U.S. Emissions Drop While World Levels Remain The Same, Despite Pandemic Lockdowns

November 30, 2020

by Charlotte Whelan, Emerging Leaders Council As the coronavirus outbreak grew to a pandemic, many countries throughout the world imposed strict lockdowns in an attempt to mitigate the spread. This led to reduced carbon emissions as by early April, worldwide daily emissions of carbon dioxide had dropped by 17 percent compared with 2019 levels. But as the world has slowly recovered from the economic devastation brought about by the lockdowns, emissions have “recovered” as well.  The World Meteorological Organization recently published a press release stating:  The lockdown has cut emissions of many pollutants and greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. But any impact on CO2 concentrations – the result of cumulative past and current emissions – is in fact no bigger than the normal year to year fluctuations in the carbon cycle and the high natural variability in carbon sinks like vegetation. While the pandemic-induced lockdowns lasted for varying lengths of time in different countries, the lower emissions from people staying off the roads and even lower industrial output has had negligible effect on our world’s total emissions.  The good news is that at least in the United States, we’ve seen some drop in emissions. The Washington Post reports that “greenhouse gases generated by the U.S. economy will slide 9.2 percent this year, tumbling to the lowest level in at least three decades.” While some climate activists may celebrate the lockdowns and reduced human and industrial activity as a time for Mother Earth to recover, the emissions changes also show the drastic measures needed to meet the goals set by the Paris Climate Accord and the United Nations.  The U.N. has said that in order to begin combating climate change, global emissions but drop by 8 percent for the next decade. And this is necessary just to minimize the worst effects of climate change, not even reverse the course.  We need to be good stewards of the Earth we inhabit but there has to be a better way. While the cold weather has also brought spikes in most U.S. states and a second round of lockdowns may not be far off, economic devastation is an unsustainable path towards emissions reductions. Instead, innovation is the answer.  The United States has already made incredible progress with renewable and clean energy. Renewable energy continues to be unreliable as wind and solar power only produce power intermittently and we lack the battery storage capacity to bridge the gap. In the the meantime, however, nuclear power offers reliable, cheap, carbon-neutral energy and carbon capture technology has helped us to “clean up” more traditional energy sources like natural gas and coal.  While we cannot ignore rising global emissions, the United States must show its climate leadership by pressing forward and continuing to develop new technologies to combat climate change. Innovation is the path to a cleaner future, not pandemic-like lockdowns. 

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