Earth’s partially uninhabitable future is now
INTERNATIONAL - Covid-19 has killed more than 300,000 people worldwide and shuttered vast swaths of the global economy. Despite diminished industrial activity, air travel and automobile traffic, however, the pandemic continues to have mixed effects on the overall health of the planet.
America is expected to generate more electricity from renewable sources than coal this year, for the first time ever, according to new projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
It’s a remarkable achievement. Coal produced almost half of that nation’s electricity as recently as a decade ago, and the Trump administration has done everything possible to prop up the dying industry, even going so far as to continue regulatory rollbacks amid a pandemic in which respiratory disease is a key gateway to death.
Bloomberg Opinion’s Editorial Board recently warned that Trump’s actions will lead to tens of thousands of additional and avoidable fatalities. Nine states on Wednesday sued the administration for allegedly abdicating its responsibility to enforce U.S. environmental laws during the crisis. They challenged his recent plan to relax enforcement due to worker shortages and travel restrictions stemming from the outbreak, which has already killed 85,000 Americans, more than any nation by far.
China, on the other hand, is spending billions of dollars to shift away from its reliance on coal, the filthiest of fossil fuels. Some of the nation’s largest state-owned companies are investing heavily in massive hybrid projects that combine wind, solar and storage to provide constant energy to the grid, even when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.
There is more bad news from America. Almost 600,000 clean-energy workers have lost their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic, more than double the number of positions created in the sector since 2017. That’s almost 18% of the of the U.S. industry’s workforce.
The recent drop in air pollution could also weirdly hurt California’s climate fight. Lower greenhouse gas emissions mean there’s less revenue coming in from the state’s cap-and-trade system, the proceeds of which are used to fund green initiatives such as high-speed rail and wildfire prevention.
In Europe, though, the news is better. Some nations are moving to capitalize on the recent drop in emissions: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the global aviation industry needs to limit carbon-dioxide emissions once air travel resumes in earnest.
“Inadvertently, this year the planet will greatly reduce its CO2 emissions,” Johnson observed in Parliament Wednesday. “We need to entrench those gains. I don’t want to see us going back to an era of the same kind of emissions as we’ve had in the past.”
As European Union member states consider a draft version of their Green Deal, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political allies are encouraging other countries to take on a bigger share of the burden.
Despite this progress, humanity must nevertheless pay for the mistakes it’s already made. Climate scientists have previously warned that a lethal combination of heat and humidity would someday make currently inhabited parts of the planet uninhabitable for months at a time in the decades to come.
New research has discovered that future is now.
Josh Petri writes the Week in Green newsletter recapping the best reads and key news in climate change and green solutions.