Corona Conquers All

America Is Trapped in Trump’s Blind Spot

The coronavirus forces a personal response from all of us, even if we decide to do nothing about it. Yes, there are people out there who party and congregate at the beach, and you find yourself hoping they come down with a bad case of the disease. Or maybe they escape it and survive, justifying their stupid nonchalance. You also find yourself hoping Trump will test positive.

But you can’t get away from personally dealing with a pandemic like this. I want to talk a little about my response and how it necessarily must displace our concerns about the climate. At least for the moment.

I live in Mexico, which is mostly unprepared for the oncoming disease. The next few weeks presumably will show how woefully unprepared we are. I’m personally at greater risk than most—because of my age (85), sex (male) and medical history (asthma, some emphysema). Like most of us, my urge to continue a normal life conflicts with the need to take some real precautions.

So I’m trying to get used to doing all the recommended stuff, like sanitizing surfaces, wearing a mask when I shop, washing hands, isolating. (I haven’t yet taken to wearing the mask but that will be next.) I got a lecture from my friends last night about being more careful about such things. Sometimes you need to hear this from others.

Andrew Sullivan recently wrote about his case. His words apply to me:

I have chronic asthma and consider my somewhat neurotic attempts to avoid this virus a prudent way to spare any hospital a future ventilator I would almost certainly need to survive. And there’s another reason for wearing [masks] outside as a matter of course: You show the world that you’re all-in on restraining the virus. And that helps encourage others to do the same. It’s a bit like those “I Voted” stickers you wear after doing your civic duty. It reinforces a social norm. Plagues, like wars, require some kind of solidarity over the long haul—and masks help visually express that.

Sullivan catalogs a few of the odious things that get drowned out by the virus, like “the constant harping of the woke” with their insistent assertion of their own identities. Isolation and quiet allow for new, reflective experiences. “For a blessed period, the truth matters—not a narrative, not a construct, and not your truth or my truth, just biology and humanity in a dance repeated endlessly in human history between viruses and bodies.”

Listening to the birds sing, for instance, enjoying the presence of a pet, dismissing the phony drama of Trump’s press conferences, just chilling out: these are the benefits of isolation and a kind of quietism. I’m lucky enough to have a great collection of music that will keep boredom at bay.

I’m also lucky enough to live in Mexico, not Seattle and New York where my kids live. Even as we await the plague, it teaches us how to simplify things and put on a new set of glasses.

More on Corona and Climate

Why the coronavirus outbreak is terrible news for climate change

‘This is a yes-we-can moment’: What the coronavirus response means for climate action

Climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’

The relationship is complicated, very complicated. I’m struck with a few of the many comparisons. One is that corona and climate both demand present sacrifice to achieve future goals—fighting the virus in the short term, attacking climate change over an extended time. Some young people find this hard to accept because the burdens fall heavily on them. Their public protests must give way to social distancing, and the internet is no real substitute.

Both crises require a broadening of the concept of community, a fundamental change to demand of a country like the U.S. composed largely of radical individualists. The populace will have to learn to trust in science, or at least accept it. This will not be easy for a people heretofore dominated by consumerism and laissez-faire economics. The impediments will be our so-far limited understanding of coronavirus and the perceived “remoteness” of climate change.

Both corona and climate have penetrated and largely collapsed the idea of national borders. What’s happening in Europe demonstrates that borders don’t stop the disease though lockdowns may slow its progress. Ethnic nationalists look more and more absurd in the face of it. Nobody can dodge the bullet.

On the positive side, the economic slowdown has given the world cleaner air, a major benefit for the 8.8 million people who die from pollution each year. But it’s a wild card:

If countries like China try to revitalize their economy by subsidizing polluting industries like steel and cement, emissions could soar in the coming months. During a period of economic crisis, climate concerns often fade, many analysts have noted. But there’s another scenario: Governments could seize this moment to enact new climate policies. Low oil prices are often a good opportunity to remove subsidies for fossil fuels, which have been increasing in recent years, or raise taxes on carbon dioxide emissions, since consumers are less likely to feel the impact.

Comparing the notional effects of corona and climate, Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, had this to say: “The coronavirus crisis is a better lesson than the financial crisis because, while it is still quite like a creeping crisis, it is like a fast-forward run of the climate crisis. The difference is that instead of it taking place over four decades, it has taken place over four weeks.”

The global pandemic is giving us a preview of what’s to come with climate change. Each sets up a range of harsh choices we must deal with. Climate change and the virus both require us to give way to the experts. But the remedies proposed must also involve community action. The costs will be tangible and immediate but offer us the prospect of remote and abstract returns. That will be an interesting challenge to the human species.

The Virus and the Climate

Coronavirus ‘Really Not the Way You Want to Decrease Emissions’

 For Richer or Poorer: Coronavirus, Cheap Oil Test Climate Vows

How the Wuhan Virus Is Accomplishing the Green New Deal’s Goals

María Medem, New York Times

We’re seeing a slew of articles on how coronavirus is affecting climate change efforts. After reading several, my take is that the outlook isn’t good, but nothing is certain. The consensus of opinion seems to be that

    • emissions will go down in the near term, then rebound
    • mountains of waste will increase
    • reductions from cheap oil and a possible recession will be short-term
    • unstable geopolitics make things totally up for grabs.

It’s not all bad news, but the situation is so fluid that no good predictions are really possible. “One of the greatest hazards for climate policy related to the coronavirus is that governments, international organizations and companies may have fewer resources and less time to focus on other thorny problems.” Yet it could be that the challenges of dealing with the virus may fundamentally change behavior and finally enable us to confront the enormity of climate change. A recession will complicate matters.

Let’s hope real change isn’t pie in the sky: “The focus is on health and supply chains right now. But the process of challenging assumptions and fundamentally altering behavior—illustrated by remote work—can be seized on by climate action advocates once the worst of this health crisis is over.”

To the contrary, Daniel Turner in The Federalist, a conservative bible, argues that the virus is a good stick to beat the Green New Deal with. “Coronavirus is a glimpse of the long-term pain a Green New Deal and environmental radicalism would inflict on America. And besides, grandma would die eventually anyway.” How old is your grandma, Daniel?

The virus pandemic has brought the world to a state of both high anxiety and compassion. Could it be the trigger for finally confronting climate change seriously? One can only hope. All the likely negatives are listed here.

Flight of the Bumblebees

Climate Change Could Push Bumblebees to Extinction

Bumblebee Decline Linked With Extreme Heat Waves

Climate Change: It’s a Buzzkill for Bumblebees, Study Finds

A major study has documented what has long been suspected: the bees are dying, and the world’s plants and biodiversity will suffer from that. Bumblebee extinction seems to be underway, and populations have declined across Europe by 17 percent and in America by some 46 percent.

The study found that over a 115-year period nearly half of the North American regions home to bumblebees lost all their populations. That’s called extinction, and it’s irreversible. The pattern was observed across a number of studies.

Bees are the great pollinators, as we know. According to one report:

Tomatoes, squash, and berries are just some of the crops we can thank bees for pollinating. Animal pollinators like bees, birds, and butterflies could be responsible for up to 1 out of every 3 bites of food we eat, the US Department of Agriculture says.

Honeybees have also been affected. Climate change and its consequent heat waves are the major cause, since bees can’t tolerate a rapidly heating climate. The study predicted “with surprising accuracy” how changes of bumblebee communities and species have reflected the pressures of increasing heat. More detailed studies are called for. Changes from farming, land use and pesticides are another factor.

Said one of the study’s authors: “What I suspect is that you wind up with this really terrible one-two punch. Climate change is making bees want to move to new places, and then you have things like pesticides and human land uses that are stopping them from moving.”

How Bad is Bad Enough?

Emissions—the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading

 We may avoid the very worst climate scenario. But the next-worst is still pretty awful.

 ‘Collapsologie’: Constructing an Idea of How Things Fall Apart

What if many of the predictions of upcoming climate disaster have been based on faulty premises? What if the worst-case scenario has been way overdone? Climate scientists model their projections for the future on greatest and fewest emissions discharges. If the projections are wrong there are big implications for us all.

Climate science has been questioned in a recent Nature article which is rocking a lot of boats. The authors propose that the commonly accepted worst-case (“business as usual”) scenario is based on faulty assumptions, a major one being coal consumption.

Emission pathways to get to RCP8.5 [the worst-case scenario] generally require an unprecedented fivefold increase in coal use by the end of the century, an amount larger than some estimates of recoverable coal reserves. It is thought that global coal use peaked in 2013, and although increases are still possible, many energy forecasts expect it to flatline over the next few decades. Furthermore, the falling cost of clean energy sources is a trend that is unlikely to reverse, even in the absence of new climate policies.

The world is still on course for a 3-degree Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warming, which is more likely but still catastrophic. Says the Washington Post, “That’s severe—it would be three times the amount of change that the world has seen—but appreciably different from 4 to 5 degrees Celsius (7.2 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit).” The Nature graph shows the problem in a nutshell.

Some experts still say the worst-case RCP 8.5 scenario is still possible and there should be plenty of concern. Among other things, the possibilities of climate feedback loops, as from melting permafrost, are what “keeps us climate scientists up at night.”

Then there are the collapsologues, those folks mostly but not exclusively in France, who believe the world is heading for total collapse. They think we have crossed the threshold of “burning the totality of the earth’s stocks of fossil fuels and heating the atmosphere well beyond 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius—which most scientists now conclude is the red line for averting the worst effects of global warming. That these thresholds are violable does not, however, mean that transgressing them will be any less devastating.”

This way of thinking derives in part from Jared Diamond’s fascinating 2005 book Collapse and owes something to David Wallace Wells’ more recent The Uninhabitable Earth, a bestseller. Collapsologues predict dreadful outcomes and conflicts and look at efforts like the Green New Deal as wishful thinking, illusions. Their critique finds that “the fatal weakness of traditional environmentalism is its inability to think beyond economic growth.” There is always “the inexorable question of limits.”

Their answers to all this involve religions and “bio-resilient pastoral communities,” responses we have heard before. Yet these folks must be taken seriously.

The collapsologues do point to real contradictions in contemporary environmentalism. Collapsologie is really just a name for a very serious problem: the frivolousness and injustice of much of what passes for solutions to our current impasse. That some form of mystical antinomianism should emerge from this void recalls the philosopher Michel de Certeau’s saying: “When the political withers, the religious reawakens.”

The Young Girl and the Fatuous President

Trump and the Teenager: A Climate Showdown at Davos

 Climate experts agree: “Steve Mnuchin should go back to college”—not Greta Thunberg

 Trump Roars, and Davos Shrugs

Mr. Trump’s Davos insults referred to above were typically illiterate and haughty. We must reject, he said,

the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse. They are the errors [heirs?] of yesterday’s fortune tellers, and we have them and I have them. And they want to see us do badly, but we don’t let that happen. . . . This is not a time for pessimism. This is a time for optimism. Fear and doubt is not a good thought process, because this is a time for tremendous hope and joy and optimism and action.

After this word salad, the Treasury Secretary had to get into the act. Mr. Mnuchin said, “Is she the chief economist? Or who is she? I’m confused.” After claiming his remarks were “a joke” that was allegedly “funny,” Mnuchin added: “After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us.”

What a sense of humor this guy has. And the crowd at Davos was not amused. Trump & Co.’s blabby promotion of the U.S. was generally seen as something no longer interesting or relevant.

“He is a moron,” a European energy executive said of Trump. “Do we have time for it? No. We have to change our whole company to get carbon-neutral.”

“Greta is great,” said an executive for a Japanese manufacturer. “Even if she can’t deliver, she is needed to balance Trump in conversation and that seems to be happening.”

Greta in Winter

https://mailchi.mp/0f7569e82bdf/greta-in-winter?e=5b4a442b0a

My cousin’s husband writes a good, chatty blog about life in Vermont and other things. He just sent this one on, which is a revelation about the trials of running an electric car in the harsh Vermont winters. At the same time Bill Schubart sees the value in electrics, in fact their necessity.

This fall for only the second time in my life, I bought a new car. It’s an emission-free Nissan Leaf. I named it “Greta.” Last night, I ran into a friend who has a Tesla all-electric vehicle (AEV) also named “Greta.” I’m now wondering how many AEVs there are in the world bearing the Swedish teenager’s name.

I’m comfortable saying it was the extraordinary courage of this young woman who could be my granddaughter that drove my decision to go all-electric. “Okay boomer,” I said to myself, “It’s your turn to help leave a habitable world for the next generation.

When Green Mountain Power held a get-acquainted session on AEVs for its customers, my wife and I drove up. They had most current models available there for customers to test drive and dealers to answer questions. I chose the Leaf and, thrilled that I fit in it, took it for a spin. It was a distinctly different experience… silence, no auto-shifting clunks. I learned that by using the eco-pedal, I didn’t need the brake pedal and could extend Greta’s range. I was hooked!

I’m 1200 miles into Greta and my early experience with her sent me searching for the encyclopedic instruction manual in the glove compartment. Like most consumers, I had read the FAQ’s and thought I knew it all. At the time of purchase, my key question was driving range between charges, a deciding factor for most potential buyers. The range is nominally 150 miles. My benchmark was the 88-mile roundtrip between my home in Hinesburg and Montpelier.

I set out on my first excursion with a full 152 miles on the meter. When I got to Montpelier, I expected to find it down 44 miles, but it was, in fact, down twice that – about 66 miles left to go before I needed a charge. This didn’t register, so before heading home, I pulled out the manual and read what I’d neglected to read before committing to Greta.

Like all living things, her capacity is temperature-dependent. It was 10 above zero when I left the house and I had turned on the heat to make it worse as both heat and lights reduce Greta’s range. I risked the straight shot home and made it with 12 miles to go by turning off the heat and arrived home in a near cadaverous chill, scraping my frozen breath from the inside of the windshield with a credit card. Did this mean driving at night with no lights and no heat? Should I buy a flashlight and a wool blanket for Greta?

I also learned Greta’s batteries can be severely damaged by exposure to temperatures below minus 13. I’ve lived in Vermont for 70 years and have yet to experience a winter where it didn’t get colder than that. I remember a sunny, dry winter day in Lincoln at 38 below. Could Greta even survive here, much less provide frigid transportation beyond a few miles from home? I began to worry.

But I’ve learned that by monitoring the temperature and my energy usage as I drive, using the eco-pedal to recharge as I drive, charging every night at home during off-peak hours, I can manage quite well and I haven’t eaten in a gas station in two months. I’m finding more and more charging stations, all searchable on my cellphone. Besides if it’s freezing cold and I have a round trip to Montpelier, a stop at Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex for a quick charge, a latte, and a croissant isn’t much of a price to pay for doing my part. Sometimes, slowing life down enhances  it.

But more important than my comfort are the larger environmental implications of continuing to burn fossil fuel. According to a recent VTDigger article, transportation accounts for 43% of the state’s carbon emissions and in spite of earnest expressions of concerns and many unfulfilled commitments, emissions have increased in recent years and are 16% higher than they were in 1990.

. . . As I get even older than I am now, I know that much of the remaining work I have left to do on earth is to try and leave a better, more just place for my children and grandchildren.

It’s disheartening to hear special interests and climate deniers froth on about their temporal material interests. I wonder what they think when they gather over the holidays with their children and grandchildren. As they play together, do they never imagine their progeny trying to make it in a world of uncontrollable fires, floods and rising sea levels, massive climate migrations, and dying food systems, all so they can drive a fossil fuel car or get their convenience foods in unrecyclable plastic? Our children comprise a quarter of our country. They will inherit our mess.

In Matthew 5:5 from the Sermon on the Mount, one of the Beatitudes tells us the meek shall inherit the earth. Our children are finding their voice and are no longer meek. We owe it to them to listen.

Sometimes when I’m driving Greta late at night. I stare at the energy meters on the dashboard anxious about whether I’ll make it home, I hear Greta whisper to me, “Okay boomer, you did good.”

To a brave New Year !

The Politics May Kill Us

Interstate 66, west of Washington, DC

The Challenging Politics of Climate Change

 How the Climate Crisis Is Killing Us, in 9 Alarming Charts

 Americans Increasingly See Climate Change as a Crisis, Poll Shows

 Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution leads off her piece on climate and politics with a great quote from Colin Jost of Saturday Night Live (10/13/18):

We don’t really worry about climate change because it’s too overwhelming and we’re already in too deep. It’s like if you owe your bookie $1,000, you’re like, ‘OK, I’ve got to pay this dude back.’ But if you owe your bookie $1 million dollars, you’re like, ‘I guess I’m just going to die.’

So there are many reasons Americans (in particular) resist climate change, and Kamarck goes on to document these in a lengthy but very worthwhile essay you should read. In the most recent decade of Gallup’s polling, for instance, we learn that “almost half of the public believes that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated.” A series of natural disasters and dramatic weather events leaves the public mostly unmoved. Jobs, the economy and healthcare top their list of concerns.

Then there’s partisanship. And the complex nature of the climate crisis. Plus jurisdiction and accountability: who’s responsible? by whose laws? And the lack of trust in government—at a new low since the administration of G.W. Bush. Finally, our elites demonstrate a lack of imagination, such as described by Amitav Ghosh in The Great Derangement (reviewed here): we don’t talk about climate in fiction or television or film. Is it too threatening?

Matt Simon in Wired tells us how climate is slowly killing us, referencing a massive study in The Lancet, a medical journal, on climate change and human health. Says one of the authors about living in a world 4 degrees warmer than in preindustrial times:

We have no idea what that looks like from a public health perspective, but we know it is catastrophic. . . . We know that it has the potential to undermine the last 50 years of gains in public health and overwhelm the health systems we rely on.

Simon’s series of graphics should properly scare you. Here’s one:

Scorched by Heat Waves

On he goes, with measures of wildfires roaring, diseases blooming, air conditioning heating up cities, crops declining, etc.

In the face of all this a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll tells us that “A growing number of Americans describe climate change as a crisis, and two-thirds say President Trump is doing too little to tackle the problem.”

About 8 in 10 “say that human activity is fueling climate change, and roughly half believe action is urgently needed within the next decade if humanity is to avert its worst effects. Nearly 4 in 10 now say climate change is a “crisis,” up from less than a quarter five years ago.”

That story was posted September 13 of this year, Kamarck’s on September 23. So who’s right? With a well-earned mistrust of polls, I vote for Kamarck because she uses a wider time spread.

We have a lot of work to do.

The Big Heat

Facing unbearable heat, Qatar has begun to air-condition the outdoors

Days of 100-Degree Heat Will Become Weeks as Climate Warms, U.S. Study Warns

Heat waves and climate change: Is there a connection?

Air conditioning the outdoors? insanity reigns everywhere and it’s not just over Trump. Three days ago the Washington Post published this lengthy and frightening account of what’s happening in one of the world’s hottest regions. It may be the scenario of our future.

Here are some of the takeaways, but you need to read the full piece to understand their implications. And the photos are most revealing.

    • Preparing for the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is air conditioning its eight open-air soccer stadiums.
    • “Yet outdoor air conditioning is part of a vicious cycle. Carbon emissions create global warming, which creates the desire for air conditioning, which creates the need for burning fuels that emit more carbon dioxide,” this in a country that is the world’s largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases.
    • The region expects temperatures to increase about 4 to 6 degrees Celsius by the time the rest of the world hits 2⁰ C.
    • The country relies more than ever on fossil fuels, including natural gas.
    • Doha, the major city, is progressively roasting, having warmed “by an astonishing 2.8 degrees Celsius since 1962.”

Water temperatures in the Persian Gulf are rising much faster than in the world’s other seas, and the “urban heat island effect” of heating asphalt and concrete makes cities the other focus of this increase. The prospect of growing heat and humidity may “one day exceed the capacity of humans to tolerate the outdoors. In such conditions, air conditioning would no longer be a convenience; it would be essential to survival.”

With its vast resources of fossil-fuel money Qatar can afford to do something as crazy and yet necessary as air conditioning the outdoors. It can’t, of course, do this forever. Some two-thirds of its electricity goes toward air conditioning. So there is planning and engineering to change building and construction requirements—but mostly now for the World Cup sites. Recently and hopefully, however, “Qatar Petroleum announced that it would construct a facility to capture and store 5 million tons of carbon from the company’s liquefied natural gas operations by 2025.”

Meanwhile, heat waves everywhere are going to get much more frequent and hotter. It’s not just athletes and outdoor workers who will be affected, though they have the highest exposure. How will human beings begin to endure such extreme heat? By mid-century many areas of the U.S. will face many more days of 105-degree heat, more than triple those of the previous fifty years. It will be worse elsewhere.

Qatar is one of earth’s richest countries, yet some are predicting that cities throughout the Middle East could well become uninhabitable. You can imagine the scenario for the poorer parts of the world.

The Gasbag-in-Chief Is Leaking Methane

Scientists Underestimated How Bad Cow Farts Are

Trump’s Methane Rule Rollback Divides Oil and Gas Industry

Fracking May Be a Bigger Climate Problem Than We Thought

In its continuing war on all regulations—to include those on greenhouse gases and anything Obama passed—Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency last Thursday said it would basically allow “oil and gas operators to largely police themselves when it comes to preventing [methane] from leaking out of new wells, pipelines and other infrastructure.” It turns out that there are lots of leaks.

The big companies (Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell) came out against the new rollback. They don’t want to be seen as “climate villains” or dirty well operators. The little guys, with thousands of leaky wells, can’t afford to clean them up, so they welcomed the Trump plan.

The methane scare got started a couple of years ago when it was revealed that cow farts were major contributors to global warming. The methane in animal burps and farts was seen to play a major role in the big heat-up because methane is eighty-four percent more potent than CO₂ in trapping heat and causes one-quarter of our present global warming. The notion that cow farts are funny sort of undercut the seriousness of these findings.

What got covered up was the fact that livestock and farming, plus landfills, were not the major source of methane. It was, you guessed it, the oil and gas industry. These guys, the drivers of our economy, were “creating one-third of all methane emissions,” says a science writer for ideas.ted.com. “As companies extract and transport oil and natural gas, methane leaks from their pumps, pipelines and wells at a rapid rate . . . leaking 60 percent more of the harmful gas than government estimates had predicted.”

Now we’re told that the recent spike in atmospheric methane could likely be caused by the preponderance of fracking, which produces vast amounts of shale gas and methane. Fracking is done mostly in the U.S. and Canada. The industry touts it as the best replacement for coal and is building out more than 700 fracked gas projects, LNG terminals, and gas-fired electricity plants.

Environmental advocates were universally opposed to the EPA’s action. “This is an unnecessary leap backwards,” adds Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford. “Very few people in the public or the industry want this rollback.”

But to eliminate all fracking, as Bernie Sanders and Jay Inslee have proposed, would be to take on one of the largest, most profitable industries in America. The battle over that would be epic.