Climate Change Briefs: Coronavirus, Saudi Arabia and Unexpected Consequences

The climate change (and deadly virus) stories we've been following this week

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Less is more: Exhortation on the I-10 Freeway on March 14, 2020 in Los Angeles, California
CREDIT Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP
Less is more: Exhortation on the I-10 Freeway on March 14, 2020 in Los Angeles, California Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP

Is coronavirus really helping the planet?

We know we have to become carbon negative, or at least neutral, including by eschewing fossil fuels. We know we should stop taking superfluous cruises, flights and drives, and stop eating animals. But how many people became voluntary locavore vegetarians who eschew the car and cow for walking and cauliflower?

Coronavirus lockdowns are constraining human movement and could weigh on global trade, for better or worse. The New York Times helpfully looks at where coronavirus lockdown is reducing our carbon footprint, and where it just makes emissions worse – for example, when the self-incarcerated family is cold and heats the home.

The great destroyer: boredom

One thing that could make emissions worse is when the locked-up family is bored. Enter Netflix and its video-streaming ilk. "Binge-watching Netflix doesn’t just fry your brain; it may also be frying the planet," the Guardian reminds us. Transmitting and watching video online accounts for at least 1 percent of global emissions. Yet again, moderation may be the word we’re all grasping for here.

Don't look now

The MIT Technology Review warns that while coronavirus containment measures may temporarily constrain the emissions spurring global warming, unfortunately, the problem of public health could distract from firm measures to mitigate climate change.

“The whole point of addressing global warming is to avoid widespread suffering and death,” MIT points out. But unless we check climate change in its tracks, well, you know what we will face.

Black fool's gold

Apropos mitigation and unexpected consequences, could the oil market dislocation spur Big Energy to seriously invest in renewable energy technologies? Maybe. Much depends on how long oil is projected to stay low, Saudi pique aside. Big Energy has long wailed that renewable energy revenues just don’t keep it in the style to which it has become accustomed. But with Brent crude at $35 a barrel, maybe the big oil companies will accelerate transitions, Greentech Media hopefully suggests. However, even if some big oil companies clamber on board the renewables train, not all will. OilPrice.com reports that Russia, infuriated at the Saudi sale of oil on the cheap, is gearing up for a production surge.

Um, remember climate change?

Fast-tracking renewables would be good because global action is way off track if we want to contain warming. Assessing the state of climate change in 2019, UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted record-breaking heat and mounting deaths due to extreme weather and temperatures. Global warming “points to a threat that is greater to our species than any known virus,” as Prof. Brian Hoskins of Imperial College London told the Guardian

What to do with your hoarded toilet paper, what to do?

Coronavirus is not the greater threat because, even if it massively infects the global population, and even if the “herd immunity” to Covid-19 touted by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not develop (and we simply don't know if it can in the case of the new coronavirus), even if tens or even hundreds of millions of people die from this virus worldwide – the world will remain. In the case of escalating climate change, it may remain but won't be survivable and the threat to our species will be total. Last July. the BBC gave the world not “12 years” but 18 months to take action. That window is almost half gone.

Apropos Britain, the government boosted the budget for flood-defense projects by a cool 5.2 billion pounds, the Daily Mail reports, following some of “the worst storms in recent memory” as the United Kingdom winds down one of its warmest and wettest winters on record.

Good luck with the infrastructure projects and with projecting how high the seas will rise and how violent the weather will become and when: A seawall is only as good as the storm surge it can effectively block. 

Greenland and Antarctica are shedding six times more ice than during the 1990s, driving sea level rise. In 15 years from 1992 to 2017, the two lost an estimated 6.4 trillion tons of ice, raising average mean sea levels by an inch, reports Universe Today. As the journal asks: What are you going to do about that, hoard toilet paper?

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