Posted in | News | Climate Change | Pollution

COVID-19 can Have a Positive Impact on Energy and Environment Landscape

With people taking refuge to slow down the spread of COVID-19 infection, the daily discharge of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas has reduced drastically by 17% worldwide, reports a recent study conducted by the Global Carbon Project.

Rob Jackson. Image Credit: Courtesy Rob Jackson.

The Global Carbon Project is an initiative headed by Rob Jackson a Stanford University researcher.

The study, published in the Nature Climate Change journal, compiles activity data and government policies to identify where energy requirements have decreased the most and to predict the effect on yearly emissions.

Jackson, a professor of Earth system science in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth) at Stanford University, sees the scope of a healthier society and greener economy in the latest study’s findings.

In the following excerpts, he converses over the present pandemic, what it can teach the public about behavioral changes, jump-starting a recovery, etc.

Does the Global Carbon Project’s study on day-to-day reduction of CO2 emissions related to COVID-19 expose any surprises?

According to Jackson, the reduced global emissions that were estimated this year will surprise certain people in being just 4% to 7%, because the shelter-in-place rules are staggered and transient across different nations.

However, it would still remain the biggest drop in CO2 emissions since World War II, albeit for unsustainable and unwanted reasons. More amazingly, emissions in the United States reduced one-third for part of the April month, which is an unexpected drop fueled by reduced electricity demand, manufacturing, and mobility.

What does history tell people about the way previous shocks changed the fossil fuel emissions?

Jackson added that financial crises are fleeting. The 2008 recession decreased the emissions of CO2 gas by 1.5% worldwide for one year. The next year, emissions reached 5% as if nothing had altered—because it had not in terms of the infrastructure of fossil fuels.

On the other hand, the oil shocks witnessed in the 1970s were specific to the people’s use of fossil fuel, and hence more transformative. They resulted in everything from the birth of the solar to smaller cars and Alaskan oil sectors.

Global organizations, like the UN and IMF, have urged for a post-pandemic recovery that addresses the crisis of climate change. How would you sell that idea to the average person?

Jackson informed that nearly $50 billion of stimulus funding post the 2008 recession made it possible to redefine solar and wind power and energy conservation. Today, everyone is still reaping the benefits from green power, traditionally low-cost solar and wind contracts, as well as a clean-energy sector that uses three million Americans.

Today, the same opportunity is available to reshape transportation. For instance, one may begin by freeing up the $40 billion in low-interest loans that are presently idled in the clean energy and advanced vehicle loan programs of the Department of Energy.

How might this pandemic impact people’s behaviors and attitudes related to emissions-producing activities?

According to Jackson, COVID-19 could permanently alter commuting and transportation. Cities from Seattle to Milan are opening miles of streets to bicyclists and pedestrians and closing them to traffic permanently. Even part-time telecommuting may become the new normal. Traffic congestion has disappeared, and electric cars have become fast and can be fossil-free, modifying a sector of the economy that has been difficult to decarbonize.

Underprivileged communities are more susceptible to COVID-19 and climate change impacts. What can people learn from this, and how should it inform their recovery strategy in terms of emissions?

Jackson stated that air pollution weakens the lungs and hearts and renders the virus stronger. COVID-19 is impacting people of color and the poor, causing them to die disproportionately. Such people also live closer to car-heavy freeways and coal-fired power plants—the two largest sources of air pollution that kill scores of Americans every year. Clean power combined with electric cars can give clean air to everyone without forcing them to remain at home.

What has COVID-19 shown you about the environment?

People are amazed at how rapidly the air had cleared as soon as people stopped driving. Jackson added that his son in Los Angeles called and stated, “Dad, the skies are blue!” The environment is resilient and so do the people. COVID-19 is likely to bring in good things, concluded Jackson.

Journal Reference:

Le Quéré, C., et al. (2020) Temporary reduction in daily global CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement. Nature Climate Change.

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