Please invest in Our Daily Planet today, by making a one time or monthly contribution.
We do not charge our readers a subscription fee for our content. We want to continue to grow our readership, particularly among millennials and public servants. Voluntary contributions from readers will help us employ interns and freelance journalists, expand our content, and reach a larger audience.
If you make a contribution of $150 or more, you will become an official “Friend of the Planet” and receive a Friend of the Planet T-shirt or water bottle. You can also submit opinion essays to us for our consideration for posting on our new “Bright Ideas” op-ed page.
Los Angeles April 6, 2020 Photo: @MikeSington, Twitter
A study published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change found that greenhouse gas emissions are down by 17% globally compared to 2019 levels thanks to strict coronavirus lockdowns, which could result in as much as a 7% decline in emissions for the year. At the same time, an analysis by National Public Radio (NPR) looked at five years of air pollution data and found that despite a drastic reduction in automobiles on the road of 40%, ozone pollution has only decreased on average 7% nationwide.
Why This Matters: We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4-7% each year globally for the foreseeable future to keep global temperature increases in check. But we know these decreases in emissions will not last once we return to “normal” levels of activity. What the U.S. air pollution data tells us is instructive for needed future policy changes. Reducing pollution from automobiles will only get us so far — we must also get pollution from power plants, trucks, buses, and ships under control. But the virus lockdowns have also shown us that even small decreases in smog make an appreciable difference.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Declines
Greenhouse gas emissions prior to the pandemic had crept up over the last decade — we have not seen this kind of sustained reduction in the past, but the warming trajectory will not change significantly if we only have a decrease this year. The study looked at the lockdown measures in 69 countries that are responsible for 97 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions — they examined in detail how six key economic sectors, including industrial activities, ground transportation, and air travel, changed from January through April. Interestingly, they found that the biggest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions globally came from transportation — reduced traffic from cars, buses, and trucks, while emissions from industrial activities only fell by 19 percent. The study’s authors said that the results show the magnitude of the challenge ahead of us on climate change — to continue to reduce emissions this much while resuming economic activity.
Air Pollution Declines
The NPR team examined “more than half a million air pollution measurements reported to the EPA from more than 900 air monitoring sites around the country” comparing “the median ozone levels detected this spring with levels found during the comparable period over the past five years.” This closer look at the data showed that in the vast majority of the U.S., “ozone pollution decreased by 15% or less, a clear indication that improving air quality will take much more than cleaning up tailpipes of passenger cars.” Indeed, in some areas, they found that ozone pollution barely decreased even though those cities experienced traffic reductions of more than 40%. In fact, the authors concluded that even though cars have gotten cleaner, they’ve become a relatively smaller source of pollution, and now trucks and buses are the largest sources of nitrogen oxides, which are one of the ingredients in smog.
As we expand our understanding of climate change, scientists have begun to focus on the growing role warming temperatures are playing as a potent driver of greater aridity–which is different than drought. As NOAA describes it, drought is “a period of abnormally dry weather sufficiently long enough to cause a serious hydrological imbalance”. Aridity is […]
For many who live near refineries, incinerators, and other heavy industry, lockdowns and shelter in place orders like we have all experienced lately are a far too common occurrence. The New York Times took a closer look at these communities to show why the residents are so vulnerable to the disease.
Why This Matters:Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali explained to put the COVID deaths into context, “we know more than 100,000 people die prematurely in the U.S. every year because of air pollution.”
Public transportation nationwide is taking a huge hit from coronavirus — in California, for example, ridership is down by 90% or more and each week, public transportation systems are losing millions due to social distancing and shelter in place orders.
Why This Matters: Public transportation is vital and it is also key for the automobile emissions reductions that we need to combat climate change and air pollution generally.
Our Daily Planet is your daily dose of the stories shaping our world and the ways that you can take action. From the climate crisis to the protection of biodiversity, if these issues matter to you then please subscribe & stay informed!
Your privacy is Important! We promise never to use your email address to send you spam or advertisements.