Rebuilding the country by the Green
Perhaps it may be construed as impolite to debate predictions for a post-pandemic world, while the entire society is uneasy. There is not a single person who isn't concerned with their health and that of their loved ones, as well as the preservation of their professional occupations and income. However, for the civilization resumption to be based on sustainable principles, in the broadest sense of the term, the immediate discussion is inevitable.
There are already prompts to boost predatory activities from an environmental perspective. Media and society's awareness is completely focused on the spread of the pandemic and its outcomes. Although fully understandable, this context enables openings for advancing policies that, in non-critical times, would generate clashing protests from the community, such as the limitation of rights and promotion of attacks on environmental preservation.
In the U.S., the Trump administration introduced new guidelines for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week: companies will be largely exempt from consequences for polluting the air or water. Not even the most naive person imagines that the restrictions will return anytime soon, considering the history of the American president on environmental issues. Moreover, the impacts of the starting economic crisis will last for years to come, at least.
For now, presidents of both houses of Brazilian Congress refuse to move forward controversial bills regarding the environment to a vote, but that could change suddenly. The inevitable economic crisis resulting from the outbreak will require even the most neoclassical economic teams to take Keynesian measures: fiscal and monetary interventions by the State to recharge the economy, avoiding social chaos.
This new clutch time is directing even more subsidies to the polluting industries such as airlines and oil and gas. But these subsidies were already very high before the crisis. This is done without requiring beneficiaries any counterpart that mitigates their emissions, further deepening the economy's dependence on harmful production in the long run, considering external impacts and damages caused by climate change.
Although made possible by a health catastrophe, this may be the long-awaited chance to evade the worst scenarios foretold as consequences of the climatic emergency, which will generate long and constant cycles of recession and depression, in addition to other socioeconomic impacts. For some years now, environmental economists have been pointing out a possible Green New Deal as a way out of the climate crisis: an extensive public investment program that would generate jobs, income, and economic growth, while modifying the entire infrastructure to alleviate polluting emissions.
If at the global level the most evident example would be large expenditure on new renewable energy plants and energy efficiency programs, a local Brazilian initiative should, in addition to covering energy aspects, have as its flagship the massive flow of resources for universal access to water and a proper sewage system. Associated with the climate agenda, there would be actions for replanting and the creation of national parks, similar to the original New Deal implemented by Roosevelt to overcome the crash of 1929. There is still the possibility of promoting a green industry. Its inputs would be the rich Brazilian biodiversity, provided that this exploitation is done in a sustainable way.
The Brazilian scenario also requires, especially at the subnational level, the adaptation of its whole infrastructure to severe climatic conditions. Such works would prevent expenses that could go up to a trillion, adding up the losses over past decades. Furthermore, it would apply a positive multiplier effect on the economy due to the jobs created.
For such an initiative to be viable, it is urgent to point out and publicize this path, before the polluting industries lobby dominates the debate on the alternatives for the resumption. In this sense, the Centro Brasil no Clima, a major articulator of the climate agenda in Brazil amongst the various sectors involved, can once again be a protagonist and develop an undertaking, in partnership with academic experts, that establishes outlines and alternatives for a Brazilian Green New Deal, as well as advertising the rationality of this route to the media and the public and private sectors.
Otherwise, it is likely that the climate agenda will be perceived as secondary to the eyes of administrators and society, even if such a vision is shortsighted in the long run. All the consciousness, actions and resources will be directed towards programs that aim at immediate results on public health and employment preservation, losing sight of the fact that postponing climate progress today will generate a much bigger crisis tomorrow.