Apr 24, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Coronavirus is a Rorschach test on how best to battle climate change

Ben Geman, author of Generate

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic is amplifying the debate over the relevance of individual behavior in fighting climate change.

Why it matters: The real-time experiment is lending itself to different takes on whether individual steps — as opposed to only systemic policy changes, cracking down on polluters and tech innovations — can play a major role in cutting emissions.

  • It's part of a wider debate over whether an emphasis on consumer choices and behavior — avoiding cars or going electric, flying way less, cutting out meat, living small and other steps — is misplaced or even counterproductive.

Driving the news: Lockdowns and curtailed economic activity are driving carbon emissions downward.

  • Some analyses see a 5%-6% year-over-year drop in global CO2 emissions in 2020, the largest on record, and even those estimates assume substantial recovery of activity later in the year.
  • But the reductions — occurring for tragic reasons that no sane person celebrates — are a sobering reminder of the climate challenge, too. Experts warn that holding warming significantly in check requires real cuts every year.
  • "By 2030, emissions would need to be 25 percent and 55 percent lower than in 2018 to put the world on the least-cost pathway to limiting global warming to below 2˚C and 1.5°C respectively," the UN estimated last year.

What they're saying: [T]he idea that our individual actions don’t particularly matter is fundamentally bogus. And over the past several weeks, the coronavirus has been revealing that in unexpected ways," Politico Magazine's Michael Grunwald wrote this week in a long piece I'm just partially summarizing.

  • He forthrightly notes there's "no way to solve climate change without major systemic change."
  • But the piece uses the current pollution cuts as a launchpad to challenge some activists who say an emphasis on individual behavior distracts from focusing on big fossil fuel companies and pushing for sweeping government policy changes.

But, but, but: "If this is all we get from shutting the entire world down, it illustrates the scope and scale of the climate challenge, which is fundamentally changing the way we make and use energy and products," Carnegie Mellon University energy expert Costa Samaras tells E&E News of the current reductions.

  • The story points out that "even today, with millions of people around the world stuck at home, the world economy is consuming vast quantities of fossil fuel and emitting large amounts of CO2."
  • "The dynamic highlights the limits of individual action and the need to transform how the economy is fueled," they report in summarizing comments from Indiana University professor Shahzeen Attari.

Go deeper: Coronavirus brings clearer skies but darker world to Earth Day

Go deeper

Jun 1, 2020 - Health

Lessons from the lockdown — and what comes next

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

We are nowhere near finished with the coronavirus, but the next phases of our response will — if we do it right — be more targeted and risk-based than the sweeping national lockdown we’re now emerging from.

Why it matters: Our experience battling this new virus has taught us a lot about what does and doesn’t work. We’ll have to apply those lessons rigorously, and keep adapting, if we have any hope of containing the virus and limiting the number of deaths from here on out.

Updated 20 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Updates: George Floyd protests continue past curfews

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued Tuesday across the U.S. for the eighth consecutive day, prompting a federal response from the National Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

The latest: Even with early curfews in New York City and Washington, D.C., protesters are still out en masse. Some protesters in D.C. said they were galvanized by President Trump's photo op in front of St. John's Church on Monday and threat to deploy U.S. troops in the rest of country if violence isn't quelled, NBC News reports.

Updated 30 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Trump backs off push to federalize forces against riots

Photo: Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images

A day after threatening to federalize forces to snuff out riots across the country, the president appears to be backing off the idea of invoking the Insurrection Act, sources familiar with his plans tell Axios.

What we're hearing: Aides say he hasn’t ruled out its use at some point, but that he's “pleased” with the way protests were handled last night (apart from in New York City, as he indicated on Twitter today) — and that for now he's satisfied with leaving the crackdown to states through local law enforcement and the National Guard.