Congress included $35 billion to the recently signed coronavirus relief package to spend on green energy and the reduction of potent greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbon (HFC’s), according to The New York Times. HFC’s are used in air conditioners and refrigerators and have 1,000 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide, according to Iowa Public Radio.
The deal requires that chemical manufacturers phase down the production of coolants and HFC’s, which by 2035, could prevent 949 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. By 2050, this deal could prevent 70 billion tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
Reducing HFC’s is a major step in combating climate change and reducing future carbon dioxide production.
Oil and gas operations, farms, and thousands of similar operations have been granted permission to bypass environmental rules that are intended to protect health and the environment, according to the Associated Press.
On March 26, the Trump administration waived enforcement of EPA regulations, stating that industries would have difficulty complying with them because of COVID-19. This move came after letters were sent to President Donald Trump and later the EPA from The American Petroleum Institute stating that worker shortages and staff issues would make monitoring, reporting, and fixing hazardous air emissions difficult.
The Associated Press found the EPA granted 3,000 waivers with the majority citing the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Oil and gas companies received a green light to skip dozens of scheduled tests and inspections critical for ensuring safe operations, such as temporarily halting or delaying tests for leaks or checking on tank seals, flare stacks, emissions monitoring systems or engine performance, which could raise the risk of explosions,” the Associated Press said.
April 22, 2020, is not just another Earth Day. It is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day – the one that changed my life forever. Naive and over my head as student body president at Iowa State-1970, my world was on fire with righteous indignation against a compulsory draft for an unjust War in Vietnam. At times I actually thought that it would tear the country apart.
The first Earth Day strangely diverted my immediate attention, and the diversion would last a lifetime. Brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson and organized by Denis Hayes as a national Teach-In, Earth Da
y spawned immense bipartisan gatherings of 20 million people in the streets for one unifying goal – a healthy Planet Earth. Earth Day ignited in me a realization that my chemical engineering education from ISU could morph into something green and more fascinating, that is, trying to understand water quality, biodiversity, and the biogeochemistry of Earth’s processes. Discerning remedies for the massive disruptions that 7.7 billion people and an $80 trillion GWP can inflict on the earth has proven even more challenging.
This year we celebrate Earth Day with digital gatherings due to coronavirus. It’s not the same, but perhaps the pandemic can teach us some valuable lessons. Some people were slow to accept the dismal science of a spreading pandemic – they lacked trust in health professionals’ recommendations for social distancing, staying home, and closing businesses, sporting events, churches and social gatherings. But the flattening curves of Wuhan, South Korea, Singapore, and even Italy, Spain, and New York bear testament to the wisdom of their call.
Our national plan for the pandemic Covid-19 was non-existent, like the Emperor’s new clothes, plain for all to see. Pandemics are “global disease outbreaks” and they require national plans and concerted global action. As recently as 2003-2004, WHO mitigated much more rapidly a similar virus, SARS, by careful messaging and international cooperation of 11 labs in 9 different countries. U.S. and Chinese scientists together developed a vaccine within a year. Far too little cooperation exists today, both at home and abroad. Politics and hyper partisanship are disastrous in a time of global need. We can do better.
Analogies between climate change and our pandemic response are obvious. We have no national plan for either. As a young egg-head professor at the University of Iowa, I published my first modeling paper on climate change and its consequences in 1994, many years after others had done so. It projected (surprisingly accurately) the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today with business-as-usual. That’s exactly what happened – business as usual. If you had told me that the U.S. would still not have comprehensive climate change and energy legislation in 2020, I would have told you, “you’re crazy”.
But it’s in the history books. We have failed to listen to the science and failed to reduce our gargantuan greenhouse gas emissions — the planet cannot take it anymore. Now it really is a Climate Emergency. What’s more, we are threatening to extinct 1 million species in the next generation as well – the Biodiversity Crisis.
Coronavirus humbles us all. How can one not be moved by the sight of doctors, nurses, custodians, and admissions clerks risking their lives for the rest of us? How can one not weep to see the miles of cars lined-up at food banks because families have nowhere else to turn? Playing out in the richest country in the world gives great pause.
Yes, we need science-based decision making on coronavirus and on climate change, but we need compassion and understanding as well. Noted columnist Sarah Van Gelder writes, “Changing hearts and opening minds begins when we listen”. Imagine the world we want, where everyone is safe and healthy, where the air is clean and the water is pure. Then, let us celebrate the 50th Anniversary of that spontaneous, bipartisan, original Earth Day by speaking from the heart and listening to each other.
Jerry Schnoor is professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Research at the University of Iowa.
The economic effects of COVID-19 are contributing to the largest reduction in carbon dioxide emissions since the end of World War II according to Newsweek. This year would entail the first reduction of carbon dioxide emissions since the 1.4% drop after the 2008 financial crisis.
The economic standstill of COVID-19 is predicted to decrease global carbon emissions by 5% in 2020 according to Utility Dive, a website that covers topics on trends in the utility industry.
This decline is due to less transportation-use and less demand on the power sector from commercial businesses; the two major drivers of air pollution. Fewer people are traveling and working in order to maintain social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
As the 2019 novel coronavirus, now considered a pandemic by the World Health Organization, has impacted several businesses, including air travel, emissions and air pollution have fallen significantly around the globe. Satellite images of China show how air pollution has fallen drastically due to a fall in economic activity as the country responds to the outbreak. According to an analysis from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, China’s carbon emissions have been reduced by 25%.
However, environmental watchdog and activist groups have warned that these effects are temporary, and may even be harmful in the long run, as an economic slowdown replaces policy and clean energy investment as the means of reducing emissions. Zeke Hausfather, the director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, told Wired that “the only real times we’ve seen large emission reductions globally in the past few decades is during major recessions. But even then, the effects are often smaller than you think.” In 2008, for instance, emissions fell globally by 3%, but returned to normal and continued to grow after a few years.
As COVID-19 stalls infrastructure projects, that will likely include large clean energy projects. On Thursday, analysts from Bloomberg New Energy Finance lowered forecasts for new solar energy projects this year by 8%, predicting that electric car sales will likely fall as well.
Another impact of the outbreak is a dramatic fall in oil prices, which can slow electric car sales and discourage people from looking for clean energy alternatives. However, travel bans and fears of the virus mean that the rise in travel that usually accompanies a drop in oil prices isn’t likely to happen. Furthermore, the sale of electric cars is being driven by regulations in places like Europe, China, and California, as well as falling battery prices, which may also mean that cheaper oil won’t have as significant an impact this time.
The social, economic, and health impacts of COVID-19 are continuing to develop on a daily basis. Be sure to follow the latest information from the CDC here.