Want to See Food and Land Justice for Black Americans? Support These Groups.

Civil Eats

Want to See Food and Land Justice for Black Americans? Support These Groups.

Food justice is racial justice. As the nation rises up to protest atrocities against Black people, here are some organizations working to advance Black food sovereignty.

Protestors march in Philadelphia on June 1, in the aftermath of widespread unrest following the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others.

Food justice is racial justice. Food and agriculture, like everything in this country, are deeply intertwined with our nation’s entrenched history of slavery and structural racism. Our food system actively silences, marginalizes, and disproportionately impacts people of color, who are also being hardest hit by COVID-19.

As Americans rise up to respond to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others, and to the ongoing violence, suppression, and brutality facing the Black community, we hope this list of organizations working to strengthen food justice, land access, and food access in the Black community will inform, inspire, and energize you to show up for racial justice.

Black Church Food Security Network works to connect Black communities and other urban communities of color with Black farmers in hopes of advancing food and land sovereignty. Read more.

Black Dirt Farm Collective is a collective of Black farmers, educators, scientists, agrarians, seed keepers, organizers, and researchers guiding a political education process.

Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers Cooperative of Pittsburgh works with Black communities in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to grow food and to share Black cultural traditions through a farm, youth program, and policy work. Read more.

Black Urban Growers (BUGS) is committed to building networks and community support for growers in both urban and rural settings. Through education and advocacy around food and farm issues, it nurtures collective Black leadership.

Castanea Fellowship offers a two-year fellowship for diverse leaders working for a racially just food system in any of the areas of health, environment, agriculture, regional economies, or community development. Read more.

Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED) is a queer and transgender people of color-led organization that partners with young folks of color to build food and land co-ops.

Detroit Black Community Food Security Network ensures that Detroit’s African American population participates in the food movement through urban farming, youth education programs and the much-anticipated Detroit People’s Food Co-op. Read more.

Family Agriculture Resource Management Services (FARMS) is a legal nonprofit, committed to assisting Black farmers and landowners in retaining their land for the next generation. Read more.

Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund is a non-profit cooperative association of Black farmers, landowners, and cooperatives, with a primary membership base in the Southern States.

Food Chain Workers Alliance is a coalition of worker-based organizations whose members plant, harvest, process, pack, transport, prepare, serve, and sell food, organizing to improve wages and working conditions for all workers along the food chain. Read more.

Food First works to end the injustices that cause hunger through research, education, and action.

Freedom School Demonstration Farm runs a Fresno, California-based program aimed at empowering Black and brown youth to grow their own food. Read more.

HEAL Food Alliance brings together groups from various sectors of movements for food and farm justice to grow community power, develop political leadership, and exposing and limiting corporate control of the food system. Read more.

The Land Loss Prevention Project responds to the unprecedented losses of Black-owned land in North Carolina by providing comprehensive legal services and technical support to financially distressed and limited resource farmers and landowners. Read more.

The National Black Farmers Association is a non-profit organization representing African American farmers and their families in the United States.

National Black Food and Justice Alliance organizes for Black food and land, by increasing the visibility of visionary Black leadership, advancing Black people’s struggle for just and sustainable communities, and building power in our food systems and land stewardship. Read more.

New Communities Land Trust is a grassroots organization that has worked for more than 40 years to empower African American families in Southwest Georgia and advocate for social justice. Read more.

The Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust advance land sovereignty in the Northeast through permanent and secure land tenure for Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian farmers and land stewards.

Planting Justice works to empower people impacted by mass incarceration and other social inequities through a nursery, land trust, and various community farming efforts. Read more.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United is fighting to improve wages and working conditions for the nation’s restaurant workforce. Read more.

Sankofa Farms seeks create a sustainable food source for minorities in both rural and urban areas located in Durham and Orange County, North Carolina.

The Seeding Power Fellowship is an innovative 18-month, cohort-based food justice fellowship program. Read more.

Soil Generation is a Philadelphia-based Black- and Brown-led coalition of growers building a grassroots movement through urban farming, agroecology, community education, and more. Read more.

Soul Fire Farm is a Black, Indigenous, and people of color-centered community farm committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system. Read more.

Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network is a regional network for Black farmers committed to using ecologically sustainable practices to manage land, grow food, and raise livestock that are healthy for people and the planet. Read more.

Want more? Read our ongoing coverage of the many worthwhile efforts to expose and address structural inequities in the food system.

We Must Save Farmers’ Markets

Civil Eats

Op-ed: We Must Save Farmers’ Markets

Without more support, the impact of losing markets could be massive to farmers, eaters, and regional economies.

San Francisco’s Heart of the City Farmers’ Market has been an oasis of fresh, farm-direct produce in a neighborhood dominated by fast food and liquor stores since 1981. It makes a variety of local produce available to a diverse population of shoppers from around the city and provides income for 82 farmers and food artisans.

Each year, the market also matches low-income shopper’s produce purchases, resulting in $1.5 million in food assistance, making it the largest distributor of EBT of all farmers’ markets in California. COVID-19 has spiked demand for these services, to the point that lines now wrap around the block. Unfortunately, the virus has also strained the nonprofit’s budget and put all of that good work in jeopardy.

Farmers’ markets operators—the organizations and individuals who plan, coordinate, and run America’s farmers’ markets—are engaging in herculean efforts to protect their communities from COVID-19. In the case of Heart of the City, this means crowd control measures to limit the number of shoppers, pre-order options, and the elimination of sampling and touching produce before shopping, among other strategies.

Farmers’ markets have always been hubs for innovation. When farmers have opted or been forced out of the traditional supply chain, America’s 8,000 farmers’ markets have served as a lifeline to their businesses, filling a vital role to move their goods from field to plate. Now, in this time of crisis, these markets have had to devise rapid solutions. Apart from these efforts, emerging research suggests sunlight effectively kills COVID-19, adding more support to the idea that farmers’ markets may be the safest place to shop for groceries during the pandemic.

“There are benefits to visiting a farmers’ market in light of coronavirus … you’re outside, there’s fresh air moving, and the supply chain is shorter,” Yvonne Michael, an epidemiologist at Drexel University School of Public Health, told WHYY recently.

But keeping these markets safe is very expensive for the organizations that run them. For example, Heart of the City market expects to lose almost $200,000 by the end of the year because of a drop in attendance by vendors, who pay a modest fee to participate. These fees serve as the backbone of the market’s budget. And yet, many vendors have been unable to attend due to farmers’ health concerns, age, and labor shortages on their farms. At the same time, the market anticipates spending over $80,000 to maintain health and safety measures, including extra staff and equipment to maintain social distancing.

Yerena Farms, one of the vendors at the Heart of the City Farmers' Market in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Heart of the City)

Yerena Farms, one of the vendors at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Heart of the City)

The Heart of the City market is far from alone. In a recent, as-yet unpublished Farmers Market Coalition member survey, 74 percent of the organizations that responded reported decreased income, while 93 percent report added costs, including the purchase of PPE for market staff, rental of more handwashing stations, new software or services, and additional staff to rearrange market layouts and monitor customer traffic. In a similar survey by the California Alliance of Farmers Markets (also unpublished), nearly 20 percent of farmers’ market operators reported concern that they may not survive the economic impacts of COVID-19.

The impact of losing farmers’ markets would be massive. They facilitate an estimated $2.4 billion dollars in sales for small and mid-scale farms in the U.S. each year.

“Without direct assistance for our state’s farmers’ markets, many of which already operate on a shoestring budget and an all-volunteer staff, we risk losing this vital outlet, drastically affecting the livelihoods of farmers,” says Robbi Mixon, director of the Alaska Farmers Market Association. “Small to medium scale farms are the cornerstone of local food systems. If farmers’ markets disappear, these farmers lose market access and economic stability.”

The cruel irony is that interest in local food and demand for emergency food needs have skyrocketed during the pandemic, making the work of farmers’ market operators more important than ever. And yet, they have largely been left out of relief efforts, both public and private.

A vendor's sign about maintaining physical distance at a farmers' market in Boone, North Caroline. (Photo courtesy of the Farmers Market Coalition)

A vendor’s sign about maintaining physical distance at a farmers’ market in Boone, North Caroline. (Photo courtesy of the Farmers Market Coalition)

And the fact that farmers’ markets are some of the safest places to shop at this moment hasn’t happened by accident. It’s thanks to the committed efforts of people who work hard for their communities. These are very lean organizations and many are close to a breaking point, especially since they have been left out of grants and recovery funds that have been made available to other sectors of the economy. For example, many farmers’ market operators were not eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program because of their nonprofit incorporation type. Only 501(c)(3) nonprofits are eligible for these funds and most farmers’ markets are not.

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare many of the structural problems of our food system, not the least of which is the vital and underappreciated work that farmers’ market operators engage in to keep farmers in business and keep people fed.

The federal government needs to make the Paycheck Protection Program available to farmers’ market operators and provide grants to ensure that they are able to keep markets open and safe. If this work is to continue, farmers’ market operators will need the support of public and private entities as they develop and implement recovery plans.

Meanwhile, we hope the private individuals and foundations who can will step up and donate to support the operation of their local farmers markets. These community institutions have a pivotal role to play—now and in the future—and they’re much too important to lose.

Every Single Worker Has Covid at One U.S. Farm on Eve of Harvest

Bloomberg – Business

Every Single Worker Has Covid at One U.S. Farm on Eve of Harvest

Mike Dorning and Jen Skerritt             
Every Single Worker Has Covid at One U.S. Farm on Eve of Harvest
Every Single Worker Has Covid at One U.S. Farm on Eve of Harvest

(Bloomberg) —

All of the roughly 200 employees on a produce farm in Tennessee tested positive for Covid-19 this month. In New Jersey, more than 50 workers had the virus at a farm in Gloucester County, adding to nearly 60 who fell ill in neighboring Salem County. Almost 170 were reported to get the disease at a tomato and strawberry greenhouse complex in Oneida, New York.

The outbreaks underscore the latest coronavirus threat to America’s food supply: Farm workers are getting sick and spreading the illness just as the U.S. heads into the peak of the summer produce season. In all likelihood, the cases will keep climbing as more than half a million seasonal employees crowd onto buses to move among farms across the country and get housed together in cramped bunkhouse-style dormitories.

The early outbreaks are already starting to draw comparisons to the infections that plunged the U.S. meat industry into crisis over the past few months. Analysts and experts are warning that thousands of farm workers are vulnerable to contracting the disease.

Aside from the most immediate concern — the grave danger that farmhands face — the outbreaks could also create labor shortages at the worst possible time. Produce crops such as berries have a short life span, with only a couple of weeks during which they can be harvested. If a farm doesn’t have enough workers to collect crops in that window, they’re done for the season and the fruit will rot. A spike in virus cases among workers may mean shortages of some fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, along with higher prices.

“We’re watching very, very nervously — the agricultural harvest season is only starting now,” said Michael Dale, executive director of the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project in Portland, Oregon, and a lawyer who has represented farm workers for 40 years. “I don’t think we’re ready. I don’t think we’re prepared.”

Unlike grain crops that rely on machinery, America’s fruits and vegetables are mostly picked and packed by hand, in long shifts out in the open — a typically undesirable job in major economies. So the position typically goes to immigrants, who make up about three quarters of U.S. farm workers.

A workforce of seasonal migrants travels across the nation, following harvest patterns. Most come from Mexico and Latin America through key entry points like southern California, and go further by bus, often for hours, sometimes for days.

There are as many as 2.7 million hired farm workers in the U.S., including migrant, seasonal, year-round and guest-program workers, according to the Migrant Clinicians Network. While many migrants have their permanent residence in the U.S., moving from location to location during the warmer months, others enter through the federal H2A visa program. Still, roughly half of hired crop farmworkers lack legal immigration status, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

These are some of the most vulnerable populations in the U.S., subjected to tough working conditions for little pay and meager benefits. Most don’t have access to adequate health care. Many don’t speak English.

Without them, it would be nearly impossible to keep America’s produce aisles filled. And yet, there’s no one collecting national numbers on how many are falling sick.

“There is woefully inadequate surveillance of what’s happening with Covid-19 and farm workers,” said Erik Nicholson, a national vice president for the United Farm Workers. “There is no central reporting, which is crazy because these are essential businesses.”

On the Tennessee farm where workers caught the virus, only a very few showed any symptoms. After an initial worker tested positive for Covid-19, all employees at Henderson Farms in Evensville were given tests out of an “abundance of caution,” revealing the infection had spread among all of them. The workers are now all in isolation at the farm, where they live and work.

“We take our responsibility to protect the essential workers feeding the nation through the pandemic seriously,” Henderson Farms Co. said in a statement. “In addition to continuing our policy of providing free healthcare, we have implemented additional measures to support workers directly impacted by Covid-19, including those in isolation as per the latest public health guidelines. We are working closely with public health officials in Rhea County, Tennessee, to ensure we can continue to deliver our high standard of care as we support our workers and our community through these unprecedented times.”

Critical Months

May and June mark the start of a critical few months when migrant workers head to fields in North America and Europe to plant and gather crops. Travel restrictions amid the pandemic are already creating a labor squeeze. In Russia, the government is calling on convicts and students to fill in the labor gap on berry and vegetable farms. In the U.K., Prince Charles took to Twitter to encourage residents to #PickForBritain. Farmers in western Europe usually rely on seasonal workers from eastern Europe or northern Africa.

In Canada, migrant workers often come from Jamaica, Guatemala and Mexico. They’re typically housed on farms, with two or four people sharing a room, depending on if there are bunk-beds, said Colin Chapdelaine, president of BC Hot House, a greenhouse farming company that grow tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in Surrey, British Columbia.

All the houses are audited and approved by regulators with guidelines for how much kitchen and bathroom space to provide, but “Covid has kind of turned that on its head,” he said.

“It’s a precarious situation if something happens and it flows through a greenhouse and you can’t pick your crop,” Chapdelaine said. “We’re taking huge precautions to make sure everyone comes in suited and masked up. You have to do all the right things and still hope for the best.”

In the U.S., migrant farm workers primarily come from Mexico and Latin America.

President Donald Trump has sought to maintain the flow of foreign workers to U.S. farms during the pandemic, waiving interview requirements for some guest workers when consular offices shut down and exempting them from a temporary immigration ban. But so far, the administration hasn’t created rules to protect the workers. Democratic Representative Jimmy Panetta of California and 71 other members of Congress urged in a letter last week that the next coronavirus relief package include funding dedicated to combating spread of the virus among farm workers.

Even before infections started to creep up, there weren’t enough workers, causing harvest issues in parts of the U.S. Some prices started to move up. A 2-pound package of strawberries is fetching about 17% more than it was last year, and a pint of cherry tomatoes is 52% higher, USDA data as of May 22 show.

So far, though, the price impact has been limited. As restaurants shuttered during virus lockdowns, many farmers lost a key source of produce demand, creating some supply gluts.

Now, stay-at-home restrictions are easing in all 50 states, and some restaurants are opening back up. Meanwhile, labor shortages could get worse as illness among farm workers deepens.

“The cost will go up, and there will be a little bit less available,” said Kevin Kenny, chief operating officer of Decernis, an expert in global food safety and supply chains. “You really will see some supply issues coming.”

Perishable crops that require more hands on labor to pick are the most at-risk of disruptions, including olives and oranges, Kenny said.

In Florida, oranges are “literally dying on the vines” as not enough migrants can get into the country to pick the crops and things like processed juice will probably cost more in the coming months, he said.

When the virus spread among America’s meat workers, plants were forced to shutter as infections rates topped 50% in some facilities. Prices surged, with wholesale beef and pork more than doubling, and grocers including Kroger Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp. rationed customer purchases. Even Wendy’s Co. dropped burgers from some menus. After an executive order from Trump, plants have reopened, but worker absenteeism is restraining output. Hog and cattle slaughter rates are still down more than 10% from last year.

The produce industry could see similar problems because workers face some of the same issues. They sometimes work shoulder to shoulder. They are transported to and from job sites in crowded buses or vans. They often come from low-income families and can’t afford to call in sick or are afraid of losing their jobs, so they end up showing up to work even if they have symptoms.

“A lot of people are concerned that the summer for farm workers will be like the spring for meat packers,” said David Seligman, director of Towards Justice, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization based in Denver.

There’s “a lot of worker fear because of the asymmetry of power in this industry,” Seligman said. “We’re hearing anecdotal reports. Gathering information about farm workers is very hard because of how scared and how isolated they are.”

There are some key differences between the two industries. For one, farm workers spend most of their time outside, and some research has shown that the virus is less likely to be spread outdoors. Meanwhile, meat workers are piled into cold, damp factories where infectious diseases are particularly hard to control.

In other ways, farm workers are more exposed. Living conditions can be even more cramped, with close-together bunks and communal cooking and bathroom facilities that make physical distancing extremely difficult.

Plus, the workers move around so much, meaning increased chances of exposure for themselves and more chances that sick individuals can spread the illness to other communities.

In Oregon, a farm worker often may move a half dozen times during the summer, working for new growers and housed in new labor camps as they shift from harvesting cherries to strawberries to blueberries to pears, said Dale of the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project.

Nely Rodriguez is a former farm worker who is now an organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Immokalee, Florida, a major tomato growing area. She said that some farms are taking steps to protect migrants, such as having buses make more trips so workers won’t be as cramped and requiring them to wear masks, as well as providing more hand-washing stations and sanitizer.

Lisa Lochridge, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, also pointed to increased measures to protect workers and said some employers even set aside separate housing to be used for a quarantine area if necessary. Cory Lunde, of the Western Growers Association, said farm owners are staggering start times, disinfecting buses and increasing distances between workers, both in the field and in packing facilities and offices.

But protection measures can be spotty, said Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. There aren’t yet any farm specific Covid-19 safety protocols from the federal government.

Developing Guidance

The USDA is “diligently working” with the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “to develop guidance that will assist farmworkers and employers during this time,” the agency said in an emailed statement.

“Additionally, considering the seasonal and migratory nature of the workforce, we are working to identify housing resources that may be available to help control any spread of Covid-19,” the USDA said.

Harvests take place at different times across the country, depending on the weather and the crop. That means when gathering finishes in an early state like Florida, workers will travel into areas such as Georgia, North Carolina, Indiana and New Jersey, said Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. They’ll often make the journey on old school buses rented by employers, sitting for 7 or 8 hours at a time with 45 people crammed in.

“If there is a bunch of farm workers here that are sick, they can essentially spread this virus to other rural communities,” Rodriguez said.

Many farm workers come from indigenous communities in southern Mexico and don’t speak English or Spanish as their first language, so they don’t have adequate information on the pandemic in a language they can understand, said Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy group.

They typically don’t have easy access to coronavirus tests, and many are undocumented so they are concerned about reporting illnesses, he said.

“They’re marginalized in Mexico. They’re similarly marginalized here,” Goldstein said. “People like that are incredibly vulnerable to Covid-19.”

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

‘A risk for the future’: How warming oceans are disrupting America’s seafood supply

Yahoo Finance

‘A risk for the future’: How warming oceans are disrupting America’s seafood supply

Yvette Killian, Producer Yahoo Finance         May 12, 2020

Recorded temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean are increasing at an “alarming” rate, according to one scientist, and forcing fisherman to confront a seafood industry primed for disruption.

Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts recorded 2017 as the warmest year on record for water temperatures in the Northeast. Glen Gawarkiewicz, a senior scientist at the institution, said 2019 was equally “disturbing,” adding that over the past seven years, water temperatures off southern New England have increased by nine degrees Fahrenheit, faster than any region outside of the Arctic.

“The ocean is changing pretty rapidly,” Gawarkiewicz said. “Typically temperature variations might be two degrees Fahrenheit there, and fish are probably sensitive at about one degree Fahrenheit there. So it’s almost an order of magnitude more that you normally need to get some kind of change.”

With 2020 already shaping up to be one of the warmest years on record, there is growing concern about the sustainability of the fishing practices that have dominated this region for generations. Scientists say lobster, a mainstay in waters off of Cape Cod, are moving further north into deeper waters, while warm-water fish are moving in. The dramatic shifts are re-shaping the ecosystem here, potentially putting the traditional food-supply in jeopardy.

“Certainly many of the locally caught seafoods in New England are iconic,” Gawarkiewicz said. “I think it is a risk for the future there.”

SANDWICH, MA - JULY 17: A lobster is removed from a trap at the Sandwich Marina in Sandwich, MA on July 17, 2019. Melting arctic ice is pumping fresh water into the ocean around Greenland and weakening an ancient current that pulses cold water down the East Coast. With that cold water spigot turned down, a surge of warm water that travels north from the tropics is increasingly encroaching on the Gulf of Maine, the basin of the Atlantic whose southern boundary is marked by the Cape. For thousands of years, this frigid, 36,000-square-mile bathtub was home to countless cold-water creatures. But in recent years, it has been warming faster than 99 percent of the worlds oceans. Species that are able, including lobsters, are seeking more hospitable waters, touching off a great undersea migration. To the millions of us who visit Cape Cod once or twice a summer, the effects of climate change can seem subtle, if we see them at all: A breach in the dunes. A crack in the pavement. But once you know how to see what is shifting, changing and washing away, it is impossible to ignore. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)View photos. A lobster is removed from a trap at the Sandwich Marina in Sandwich, MA on July 17, 2019. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Fears about that risk of warming climates have only been magnified by the coronavirus outbreak. As lawmakers look to craft economic policy to lead countries out of this pandemic, researchers, as well as citizens concerned with the fallout from greenhouse-gas emissions, have urged governments to adapt sustainable solutions, to avoid exacerbating a public health crisis with a climate crisis. The sudden shutdown, caused by stay-at-home restrictions are expected to reduce CO2 emmissions by 8% this year, strengthening the case for collective, global action.

Diversification a necessity

For his part, Gawarkiewicz believes that the region needs to diversify economically — meaning expanding beyond traditional catches like American lobster and supplementing with other, non-traditional species, like the Jonah crab.

“Jonah Crabs used to almost be like trash. People would throw them away,” said Bobby Colbert, a longtime fisherman who, along with his brother Denny, operates a fleet of boats out of Sandwich, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, and has been fishing the mid-Atlantic waters for 35 years.

The market for Jonah Crabs has spiked, growing from only about 1 million pounds being caught in 1990 to 19 million pounds last year, according to Aubrey Ellerston, a researcher with the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation.

“It’s a huge economy now on our East Coast,” she said, “and it supports hundreds of fishing families and allows lobstermen to diversify and reduce their dependence on lobstering.”

MARTHA'S VINEYARD, MENEMSHA, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES - 2013/10/20: Shack, lobster traps and boats in fishing village. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)View photos. MARTHA’S VINEYARD, MENEMSHA, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES – 2013/10/20: Shack, lobster traps and boats in fishing village. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

How temperatures affect lobster

Historically, lobster “landings” — the industry word for “catches” — have been primarily been in shallow waters closer to shore. But warming oceans are sending lobsters, and those who catch them, farther out.

“It’s been well documented that bottom water temperature really impacts American lobster. So it affects their growth, maturity, their egg extrusion and development. So many females are trying to seek cooler waters to protect egg development,” explained Ellerston.

According WHOI’s research, the rise in ocean temperatures is also bringing non-native species into the waters off New England. “One of the most dramatic examples recently was in January of 2017. There were juvenile black sea bass that were caught near Block Island, south off the coast of Rhode Island,” said Gawarkiewicz, adding, “that had never happened before.”

The changes in ocean temperatures and a drive for more data have created an unlikely alliance between fishers and scientists. Fishermen, once concerned about restrictions placed on them through government intervention, are now working alongside scientists in a mutually beneficial arrangement — to preserve the industry.

“Fishermen do talk about it a lot. And a lot of fishermen are like, ‘Yeah, they’re trying to get us. They’re going to close us down.’ Well that’s not the whole thing,” Colbert said. “We’re working at it together, how do we keep it around? I mean, we’re creating a food source so we want to protect that.”

Colbert remains optimistic about the fishing industry, despite shifts in the supply chain brought on by warming ocean waters. He thinks fishers will adapt to changing conditions as good stewards of the sea — partly as a matter of necessity.

“I think the generation that we have fishing now is more concerned about the resources and protecting it, but also knowing it’s how we make a living,” he said. “It has be sustainable, because I mean, we want to pass something on to the next generation.”

Yvette Killian is a producer for Yahoo Finance’s On The Move.

Wisconsin is starting to resemble a failed state

The Guardian

Wisconsin is starting to resemble a failed state

Nathan Robinson                  May 19, 2020
<span>Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA</span>
Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

 

A failed state is one that can no longer claim legitimacy or perform a government’s core function of protecting the people’s basic security. Lately, the Wisconsin supreme court seems to be doing its level best to make its state qualify for “failed” status. Multiple decisions have both undermined the government’s legitimacy and endangered the people.

First, there was the primary. Because voting in person is clearly risky during a pandemic, several states delayed their primaries to make sure everyone was able to mail in a ballot instead of having to go to a polling place. Not so Wisconsin. The state’s Democratic governor signed an executive order for an all mail-in election but was thwarted by the Republican legislature. Then the governor issued an order postponing the election. Republicans challenged it, and the Wisconsin supreme court sided with them. The primary went forward, but was a disaster: there were “long lines in Milwaukee, where only five polling places in the whole city were open” and more than 50 people appear to have contracted coronovirus as a result. Ensuring that people can vote without risking their lives is a basic duty of government, one at which Wisconsin failed.

But the Wisconsin supreme court’s latest decision is even worse. The conservative majority overturned the state’s “stay-at-home” order, immediately leading bars to be flooded with patrons . Even as public health officials stress the danger in suddenly lifting restrictions, justices presented it as a freedom issue, with one writing that the “comprehensive claim to control virtually every aspect of a person’s life is something we normally associate with a prison, not a free society governed by the rule of law”. Public opinion is generally against the anti-lockdown protests, but if a conservative minority has power, the “letting a deadly virus spread unchecked = freedom” perspective will triumph.

Courts are the least democratic branch of government to begin with; judges are like robed “philosopher kings” with the power to overturn measures overwhelmingly favored by the people. (Sometimes that’s a good thing, but decisions as to what to let stand and what to overturn are almost always political.) Once a single party dominates at court, it simply has veto power over the entire democratic process.

The court’s conservative majority has shown no hesitation in imposing its ideology on the state. As Akela Lacy reported in the Intercept, they have been denying the rights of unionized workers, ruling consistently against criminal defendants, and even overturning a rule banning people from carrying weapons on public buses.

Wisconsin’s Republicans have succeeded in capturing power in the state even without having to capture popular approval. As Michael Li of the Brennan Center documents, the state has been heavily gerrymandered, meaning Republicans can exercise power without having to win majority support:

“[G]errymandered maps make it virtually impossible for them to ever lose their legislative majority. Wisconsin’s maps were crafted with such micro-precision that even if Democrats managed to win a historically high 54% of the two-party vote – a level they’ve reached only once in the last 20 years — Republicans would still end up with a solid nine-seat majority in the state assembly. In fact, Wisconsin’s maps are so gerrymandered that Republicans can win close to a supermajority of house seats even with a minority of the vote. Analyses of the maps in the lawsuit challenging the maps showed that Republicans are a lock to win 60% of statehouse seats even if they win just 48% of the vote.”

In a supposedly democratic country, this should be an outrage. How can a government claim legitimacy if it does not require the people’s support? But this is true far beyond Wisconsin. Republican rule is minority rule; as we know, thanks to our archaic electoral college system Donald Trump, like George W Bush, was able to win the election without winning the most votes, and the undemocratic Senate is Republican-dominated. The Republican agenda is unpopular, meaning that in order to impose it, institutions have to be crafted that will prevent the population from exercising its will. The easier it is for the masses to participate, the more difficult it is for Republicans to protect the 1%, who really should be winning exactly 1% of the vote. (Donald Trump admitted that if voting were easy enough Republicans would never win another election.)

What respect do people owe a government that cannot protect them and cannot claim democratic legitimacy? Very little. The more that Wisconsin Republicans act to impose their will unilaterally without regard to the safety or will of the people, the less we should treat Wisconsin as a functional government.

  • Nathan Robinson is the editor of Current Affairs and a Guardian US columnist

Biggest Power Demand Plunge Since Great Depression Is Reshaping Markets

Bloomberg – Business

Biggest Power Demand Plunge Since Great Depression Is Reshaping Markets

Mark Chediak, Chris Martin and Rachel Morison       
Biggest Power Demand Plunge Since Great Depression Is Reshaping Markets
Biggest Power Demand Plunge Since Great Depression Is Reshaping Markets

 

(Bloomberg) — The global plunge in electricity demand will drag on long after nations lift stay-at-home orders, leading to the biggest annual drop since the Great Depression and fundamentally reshaping power markets.

As economies struggle to recover, worldwide electricity consumption will decline 5% in 2020, the most in more than eight decades, according to the International Energy Agency. In the U.S. last week, government analysts projected the nation’s biggest drop on record. And in Europe, analysts say a full recovery could take years.

The prolonged slowdown will increase economic pressure on older, uneconomic power plants — especially those that burn coal — and help speed the transition toward cleaner and cheaper wind and solar. It will also contribute to the biggest annual decline in greenhouse gasses from energy ever recorded.

“This unprecedented drop in demand is foreshadowing the grid of the future,” said Steve Cicala, an economics professor at the University of Chicago. The world is “getting an early look at what high penetrations of renewables will do.”

Lower demand is pitting generators against each other in a fight to produce the cheapest power possible. Wind and solar farms have an upper hand in many regions because they don’t need to buy fuel. Natural gas, which is trading near historic lows, remains competitive. Coal power, which is more expensive, is shouldering the majority of the cuts as generators scale back.

“Renewables will be the biggest beneficiaries,” said Joshua Rhodes, a research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute.As coal and oil use ebb, energy emissions are set to drop by a record 8% this year, according to the IEA.

While wind and solar are producing a larger share of power, they’re not unscathed. Power auctions are being suspended in France, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, sapping the need for additional clean-energy projects. For the first time in two decades, the number of new wind and solar farms globally is set to decline this year, the IEA said in a report Wednesday.Read More: U.S. Power Demand to be ‘Profoundly’ Hit as Lockdowns Spread

Some of the steepest drops in electricity consumption will be in Europe, where 2020 demand is forecast to fall 8%, according to the IEA.  In Germany, companies including RWE AG and Uniper SE are running coal generators less and relying more on gas plants. Electricite de France SA warned low demand will mean output from its nuclear reactors will fall by more than a fifth this year.

A similar dynamic is playing out in the U.S. retail power sales across the 50 states will sink 4.5% this year, the most since the U.S. Energy Information Administration began keeping records in 1949. Coal is on pace for the first time ever to produce less electricity nationwide than renewable energy.

In Asia, power consumption is forecast to rebound faster. Nations where industrial production accounts for a large chunk of the economy, such as China and India, also had some of the strictest lockdowns — a combination that hammered demand, according to BloombergNEF analyst Ali Asghar. While the IEA sees demand in China, the world’s top energy user, falling this year, official estimates put consumption in May already above last year’s levels and on course to grow as much as 3% in 2020.

Eventually, global demand for power will resume growing as nations turn more to electricity to power cars, heat homes and more, analysts said. But for now, the power sector faces a long, slow recovery.

“I don’t think we are going to turn everything on tomorrow,”  Melissa Lott, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. “I don’t see how that happens.”

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He opposed public lands and wildlife protections. Trump gave him a top environment job

The Guardian – Politics

He opposed public lands and wildlife protections. Trump gave him a top environment job

Jimmy Tobias                            
<span>Photograph: Matthew Brown/AP</span>
Photograph: Matthew Brown/AP

 

In July 2017, William Perry Pendley, a crusading conservative attorney, delivered a speech to a group of rightwing activists in North Carolina in which he was completely candid about his ideological commitments.

He accused “the media” of selling “their soul to the greens”. And after criticizing the Endangered Species Act, he made light of killing endangered species.

“This is why out west we say ‘shoot, shovel and shut up’ when it comes to the discovery of endangered species on your property,” he said, according to an audio recording of the event obtained by the Guardian. “And I have to say, as a lawyer, that’s not legal advice,” he added, as some in his audience quietly snickered at the reference to the illegal extermination, and the burial, of endangered animals.

It has been almost three years since he gave those remarks, and Pendley is now the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, a powerful agency that oversees more than 240m acres of federal land belonging to the American people, manages mineral resources and is required to comply with environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act.

Pendley has helped turn BLM into what one high-level employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, called “a ghost ship” in which “suspicion”, “fear” and “low morale” abound, despite the best efforts of career civil servants to support each other.

As Pendley and his superiors at the interior department press ahead with an effort to move BLM’s headquarters from Washington DC to Grand Junction, Colorado, the agency has hemorrhaged staff members and lost critical institutional memory, which many critics believe was the true purpose of the relocation effort all along.

“A skeleton crew is left” at BLM headquarters, said the employee. “So few people were able to move west that a lot of people retired early and a lot of people took other jobs, so my ballpark estimate is there is only about 20% of permanent employees left” at headquarters. As a result, the agency is failing to fulfill its most basic duties, like responding to public records requests and conducting oversight of state and regional operations, the staffer added.

Environmental and government watchdog groups are now responding with a lawsuit that calls into question the legitimacy of Pendley’s position. Last week a pair of environmental nonprofits sued the interior department, alleging that by repeatedly tapping Pendley as the BLM’s acting director, rather than officially nominating him for the position, the interior secretary has skirted the Senate confirmation process usually required for high-level executive branch appointments, and has violated federal law.

“The illegitimate Pendley appointment is particularly troublesome because he has forcibly moved the BLM Headquarters from Washington DC, to remote western Colorado,” said Peter Jenkins, a senior counsel at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, one of the groups that sued. “In doing so he uprooted the lives of scores of seasoned BLM staff and disrupted this already strained agency.”

An interior department spokesperson defended Pendley’s record.

<span class="element-image__caption">The Trump administration rolled back key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, a law credited with saving the gray wolf, bald eagle and grizzly bear.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty Images</span>The Trump administration rolled back key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, a law credited with saving the gray wolf, bald eagle and grizzly bear. Photograph: Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty Images

 

“Mr Pendley brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the department and is committed to carrying out the administration’s priorities and achieving the BLM’s … mission for the betterment of the American people,” said Conner Swanson, the spokesperson. “Mr Pendley has provided a steady hand in facilitating important matters, from the BLM headquarters move west to its response to Covid-19.” Swanson has said that the lawsuit against Pendley is “baseless”.

Pendley, a tall man with a handlebar mustache and a penchant for cowboy boots, has remarked in the past that his “personal opinions are irrelevant” to his job at BLM.

“I have a new job now. I’m a zealous advocate for my client. My client is the American people and my bosses are the president of the United States and [interior] secretary [David] Bernhardt,” Pendley said during an appearance at the conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists in Fort Collins, Colorado, last year. “What I thought, what I wrote, what I did in the past is irrelevant. I have orders, I have laws to obey, and I intend to do that.”

Pendley has long opposed public lands and wildlife protections. After serving in the Reagan administration in the 1980s, he became the president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), a conservative litigation organization funded by conservative and industry groups including the Charles Koch Foundation and Exxon Mobil, according to research from the watchdog groups Documented and Accountable.US.

Under Pendley’s leadership, the firm was a persistent foe of federal land agencies, getting involved in dozens of cases on behalf of industry groups and private landowners to challenge environmental protections implemented by the interior department.

Pendley became something of a fixture among the anti-government set, writing numerous books extolling rebellion against public lands and the federal government. He has expressed sympathy in the past for the Bundy family, whose militant agitation against federal land ownership included the armed takeover of the Malheur national wildlife refuge in 2016.

He has compared climate change to unicorns because “neither exist”. And in a 2016 National Review article, he laid out a case that argued for the near-total abolition of federal public lands across the nation.

Given his long history of legal advocacy on behalf of extractive industries, Pendley brought with him a 17-page recusal list of past clients, employers and investments when he took control of the BLM in 2019. The list included groups such as the American Exploration & Mining Association and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. It has been nearly impossible for the public to know whether Pendley has abided by his recusal list, however, because the BLM has failed to release his detailed official calendar to the public.

Though Pendley has long been a committed conservative, he has not always had kind words for Donald Trump. In a 2016 op-ed in the Daily Caller, for instance, he said then-candidate Trump “is not fit to pull off Reagan’s boots”.

Apart from Pendley’s role in moving BLM’s headquarters to Colorado, the agency under his leadership has also repeatedly proposed land management plans that heavily promote the energy industry. In March, for instance, conservationists in Montana came out aggressively against a BLM resource management plan that they believe is far too friendly to corporate oil and gas interests, according to the Billings Gazette.

In a statement issued earlier this year, Representative Raúl Grijalva, the chairman of the House natural resources committee, expressed his concerns over Pendley.

“Anyone who wants our land management agencies to be functional in the future needs to recognize the seriousness of what Secretary Bernhardt, acting director Pendley, and their subordinates are doing.”

Trump seizes on pandemic to speed up opening of public lands to industry

The Guardian – Business

Trump seizes on pandemic to speed up opening of public lands to industry

Jeremy Miller, The Guardian        April 30, 2020
<span>Photograph: Alamy</span>
Photograph: Alamy

 

The Trump administration has ratcheted up its efforts amid the coronavirus pandemic to overhaul and overturn Obama-era environmental regulations and increase industry access to public lands.

The secretary of the interior, David Bernhardt, has sped efforts to drill, mine and cut timber on fragile western landscapes. Meanwhile, the EPA, headed by the former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, has weakened critical environmental laws and announced in March that it would cease oversight of the nation’s polluters during the Covid-19 crisis.

The rollbacks appear to follow a playbook put forth by influential conservative thinktanks, urging the White House to use the pandemic as justification for curtailing, or eliminating, environmental rules and oversight. President Trump should have “the ability to suspend costly regulations without extensive process”, according to a recent report by the Heritage Foundation.

Critics, such as Melyssa Watson, executive director of the Wilderness Society, accuse the administration of using the pandemic as a smokescreen to further its pro-industry agenda. “From rolling back EPA’s pollution standards, to pushing for more oil and gas drilling and stifling the public review process, the federal government is fast-tracking rollbacks that deserve public scrutiny,” she said.

While millions of acres of public lands across the country have been shuttered to visitors, they remain open to oil and gas companies. And despite plummeting oil prices, the Bureau of Land Management has announced no plans to cancel, or even scale back, upcoming auctions that would make hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands across the western US available to energy companies.

One of the most controversial sales would offer up 150,000 acres in southern Utah to energy companies. Some of the parcels are located within a half-mile of Canyonlands national park. The bureau did not respond to requests for comment.

Environmentalists, however, say that the push to drill near the iconic red rock landscapes of Arches and Canyonlands is not only destructive but also unnecessary in light of an oil glut that has swamped storage capacity, driving oil prices last week into negative territory for the first time in history.

“The idea that it would be ‘critical’ work to speed up oil production on public lands while the planet drowns in oil tells you all you’d ever want to know about the corruption, both intellectual and actual, of the Trump administration,” said the climate activist and author Bill McKibben.

In addition to ramping up oil and gas development on public lands, the Department of Energy announced plans last week to “revitalize” the US uranium mining and processing industry. Such a scheme, say environmentalists, puts uranium-rich Grand Canyon national park and Bears Ears national monument at extreme risk.

“Enriching special interests with taxpayer resources so they can plunder national treasures like Bears Ears and the Grand Canyon will harm our land, water and public health,” said America Fitzpatrick, a spokeswoman for the Wilderness Society. “To do so in the face of a global pandemic is an abuse of public trust.”

The water demands of the uranium industry are significant. Depending on the method of extraction, a mine can require hundreds, even thousands, of gallons per minute. Those requirements are particularly onerous considering that the largest uranium deposits are found in some of the most water-starved parts of the country.

Another rule change takes aim at the western forests. In March, the BLM announced a proposal that would allow the BLM and US Forest Service to destroy large parcels of piñon and juniper forests across the western US with minimal environmental review.

Other recent Trump administration actions threaten air and water quality and herald a drastic increase in carbon emissions. At the end of March, the Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to roll back Obama-era automobile fuel efficiency standards that would have increased the average fuel efficiency of the American vehicle fleet by more than 6 miles per gallon. Referred to by the EPA as “the largest deregulatory initiative of this administration”, the reduction in fuel efficiency standards will result in close to a billion additional tons of carbon emissions per year.

Days earlier, the EPA announced that it would suspend enforcement of environmental regulations during the Covid-19 outbreak, allowing industrial firms – from oil refineries to small manufacturers – to self-monitor and avoid penalties for violations if they can prove that those violations somehow resulted from the pandemic.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is a nationwide phenomenon,” the EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, wrote in a letter to Congress. “Diverting EPA staff time to respond to individual questions about routine monitoring and reporting requirements would hinder EPA’s ability to focus on continued protection of human health and the environment.”

Others see it differently: “This is an open license to pollute,” said the former EPA administrator and current National Resources Defense Council president Gina McCarthy. “The administration … is taking advantage of an unprecedented public health crisis to do favors for polluters that threaten public health.”

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.

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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