare expenditure savings of $4.32 per person per year. Adding the effects of shrub-lands increases the estimated national savings to $9 billion annually.

But when it comes to promoting human health, not all green spaces are created equal. That’s the conclusion of new Australian research, which finds higher levels of wellness in areas marked by one particular manifestation of the natural world: leafy trees. “Protection and restoration of urban tree canopy specifically, rather than any urban greening, may be a good option for promotion of community mental health,” writes Thomas Astell-Burt and Xiaoqi Feng of the University of Wollongong in New South Wales.

Moreover, studies have shown that people in intensive care units recover more quickly and have fewer complications after surgery if their hospital rooms look out over trees rather than parking lots. Other studies have found that forest walks can influence potentially health-promoting hormone levels or anti-cancer immune cells in the blood.

In an Institute of Environmental Sustainability, Loyola University study researchers looked at crime data for the city of Chicago, computing a score for each census tract. Then, they compared that to the percentage of tree canopy cover enclosed in each tract. They found that for every 10 percent increase in tree canopy cover, crime rates went down in several categories.

Last but not least, trees provide food, energy and income to help communities achieve long-term economic and environmental sustainability. Trees provide a huge variety of resources that we make use of now, and will want to make use of in the future. Trees help prevent erosion and secure soil, influence their own climate (i.e., counteract the urban heat island effect), bring rainfall across vast areas, support many wonderful species and increase habitat complexity or biodiversity.

But surprisingly, the last benefit of trees mentioned above, i.e., biodiversity, relates to our current COVID-19 pandemic.The increasing frequency of pandemics is linked to climate change, biodiversity loss and deforestation.

Deforestation is linked to 31 percent of all outbreaks including Ebola, the Zika the Nipah and now the COVID-19 viruses. Deforestation drives wild animals out of their natural habitats and closer to human populations, creating a greater opportunity for diseases that spread from animals to humans.

Throughout history, diseases have moved from forests into humans through animal carriers. But the increasing proximity of humans to recently deforested areas magnifies the risk. Southeast Asia is the region in the world that has suffered the greatest rate of deforestation with a loss of 30 percent of forest surface over the last 40 years. Deforestation is currently linked to increased agricultural surfaces and poorly-managed urban growth.

By being one of the regions of the world where population growth is the strongest, where sanitary conditions remain poor and where the deforestation rate is the highest, Southeast Asia meets every condition to become the place of emergence or re-emergence of infectious diseases.

One of these infectious diseases is COVID-19, a virus that has infected more than 111,000 people worldwide and claimed more than 3,800 lives. It is a zoonotic virus (i.e., a disease that spreads from animals to humans) thought to have come from a live animal market and probably from bats.

With over 1,200 species, bats comprise 24 percent of all classified mammal species worldwide. Bats are flu virus reservoirs as there are at least 3,204 types of coronaviruses currently circulating in them. Owing to deforestation, bat populations are setting up in areas closer to human dwellings. Urbanized environments can provide an acceptable habitat for a large range of bat species, generating a higher diversity of bats and generating bat-borne viruses next to human dwellings. This increases the risk of transmission of viruses through direct contact, domestic animal infection, or contamination by urine or feces.

However, not all pandemics start in Southeast Asia. Although bats are found on all continents except Antarctica, the accumulation of results is variable from one continent to another. Asia is largely in the lead for data accumulation and far ahead of North America. But what we do know is that urban development in North America may be universally detrimental to the most widespread bat species in North America – the little brown bat. Urban development increases stress, disease transmission and impacts of noise on little brown bats. The respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts of North American little brown bats harbor receptors for both avian and mammalian influenza A virus and the ability of type A influenza to mutate faster than type B can cause pandemics.

Knowing this, why don’t we focus our attention on eliminating bats altogether?

Because bats play a major role in the balance of an ecosystem in California and around the world. They are great at mosquito control and are some of the world’s best pollinators, not to mention they make meals for hawks and owls. They are also sensitive to climate change, habitat loss, pesticides, disease, and disturbance at breeding colonies, which means researchers can use them to study the overall health of an ecological system. So the only acceptable way to distance bats from human habitation is through reforestation.

In conclusion, we must look beyond government handouts to see us through this pandemic. Real leadership at the national level will require bold plans to re-employ our workforce – to re-employ them in a way that will address the causes of this pandemic while, at the same time, deter climate change.


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LeroyMoo

CO2 doesn’t affect climate change as much as water vapor. Look at Earth Views on the NASA channel and you’ll see water vapor. Clouds are water vapor in the stratosphere. CO2 doesn’t freeze and become opaque and reflective until higher up in the mesosphere where the concentration is weak. Transparent CO2 in the stratosphere and below does collide with energy radiating upwards, but it’s minuscule compared to water vapor. Water vapor however, which has increased in the stratosphere definitely reflects or collides with light waves to keep energy/heat in. Daniel Pangburn has it right, but progressives would rather listen to Gore or Greta. The so-call climate scientist always eliminate H2O in the charts that show the other greenhouse gases. Sure CO2 and particulates are not great for you to breath, but no one is stopping CalFire from endangering your health with control burns.


MrYan

With bonds paying negative returns we’d be foolish not to invest in infrastructure. The world will pay us to invest in ourselves right now.


2019 GDP $21.4 trillion. Current debt 23 Trillion. What will it be this year?


I’d prefer to have a $26 Trillion in debt that’s has increased by investing in our future infrastructure that takes us to a $28 Trillion GDP, than our current debt $23 trillion debt and ensuing recession/depression and a GDP that has shrunk to 16 Trillion.


All debt is not created equal. Invest in major infrastructure projects now. Most projects will default to green development anyway as most architectural design incorporates it now.


mazin

Projects have not been planning, scoped, etc. They are not shovel ready.


r0y

MrYan, our debt will continue to exponentially increase. I said this when everyone pointed out how Obama spent more than all previous presidents combined. This is not just government over-spending, this is a mathematical causality of a debt-based economy.


Of course, it does not help that government loves to spend willy-nilliy and that the citizenry LOVE to hear they’re getting “free” stuff. Usury + Ignorance = Serious Problems. Government spending is only half the problem. Too few people actually understand global financial systems (which is not hard to learn).


ByteMaker

Why does everything that happens in this world have to do with or is grouped in with climate change?


r0y

It is quite simple: when the Marxists removed religion to better control the masses, they needed something to replace that emptiness that often comes with atheism/agnosticism (broadly speaking, of course). The new “faith” is climate change, and it is a religion – of that, have no doubt.


r0y

I think the larger question really is: What happens when technological innovations and high-efficiency practices out-pace any new economic sectors and we, collectively/globally, are left with far more people than jobs that need to be done?


I started wondering about this around the 2008-2009 unemployment fiasco when I pondered a simple question: What are all those people without work going to do? We can’t all be artists, musicians, etc. (assuming that will cover our expenses). People need to be able to provide for themselves for a multitude of reasons, less we become some addled Marxist dystopia.


Be wary of power-grabs. They are currently happening at an alarming rate, and government never gives back power. The poor Russians are bout to learn this (again) the hard way. Let’s hope we don’t follow suit.


Liberty1948

Global warming is good for humans. The northern part of the Northern Hemisphere has the most land mass on earth. This land includes Russia, Canada, Alaska, and Greenland. These lands have abundant fresh water and plenty of arable land. If the climate warms food production could increase tremendously in these massive areas. Archeologists have found evidence of humans living at the southern tip of Argentina approximately 30,000 years ago. The latest fossil evidence shows that the first humans evolved in Africa 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Since no airplanes or cruise ships were operating during these years the people had walk across Asia, over the Bering Strait, across North America, Central America, and South America to get to the southern tip of Argentina. When an area floods people living there should move.


The climate on earth has has been changing for for over 4 billion years. Trying to stop climate change is like trying to stop the earth from turning. Good luck with that! Embrace change.


oldtimer

1.5 million people die annually in china due to pollution, the same folks we are trying to keep safe from covid19 are the ones whom usually die, ie; geriatrics over 60, the sick, or infants. Why the hell not freak out about that, you can’t stop the flu but sure as shiat can stop pollution. Odd world we live in. So odd we freak out about covid and use ethics to keep the less healthy alive from essentially a flu, but give 2 craps about pollution and the rapid altering climate and have literal immediate solutions to stop pollution and save lives. I personally would think stopping pollution and excess emitting of gases would be most important. But look at the lead industry, plastic, oil, coal, arsenic, herbicides and pesticides and asbestos industries fighting tooth and nail to kill folks and the Gov doesn’t care. But the flu?!?! shut the world down!!!


mazin

Your suggestions makes combating climate change an employment and financial positive. Probably the only way it will happen in the near term.

Your suggestion also relies on electrification. This is no panacea. At this time, batteries are huge fossil fuel sinks. I’ve glanced over a study that only after 40,000 miles a Tesla is a fossil fuel positive. So internal combustion engines should be in our future in some applications.

I am unsure if planting exclusively native trees is the right strategy. Perhaps to retain and enhance some native forests. Overall would rather have trees selected for growth habit, rooting strength, fire, drought and pest resilience.

This also requires an international effort which implies the need for an active diplomatic corp. Trump has done the diplomatic services no favor by involving them in his reelection effort and the frequent change in personnel and cost reductions. We spend so much on the military and so little on the diplomatic corp. What you propose will take diplomacy.

Also inappropriate are small government philosophies. Government is the venue for handling major challenges that have limited to no profitability. Can we get government to do the work with cost discipline? Not its strong suit. But we are throwing money everywhere right now playing catch up on our various crises.

Again, what these two crises seems to come down to, is Trump and the GOP controlled Senate the right persons for the job? Objectively, in combating climate change and the corona virus I think not. They don’t have the acumen to get it.


mazin

Really … negative responses … when are you folks going to abandon the L. Ron Hubbard of politics that is Trump.

You have to rebuild the GOP into a responsible political party. Remember the balance budget and line item veto of Reagan? I do. I was a Goldwater conservative invited to Nixon’s inauguration for my work. The GOP abandoned that long ago.

Negative 10,000 … that is … 10,000 on the Dow … helicopter money … massive unemployment looming … and the GOP lemming continue to jump off the cliff and swim.

Paddle

Paddle

Paddle

to your doom


kettle

“You have to rebuild the GOP into a responsible political party.” Lol, not going to happen, even they don’t want to act responsibility.


They had there chance and blew it, the fall out will last generations.


mazin

They have lost the young, but maybe can salvage something as a minority party. Everett Dirksen anyone?

Of course, this is waaaaaay back when the GOP cared about the Constitution and the Rule of Law, balanced budget, individual rights, etc.

Less oriented to foreign interference in our elections.

Hey, Moscow Mitch when are you going to let the election interference legislation be voted upon? NEVER

It is sad when you see a great party oriented to individual liberty and free thought become subverted to a believe system honoring a sacred leader.

As for traditional value conservatives, religion has become subject to hero worship. The reign of King Herod the Obscene is supreme.

Question: And why have we lost the youth?

Answer: They see through our BS.


Snoid

I have read that the fact we are are on home lock down will itself reduce carbon emissions massively. Bet Greta is thrilled.


panflash

Allan, thanks, as usual, for your studious examination of such a matter.


Unless I missed it, though, you didn’t mention the White-Nose Syndrome that has been decimating our bat populations for the better part of a decade already:


https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/


W-NS is a serious threat to the bat population, and its chain of effects on nature could be difficult to combat.


Oh, and also, please keep in mind that trees are also living things, so, yes- many have died since the advent of the human race. But, obviously, many have also grown as well. So, statistics estimating the number of trees that have died in the history of the world do not necessarily add to the discussion here.


mazin

If you get a bat in the house. Close off various rooms centering the bat in a locale in the house and open the windows and doors. They always find a way out. Bats often live under your rain gutters. Make sure your attic is sealed.