Corona Virus and climate change; what do they have in common? They have emerged as some of the more pivotal issues in the 2020 Presidential race. The Democratic platform is using both to highlight what they believe are two of the current Administration’s greatest failures. According to the talking points, President Trump has killed thousands of people due to his mismanagement of the pandemic and will kill thousands more in the future based on his environmental policies. Even worse, he could be responsible for the destruction of the planet if something isn’t done in the next 12 years. We know this because Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) said so.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez gave interviews where she stated for a fact the Earth will end in 12 years if drastic changes are not made now. People believe her. Suddenly, Cortez and others with zero background in Earth science are experts on how to save the planet. They have put forth a bold plan in the “Green New Deal” which, if implemented in its entirety, would cost taxpayers up to 90 trillion dollars. Many politicians on the left support the deal and are in fact calling this an “existential crisis”. The Democratic platform embraces the quick fix and “spend it away” approach. This serves to placate the radical left but does not address the “global” problem (i.e. China and India). It does not address the progress made in the United States over the last 20 years or how having the greatest offenders make real changes would actually dramatically impact the threat of global warming.
While it has now taken a back seat to the very serious threat of Corona Virus, there is still a state of hysteria causing a rush for the immediate implementation of draconian and impractical solutions as evidenced in the “Green New Deal”. Sadly, if a poll were taken today, how many supporters of the Green New Deal even understand greenhouse gases, CO2 emissions and what other factors are really impacting the health of the planet?
It is obvious the answer would be “very few” given the measures suggested for the United States and lack of focus of who and what are actually the greatest threats when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Sadly, getting rid of hamburgers as suggested because of gassy cows won’t have that great an impact and getting rid of 99% of combustion engine vehicles in 10 years is not likely. It is also not likely that the suggested high-speed rail will ultimately replace the need for air travel. If you really think through how these things would get accomplished, you may quickly conclude other more “practical” ideas are needed if we want to see immediate and long-lasting change. People need to stop taking sides like this issue is somehow “left” or “right”. We need to use common sense and have the ability to see practical solutions, not only for the United States and Europe, but also the rest of the world. This is, after all, a global problem.
Then there’s the group of people who shout, “climate change” and “global warming” every time the weather changes who should really take a look back at the history of the Earth’s climate. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a new phenomenon only happening since the industrial revolution. In fact, the Earth is a living thing that has been changing for millions of years. 2.6 million years ago, glaciers covered most of the Earth. That lasted until 11,700 years ago. How could much of this have melted if there weren’t any cars, planes, cows or other man-made “stuff” causing greenhouse gas emissions? No one knows for sure but one theory is it had to do with more sunlight due to a variation in the Earth’s orbit. Another good example is 100 million years ago, Africa separated from South America. There used to be a supercontinent of immense proportions called Pangea that broke apart into the seven continents. Why did it break apart? The theory is tectonic plates under the crust of the earth shifted over time which broke apart Pangea.
So, the Earth has been “changing” before and since the days of the dinosaurs. These changes were not caused by humans nor could they have been avoided through human efforts. The point is that today, not every change in weather patterns or geological events should be blamed on mankind. So, let’s change the focus to what people can do within their control to reduce the negative effects of “Green House Gas” emissions. What are Green House gases anyway? Anyone who supports the Green New Deal should at least have a basic understanding of the science.
Greenhouse gases are part of the atmosphere that let the sun’s light shine onto the Earth’s surface but they trap the heat that reflects back up into the atmosphere. In this way, they act like the insulating glass walls of a greenhouse. We know carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas with the others being water vapor, methane and nitrous oxide. The greenhouse effect keeps the Earth’s climate comfortable. Without it, surface temperatures would be cooler by about 60 degrees and many life forms would freeze. However, since the Industrial Revolution, people have been releasing large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most important greenhouse gas, has been rising which will cause the Earth’s temperature to rise over time. It is predicted average global temperatures will increase by about .36 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.
If you look at CO2 emissions by fuel type, they are in order of impact: 1. natural gas 2. propane 3. gasoline 4. wood waste 5. coal
Another main source, and number two after fossil fuels as a main contributor of CO2 emissions, is deforestation. Forests are nature’s carbon “sink” in that they absorb and store CO2. Simply put, less trees means more CO2 is in the atmosphere which will cause temperatures to rise over time. Planting trees seems like a practical part of the solution that can be done immediately. On Arbor Day, the Trump Administration renewed its push for joining the One Trillion Trees initiative. The bill to finalize the effort has stalled in the House for lack of support by the Democrats.
Then there is the issue of plastics. I think everyone can agree it is very bad our oceans are currently swimming in plastics. If you just look at plastic water bottle consumption, there are a million water bottles bought around the world every minute. Most end up in landfills or the ocean with only about 12% being recycled. China accounts for ¼ of the demand. If polluting the oceans and killing the creatures that live there isn’t bad enough, when plastics finally break down they release more methane into the atmosphere causing temperature to rise over time. Again, a fairly simple solution would be to have people replace their plastic water bottles with reusable containers. I would bet the people yelling about climate change and the need for drastic change by everyone else are keeping Poland Springs’ stock strong. Instead, there is a huge outcry against something that is only a small fraction of the problem: plastic straws. Being this is “low hanging fruit”, it is easy to ban them which makes people feel like they are doing something but it has little impact.
What would have a big impact and something everyone can do is limit their air travel? In 1960, 100 million passengers traveled by air. It was considered to be relatively expensive at that time. By 2017, the annual number was up to 4 billion passengers. Pre-CoVid, the global tourism industry had been growing at an annual rate of 5%. It is set to grow faster than many other economic sectors and now accounts for around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. What has also grown considerably is the number of celebrities and executives who fly on private jets because they will no longer even consider flying on a commercial airline. So, are you willing to give up your water bottles and reduce your air travel? Wouldn’t it be great if even small changes could reduce the annual rate of growth from 5% to something less?
The state of hysteria that is causing a rush to find drastic solutions is real. A good example of this is what happened to Dutch farmers. They are now being forced to bear the brunt of emergency measures to combat nitrogen emissions. The EU signed the Paris Climate Accord where, in part, each nation would agree to only emit certain levels of greenhouse gases. When the level rose slightly, the Dutch courts ruled government permits for farming activities that emit nitrogen are now in breach of EU legislation. I guess they want to get rid of hamburgers in Europe as well. It is not only farming activities they are attacking but livestock farms by cutting the actual number of animals kept on each farm. Telling farmers to cut herds, built up over generations, will destroy their livelihoods all to satisfy the bureaucrats who signed the deal. The fact is the Netherlands is the size of New Jersey and a country that is leading the way on “green” initiatives. Common sense says these farming restrictions will be about as impactful as using a water pistol to put out the California wildfires. They are going after the Dutch farmers while people in Beijing, China have had to wear pollution masks on a daily basis for years because their air quality is so bad.
In 2016, China was responsible for over 29% of the world’s CO2 emissions. In 2017, their number for how gases are measured was 10,877.218. The United States, on the other hand, was 5,107.393. The United States has steadily reduced CO2 since 2005 while China’s levels rose over 57%. India’s numbers are also increasing steadily since 2005. Better yet, both countries have demanded developed countries provide financial support for them to increase their climate plans as outlined in the Paris Climate Accord.
It has been interesting to see the dramatic results of the Corona Virus “lockdown” of countries around the world. According to the Finland-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), air pollutant levels plummeted during the lockdown in China but have now overshot their pre-crisis levels. Science News reported lockdown measures across major cities in India have reduced dangerous air pollutants by 54%. Experts warn, however, the air quality will drop sharply once the government lifts the lockdown. Seeing clean air for the first time in many years should incent these countries to do more to reduce pollution for their citizens and the planet.
So, until India, China and other countries whose numbers are going in the wrong direction make some drastic changes, we can take a deep breath and implement changes that make practical sense. We should all be working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Think about the great impact every person can make just by reducing their water bottle consumption and air travel. Think about the impact every person could make if they supported organizations that plant trees to combat deforestation.
In the meantime, fire up your grill, enjoy a hamburger, and sip some iced tea through a plastic straw while you still can!