We can start by identifying behaviors like teleworking, which have gained wider acceptance in a COVID-19 world but are also advantageous to sustainability and climate change mitigation. These behaviors may be continued to a much greater extent post-pandemic than was previously believed realistic. In 2012, LMI published Climate Change: What You Can Do Now to help program managers and policymakers understand how climate science could inform actionable policy guidance. I was one of several contributing authors who examined how practical changes in public health, information technology and communications, land use, infrastructure, vehicles and fleets, supply chain, and national security could support sustainability and resiliency outcomes. One recommendation, telehealth appointments in lieu of driving to the doctor’s office, has similarly gained prominence as we find new ways to conduct our lives safely.
As individuals and organizations gain an appreciation for how technology allows them to conduct activities differently, attitudes are changing. There is a unique opportunity to make select sustainable and climate risk management practices mainstream and introspective organizations will begin to assess those practices now. While none may be adopted with the strict adherence we see today, for economic as well as practical reasons, they nonetheless can support sustainability with negligible impact on organizations’ productivity.
Infrastructure has been a cornerstone of U.S. economic recoveries dating back to the public works projects to combat the Great Depression. If such projects factor into our pandemic recovery, we must ensure 21st century infrastructure is built to withstand the modern-day threats of wildfires, flooding, and extreme weather events associated with sea-level rise and warming temperatures. The federal government pays for 60% of hurricane damage, such as rebuilding Puerto Rico’s electrical infrastructure (estimated $17 billion) after hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 and reparing Tyndall Air Force Base (est. $3 billion) in Florida after Hurricane Michael in 2018. It is easy to see how, if executed properly, a nationwide infrastructure revitalization effort that incorporates sound sustainability, climate mitigation, and resiliency practices could turn billions of stimulus dollars spent into billions of dollars more saved over the next 30 years.