Neustadter: COVID-19 shows how we can respond to climate change

Corinne Neustadter

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

In the last four months, each one of our lives has been irrevocably interrupted due to COVID-19.


This international crisis has forced us to reckon with the way our economic and social systems work — namely, that many of our policies only work for the upper echelons of society while leaving everyone else to fend for themselves.

The societal changes brought about by COVID-19 illustrates the strides in policy that can be made in a very short time when a national crisis demands action, as well as the devastating impacts that failing to build on these policies can cause.

Analyzing how COVID-19 has affected policy provides a useful framework for moving forward with stronger environmental policies in a year that could prove critical for mitigating climate change.

COVID-19 has exposed just how fragile our societal norms and systems really are, despite prior faith in their strength.

In a very short time, millions of people were forced to change how they lived and worked in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Corporations previously opposed to working from home, such as Twitter, have told many employees that they can work from home “forever” if they want to.

Even without a coordinated response from the federal government, states and companies have adapted to the changes that COVID-19 has brought in record time.

The passage of the CARES Act happened within the first few weeks of the pandemic worsening, approved March 25 on bipartisan support. In less than a month, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle created policy quickly.

“This international crisis has forced us to reckon with the way our economic and social systems work — namely that they only work for the upper echelons of society while leaving everyone else to fend for themselves.”

One social policy critical in lowering emissions that has been chronically underfunded is public transportation. State and local systems have been systematically dismantled with policy changes initiated by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. With COVID-19, many cities have been forced to shut down routes and lay off workers as many mass transportation systems are underwater.

As public transport is often the only affordable option for many workers, its current situation threatens thousands of people’s abilities to do their jobs in the middle of what may be the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Yet it is one of the first programs to be slashed at the state and county level.

Public transport can also create greater mobility in communities while significantly lowering carbon emissions. A study from the United States Department of Transportation found that any form of mass transit will produce less emissions than private vehicles per passenger, signifying that investment in these systems can play a large role in reducing emissions.


Simply maintaining existing systems can therefore continue to help commuters access reliable transport for their jobs and mitigate carbon emissions with every trip, making it one of the most effective tools that local governments have in mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Moreover, COVID-19 has impacted the oil and gas industry, giving states a rare chance to rethink its policies. The pandemic has drastically impacted the production of natural gas, which has significantly increased its domestic production since the 2008 crisis due to overproduction.

Despite the massive subsidies provided to producers by the federal government, the industry has severely contracted and will feel the consequences of COVID-19 for years.

With this shift in natural gas production, there is an opportunity to put a greater focus on green technologies. Solar, wind and hydroelectric technologies have the potential to remake the state of American environmental affairs but requires bipartisan support at the national level to redirect subsidies that could significantly impact how green technologies are developed.

These changes only present the beginnings of how American environmental policies can rapidly shift to support people of all socioeconomic levels rather than simply relying on the status quo that only ignores the problem of rising carbon emissions.

As the pandemic has illustrated, rapid change is possible, but it must be supportive of the most vulnerable people, and it must strengthen our social institutions.

Corinne Neustadter can be reached at or on Twitter @cneustad.