April 2020 – Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway
Climate Mayors Steering Committee Member

The spread of the novel coronavirus has required an urgent, coordinated, global response to minimize the human toll of this pandemic. Like all cities, we in Madison have a laser focus on addressing the immediate public health risks and maintaining the safety and wellbeing of our communities. We’re focused on flattening the curve and ensuring food access and housing support for all our residents. While we are focused on these priorities now, we must also start looking toward long-term economic recovery.

At the same time, we must not take our eye off the greatest threat of our generation – the risks of catastrophic climate change.

As we work to rebuild our communities, the same themes that have been fundamental to the fight against climate change — green jobs, clean infrastructure, just transitions, resilience, and support for frontline and vulnerable communities — must all be core to economic stimulus packages designed to get the country back on track. We should not be satisfied with building back the economies we had. We should build back the economies we want.

In Madison, we’re experiencing an increase in flooding due to climate change; our utility generates half our electricity from coal; and we have serious racial disparities related to health and housing affordability. I see economic opportunities in Madison that help address all of these issues.

We have a major need to invest in our housing stock in Madison. Sub-standard housing that has been impacted by flooding is leading to an increase in childhood asthma from the subsequent mold issues. The health impacts from mold exacerbate issues already felt by families related to high energy bills and drafty homes. What if we invested in these homes while preserving their affordability? Funding for mold remediation, weatherization, and rooftop solar could help lower bills, improve health and comfort, reduce carbon emissions, and increase our supply of quality affordable housing, all while creating living wage, skilled trade jobs.

Madison’s lakes are also being impacted by climate change. Increased runoff from more intense storms combined with warmer temperatures result in increased algae blooms. The degrading water quality impacts lake ecosystems, our health, and the sectors of our economy that support water-based recreation. We know we need to dramatically increase our use of distributed green infrastructure to manage both the quantity and quality of urban water entering the lakes. We’re currently identifying the specific solutions we need in different areas of the city. But implementing them all could take many years. An infusion of funding for infrastructure projects could accelerate our progress, improve community connections to nature in the city, and grow a next-generation workforce of designers, engineers, utility workers, and maintenance workers who understand a new level of integration between cities and nature.

An economic stimulus can help cities grow sectors of our economy that address multiple community needs and make us more resilient in the long-run. As we see recovery bills coming from the federal government in the coming months, we must advocate that funds be directed in ways that center people, equity, climate and environmental health. We can support the creation of better-paying and more stable jobs than the ones that were lost. And we can help direct these jobs to the communities that need them most, reducing poverty levels and racial disparities in the process, which benefits us all. We can build clean and rapid community transit and clean energy systems, and help solve the climate crisis in the process. We can provide safe, efficient and affordable housing for those who need it. And we can make sure that everyone has access to healthy and affordable food.

The place to achieve these goals is in cities. Federal support for cities is fundamental to our recovery. Not only are cities under severe financial stress due to COVID-19; cities are critical hubs of innovation. The work happening in cities leads to 21st century solutions. It grows a new and better workforce while significantly reducing carbon emissions and improving our quality of life. Any successful effort to address the climate crisis and restore the economy will require working closely with cities to deliver meaningful outcomes and a resilient future.

The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for years. Every level of government will need to be focused on rebuilding our economy while maintaining public health. We must all work together to ensure that our economic recovery leads to a just and equitable transition for all Americans, ensuring we are more resilient to future health, economic and environmental shocks.

The COVID-19 pandemic requires us to invest in building our economy back up. Let’s build back better. Let’s make our economy, our environment, and our people stronger and more resilient in the long-run.