Mar 11, 2021
melting ice in ocean

Guest posting by James Thebaut

I’m a longtime public policy advisor with a background and education in environmental planning. It has been disheartening to witness climate policy approaches that could have a lasting impact exchanged for those that may sound good during a press conference but have little chance of real success. But we have an opportunity to use COVID stimulus spending to address climate issues.

Lawmakers have floated the concept of utilizing COVID-allocated funds to climate projects. The Biden administration and Climate Czar John Kerry laid out their roadmap for climate mitigation and — hopefully — global cooperation with other superpowers and industrialized nations. Against that background, I have a few recommendations to help make the plan succeed.

Allocating COVID relief funds to address impacts of the climate crisis requires using an analytical decision-making process to establish priorities. It will be necessary to create and apply a Programmatic National Environmental Impact Statement Policy Act Planning process in association with the creation of a precise model to establish national priorities to allocate the required funds.

Most government ecological or environmental decision-making is conducted on a piecemeal, financially motivated, or political expediency basis rather than a systematic, objective, and holistic ecological approach. The process must include establishing a criterion, delimitation, and scope to identify priorities, including these hypothetical criteria for setting priorities:

  1. National and international security implications
  2. The potential loss of life and property
  3. Impacts on disadvantaged communities
  4. Economic and commercial considerations
  5. Water, energy, and food system impacts
  6. Regional considerations, which also encompass all the above

I recommend the administration, as well as interested consumers and academics, review the 1972 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). established that any project that could potentially have a profound or significant impact on the environment be subject to an environmental review. This involves the formulation of a multi-disciplinary team that includes an understanding of the human and natural systems, scientific analysis as well as addressing environmental engineering, technological, economics, public/private partnership issues, and regional environmental planning expertise. Also, it’s critical the team has a broad, comprehensive understanding of the consequences and magnitude of the evolving ecological threats of our climate crisis.

The COVID decisions would initially involve analyzing the United States portion of North America from a holistic ecological perspective. Ecological systems transcend state borders, boundaries, and political jurisdictions. Law must adapt to nature. For example, transboundary waters are common around our planet because watersheds cross borders. The study must include cooperation from Canada and Mexico, as well as integrate global considerations. It’s critical that decisions are based on a comprehensive analysis of the benefits and of worst-case climate case scenarios that may face the U.S. in coming decades.

Also, the project must involve state and local governmental agencies, the public, and the media in the research process to maximize transparency, minimize politicalizing of the process, and create dialog. Organized town hall meetings with all stakeholders would create comprehension and awareness as part of the process. This, in turn, will result in geopolitical and public understanding of micro ecological climate crisis impacts on communities; the results of public discussion should be incorporated into the conclusions of the study.

The process should include the establishment of a commission comprised of regional and local oversight members. While in Seattle, working with Seattle City Light, I participated in creating a Citizen Oversight Committee that was able to influence pre-decision research and the allocation of funding. Having involvement on the regional level also allows feedback about the results of federal or state-level studies about climate change.

The Citizen Oversight Committee can publicize its decisions about which projects should be funded, the expected results in direct climate mitigation, or request that more research is funded before COVID funds are dispersed to assure there is quality control in what goes where. This group can also tie in local media to provide broader information to the larger community.

People rarely realize their power when it comes to getting involved, and how big an impact they can have on governmental actions. Most of the time it’s simply because they never ask to have that power. In this singular time, when pandemic and climate change are converging, the opportunity to extend COVID funding to support a green return to normal is a chance that should not be wasted. A public, science-based approach to creating a plan would improve the results and provide the Biden administration leverage in negotiations with Congress, the states, and neighboring countries.

About the Author

James Thebaut is a documentarian, public policy advisor, and CEO of The Chronicles Group. His current projects and past documentaries can be seen on PBS nationwide and at

Feature image courtesy of Free-Photos, Pixabay

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