Updated: May 31
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the economies of both Europe and the United States, but the two have not responded equally. While the United States has given out loans to billionaires, celebrities, and country clubs, Europe has invested billions in tackling climate change. These starkly different responses demonstrate the disadvantage America is facing when it comes to building the green industries of the future.
In July of 2020, European leaders met in Brussels for a five-day summit, where they agreed to spend 500 billion euros ($572 billion) to fight climate change. This represents more than two thirds of the $857 billion that they agreed to spend to counteract the economic contraction caused by the pandemic. Europe has already pledged to become the world’s first carbon-neutral continent by 2050, a goal that European countries are willing to spend money to attain. It still falls upon the leaders of the individual European countries to come up with the money and make sure that it isn’t wasted, but the pledge alone is an important signal that Europe takes the threat of climate change seriously and is willing to address it even in the middle of a pandemic.
While the pandemic has spurred European leaders into action, America’s response to the pandemic has completely ignored climate change. Instead, the money that Congress has allocated for relief has been wasted on PPP loans to billionaires, country clubs, and even Kanye West. In August of 2020, Congress adjourned after failing to agree on an extension of emergency unemployment benefits. There has been no discussion in congress about any investments in renewable energy and the political debates in the United States are limited only to discussions about immediate relief.
The Global Response
When China looks at the two responses to the pandemic, they see Europe preparing urgently for the future by investing in green energy, energy efficiency, and zero-emissions cars. They see European leaders who are cognizant of the much better return on investment that renewable energy provides compared with fossil fuels. Meanwhile, the United States has used the pandemic as an excuse to put climate change on the backburner. Our inaction now will only set us even further behind as Europe and China race ahead to build the renewable energy infrastructure that America should be building today.
Europe alone cannot stop climate change. The hundreds of billions of dollars, while absolutely critical to the fight against climate change, pale in comparison to what America could and should contribute if it took the challenge seriously. Over the past decade, the entire European continent has been responsible for approximately 12% of the total global Carbon dioxide emissions. The United States alone contributes about 15% of the global emissions, making the U.S. second largest carbon dioxide emitting country in the world (China comes in first at 28%). Without serious commitment and leadership from the U.S., Europe’s efforts will barely make a dent in the global warming crisis.