Working from home, I look out my window at the altered world. No cars pass for long stretches but walkers are always about, and I hear bird songs I’ve never noticed before. I drive so rarely that I haven’t charged my electric car since mid-March. Of all the changes (many of them painful) brought by the pandemic, road traffic decline might be the one I like most. This quieting down of our engines, it turns out, might also be providing us with a precious gift–a little bit more time to avert the full-scale climate catastrophe we are heading for.
As you’ve probably heard, COVID-19 restrictions have caused a worldwide decline in carbon emissions. According to an analysis by the scientists who track the annual Global Carbon Budget, at the peak of COVID-19 restrictions in early April, global CO2 emissions were down 17%. A whopping 43% of lowered emissions came from road traffic decline. Depending on the lifting of restrictions and our behavior in the coming months, this analysis predicts a 4-7% decline in overall greenhouse gas emissions for the entire year.
Many pundits have already weighed in on the meaning of this carbon drop—some framing the emissions decline as impressively large, others as surprisingly small. But what I see in this pause in greenhouse gas emissions growth is possibility. In all likelihood, this pandemic moment presents our very last real chance to preserve a livable climate.
As a climate advocate, I think a lot about how we might still bring greenhouse gas emissions down fast enough to prevent the full-scale climate catastrophe we are hurtling toward. According to the UN’s most recent scientific report, this requires us to begin steep emissions reductions by 2020 to get on a pathway to 50% emissions reductions by 2030 and zero emissions by 2050. Few people have really taken onboard what this means or what the stakes are. I believe many in the youth climate movement do understand the science and the stakes. That’s why they are so angry and so scared.
Greenhouse gas emissions have been rising 1% per year for the past decade. Now a terrible global event has had the side effect of reversing this upward trend for 2020. This has bought us a bit more time, offering us just one last golden opportunity.
I’m not advocating giving up our modern lifestyles, or living under COVID-19 restrictions any longer than necessary: in fact, just the opposite. I’m searching for a pathway we can take to cut emissions fast enough to have a chance of preventing massive human suffering, preserving modern civilization, and allowing our children a shot at a habitable world.
As I’ve noted elsewhere, tackling the climate crisis is within our technological, policy, and economic capabilities. Advances in clean energy and energy efficiency are continuing to make decarbonizing more feasible and ever cheaper. Capable experts are devising workable plans that combine economic recovery from COVID-19 with rapid decarbonization. Polls show a strong majority of Americans agree it’s time to tackle the climate crisis.
To help this moment become a turning point, we can each stick with those changes that have surprised us by making us happier (for me, this includes less driving, more walking, and giving up the gym). We can advocate for changes in our communities that speed decarbonization and increase well-being (for example, cities making more room for walkers permanent). We can block the bailing out of fossil fuel companies and support clean energy and energy efficiency projects instead. We can give our time, money and votes to elect climate champions in the next election, and each election that follows. Then we can advocate for passing bold policies for a climate-friendly recovery and a livable future.( Here’s one way to help).
This is not a rehearsal. The recovery we choose will determine the fate of our species, so let’s do this!
Ramez Naam – Blog, 5/14/20
Over the past decade, Ramez Naam has made forecasts about the future costs of clean energy technologies, including solar. In this post, he explains that Solar has plunged in price faster than anyone – including he – predicted…
READ ENTIRE POST
The impacts of COVID-19 will likely be exacerbated by flooding, hurricanes, wildfires and heatwaves which worsen in the summer. Federal agencies are already stretched thin, and need more funding to be able to respond to likely extreme weather events this summer. Ask your representative to fund extreme weather and COVID-19 response programs to protect communities most at risk this summer.TAKE ACTION!
Jeff Tollefson – Nature, 9/18/19
Nature documents the scale of the climate challenge in an infographic that explores energy use, carbon dioxide pollutions and issues of climate justice. Although most countries have pledged to curb greenhouse gas emissions sharply, the data show…
READ FULL ARTICLE
Earth Sciences Communication Team – NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, last updated 4/30/20
The evidence for rapid climate change is compelling: global temperature rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheet, glacial retreat, decreased snow cover, sea level rise, declining arctic sea ice, extreme events, ocean acidification…
READ NASA'S CLIMATE FACTS
E360 Digest – Yale Environment 360, 2/18/19
For visual learners: Two new videos visualize how drastically global temperatures have changed since 1900–and how they will likely continue to change up to 2100. The visualizations, created by Antti Lipponen of the Finish Meteorological Institute, depict 200 years of climate change in less than a minute…
SEE CLIMATE VIDEOS
Brad Plumer – New York Times, 5/13/20
The coronavirus has pushed the coal industry to once-unthinkable lows, and the consequences for climate change are big. The U.S. is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record, despite the Trump administration’s three-year push to revive the ailing coal industry…
READ FULL ARTICLE
Carla Wise – October, 2019
You can use this template as a basis for your own letter to your Members of Congress. Let them know why you care about climate change and ask them to enact bold, effective, fair solutions now!
Matt McGrath – BBC News, 5/6/20
We’re living through the biggest carbon crash ever recorded. No war, no recession, no previous pandemic has had such a dramatic impact on emissions of CO2 over the past century as Covid-19 has in a few short months. But even though we will see a massive fall this year, the concentrations of CO2 that are in the atmosphere and warming our planet won’t stabilise until the world reaches net-zero…
READ FULL ARTICLE
America’s renewable energy sources produced more electricity than coal every day for 40 days straight
Jason Murdock – Newsweek, 5/5/20
Renewable sources including solar, wind and hydropower generated more electricity than coal-based plants every single day in April, a new report says. Analysis based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), said the finding marks a major “milestone” in an energy transition that is now underway…
READ FULL ARTICLE