Whenever I talk about COVID-19 or climate change with skeptics, I use a simple analogy: Imagine that your child is sick with a disease and you decide to take her to 100 different doctors to get multiple opinions — and 99 doctors give you the same diagnosis and prescribed treatment and one tells you that there’s nothing to worry about, that your child’s disease will “disappear … like a miracle, it will disappear.”
What parents in their right minds would follow the advice of the doctor with the one-out-of-100 diagnosis?
This, alas, is no hypothetical. This, alas, is actually the most important question facing voters in choosing our next president. Are you ready to trust your own child’s and the country’s health to the guy who holds the one-out-of-100 view on both climate change and COVID-19? He being Dr. Donald Trump, founder of Trump University, where he apparently earned a B.S. in b.s.
It is stunning to me how many conservatives want to go with the doctor with the one-out-of-100 diagnosis, since doing so is anything but conservative. It’s Trotskyite radical.
And to riff off Trotsky for another moment, Republicans may not be interested in Mother Nature, but Mother Nature is interested in them. Both climate change and COVID-19 have brutally elbowed their way into our lives in the past year, and for the same reason: We have been stressing our ecosystems to their limits and beyond.
We’ve done this by invading wilderness areas and extracting wildlife carrying viruses never borne before by human beings and by emitting CO2 that is heating the planet, amplifying storms that brought four months of rain in four hours in Florida and wildfires of epic proportions to the West Coast.
Joe Biden wants to proceed with more caution, and Trump wants to throw caution to the wind. That’s why the widely respected science journal Scientific American did something last week for the first time, declaring: “Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in our 175-year history — until now. The 2020 election is literally a matter of life and death. We urge you to vote for health, science and Joe Biden for President.”
The choice could not be more stark or important. Trump’s implicit motto when it comes to COVID-19 and environmental protection is always the same: Your money OR your life?
Which do you value more? Biden’s motto has been your money AND your life — you should not, and do not, have to choose between them, if we are wise and follow science.
How so? On COVID-19, for Trump, it’s jobs or masks, opening school or masks, social distancing or Big Ten football, science or church. Everything is black or white. And so is the result: So many Americans are jobless today and watching their kids learning remotely from home because Trump pitted masks against in-classroom schooling, masks against jobs, masks against indoor restaurant dining and masks against gathering for church services.
And too many Americans chose jobs and school and church out of desperation, and they’ve already paid the price or will pay it.
Biden, by contrast, is a unifier. He’s argued that if everyone wears a mask, practices social distancing and gets tested, we can BOTH protect many more jobs AND protect many more lives. Masks are not at war with jobs; they are the driver and protector of job growth in a pandemic. Masks are the vehicle to opening schools and other indoor activities — not their enemy. Just ask the Germans, Singaporeans or South Koreans.
Ditto when it comes to the environment and climate change. Trump wants everyone to believe that protecting nature means unemploying people. It’s clean air OR economic growth. It’s gas guzzlers OR unemployment. He’s forever pitting jobs against nature.
Biden stands for the unity of jobs AND the environment, the unity of jobs AND mitigating climate change. A clean, green economy equals better health AND more and better jobs. And the beauty is this: All that Biden has to do to prove his point is read aloud from the business and science pages:
Oct. 15, New Scientist: “The green economy has grown so much in the U.S. that it employs around 10 times as many people as the fossil fuel industry — despite the past decade’s oil and gas boom.”
June 30, Bloomberg.com: “Tesla Inc.'s market value has surpassed Exxon Mobil Corp.'s in a sign that investors are increasingly betting on a global energy transition away from fossil fuels.” Tesla makes electric cars, batteries and solar products.
Aug. 25, CBS News: “Exxon Mobil, which joined the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1928, is being removed from the blue-chip stock market index. Its replacement: enterprise software company Salesforce.com.”
April 6, Recharge: “Renewables accounted for nearly three-quarters of global power capacity additions last year — half of which was switched on in Asia, according to latest figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency.”
Sept. 17, Fortune editor Alan Murray: “Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald told me yesterday his company now has more U.S. stores closed due to environmental risk — fires in the West, hurricane in the Gulf, etc. — than due to COVID-19.”
If climate change turns out to be a less serious problem than predicted, and we pursue all of the above anyway, we will be like an athlete who trains for the Olympics, but the Olympics are postponed. No problem. We’ll just be that much healthier. Our air will be cleaner, our industries and vehicles and homes and industries will be so much more efficient and our economy will be the world leader in the clean power technologies that every country will want to import from us — climate change or not — as we add nearly 1 billion people to the planet by 2030. Yes, there will be nearly 1 billion more people on the planet in 10 years.
On the other hand, if we treat climate change like a daydream and it proves to be a nightmare, we will be in real trouble as a species.
So, I hope Biden goes into next week’s debate and just says: "My fellow Americans, you don’t hire an arsonist to put out forest fires. You don’t hire a divider to heal racial wounds. You don’t hire a poisoner to clean up your water supply. And most of all — most of all — you don’t hire someone who pits nature against jobs and jobs against health at a time when we so clearly need them all and we so clearly can have them all.
Thomas L. Friedman is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.