As China shut down factories and refineries, the country’s carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 25% – about 150 million metric tons, which is equivalent to what the state of New York emits in a year. Satellite images released by NASA and the European Space Agency show dramatically reduced nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions, which are released by cars, power plants, and factories; carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from coal are similarly reduced.
In Los Angeles, where I live, our air has been cleaner in the past three weeks than in previous months, and traffic is moving nearly 70% faster than the weeks before the shutdown. Despite pressure from the plastics industry to abandon zero-waste strategies, most of us are trying to stick to our refillable, reusable, perpetually washable guns.
People’s lives are at stake. These are not sacrifices we would ever make voluntarily. But are there lessons we can learn?
Bill Gates thinks so. He went on record to say that he is “super positive” about how cooperation on coronavirus will influence climate action. According to the New York Times, efforts to revive the global economy after the pandemic could either accelerate or slow climate change, depending on whether or not “the world’s big economies, like China and the United States, use this moment to enact green growth policies or continue to prop up fossil fuel industries.”
Clearly, our president is choosing the latter tack: Last month, Trump declared the petroleum and natural gas, chemical, and plastics industries “essential to continued critical infrastructure viability.” Even so, the fracking and plastics markets – which are so intertwined now we really should call it frackstic – are projecting dire outcomes from years of negative cash flows and debt, exacerbated by the coronavirus depression. Can this administration continue to prop them up?
The experience of this pandemic could change everything. As I posted recently on Instagram, my hope is that this experience will shift the way we look at our lives. I hope that we will begin to clarify the difference between “want’ and “need,” and better understand the way our culture has often substituted material possessions for love, connection, and community. I believe that this essential misunderstanding has helped create the triple threat crises of climate change, toxic chemicals, and plastic pollution, which have been my focus for nearly 20 years.
Over the past few months, the strategies that people have taken to fight the pandemic – including working at home, sheltering in place, and delaying production – have dramatically reduced greenhouse gas emissions. In the face of the fears that accompany thinking about climate change – it’s too big, we can’t fix it, it’s too late – the experience provides an opportunity to reassess this perspective. We did this. Can we do it again – without the mayhem that the pandemic has wreaked?
I think so. What about you? What habits have you changed – and what changes do you intend to keep? Please share in comments. Thank you!