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Energy & Environment

Climate Scientists: The Pandemic Shutdowns Didn’t Reduce Carbon Emissions Much

A cloud of waste gas billows out of chimney stacks at a wood processing factory belonging to Switzerland’s Krono group in the eastern German village of Heiligengrabe near Berlin June 2, 2004. (Christian Charisius/Reuters)

If you can tear your eyes away from the messy home office below, climate scientists are now warning that the COVID-19 pandemic, with its sweeping lockdowns, closed businesses, limited travel and far-reaching restriction on human freedom, had only a brief, fleeting effect on greenhouse gas emissions.

Economies worldwide nearly ground to a halt over the 15 months of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to a startling drop in global greenhouse gas emissions.

But that did little to slow the steady accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which reached the highest levels since accurate measurements began 63 years ago.

The researchers concluded that global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions fell by 5.8 percent, but that merely amounts to a short-lived “blip” as more and more countries get their populations vaccinated and approach something closer to normal pre-pandemic life.

If the most far-reaching and deepest halt to human activity in modern history didn’t make a dent, then we’re not going to slow the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Environmentalists will have to stop fooling themselves into believing that with enough persuasion, nagging, or law changes, most people will give up their home heating systems, cooking gas, petroleum-fueled internal-combustion-engines, meat, air travel, and all of the other hallmarks of modern life that they have declared to be sins against the planet. Because the pandemic and government restrictions forced everyone to try giving up commuting and jobs and leaving their homes and going into restaurants, and most people hated it.

The global impact of COVID-19 is difficult to overstate. The earth literally grew quieter for several months, causing human-caused vibrations around the globe to be cut in half. At least 3 million excess deaths in 2020, a global working-hours impact four times worse than the 2008-2009 financial crisis, about $4 trillion in lost productivity, a huge drop in global gross domestic product, school closures for roughly 1.5 billion children around the world…  this is about as big and bad as anyone could imagine, short of World War Three or the apocalypse. And if this kind of a halt to all kind of human activity wasn’t enough to have a significant impact on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, then no change in human behavior is going to make a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, and we’re going to have to innovate our way out of this problem.


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