Lessons from the Coronavirus Pandemic for Environmental Governance

Seeing the Woods: A Rachel Carson Center Blog, 2020

4 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2020

See all articles by Erin Ryan

Erin Ryan

Florida State University, College of Law

Date Written: June 1, 2020


This very short essay distills lessons from the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic for leaders everywhere about how—and how not—to manage complex interjurisdictional challenges, like the environment, which unfold without regard for political boundaries.

In a matter of months, COVID-19 has laid bare the interdependence of the world on every front imaginable: global public health, economic growth and development, social and professional networks, transportation and migration, and of course, ecological and environmental systems. No single nation has the coronavirus. No one state is economically disrupted. There is no single ethnic group, occupation, or corner of the world that has been impacted. All of us, in every corner of the world, in every profession, and in every ecosystem are affected. Since the virus was introduced, it has surfed the channels of our interconnectedness, uniting us all in the grip of its devastation. Similarly, unless we can act in unison to contain it, it will continue to surf those channels, exposing our interconnectedness despite all efforts to pretend otherwise.

In this way, the virus and our response to it betrays the fundamental problem with which environmental governance has always contended in our interdependent, multijurisdictional world: We cannot do it alone. The major environmental problems with which we wrestle—air and water pollution, biodiversity preservation, ecosystem integrity, climate stability, and all the others—are bigger than we are, and certainly bigger than any one of these jurisdictions. No matter how skilled or well-intended, a single town, city, state, or even nation cannot effectively cope with the critical environmental challenges of our time, because they extend beyond these arbitrary political boundaries. To accomplish our goals, we have to coordinate our efforts.

Keywords: Coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, environmental governance, multilevel governance, federalism, regulatory backstop, interjurisdictional competition, Defense Production Act, climate change, Trump Administration, Andrew Cuomo, Andy Beshar, Gavin Newsom

Suggested Citation

Ryan, Erin, Lessons from the Coronavirus Pandemic for Environmental Governance (June 1, 2020). Seeing the Woods: A Rachel Carson Center Blog, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3648648

Erin Ryan (Contact Author)

Florida State University, College of Law ( email )

425 W. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32306
United States

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