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2020 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #19

Posted on 9 May 2020 by John Hartz

A chronological listing of news articles linked to on the Skeptical Science Facebook Page during the past week: Sun, May 3 through Sat, May 9, 2020

Editor's Choice

A Pandemic That Cleared Skies and Halted Cities Isn’t Slowing Global Warming

Oil tankers california Oil tankers carrying more than 20 million barrels of oil float off the coast of California.

Oil tankers carrying more than 20 million barrels of oil float off the coast of California. Credit: Petty Officer Third Class Aidan Cooney/US Coast Guard

In some ways, the dire lockdowns undertaken to stop Covid-19 have fast-forwarded us into an unlikely future—one with almost impossibly bold climate action taken all at once, no matter the cost.

Just months ago it would have been thought impossible to close polluting factories virtually overnight and slash emissions from travel by keeping billions at home. Now we know that clear skies and silent streets can come about with shocking speed.

The pandemic is a cataclysmic event so big and disruptive that it can be measured in the planetary metrics of climate change. As many as 2.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, about 8% of the estimated total for the year, will never be emitted into the atmosphere, according to estimates by the International Energy Agency. Pick any world-shaking event from 20th century history—none has produced a bigger decrease in emissions. 

A Pandemic That Cleared Skies and Halted Cities Isn’t Slowing Global Warming by Laura Millan Lombrana & Hayley Warren, Bloomberg Green, May 8, 2020

Click here to access the entire article as originally published on the Bloomberg News website.

Articles Linked to on Facebook

Sun, May 3, 2020

Mon, May 4, 2020

Tue, May 5, 2020

Wed, May 6, 2020

Thu, May 7, 2020

Fri, May 8, 2020

Sat, May 9, 2020

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Comments 1 to 13:

  1. The pandemic is temporarily good for the environment, but I'm a bit uncomfortable about trying to use it as an example of how a low carbon way of living could be, and how it isn't that difficult. The article seems to focus purely on the emissions from the reduction of transport and industry, which is all well and good, and yes, it does show to a point there are better ways of doing some things, but a skeptic might ask what is the point in having a better environment if you can't go out and appreciate it. If getting our emissions down involves slashing our freedom of mobility, cuts us off from distant family relatives, destroys our social lives, stops us enjoying our hobbies (like hiking in my case), and results in a deterioration in mental health because people can't enjoy physical connection with their friends and loved ones, is that really a better way of living? We have to hope, and advocate, that this pandemic could lead a way of having the same environmental benefits as the without the major downsides. I'd like to think we can, if I take a train to Scotland, spend a week point to point backpacking around the highlands, then get a train home, is that really so environmentally evil? I hope not, because it is really beneficial for my mental health.

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  2. The covid 19 lockdowns are brutal causing massive unemployment, economic depression and hardship. Only a fool would promote anything like that to mitigate climate change. And the results mostly don't look durable. New Zealand left a very severe lock down about 10 days ago, and there was virtually a stampede back to normality. (Semi normality to be accurate)

    But there might be one positive spinoff for the climate. The covid issue has shown the ability of governments to act robustly and decisively (America possibly excepted) when lives are at stake and so people might now be more receptive to strong government climate initiatives.

    The flip side is that lock downs have had pretty horrible economic consequences, so might put people off government climate mitigation. 

    The one thing that might remain is more working from home, which might have some long term impact on emissions. The reason I say this is most organisations seemed to have been able to work from home quite effectively. But only time will tell.

    And the other positive spinoff might be that covid 19 has woken people up to the fragility of our civilisation, and might get them thinking more about climate problems.

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  3. It is easy to be angry and disappointed by the restrictions of Freedom that were required to limit the rate of spread of COVID-19. After all, the vast majority of the benefit was the limiting of Harm Done To Others. Many people were willing to Personally Risk Their Chance of Getting the Disease rather than limit how they lived and behaved to reduce the Harm Done to Others. And many people decided to believe that the recommended actions did not actually Reduce the Harm Done to Others, or tried to claim that there needed to be a "balance" (code to disguise a push for a Harmful Compromise), of their personal benefit with the harm done to Others by their actions. And some of them, like a Texas Leader declared that Older people should be happy to experience an early death from COVID-19 if that would Help preserve and protect the economy for Others.

    I think there is a Good Understanding that can be taken from the COVID-19 experience that relates to the pursuit of limiting the Harm of Climate Change and more rapidly achieving and improving on all of the Other Sustainable Development Goals. The developed socioeconomic-political systems have caused a lot of people to develop powerful motivations to resist "Limiting and correcting their developed and liked behaviours to reduce the Harm Done To Others".

    "Developing a liking for activity that is understandably harmful to Others and resisting being limited or corrected" cannot be defended as being helpful. It can only be excused (and it is a poor excuse) as Human Nature Focused on Pursuit of Personal Interests with the consideration of acceptability, the thinking associated with self-governing and self-limiting of actions, being restricted to Personal Perceptions of Benefits and Risk of Harm. That thinking pursues benefit even if there is some personal risk of harm. And that type of thinking can exaggerate or incorrectly perceive benefits and be dismissive of, diminish, or misunderstand the risks.

    In addition to the Individual Focus on Benefit and Harm being misleading, as soon as a person is living as part of a community of Others, even just a community of 2, that Individual limit of thinking about self-governing and self-limiting needs to become Limited by the requirement to "Avoid acting in ways that Harm or increase the risk of Harm to Others", and "Aspiring to act in ways that are Helpful to Others".

    And each sub-community of a larger community must also Govern and limit its collective actions to Avoid Harming Others, and Aspire to Help Others (a fundamental understanding of many Religions that many people claiming to be Religious seem to deliberately miss).

    Expanded awareness and improved understanding applied to Help develop sustainable improvements for all of Humanity, everywhere today and into the far future, leads to learning about the unacceptability of the Socioeconomic-political systems that have developed and the many undeserved perceptions of Superiority that have developed.

    The Harmful potential of Selfishness, and the fact that all humans have the ability to learn to limit how Harmful they are to Others and increase how Helpful they are to Others is what Everyone needs to Learn from the COVID-19 experience. That understanding makes people Less Easily Impressed which enables them to more accurately identify who deserves to have Higher Status.

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  4. nigelj,

    I am impressed by the extraordinary measures taken in New Zealand to limit the risk that COVID-19 would be spread to the South Pacific island states that New Zealand is the portal to.

    I appreciate how much of a restriction and sacrifice that was, just for the benefit of people on other islands that few people in New Zealand ever visit and that New Zealand and the rest of the world receives no significant economic benefit from. I compare it to Canada's Leadership responsibility to indigenous populations. That is something that Canadians are waking up to. However, some prefer to fight to keep on Dreaming about Making Canada Great Again, like when it's Leadership did not care so much about Others who they may be able to make Disappear with actions tantamount to Cultural Genocide - a recent conclusion of what Canadian Leadership had done in the past because the majority of the colonizing population had developed a liking for that type of leadership, leading to the need for Truth and Reconciliation (imagine that - colonizers liking what they could get away with, and their future generations having to break free of the tragic thinking and try to make amends for it).

    The recent spread of measles to those South Pacific islands connected to New Zealand was a tragic wake-up to the many ways that more fortunate nations have responsibility for protection of the populations that are less advanced (and may actually be more advanced socially) but are able to live decent lives without the extravagance and distraction of industrial consumerism.

    I visited the Cook Islands many decades ago. It was an incredibly relaxing, enjoyable and educational week. In my MBA, my Critical Thinking course, an Option, included the presentation of many challenging alternative Real ways that economic activity occurred around the world in the 1980s. The way that Cook Islanders lived was refreshing, though even they were succumbing to the temptations to get new technology devices they really didn't need, steps onto the slippery slope towards immersion in harmful industrial consumerism.

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  5. If the reduction in CO2 emissions due to C19 does not show a decrease in atmospheric Carbon dioxide, it might mean that we are already in a tipping point and are unlikely to be able to control the situation.

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  6. OPOF @4, thanks appreciated.  NZ did implement various  measures to try to stop the spread of the virus to the pacific islands. Our government is led by a left leaning party which has always been sympathetic to the needs of the pacific islands, however there is also a conservative party in the coalition with an equal commitment to their interests. NZ has always had a close economic, and immigration relationship with the pacific islands

    New Zealand has just exited a very severe lockdown, but one I feel made sense to curb the spread of the virus.The severe lockdown seems to have worked because new numbers of infections are down to about two per day. Its hard to gauge the economic consequences, but at this stage unemployment numbers are much lower than America on a per capita basis. But its been very tough on business and too early to really say.

    The fact we have got the numbers of infections right down was probably because we entered this lockdown very early, when infection numbers were very low. Leave it too late and its hopeless. 

    I do not wish to come across as complaining about the lockdown. It hasn't been too horrendous, time to catch up with some reading etc, and the government has carefully considered the economic implications. However I find suggestions that lockdowns show that its possible to make truly huge reductions to energy use a bit shallow as previously pointed out. But we can clearly make some reductions without pain, for the good of the planet.

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  7. William - I dont see much of possibility for decreaing CO2 in atmosphere. How would that happen so fast? I do think it should heavily (and temporarily sadly) reduce the rate of increase for this year.

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  8. Scaddenp @7. One word. Dunite.

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  9. Nigel, I understood William to be asking about Covid-related CO2 reduction which I dont think could reduce atmosphere CO2. Even if emissions went to zero, natural CO2 removal cant happen fast. Dunite and other enchanced-weathering based solutions are very slow. And emissions havent stopped, just slowed.

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  10. william @5,

    As scaddenp has indicated the CO2 production reduction during the COVID-19 restriction of activity should not be expected to result in a reduction of atmospheric CO2 levels. Even if no more new CO2 was being generated by any human activities, the process of CO2 removal is rather slow. More important, the reduction of fossil fuel use has not been a full shut-down, not even close.

    Check out this recent BBC News Item.

    The reduction of production of new CO2 is very significant. And the COVID-19 Dip could help achieve the globally agreed limit of harm to future generations, harm being done by portions of the current generation continuing to desire to benefit from harmful fossil fuel abuse. But the real test will be if there is actually an increased awareness and improved understanding that it is unacceptable for people to only care about their personal opportunities for benefit and risk of harm.

    Will more people realize that the fact that they are not the only human requires that they strive to Not Harm Any Others, and try to help develop sustainable improvements for the future of humanity? That is what the COVID-19 restrictions are all about, personal limits of behaviour to reduce the risk of harming Others.

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  11. William @5,

    Regarding the effect of a Covid-19-induced reduction in CO2 emissions & the impact on atmospheric CO2, there is a CarbonBrief article by an impressive list of guest authors on this very subject. They suggest that atmospheric CO2 (as measured at MLO) would have shown a BAU increase of 2.80ppm (± 0.57) but, with the reduction in global CO2 emissions due to the Covid-19 crisis, estimate at 8% for the year with the implied atmospheric CO2 increase being 0.32ppm less or 11% smaller.

    As a rule of thumb, we need to reduce CO2 emissions by roughly 50% to put a halt to increasing atmospheric CO2 (and this a temporary halt without continued cuts in emissions). However, under BAU we are still seeing small increases in CO2 emissions (Global Carbon Project numbers averaging 1% increase per year in recent years, down from 3% a decade ago but still an increase.)

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  12. The BBC item I linked to @10 is a comprehensive presentation that is based on the information sources MA Rodgers has noted and a little more.

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  13. Scaddenp @9, yes I know what William is saying. However using dunite as enhanced weathering to essentially capture carbon might be a little bit quicker than you think. I mentioned it because this is a sort of general news page.

    Depends on how you define quickly I guess. This article suggests that if broken up and spread thinly and scaled up, it has the potential to capture 20% of our yearly emissions, so one years emissions in five years, ten years of current emissions in 50 years, which is a significant sized chunk of what's in the atmosphere. It just surprised me a bit because I thought it would be slower.

    It's expensive, but without some of the tricky problems of other approaches. Might make for an interesting article. Its not even remotely a replacement for renewable energy, but could be useful technology.

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