Smarter choices will lead to net-zero emissions
As a professor for UMW’s COVID-19 in Context course, I spoke to students and community members on how the worldwide shutdown of economies has affected climate change.
The students asked an astute question: Will reduced emissions during the pandemic help climate change?
Scientists estimated that global emissions during the peak confinement period in early April dropped to 2006 levels. On average, countries with large economies reduced their emissions by 25 pecent at the peak of their confinement periods. Estimates for 2020 annual emission reductions range from 4-to-8 percent, the largest drop ever to be recorded.
Even with large initial drops, climate change will not be positively impacted in the long term. Emission reductions accomplished in this manner were unwelcome and achieved at the consequence of lives lost and economies paralyzed. They did not result from systematic change that will deliver continued reductions as economies reopen.
History has shown that once major economic disruptions rebound, so do emissions. In fact, we are already seeing a resurgence of global emissions.
It’s not too late, though, to reduce them. Governments focusing their efforts on rebuilding economies must consider structural changes to energy, which would also increase jobs and save money.
Health benefits are often overlooked, too. Fossil fuel emissions pollute the air, increase asthma and other fatal diseases, and amplify susceptibility to COVID-19, disproportionately affecting African Americans and marginalized communities.
We can learn from this. Reduced transportation had one of the largest effects on emission reductions. Transportation makes up half of Virginia’s emissions and the state saw a 40 percent decrease in traffic during peak confinement. Think how much we could save if more companies provided telework opportunities and we electrified the transportation sector.
Let’s not repeat history. Let’s rebuild our economy with smarter choices that move us towards net-zero emissions.
Pamela R. Grothe, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Mary Washington