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COVID-19 Is The Catalyst We Need To Push Renewable Energy Forward

The coronavirus has devastated business as usual. Perhaps now is the time to think about what business should look like in the future instead of the past?

The latest data from the Transportation Safety Administration shows the number of daily passenger screenings at US airports are down 93% from just a month ago. On April 1, 136,000 screenings were conducted. On April 1, 2019, more than 2.1 million screenings took place.

Business is far from usual in America or around the world as the COVID-19 pandemic decimates industry after industry. Sales of new cars in China last month were off 79%. US auto sales could slip from 17 million to less than 10 million this year. The global economy has been ripped apart and the question on everyone’s lips is, “What’s next?”

To paraphrase Julius Caesar, “There comes a time in the tide of all civilizations which, taken at the flood, leads on to victory. But if the opportunity is lost, the result will be doom, destruction, and death.” We are at such a crossroads right now. We can choose to pedal backward furiously or we can choose to boldly go where human civilization has never gone before.

America purports to be the world’s leading nation. How it chooses to respond to this moment will have a direct impact on most other countries as the human race struggles to crawl out from beneath the destruction caused by the COVID-19 virus.

I was walking on the jetty on South Hutchinson Island near Fort Pierce on a glorious Florida morning earlier today, watching a process known as “beach renourishment.” Here’s a little history. In 1920, a man named William Binney dredged a channel across Hutchinson Island to provide access to the ocean from the city of Fort Pierce. Binney was one of the founders of the Binney-Smith Company, known the world over as the creators of Crayola crayons. He also owned a dredging company.

More than 2 decades later, the ocean side of the island became the training area for the amphibious landing craft that would make history on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. There are 11 such man made passageways between the ocean and the so-called inland waterway — a lagoon of protected water that stretches from Jacksonville to Key Largo.

Thanks in large part to such passageways, beach erosion on the east coast of Florida is a constant threat to Florida’s many seaside communities. 50 years ago, the state made an agreement with the Corps of Engineers to replenish the beaches annually. That agreement expired last year and so now the local county must shoulder the burden of keeping the beaches from washing away.

Image credit: Carolyn Fortuna

That is why a convoy of large dump trucks are bringing in 50 loads of sand a day, which is unloaded and distributed along the shoreline. Judging by the photos taken this morning, several thousand truckloads of sand have been brought in so far with many more to follow. In all, almost a million cubic yards of sand are expected to imported. Were it not for the miracle of the diesel engine, it would take tens of thousands of men and animals years to accomplish the same task. But couldn’t electric vehicles perform the same work?

Thermal Energy Has Transformed Society

Energy is often defined as the capacity to do work. James Watt pretty much invented the Industrial Revolution with his steam engine. For the first time, people could be productive without depending on animals, wind, or flowing water.

Then came electricity and suddenly we could accomplish tasks that once took weeks or months in a matter of hours simply by connecting a few wires. Next came gasoline and the rise of the automobile. Today, we have a society utterly dependent on fossil fuels — coal, oil, and natural gas — for the daily workings of society. Billions of people rely exclusively on thermal energy to feed and clothe themselves and to earn a living.

Coronavirus Has Changed Everything

The coronavirus has brought commerce to a halt. Some economists estimate US GDP could drop 50% by the end of 2020. In the past 2 weeks, almost 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits. The economy is in free fall. People can’t pay their bills and nobody is buying anything except the essentials of life — food and toilet paper.

The oil industry is in tumult. Demand for oil has plummeted just as Russia and Saudi Arabia have chosen to open their spigots and flood the world with oil. Some US oil producers are paying people to take their oil. The first bankruptcy of a fracking company was announced yesterday.

It’s fair to say we are at an inflection point. The question now is, how to restart the economy and put all those people back to work? Here is a modest proposal.

Electrify Everything

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. The heads of all the world’s major oil companies are flying in to Washington, DC in their private jets for a meeting with America’s alleged president on Friday. They won’t be there to talk about reducing carbon emissions. They will be there to see how many dollars they can pry out of American taxpayers before their businesses implode.

Wouldn’t this be an excellent time to push the transition to renewable energy and electric transportation or roll out a modest carbon tax, one that puts money back in people’s pockets? And how about retraining programs for those who are out of work so they can find employment in the jobs of the future rather than the occupations of the past?

Perhaps now would be a good time to boost incentives for electric vehicles so that when autoworkers go back to work, they are building the clean, efficient cars and trucks the world will need, not the same old devices that have been spewing particulates and poisons into the atmosphere for the past 100 years. And while we’re at it, instead of banning immigrants who actually contribute to society, how about slapping tariffs on products based on their carbon emissions so low-carbon US-made products have an advantage in the marketplace?

In other words, why not use the devastation created by the coronavirus as a springboard to implement the Green New Deal? Of course, that would require leadership, something America seems to be incapable of at the moment. But Trump says states should find their own emergency healthcare supplies.

Maybe they should take that authority to build there own post-coronavirus societies. The states are supposed to be little laboratories of democracy. Now would be a good time to construct local policies that benefit local people. If the people will lead, their leaders will follow — eventually.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.


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