Pandemic: Less air pollution means thousands fewer die

AFP – World

Pandemic: Less air pollution means thousands fewer die

Marlowe Hood, AFP                                  


Paris (AFP) – There will be 11,000 fewer deaths in European countries under coronavirus lockdown due to a sharp drop in fossil fuel pollution during April, according to research released Thursday.

Measures to halt the spread of coronavirus have slowed the region’s economies to a crawl, with coal-generated power falling by nearly 40 percent, and oil consumption by a third.

“This will result in 11,000 avoided deaths from air pollution,” said lead author Lauri Myllyvirta, senior analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

Globally, oil use has declined by about the same amount, with drops in coal consumption varying by region.

An unintended boon of shuttered factories and empty roads has been more breathable air.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and small particle pollution known as PM2.5 — both toxic by-products burning coal, oil and gas — fell 37 and 10 percent, respectively, according to the findings.

“The impacts are the same or bigger in many other parts of the world,” Myllyvirta told AFP. “So we are looking at an even larger number of avoided deaths.”

In China, for example, NO2 and PM2.5 levels declined by a 25 and 40 percent during the most stringent period of lockdown, with an even sharper fall in Hubei Province, where the global pandemic began.

Air pollution shortens lives worldwide by nearly three years on average, and causes 8.8 million premature deaths annually, according to a study last month.

The World Health Organization (WHO) calculates 4.2 million deaths, but has underestimated the impact on cardiovascular disease, recent research has shown.

Worst-hit is Asia, where average lifespan is cut 4.1 years in China, 3.9 years in India, and 3.8 years in Pakistan.

In Europe, life expectancy is shortened by eight months.

“Our analysis highlights tremendous benefits for public health and quality of life that could be achieved by rapidly reducing fossil fuels in a sustained and sustainable way,” Myllyvirta said.

– Pollution and COVID-19 –

The happenstance evidence that less air pollution saves lives should guide governments deciding on how to reboot their economies, noted Maria Neira, the WHO’s director for Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

“When we eventually take off our face masks, we want to keep breathing clean air,” she said, commenting on the findings.

“If we truly care about the health of our communities, countries and global commons, we must find ways of powering the planet with out relying on fossil fuels.”

Compared to other causes of premature death, air pollution worldwide kills 19 times more people each year than malaria, nine times more than HIV/AIDS, and three times more than alcohol.

Another study comparing more than 3,000 US counties, meanwhile, found that PM 2.5 pollution is directly linked with higher COVID-19 death rates.

One extra micron per cubic metre corresponded to a 15 percent jump in COVID-19 mortality, researchers at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported earlier this month.

The results “suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe Covid-19 outcomes,” they wrote.

PM 2.5 particles penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular respiratory problems.

In 2013, the WHO classified it as a cancer-causing agent.

In India’s Uttar Pradesh — home to 200 million — small particle pollution by itself slashes life expectancy by 8.5 years, while in China’s Hebei Province (population 74 million) the shortfall is nearly six years, according to the Air Quality Life Index, developed by researchers at the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago.

All but two percent of China’s cities exceeded WHO guidelines for PM2.5 levels, while 53 percent exceeded less stringent national safety limits.

The UN says PM2.5 density should not top 25 microgrammes per cubic metre (25 mcg/m3) of air in any 24-hour period. China has set the bar at 35 mcg/m3.

The new analysis from CREA matches weather conditions and changes in emissions to data on the damages to health linked to exposure to air pollution.

Wisconsin is not ‘clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections’

USA Today – Business

Fact check: Wisconsin is not ‘clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections’

Eric Litke, USA TODAY                       

As tends to happen in Wisconsin politics these days, the battle over reopening the state is headed to the courts.

The state’s Republican-led Legislature filed suit Tuesday, asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to stop Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration from extending the stay-at-home order into late May.

Evers had issued a “Safer at Home” order March 24, which restricted movement and business activity in the state through April 24. On April 16, that order was extended to May 26, this time signed by Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald made their case for an injunction blocking Palm in a joint statement released the same day as the lawsuit. After referencing “public outcry” and condemning Evers for “unprecedented administrative overreach,” the three-paragraph statement ends with this:

“The constant stream of executive orders … are eroding both the economy and their liberty even as the state is clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections.” (Read the statement here posted on Facebook.)

We’ll leave the determinations on scope of authority to the courts, but the last bit of that is clearly a data-based claim.

Are infections “clearly” on the decline in Wisconsin?

The COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin

At the time of the joint statement, COVID-19 had resulted in 242 deaths in Wisconsin, with 4,620 people testing positive for the disease.

Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Vos, said the decline claim was based on hospitalization data and the hospital resource usage estimated in a model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

The oft-cited model, last updated April 17, projected Wisconsin’s peak resource usage to be somewhere between April 10 and April 18. It’s an estimate based on the institute’s formula, not a firm calculation based on actual figures. The model has drawn some criticism for its methodology, which experts say could make it ill-suited to help determine when to ease social distancing restrictions.

But let’s examine actual data for Wisconsin, starting with the hospitalization numbers Beyer cited.

As with most data sets, labeling something an upward or downward trend depends entirely on which part of the data one pluck out. So here’s what we found looking at both recent days and the full month of April.


This is the lone metric that shows a decline over the last couple of weeks.

After rising to start the month, the daily tally leveled off around 440 per day from April 9-14.

The number then dropped for two days before holding steady between 357 and 361 from April 17-21.


The daily numbers move up and down a bit but have stayed largely consistent throughout April.

Zooming in to the last six days (April 15 to 20), Wisconsin had between 147 and 170 new confirmed cases per day. The tally was lower the days before that due to a lower number of tests being performed.

The most recent tally released prior to the statement from Vos and Fitzgerald was April 20, with 153 cases, up six from the day before. That’s on par with the April average of 157 new cases per day.


Wisconsin has averaged 10.7 coronavirus deaths per day throughout April, with daily tallies ranging from six to 19.

The week prior to the statement from Vos and Fitzgerald, Wisconsin averaged 10.9 deaths, including 10 on April 20.

Our ruling: Partly false

We rate this claim PARTLY FALSE because some of it is not supported by our research. There are a lot of ways to slice the coronavirus data, but the claim that Wisconsin “is clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections” is an exaggeration. Hospitalizations, though flat for several days before this claim, were indeed down slightly from a previous peak. That’s the element of truth here. But the two indicators most in line with the reference to a decline in “infections” weren’t. New cases and deaths in the week before this claim were roughly in line with both the preceding week and the averages for the month of April.

In this Wednesday April 15, 2020, photo, State Street is mostly empty around noontime due to the coronavirus pandemic in Madison, Wis.
In this Wednesday April 15, 2020, photo, State Street is mostly empty around noontime due to the coronavirus pandemic in Madison, Wis.

Renewables Are the Only Winners in Historic Decline in Energy Demand

Bloomberg – Business

Renewables Are the Only Winners in Historic Decline in Energy Demand

Akshat Rathi, Bloomberg                
Renewables Are the Only Winners in Historic Decline in Energy Demand

(Bloomberg) — The coronavirus lockdown will cause the biggest drop in energy demand in history, with only renewables managing to increase output through the crisis.

As people around the world consume less oil, gas and coal, electricity generated from the wind and sun will keep flowing, resulting in an unprecedented 8% decline in global carbon dioxide emissions this year, according to a report from the International Energy Agency.

“The energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said in a statement released from the organization’s headquarters in Paris on Thursday.

The pandemic has infected at least 3 million people worldwide and killed more than 200,000 people as of April 29. With no drug to treat Covid-19 and a vaccine not expected until at least the end of the year, reducing the interactions between infected people is the only effective way to control the spread.

Those measures, however, have severe impact on economic growth and energy demand. Each month of lockdown on the scale of what’s in place this month reduces annual energy demand by 1.5%, IEA estimates.

The institution that advises nations on energy policy says that demand is likely to fall 6% in 2020, which is seven times the scale of the drop suffered in the 2008 financial crisis. In absolute terms, it’s like losing the energy demand of India. Rich countries will show a steeper decline, with the U.S. falling 9% and the European Union losing 11%.

While all sources of energy — oil, coal, natural gas, and even nuclear — will see a decline, renewable energy is likely to be the bright spot. And though emissions will fall drastically, the IEA expects a sharp rebound without government policies pushing for a green recovery. Here are the key highlights from IEA’s report:

Oil Glut

Global oil demand is poised to slump by 9 million barrels a day, or about 9%, to the lowest level since 2012. By the end of March, road transport activity was down about 50% around the world, while air travel in some European countries had plunged more than 90%. As lockdowns continue, April will see the deepest decline, with fuel consumption slumping almost a third to the lowest since 1995.

With demand in freefall, even prodigious efforts being undertaken by the OPEC cartel and its allies to stabilize markets won’t be enough to shield the global oil industry from chaos, the agency warned. Some producing regions will suffer a “disorderly production shutdown,” it said.

Coal Trend

Global coal demand is heading for its biggest fall since World War II — about 8% — as the case for burning the dirtiest fossil fuel is further undermined by the pandemic. The fuel’s share in the electricity mix has fallen in India, China, Europe, and parts of the U.S. These four regions have large and varied electricity markets, and yet uniformly coal becomes the biggest victim when demand falls.

Burning coal for power in several European countries has become unprofitable and socially untenable — crowded out by cheap gas and the proliferation of renewable energy as well as powerful environmental movements. The pandemic has only served to hasten its demise.

Gas Hit

Natural gas consumption was falling in the first quarter even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Europe, mainly due to a mild winter in the northern hemisphere. The lockdowns accelerate that decline, with global demand expected to decrease by 5% this year — the first annual drop in consumption since 2009 and a huge shock to an industry that has grown accustomed to continued growth.

Much of this decline will come from power generation as the increasing shift toward renewable energy and low overall power demand is squeezing out the role of natural gas in production. Europe is expected to see a drop of 7%, whereas North America’s decline is likely to be less severe, propped up by ultra-low prices.

Renewables Brighten

Even as overall demand has decreased, renewables in many countries get first priority to feed electricity into the grid. That means producers of solar, wind and hydro power can sell all of the power they produce even as fossil-fuel generators turn down or shut off completely to prevent a system overload. Solar and wind farms have also benefited from windier and sunnier conditions than normal in some places.

In 2019, along with nuclear, low-carbon sources overtook coal for the first time ever. With the boost renewables get this year, the lead is set to extend, leaving low-carbon sources responsible for 40% of global electricity generation.

It hasn’t been all positive for the sector. Like much of the global economy, the coronavirus has disrupted the supply chains for wind and solar farms. About 11% of the world’s wind turbines were shut this week because of the virus, according to Bloomberg NEF. Work to build new wind farms has also been disrupted by restrictions on workers and regulatory processes being delayed. That could lead to a slowdown in new renewable energy projects coming online this year.

Emissions Fall

With fossil-fuel use taking such a big hit, it’s no surprise that emissions will fall. An 8% decline is larger than most early estimates, and bigger than what the most ambitious scenario to keep global warming under check demands. Yet, that decline probably is not enough to hold off further increases in the earth’s temperature or the stock of greenhouse gases that have built up in the atmosphere, the IEA said.

The more ambitious target set under the Paris climate agreement — keeping temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius — will require halving annual global emissions by 2030 and hitting net-zero emissions sometime around the middle of the century. Without deep structural changes, emissions are expected to rise again when economies recover.

“Governments can learn from that experience by putting clean energy technologies — renewables, efficiency, batteries, hydrogen and carbon capture — at the heart of their plans for economic recovery,” Birol said. “Investing in those areas can create jobs, make economies more competitive and steer the world towards a more resilient and cleaner energy future.”

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A Farmers Point of View to the Covid Crisis.


By Brad Weisenstein, Editor        April 24, 2020

Farmers have always proven resilient and ultimately will survive the virus and anything state government lobs at them.

Empty meat cases and grocery store shelves are the first hint most people get that the coronavirus is impacting farmers. Those who guess the laws of supply and demand are in farmers’ favor would be wrong.

COVID-19 is closing processing plants that can’t stop their workers from getting ill. Supply chains cannot switch overnight from getting milk into small cartons for schoolchildren to putting it in plastic jugs for the supermarket. Pork and beef destined for restaurant plates can’t be easily diverted into deli cases.

Nearly all commodity prices are in negative territory from a year ago, with corn down about 20%, cattle more than 30%, milk down more than one-third and hogs at nearly half what they were.

“I’m in the tractor now and just planted 11 acres while we were talking,” Illinois state Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, said this week. “If I only lose $100 an acre on this corn, it will be a miracle.”

Not planting isn’t an option, because he already locked into seed, fertilizer and chemical contracts before the pandemic. He raises grain and livestock on land farmed by his family for more than 100 years. His grandma in 1905 drove a team of mules to haul the logs for his house and barn.

He also expects to lose money on his cattle. He can usually sell quarters or halves of beef to families and have them processed within a few weeks, but now the soonest processing appointment is nine weeks away and that’s another nine weeks of feed.

But his real sympathy is with the dairy farmers. He never played sports, because there was milking to do for the first 43 years of his life.

“On a dairy farm everything is booked around the cows: weddings, funerals, parties. The cows are part of your family, like a pet. And you treat them that well because that’s your livelihood,” Meier said.

But from his childhood when his and every farm had dairy cattle, to 1985 when there were still nearly 4,000 dairy farms in Illinois, to now with fewer than 800 left and dropping fast, things can only get bleaker as a result of the virus. He said dairy farmers saw years of low milk prices, then had a few months in which they made money before the coronavirus hit, then prices dropped and his neighbors were again losing money.

“Farming is one of the most dangerous professions and has one of the highest suicide rates,” Meier said. “You’re going to see a lot of bankruptcies, just like with small business owners. You have a lot of these folks who inherited what their parents built through tough times for 80 years, and they are proud and can’t lose the family legacy. You’ll see many more bankruptcies if this thing goes into July. And suicides.”

COVID-19 relief through the federal CARES Act includes $16 billion in payments to farmers and $3 billion in commodity purchases for food aid programs. Meier has his doubts that the money will make it past food processors and into the hands of farmers, especially with markets being depressed. He saw the same dynamic with the small business loans, which he said saw 12,000 bars and restaurants applying in Illinois with 700 getting funds – and only one of those in the legislative district he represents.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker just extended the state lockdown until May 30. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said it could be well into June.

Meier said Illinois’ economy can’t wait that long. He said a regional approach is needed, meaning what’s happening in cities that are virus hot spots should not dictate what’s happening in rural communities. He noted there are a lot of smart business leaders available to help decide what can open safely, when and how.

But hiking the minimum wage in July and then potentially adding billions in extra progressive state income taxes on Illinois’ more than 100,000 small businesses will make the economic pain even worse.

Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert opposes the progressive tax for the harm it can do to the state’s 72,000 farms, arguing the only “fair tax” is one that treats everyone the same instead of imposing arbitrary government standards. Meier said the double punch of wage and tax hikes will turn Southern Illinois into a desert of bankrupt farms and shuttered storefronts.

“How are they supposed to pay bills if they are closed and then July 1 pay the higher minimum wage and by-the-way here’s a progressive tax hike. I don’t know where the money’s supposed to come from,” he said.

Farmers have always proven resilient and ultimately will survive the virus and anything state government lobs at them. There just may be fewer of them, with the results visible at a supermarket near you.

Protect Americans’ credit scores amid the coronavirus pandemic

Yahoo Money

Democrat senators to credit bureaus: Protect Americans’ credit scores amid the coronavirus pandemic

By Janna Heron and Aarthi Swaminathan                   

FICO changes could impact your credit score

Two Democratic senators are urging the national credit reporting agencies to help safeguard the creditworthiness of Americans hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a letter obtained by Yahoo Finance.

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) sent a letter to Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, inquiring about the actions they are taking to make sure Americans’ credit isn’t damaged permanently if they have trouble paying their bills on time during the crisis.

“If American families and consumers are piled under a mountain of debt during this pandemic and once it ends, the country will struggle to emerge from a deep recession,” Warren and Schatz wrote. “This means that when the crisis is over, months of late or missed payments could add up to not just a mountain of debt, but a cratering credit score that takes away the shovel they might use to dig themselves out.”

Read more: Free credit reports amid coronavirus: Here’s why that’s important

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, participate in the press conference in the Capitol to call for the elimination of student loan debt at public higher education institutions on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)


The bureaus maintain the credit reports of consumers that help calculate a credit score, which lenders use to approve new credit and at what terms. The reports are a history of all your credit obligations, including how many accounts you have, how much you owe, and how often you make on-time payments.

While Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from Yahoo Money, the trade group representing the companies did.

“The companies just received the letter from the Senators and are reviewing it now. We share the Senators’ concerns about how the crisis will impact consumers and we have taken actions to help, including providing increased free access to credit reports, as they announced last week,” said Francis Creighton, president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association. “We have also increased our training of banks and other creditors to help them understand their obligations under the law and to make sure they have tools to help consumers.”

2020.04.27 Letter to Experi… by Aarthi on Scribd


The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a number of protections for homeowners, renters, and student loan borrowers, the senators pointed out, but “won’t help countless American families and consumers who have other debts that received no protections, including auto loans, credit card debt, payday loans, and other forms of debt.”

The act does amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to halt harmful credit reporting during the COVID-19 crisis under specific circumstances. If your creditor offers an accommodation on your payments because of the coronavirus, the creditor must report your account as current to the credit bureaus as long you weren’t already behind on payments.

But you have to reach out to your creditor first and agree on the terms of hardship accommodation to avoid negative reporting. You can’t just stop paying your bills with no repercussions, and you must maintain your end of the deal.

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)


The three credit bureaus said last week they are offering free weekly credit reports for all Americans for the next year to help them monitor the accuracy of their credit histories. The bureaus said they sent additional guidance to creditors on reporting during a national emergency.

Equifax also announced earlier this month that it would no longer hurt your credit score if a mobile, wireless, cable, and internet company requested your credit report to open a new account. Before these were considered hard inquiries and could ding your score. When contacted earlier by Yahoo Money, Experian said it had changed its policy in a similar manner, while TransUnion declined to comment.

Sen. Warren and Schatz have requested responses to their letter no later than May 1.

“Our economic revival depends on millions of Americans’ ability to resume their lives after the pandemic abates and the economy reopens,” the letter concluded. “Permanently marred credit scores pose a risk to individuals and to our collective recovery.”

Janna is an editor at Yahoo Money and Cashay.

Huge amounts of methane leaking from U.S. oil fields, study shows

CBS News – Business

Huge amounts of methane leaking from U.S. oil fields, study shows

Jeff Berardelli, CBS News                        

Oil and gas operations in the Permian Basin, the largest oil-producing area in the United States, are spewing more than twice the amount of methane emissions into the atmosphere than previously thought — enough wasted energy to power 7 million households in Texas for a year. That’s the result of a new study by researchers at Harvard University and the Environmental Defense Fund.

The Permian Basin stretches across a 250-mile by 250-mile area of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, and accounts for over a third of the crude oil 10% of the natural gas in the U.S.

The study, published this week in the journal Science Advances, also found that the rate of leakage of methane gas makes up 3.7% of all the gas extracted in the basin, which is about 60% higher than the national average leakage rate. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and since the Permian Basin is so large, this excess waste is a significant contribution to our already warming climate.

“These are the highest emissions ever measured from a major U.S. oil and gas basin,” said study co-author Dr. Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).


Environmental Defense Fund

To map the methane emissions, the team employed a space-borne sensor on a European Space Agency satellite called the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) from May 2018 to March 2019.

Since 2005, the rapid increase in oil and natural gas production in the United States has been driven primarily by hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) and horizontal drilling.


Methane plume in California detected by a NASA satellite. NASA

While some see the leaked methane gas as a big waste of natural resources, others are focused on the danger posed by methane. Methane is an extremely powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas, much more potent than its more well-known counterpart, carbon dioxide (CO2).

There is 225 times less methane in the atmosphere than there is CO2, but because of its powerful heat-trapping qualities, methane is contributing about 25% of the current rate of global warming.

Since the Industrial Revolution, global methane concentrations have doubled due mostly to human activities like livestock farming, decay from landfills, and from burning fossil fuels.

“I am very concerned about increasing methane emissions,” said Dr. Robert Howarth, a biogeochemist and expert on methane from Cornell University, who was not involved with the study. “Methane is 120 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, compared mass-to-mass for the time both gases are in the atmosphere,” he explains.

According to Hamburg, the methane gas escaping the Permian Basin is so excessive that it has tripled the typical heating impact it would have otherwise had through burning the gas. Evidence of this massive leakage undercuts the case made by proponents of natural gas who tout its cleaner-burning qualities over that of its normally dirtier-burning cousin, coal.

“The most up-to-date thinking is that for comparing coal and natural gas to generate electricity, gas is worse than coal if the methane emission rate is greater than 2.7%,” said Howarth. However, this research found the Permian Basin’s emission rate is higher than that — 3.7% of the gross gas extracted. Therefore, the leakage in the Permian Basin is so high it makes gas and oil emissions more intensive than even coal.


The Permian Basin, stretching across West Texas and southeast New Mexico, provides more than a third of U.S. crude oil. Environmental Defense Fund

“After staying level for the first decade of the 21st century, methane emissions have been rising quickly over the past decade,” said Howarth, “My research indicates that shale gas development in the U.S. is responsible for at least one-third of the total increase in these emissions globally.”

The Harvard/EDF paper attributes the high methane leakage rate to extensive venting and flaring, resulting from insufficient infrastructure to process and transport natural gas.

On the other hand, the paper concludes, the higher-than-average leakage rate in the Permian Basin implies an opportunity to reduce methane emissions through better design, more effective management, regulation and infrastructure development.

But over the past few years, regulations on fossil fuels have gone in the opposite direction. “Trump’s EPA has proposed to substantially weaken or even eliminate regulations, adopted during the Obama administration, to control methane emissions from oil and gas facilities,” said Romany Webb, a senior fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.


Environmental Defense Fund

Webb says the Texas Railroad Commission — the state’s oil and gas regulator — has its own rules controlling venting and flaring. Venting and flaring is permitted up to 10 days after completion of well drilling; after that operators can apply for an exemption from the commission. “Recently, the number of exemptions granted by the commission has increased dramatically, leading to concerns that it is simply acting as a rubber stamp,” said Webb.

“To detect emissions takes sophisticated approaches and highly trained personnel,” Howarth said. “To date, the best any government has done is to come up with regulations that rely on industry self-reporting. I find that rather useless.”

If the world has any hope of meeting the target for reducing emissions outlined in the Paris climate agreement, reducing CO2 cannot accomplish this alone — the climate responds far more quickly to methane, explains Howarth. To keep the level of warming below the international goal of 2 degrees Celsius and prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, controlling methane leakage is essential. Without it, humanity is bound to fall short.

This Earth Day, we must stop the fossil fuel money pipeline

The Guardian – World

This Earth Day, we must stop the fossil fuel money pipeline

Bill McKibben, The Guardian         April 20, 2020
<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP


1970 was a simpler time. (February was a simpler time too, but for a moment let’s think outside the pandemic bubble.)

Simpler because our environmental troubles could be easily seen. The air above our cities was filthy, and the water in our lakes and streams was gross. There was nothing subtle about it. In New York City, the environmental lawyer Albert Butzel described a permanently yellow horizon: “I not only saw the pollution, I wiped it off my windowsills.” Or consider the testimony of a city medical examiner: “The person who spent his life in the Adirondacks has nice pink lungs. The city dweller’s are black as coal.” You’ve probably heard of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River catching fire, but here’s how the former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller described the Hudson south of Albany: “One great septic tank that has been rendered nearly useless for water supply, for swimming, or to support the rich fish life that once abounded there.” Everything that people say about the air and water in China and India right now was said of America’s cities then.

It’s no wonder that people mobilized: 20 million Americans took to the streets for the first Earth Day in 1970 – 10% of America’s population at the time, perhaps the single greatest day of political protest in the country’s history. And it worked. Worked politically because Congress quickly passed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and scientifically because those laws had the desired effect. In essence, they stuck enough filters on smokestacks, car exhausts and factory effluent pipes that, before long, the air and water were unmistakably cleaner. The nascent Environmental Protection Agency commissioned a series of photos that showed just how filthy things were. Even for those of us who were alive then, it’s hard to imagine that we tolerated this.

But we should believe it, because now we face even greater challenges that we’re doing next to nothing about. And one reason is you can’t see them.

The carbon dioxide molecule is invisible; at today’s levels you can’t see it or smell it, and it doesn’t do anything to you. Carbon with one oxygen molecule? That’s what kills you in a closed garage if you leave the car running. But two oxygen molecules? All that does is trap heat in the atmosphere. Melt ice caps. Raise seas. Change weather patterns. But slowly enough that most of the time, we don’t quite see it.

And it’s a more complex moment for another reason. You can filter carbon monoxide easily. It’s a trace gas, a tiny percentage of what comes from a power plant. But carbon dioxide is the exact opposite. It’s most of what comes pouring out when you burn coal or gas or oil. There’s no catalytic converter for CO2, which means you have to take down the fossil fuel industry.

That in turn means you have to take on not just the oil companies but also the banks, asset managers and insurance companies that invest in them (and may even own them, in the wake of the current economic crash). You have to take on, that is, the heart of global capital.

And so we are. Stop the Money Pipeline, a coalition of environmental and climate justice groups running from the small and specialized to the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, formed last fall to try to tackle the biggest money on earth. Banks like Chase – the planet’s largest by market capitalization – which has funneled a quarter – trillion dollars to the fossil fuel industry since the Paris agreement of 2015. Insurers like Liberty Mutual, still insuring tar sands projects even as pipeline builders endanger Native communities by trying to build the Keystone XL during a pandemic.

This campaign sounds quixotic, but it seemed to be getting traction until the coronavirus pandemic hit. In January, BlackRock announced that it was going to put climate at the heart of its investment analyses. Liberty Mutual, under similar pressure from activists, began to edge away from coal. And Chase – well, Earth Day would have seen activists engaging in civil disobedience in several thousand bank lobbies across America, sort of like the protest in January that helped launch the campaign (and sent me, among others, off in handcuffs). But we called that off; there’s no way we were going to risk carrying the microbe into jails, where the people already locked inside have little chance of social distancing.

Still, the pandemic may be causing as much trouble for the fossil fuel industry as our campaign hoped to. With the demand for oil cratering, it’s clear that these companies have no future. The divestment campaign that, over a decade, has enlisted $14 tn in endowments and portfolios in the climate fight has a new head of steam.

Our job – a more complex one than faced our Earth Day predecessors 50 years ago – is to force the spring. We need to speed the transition to the solar panels and wind turbines that engineers have worked so mightily to improve and are now the cheapest way to generate power. The only thing standing in the way is the political power of the fossil fuel companies, on clear display as Donald Trump does everything in his power to preserve their dominance. That’s hard to overcome. Hard but simple. Just as in 1970, it demands unrelenting pressure from citizens. That pressure is coming. Indigenous nations, frontline communities, faith groups, climate scientists and savvy investors are joining together, and their voices are getting louder. Seven million of us were in the streets last September. That’s not 20 million, but it’s on the way.

We can’t be on the streets right now. So we’ll do what we can on the boulevards of the Internet. Join us for Earth Day Live, three days of digital activism beginning 22 April. We’re in a race, and we’re gaining fast.

  • Bill McKibben is an author and Schumann distinguished scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College, Vermont. His most recent book is Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
  • This story originally appeared in The Nation and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story

Michael Moore’s ‘Planet of the Humans’ asks: what if green energy cannot save the planet?

Reuters – Science

Michael Moore’s ‘Planet of the Humans’ asks: what if green energy cannot save the planet?

By Jill Serjeant, Reuters              

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – As environmentalists celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day this week, a new documentary poses a sobering question.

What if wind farms, solar panels and other green energy projects are not enough to save the planet and humanity simply cannot sustain life as we know it?

“Planet of the Humans,” executive produced by Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore and written and directed by Jeff Gibbs, asks hard questions about what it sees as the failure of well-meaning efforts to halt climate change.

“It seems like we have been losing the battle,” Moore told Reuters. “We are in deep, deep trouble.”

“Planet of the Humans,” which will be released on YouTube on Tuesday free of charge to the public, argues that the mainstream environmental movement has sold out to corporate interests and that solar and wind energy components and electric cars rely too heavily on deforestation and electricity generated from coal and natural gas to produce them.

“What we have been calling green, renewable energy and industrial civilization are one and the same thing – desperate measures not to save the planet but to save our way of life,” Gibbs says in the film.

A better approach, Gibbs suggests, would be people having fewer children. “Infinite growth on a finite planet is suicide,” he says.

The multi-year film project includes interviews with scientists, industrialists and environmental activists, visits to wind farms, solar installations and biomass plants, and an in-depth look at the companies that collaborate and invest in green energy initiatives.

Moore said that he, like many people, thought electric cars were a good idea, “but I didn’t really think about where is the electricity coming from?”

“I assumed solar panels would last for ever. I didn’t know what went into the making of them,” Moore added, referring to raw materials, including quartz, and the fossil fuels needed to manufacture the panels.

Moore and Gibbs acknowledge the film is bleak in parts but said they hope it will stimulate discussion. Both men will take part in a live Q&A on Wednesday at 10 pm ET (0200 GMT Thursday) on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“The film doesn’t have all the answers but it challenges us to think differently,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs and Moore said the mass shutdowns and plummeting air travel that have been one impact from the coronavirus have shown how swiftly the planet could benefit from a change.

The economic standstill could cause carbon dioxide emissions to fall this year by the largest amount since World War Two, the chair of the Global Carbon Project said earlier this month.

“The fact that within days animals are coming back and the skies are blue tells us that we don’t have to build a million square miles of solar panels or buy a zillion electric cars. If we just slow down and stop we can make a tremendous difference instantly,” said Gibbs.

“I think this is a good chance, this 50th (Earth Day)anniversary, to think through who we are, what we’ve become as an environmental movement, and where we should be going next,” he said.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Here are the largest public companies taking payroll loans meant for small businesses

CNBC – Markets

  • Hundreds of millions of dollars of Paycheck Protection Program funds have been claimed by large, publicly traded companies.
  • In fact, the U.S. government has allocated at least $243.4 million of the total $349 billion to publicly traded companies, according to Morgan Stanley.
  • Several of the companies have market values well in excess of $100 million, including DMC Global, Wave Life Sciences and Fiesta Restaurant Group.
20200421 PPPloans to private companies

Hundreds of millions of dollars of Paycheck Protection Program emergency funding has been claimed by large, publicly traded companies, new research published by Morgan Stanley shows.

In fact, the U.S. government has allocated at least $243.4 million of the total $349 billion to publicly traded companies, the firm said.

The PPP was designed to help the nation’s smallest, mom-and-pop shops keep employees on payroll and prevent mass layoffs across the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.

New virus aid bill includes $251 billion in PPP, $60 billion to small lenders

But the research shows that several of the companies that have received aid have market values well in excess of $100 million, including DMC Global ($405 million), Wave Life Sciences ($286 million) and Fiesta Restaurant Group ($189 million). Fiesta, which employs more than 10,000 people, according to its last reported annual number, received a PPP loan of $10 million, Morgan Stanley’s data showed.

At least 75 companies that have received the aid were publicly traded and received a combined $300 million in low-interest, taxpayer-backed loans, according to a separate report published by The Associated Press.

“I think you’ve seen some pretty shameful acts by some large companies to take advantage of the system,” said Howard Schultz, former Starbucks chairman and CEO. Instead, the government should act “as a backstop for the banks to give every small business and every independent restaurant a bridge to the vaccine. And that is the money and the resources to make it through.”

Statistics released by the Small Business Administration last week showed that 4,400 of the approved loans exceeded $5 million. The size of the typical loan nationally was $206,000, according to the SBA report released April 16.

The SBA awarded the plurality of PPP dollars (13.12%) to the construction industry. Professional, scientific and technical services received 12.65%, manufacturing received 11.96%, health care received 11.65% and accommodation and food services received 8.9%.

Congress approved the first-come-first-served PPP in March as part of the massive $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which at the time promised to ease some of the financial burden for many of the nation’s smallest business owners. But the program ran out of money on Thursday, when the SBA announced that it was “unable to accept new applications for the Paycheck Protection Program based on available appropriations funding.”

GP: President Trump Participates In America CARES: Small Business Relief Update
President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (L) participate in a video conference with representatives of large banks and credit card companies about more financial assistance for small businesses in the Roosevelt Room at the White House April 07, 2020 in Washington, DC. Doug Mills | Getty Images


The nation’s top lawmakers have in recent weeks worked to expand the small-business funding.

Staffers for Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been in talks with the Treasury Department on drafting another bill, which appeared nearly finished by Monday evening.

Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, said Tuesday that he believes the chamber will pas an aditional relief bill for small businesses later in the day.

Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti on returning $10M government loan

He told CNN he spoke “well past midnight” with Pelosi, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and “came to an agreement on just about every issue.”

By Sunday, deliberations between Republicans and Democrats included setting aside $310 billion more into the PPP. Some $60 billion of that sum would be earmarked for rural and minority groups while $60 billion would go to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, a separate relief offered by the SBA for small businesses.

Mnuchin said the deal may include $75 billion in funding for health-care providers and hospitals and $25 billion for Covid-19 testing.

— CNBC’s Lauren Hirsch contributed reporting.

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