Coronavirus crisis opens new paths toward clean energy

When Rahm Emanuel famously advised not to let another “crisis go to waste,” he lamented that the oil crises of the 1970s came and went without solving our energy woes. As the incoming chief of staff amid the 2008 financial crisis, Emanuel foresaw “an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before” in clean energy and beyond. That crisis too passed with too little accomplished.

Now a new crisis has arisen. Energy is merely on the periphery this time. Combatting the coronavirus and protecting human lives must be job one. I write these words from a college campus where classrooms are closed for the semester and want nothing more than for students and everyone else to stay safe and well.

I’ll leave it to medical experts to address the health crisis at hand. But those of us in the environmental arena can ponder how recent developments shift the policy landscape for the climate crisis that will remain long after the coronavirus crisis has abated.

First, it’s important not to take the wrong lessons from current events. Emissions will likely dip this year. As China battled the coronavirus, its emissions fell by a quarter. Globally, fewer flights and cruises mean less jet and marine fuels are burned. American energy use will likely decline too as more people stay home.

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