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Silver Lining of Coronavirus, Return of Animals, Clear Skies, Quiet Streets And Tranquil Shores
With humans in lockdown, animals flourish. Silver Lining of Coronavirus, Return of Animals, Clear Skies, Quiet Streets And Tranquil Shores
Animals may not know why humans are making themselves so scarce.
Lockdowns that have kept millions of people in their homes — and social distancing measures meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus — have brought clear skies, quiet streets and tranquil shores.
These are challenging times for humanity. But for many of Earth’s other inhabitants, there’s a silver lining.
Thanks to the absence of cruise ships, dolphins have returned in greater numbers to the Italian port of Cagliari. And the presence of swans in the canals of Burano — though initially placed incorrectly in Venice proper — sparked a flurry of social media attention, even though swans are often seen in this small island in the greater metro area of Venice.
Animals are not dramatically rebounding in the absence of humans, but they are timidly pushing their boundaries, with sika deer showing up outside their normal habitat in the park in Nara, Japan, or wild turkeys showing up in a park in Oakland, California.
“If anything, these times may serve as a reminder that animals have always lived in our area,” Seth Magle, who directs the Urban Wildlife Institute at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, told The Guardian.
“We may not think of our cities as a part of nature, but they are.”
Regardless, this kind of reverse habitat-encroachment is comforting.
Nature Hates A Vacuum
We’ve seen this kind of animal renaissance before — in the wake of very different catastrophes.
At the site of the former Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant — where a 2011 meltdown forced the evacuation of thousands of people — animals like wild boar, macaques, and Japanese hares are flourishing.
And, more than 30 years after the Chernobyl disaster, Geiger counters still scold furiously at lingering radiation levels in the area — but wildlife have made an unlikely comeback.
It’s Not All Good News For Animals
While swans and dolphins in Italy are certainly relishing in the retreat, other animals that have come to rely on humans may actually miss us.
Like the macaques of Lopburi, Thailand. Spending their days loafing around the city’s famed Phra Prang Sam Yot monkey temple, these primates have become all-too accustomed to human handouts. But with the coronavirus keeping tourists at bay — and handouts increasingly rare — they’ve gone all “Gangs of New York” on each other.
“The fall in tourist numbers because of COVID-19 may have indeed brought about a shortage of food supply for them,” Asmita Sengupta, an ecologist at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment in India, tells The New York Times.
“Once they get used to being fed by humans, they become habituated to humans and even display hyper-aggression if they are not given food.”
On the other hand, the swans of Venice don’t mind. Nor the dolphins. And, as more countries ground their citizens, experts suggest animals will take full advantage.
“I’ve seen what’s happened in Venice and we’ve been thinking about what that means in the UK as well for wildlife,” Martin Fowlie, media manager for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, tells Express.
“We are some weeks behind Italy, but I imagine there will be some things that will happen that will have an effect on wildlife and the changes we will see.
“Since World War 2, UK wildlife has been in general decline, there are some species doing better, but on the whole, the majority of species have been doing less well.”
But the hushing of cities and towns and countrysides, he adds, may not only benefit animals. Humans too may soon emerge from their homes with a new understanding of their relationship with the natural world.
We might even look to preserve that kind of peace.
Air Pollution Levels Drop Across London As Britons Stay At Home And Coronavirus Lockdowns Cut Dangerous Emissions Around The Globe
London nitrogen dioxide levels dropped by a third between Sunday and Monday.
Defra says air pollution levels for the whole country are low and should stay low.
This comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson urges people to avoid traveling.
Air pollution in London has dropped by almost a third as people working from home or going into self isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Readings for nitrogen dioxide – a harmful greenhouse gas – across London were lower on Sunday than on Monday for the first time.
The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reported that air pollution levels were ‘low’ across the country today and don’t expect that to change.
The impact of lockdowns in places like Italy and China have seen an even more dramatic drop in dangerous emissions from industry, air travel and cars.
Water In Venice Canals Goes Crystal Clear After Coronavirus Lockdown
Where pessimists see a half-empty glass, optimists come along to show that it’s actually half-full. Same goes for the ongoing chaos of the coronavirus—while some are hoarding away toilet paper like there’s no tomorrow, there are people who see positive outcomes even in a situation as dire as this.
One of these positive outcomes is that pollution has dropped down dramatically following the lockdown of Italy. Scientists and researchers agree on the spotted significant decrease in NO2 levels above the country.
So, as the streets are emptier, the air becomes clearer and the muddy waters have cleared up to reveal the life that lives in the canals of Venice but couldn’t be seen as clearly before.
Following The Lockdown Of Italy, People Are Noticing Positive Changes In Venice
As the global pandemic continues threatening the world, it has also brought some unexpected, but positive, side effects. Venice—one of the main tourist attractions in Italy—is usually swarmed with people all throughout the year.
However, right now, as the entire country is under lockdown, the city has become completely empty, with only pigeons walking the deserted sidewalks and town squares.
Apparently, The Waters Have Cleared Up Enough To Reveal Fish That Live There
Venice has already suffered enough from over-tourism, sinking foundations, and floods. Therefore, now seems like the perfect time to let the city ‘breathe.’ Scientists have already noticed that air pollution has dropped dramatically during the lockdown, but another positive side effect is that the canal waters in Venice have finally cleared up. In it, people can see actual fish living and swimming there. For many, the sight is a joyful one, even if a bit bizarre.
People Are Capturing Photos Of The Clearer Waters And Sharing It On Social Media
However, Venice mayor’s office is quick to debunk the rumors that the fish can be seen due to the changed and improved quality of water. “The water now looks clearer because there is less traffic on the canals, allowing the sediment to stay at the bottom,” a spokesman told CNN news. “It’s because there is less boat traffic that usually brings sediment to the top of the water’s surface.”
While There Were Always Fish Living There, They Could Not Be Seen Previously Due To The Heavy Traffic In The Canals
Nonetheless, the view is still pretty. And for many, this seems like the chance to finally re-evaluate our values and mindless consumerism. “Maybe there needs to be a yearly month-long lockdown every year so nature gets a break,” one woman comments on Facebook. “Above the worries of everybody, there’s always a positive impact that people don’t usually notice,” an optimist comments.
Jellyfish Spotted Gliding Through The Now Crystal Clear Venice Canals
While Italy has been on lockdown the past six weeks, the canals of Venice have been empty. Without any tourists exploring the city, boat traffic has reduced, and as a result, the usually murky waters are now clear enough to see fish and other marine life swimming around.
Last week, Andrea Mangoni was near San Marco Square when he spotted a jellyfish gliding through the crystal clear water. Mangoni started recording as the jellyfish swam amidst the reflections of the buildings, and shared the mesmerizing video on Instagram.
“Thanks to the exceptional calm of the canals of Venice due to the absence of boats, this sea lung jellyfish (Rhizostoma Pulmo) swam in the transparent waters near the bridge of Baretteri,” he wrote. “It seemed to slip through the reflection of the buildings, incredibly motionless.”
The Need To Report Carbon Emissions Amid The Coronavirus Pandemic
JPMorgan Chase, the first American bank to create and successfully test a digital coin representing a fiat currency, also provided the most fossil fuel financing out of any bank in the world, according to a 2019 report titled “Banking on Climate Change.”
The bank recently joined a chorus of other financial institutions and endowments that have declared that they will, going forward, be reluctant to provide funding to the fossil fuel industry — which energizes emerging digital technologies and companies — in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.
In a hard-hitting report released to clients on the same day as the World Health Organization published its 32nd coronavirus update, economists at JPMorgan Chase warned that human life “as we know it” could be threatened by climate change. Without action being taken, there could be “catastrophic outcomes.”
Carbon pollution defies national borders and is inescapable. The true cost of climate change is felt when it penetrates deep into our respiratory and circulatory systems and damages our lungs, which are highly vulnerable to the coronavirus, according to a report prepared by the WHO. The economists at JPMorgan Chase state that “climate change could affect economic growth, shares, health and how long people live.”
In order to mitigate the effects of climate change, there needs to be a global tax on carbon, the report added. This stance echoes that of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has said that greater reliance on environmental taxation is needed to strengthen global efforts to tackle the principal source of both greenhouse-gas emissions and air pollution, particularly since society is now witnessing the implementation of digital currencies, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology worldwide.
These new digital technologies require very high consumptions of electricity, which is currently produced with coal and fossil fuels that have adverse environmental impacts.
Global Environmental Tax Policy
Environmental tax is used as an economic instrument to address environmental problems by taxing activities that burden the environment — like a direct carbon tax — or by providing incentives to lessen environmental burdens and preserve environmental activities — like tax credits or subsidies. It’s used as part of a market-based climate policy that was pioneered in the United States, which also includes cap-and-trade programs that attempt to limit emissions by putting a cap and price on them.
Environmental taxes are designed to internalize environmental costs and provide economic incentives for people and businesses to promote ecologically sustainable activities, such as reducing carbon emissions, promoting green growth and fighting climate change through innovation. Some governments make use of them to integrate climate and environmental costs into prices to reduce excessive emissions while also raising revenue to fund vital government services.
The top six global carbon emitters are: China, the U.S., the European Union, India, Russia and Japan.
Under a carbon tax regime, the government sets a price that carbon emitters must pay for each ton of greenhouse gases they emit. This encourages businesses and consumers to take the necessary steps, such as switching fuels or adopting new technologies, to reduce their emissions and avoid paying the tax.
These taxes are favored because assigning a fee to carbon pollution is administratively simple when compared to addressing climate change by setting, monitoring and enforcing caps on greenhouse gas emissions and regulating emissions of the energy-generation sector. Environmental taxes include energy taxes, transport taxes, pollution taxes and resources taxes.
According to the OECD, outside of road transport, 81% of carbon emissions are untaxed, and tax rates are below the low-end estimate of climate costs for 97% of emissions. Coal, which is characterized by high levels of harmful emissions and accounts for almost half of carbon emissions from energy use in the 42 countries examined by the OECD, is taxed at the lowest rates or goes untaxed.
Only 40 out of the 197 governments that have signed on to the first legally binding climate change agreement — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 2015 Paris Agreement — have adopted some sort of price on hydrocarbons, either through direct taxes on fossil fuels or through cap-and-trade programs.
Carbon taxes have been implemented in 29 of the jurisdictions that have signed on to the Paris Agreement. A Scandinavian wave starting in the early 1990s saw carbon taxes legislated in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, among other countries.
A second wave in the mid-2000s saw carbon taxes put in place in Switzerland, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Portugal and the United Kingdom. In 2019, Canada, Argentina, South Africa and Singapore implemented a carbon tax. These tax rates range from $1 to $139 per ton.
According to the World Bank’s “Report of the High-Level Commission of Carbon Prices,” a carbon price/tax of between $50 to $100 per ton of carbon emissions would need to be implemented by signatories to deliver on Paris-Agreement commitments by 2030.
Through tax credits, subsidies and other business incentives, governments can encourage companies to engage in behaviors and develop technologies, including blockchain, that can reduce carbon emissions. These credits could combat the use of fossil fuels. For example, a new study by the Overseas Development Institute titled “G20 Coal Subsidies:
Tracking Government Support to a Fading Industry” suggests that coal subsidies have increased threefold since the Paris Agreement, even though it commits its signatories to hold global warming to well below two degrees Celsius through significant greenhouse emission cuts.
According to the International Monetary Fund, as well as the International Energy Agency, the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies worldwide would be one of the most effective ways of reducing greenhouse gases and battling global warming.
For example, Saudi Arabia has the world’s second-largest oil reserves that sustain 90% of its total public revenues, and is the primary swing oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. According to a study on the country, its energy subsidies in 2012 were $80 billion, representing 11% of the country’s gross domestic product.
Saudi Arabia has undertaken blockchain-oriented national projects aimed at diversifying and modernizing its economy by backing numerous financial-technology initiatives, including the world’s first state-backed bilateral cryptocurrency with the United Arab Emirates called “Aber,” which is Arabic for passing by, crossing or traveling on a road.
Paris Agreement Climate Change Advocates
The urgency to wean off fossil fuels as a major energy source, given its negative consequences to the world’s climate and human life — which has recently been forced into a digital quarantine lifestyle — wasn’t only written in the reports by the OECD and JPMorgan Chase, however. There have been many other climate change advocates penning action.
An op-ed jointly written by the heads of the Bank of England, which is seriously weighing the pros and cons of issuing a central bank digital currency denominated in pounds sterling, and pf France’s central bank, which plans to test plans a central bank digital currency for financial institutions this year, said that any company that does not change strategically to the new energy reality “will fail to exist.”
In an open letter, the founder and CEO of investment giant BlackRock — which is setting up a working group to evaluate its potential involvement in the Bitcoin (BTC) market, including investments in Bitcoin futures — said that “climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects.”
And, investment advisors who manage nearly half the world’s invested capital, amounting to more than $34 trillion in assets, urged G-20 countries to comply with the Paris Agreement to save the global economy $160 trillion. They pointed to the alternative, which is that noncompliance would result in damages of $54 trillion.
In a landmark German class-action lawsuit, hundreds of thousands of diesel car owners sought compensation over emissions test cheating from Volkswagen, a company in which digitalization impacts all areas of business: development, vehicle production and the entire work environment on the shop floor and in the office.
In the biggest settlement of its kind, the Brazilian oil company Petróleo Brasileiro — commonly referred to as Petrobras — settled a U.S. class-action lawsuit for $2.95 billion that resulted from the “Operation Car Wash” money-laundering investigation.
A memo from the settlement stated that the company made materially false, misleading statements to U.S. investors about climate-related bribery, branding and lobbying payments — potentially also using cryptocurrencies — to politicians that were designed to control, delay or block binding climate-motivated policies in various countries, hindering the implementation of green-energy policies in the wake of the Paris Agreement.
In another class-action lawsuit, 17,000 Dutch citizens tried to stop Royal Dutch Shell from extracting oil and gas and force it to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions to zero by 2050. The company is in talks with a subsidiary of the Chinese oil and chemical giant Sinochem Group and Australian financial-services firm Macquarie Group to develop a blockchain platform, with the goal of reducing trade and settlement inefficiencies, improving transparency and reducing the risk of fraud in the oil industry.
A landmark legal opinion from the Dutch Supreme Court stated that the Dutch government, which has an upbeat blockchain and crypto action agenda, has explicit duties to protect citizens’ human rights in the face of climate change and must reduce emissions by at least 25% of 1990 levels by the end of 2020.
An article by a pioneering proteomics scientist said: “The need to dramatically reduce global emissions is a black swan moment that investors need to pay attention to” because of the significant near-term threat from climate change activism toward the top four global fossil fuel businesses — Exxon Mobil, Chevron, British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell, all of which recently formed a global blockchain consortium — that are behind more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965, according to a recent report.
The writing has been on the wall for the oil markets for quite some time, given that fossil fuel energy was the worst-performing sector on the S&P 500 index in 2019. In 1980, the energy industry represented 28% of the index’s value, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Last year, it represented less than 5%. The shift away from oil loomed so large that Moody’s warned in 2018 that the energy transition represented “significant business and credit risk” for oil companies.
Accordingly, on March 8, Saudi Arabia announced oil price cuts and plans to increase oil production after expanding its downstream oil operations by acquiring Royal Dutch Shell’s 50% stake in their refining joint venture Saudi Aramco Shell Refinery Company, referred to as SASREF, for $631 million.
This kick-started a global oil price war sending prices, along with world stock market prices and crypto prices — which showed minute-by-minute correlation with the stock market, negating its status as an uncorrelated investment asset — into a free fall that spiraled into a bear market at the fastest rate in history. The resulting global economic downturn has been unprecedented.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which is seen as the benchmark index to gauge the health of the global economy, declined by 38% during mid-March before seeing a moderate recovery. This has been its worst month in 90 years and has been emblematic of those incurred during major recessions.
The magnitude of the stock and bond value losses that major corporations — 100 of which have been identified as being accountable for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — have sustained as a result of the ongoing global economic decline have been extraordinary, as they have occurred concurrently with the rapid, global spread of the lethal coronavirus in a border-blind fashion. This has led to lockdowns of countries and shutdowns of businesses, sending millions of out-of-work people to the unemployment lines, cut off from health care plans, and with a severe loss of pension and retirement plan assets.
Corporate Internal Carbon Pricing
Public companies are generally required to disclose material information in their financial filings, including climate and related bribery, branding, and lobbying payments. Directors of these public companies are generally required to act in the best interests of the company and its shareholders, and to consider and manage material risks to a company’s business.
Shareholders are allowed to challenge companies and/or boards of directors for failure to do so under Rule 10b-5 of the Securities Exchange Act, which gives shareholders the right to file a lawsuit to recover economic losses sustained as a result of fraud related to the trading of their investments in stocks, bonds, tokens or initial coin offerings.
As the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has stated, tokens and ICOs that feature and market the potential for profits based on the entrepreneurial or managerial efforts of others contain the hallmarks of a security under U.S. law.
Fraud can come in many forms: corporate misgovernance through tax evasion; a lack of effective internal controls over corruption prevention involving bribery, lobbying, bid-rigging and money laundering; or poor financial recordkeeping, including statements regarding future environmental liabilities and climate change impacts.
Companies are coming under growing pressure from shareholders, activists and investment advisors who want companies to be transparent about how the physical impacts of a changing climate will affect their business. They are bringing class-action lawsuits based on climate change.
Originally a uniquely American undertaking, and historically prohibited in most other countries, class-action lawsuits have ramped up and spread across 33 countries. As of January, the total number of climate change cases filed thus far has reached approximately 1,444, with some success.
The threat of multi-jurisdictional class-action lawsuits stemming from environmental liabilities motivated nearly 1,400 public- and private-sector organizations — including global financial firms responsible for assets in excess of $118 trillion — to support the work of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, which has aligned with the Business Leadership Criteria on Carbon Pricing issued by the United Nations Global Compact’s Caring for Climate initiative. Internal carbon pricing has emerged as an important tool to help companies manage climate risks and identify opportunities in the low-carbon economy transition.
In the past two years, there has been a particularly strong increase in corporate internal carbon-pricing initiatives in China, Japan, Mexico and the U.S. Studies estimate that the financial value at risk could be up to 17% of global financial assets, if not more. Digital companies, including crypto mining companies, that haven’t yet adopted an internal price/tax will soon have to do so as investors demand more and more insight into the risks of climate disruption, according to a report prepared by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
Country-By-Country Reporting Scheme
Multinational enterprises in 90 countries, which include crypto exchanges and crypto mining companies, also adhere to country-by-country reporting policies as a part of a tax-transparency initiative included in OECD’s “Inclusive Framework on BEPS” — BEPS being an acronym for “base erosion and profit shifting.”
Country-by-country reporting, or CBCR, requires tax administrations to collect and share with other tax administrations information about multinational enterprises that operate in their countries, including MNE group revenue, profit before tax and tax accrued. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants issued further nonbinding guidance in a practice aid on how to account for cryptocurrencies.
The goal is to give tax offices the information needed to assess if there is a risk that an MNE group is avoiding taxes through inappropriate transfer pricing or other means.
In the OECD’s March 6 CBCR-related public consultation, 21 of the 78 respondents requested that the OECD revise BEPS framework to adopt the first global standard on public tax disclosure, published in December 2019 by the Global Reporting Initiative, that brings tax transparency to thousands of MNEs by making CBCR disclosures publicly available.
One notable submission, signed by 33 U.S. Congresspeople, endorsed the GRI’s new CBCR standard by calling on the OECD to ensure CBCR reporting is “aligned with the GRI.” Meanwhile, members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced a tax-transparency bill that would require MNEs to publicly disclose key tax and financial information on a country-by-country basis.
The OECD’s scheduled second CBCR public consultation on March 17 was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
One-third of the world’s population is now locked down in order to mitigate the global spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which has already infected over 500,000 people and brings in its wake great losses in health and finance. This has led to a new quarantine lifestyle that necessitates increased digital social and business interaction. Even climate change protesters — who have swarmed the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, the United Nations Climate Conference, and the headquarters of Royal Dutch Shell — are holding digital climate change protest meetings via Twitter.
Digital technologies require a high consumption of electricity, which is currently mostly produced with fossil fuels that adversely impact the environment. A global shift toward green energy to meet Paris Agreement requirements is likely going to compel changes to the environmental tax policies and tax transparency reporting standards of digital companies, affecting their financing, technology, infrastructure and regulation. Because human life “as we know it” is threatened by climate change, catastrophic outcomes will only get worse if no action is taken. Carbon pollution, which heightens the coronavirus’s lethal impact, is border blind and inescapable.
Endangered Sea Turtles Hatch On Brazil’s Deserted Beaches
Nearly 100 critically endangered sea turtles have hatched on a deserted beach in Brazil, their first steps going almost unnoticed because of coronavirus restrictions that prohibit people from gathering on the region’s sands.
The 97 hawksbill sea turtles, or tartarugas-de-pente as they are known in Brazil, hatched last Sunday in Paulista, a town in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco.
Photographs taken by government workers, the only people to witness the event, showed the tiny creatures making their way down the beach and into the Atlantic waves.
Locals have been forbidden from gathering on Pernambuco’s spectacular shoreline since last weekend, when the state governor, Paulo Câmara, ordered a partial shutdown and urged residents to stay indoors to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Speaking to the Guardian last week, Câmara said such measures – which the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has actively undermined – were vital if Brazil were to avoid a crisis similar to the one that has taken hold in Europe. “Only isolation will stop the curve growing at the speed it is growing in other places,” he said.
Câmara said the government of Pernambuco, which has so far confirmed 68 Covid-19 cases and five deaths, was racing against time to make hospital beds available for patients.
“All of our efforts are now geared towards delaying its profileration … [so that] when this curve grows, and it will grow, we are as ready as we possibly can be to care for people,” he said.
According to Brazil’s Tamar conservation project, which protects sea turtles, hawksbills lay their eggs along the country’s north-eastern coast and are considered a critically endangered species.
They can grow up to 110cm in length, weigh 85kg and owe their Portuguese name, which translates as “comb turtles”, to the fact that their shells were once widely used to make combs and frames for glasses.
The turtle’s English name comes from its narrow, pointed beak, according to the WWF.
Paulista’s environmental secretary, Roberto Couto, said the town was home to four of the five types of turtle found along Brazil’s coastline: the hawksbill, the green sea turtle, the olive ridley turtle and the loggerhead turtle. More than 300 turtles have hatched there this year.
Couto said the animals normally lay their eggs from January each year and that the hatchlings emerge in April or May. “It’s really beautiful because you can see the exact instant they come out of the eggs and … watch their little march across the beach,” Couto said. “It’s marvellous. It’s a wonderful, extraordinary feeling.
“This time, because of coronavirus, we couldn’t even tell people it was happening.”
Câmara said he hoped the coronavirus restrictions could eventually be relaxed in his state, which is home to about nine million of Brazil’s 209 million citizens. But for now, they are essential. “Brazil isn’t ready for an exponential growth [in cases], so we need to buy time … so we can put together the infrastructure to treat as many infected people as possible,” he said.
Coronavirus Lockdowns Clear the Air, but the Green Effect Could Be Fleeting
Some worry long-term environmental efforts will suffer as governments look to stimulate growth.
The Los Angeles smog has lifted, water in Venice’s canals has cleared and China’s factory emissions have fallen so dramatically the change can be seen from space.
International travel restrictions and city lockdowns designed to slow the spread of coronavirus have led to swift and sometimes surprising environmental benefits. The long-term implications are unclear but many climate scientists now expect greenhouse gas emissions to fall for the first time since the financial crisis more than a decade ago, when they dropped by 7%.
“I expect a bigger impact than the great recession of the late 2000s or early 2010s and a drop, perhaps several percent, in global carbon emissions,” said Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State.
In the U.S., more than three-quarters of annual greenhouse gases are produced by transportation, industry and power generation—three sectors hit hard as many governments around the world have tried to stem the spread of infection by shutting down swaths of their economies.
Transport has been badly disrupted as airlines ground empty aircraft and commuters stay off the road. Australian carrier Qantas Airways Ltd. canceled all international flights from late March through to the end of May. More than 30 states have ordered residents to stay at home except for essential activities, clearing millions of people from the country’s streets.
The crisis is also tamping down industrial activity, such as auto manufacturing. General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV have shut down assembly lines in the U.S., Mexico and Canada to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. also suspended their North American production.
A decade ago, emissions rebounded sharply as governments rolled out economic stimulus packages that often focused on infrastructure and heavy industry. Within two years, global emissions had surpassed their 2008 peak. Climate scientists worry that history will repeat itself as restrictions on movement ease and governments and central banks inject money into their economies to hasten their recovery.
“There are a lot of scenarios where coronavirus could make things worse,” said Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford University who chairs the Global Carbon Project. “That’s the nightmare scenario for me: when the coronavirus leads to a global recession and in response we set aside the kinds of climate action and fuel-efficiency measures that would have happened without it.”
Workers who lose their jobs won’t have cash to buy more-energy-efficient goods, such as washing machines or electric cars. Tesla Inc.’s share price has reflected those concerns, and is down more than 40% since Feb. 19.
“A lot of people may not be able to afford any new car, or even a secondhand car,” Prof. Jackson said.
Government responses to industry requests for financial assistance could signal how quickly and by how much emissions snap back, scientists say.
Boeing Co., a major manufacturer and the largest U.S. exporter, would have access to $17 billion in loans and loan guarantees as part of the $2 trillion stimulus package hammered out by the White House and lawmakers. While the measure imposed limits on stock buybacks and dividends for airlines and other companies, it didn’t include requirements sought by eight Senate Democrats that recipients reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time.
Carbon emissions dropped when the global economy contracted 1.7% in 2009, only to surge to a record nine billion tons in 2010 as growth resumed.
“The consensus is for economic activity to eventually return to normal together with the associated levels of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mike Wilkins, S&P Global Ratings’ head of research and analytics for sustainable finance. So, measures to decarbonize the economy, such as a shift away from fossil fuels, will still be required to meet targets set under the Paris climate agreement.
That could prove tough. Governments that take on big debts to steer their economies through the virus crisis could later find it hard to justify spending on clean energy technologies, such as carbon capture and storage. Advocates for any kind of environmentally driven stimulus may also need to dial back some of their ambition if measures are to be enacted quickly enough to save jobs and growth, said Zoe Whitton, Citi’s head of environmental, social and governance research.
“It would be a tragedy if we decided we wanted growth to be green and then ended up not being able to have the human recovery we wanted because we spent so long negotiating,” Ms. Whitton said.
Consumers and businesses could again lead change. People may give up their commutes willingly, after becoming used to working from home and communicating with colleagues via videoconferencing platforms. Companies may also accelerate a trend of requiring employees to share desks.
Stanford’s Prof. Jackson is skeptical this would make much difference. “If the past is any guide, the emissions decline won’t be substantial or long-lived,” he said.
Coronavirus Offers A Clear View of What Causes Air Pollution
With factories and vehicles idle, nitrogen dioxide levels hit lows not seen since the early 20th century; ‘We didn’t know…how significantly it could drop’.
The result has been drops in air pollutants to levels not seen in at least 70 years, easier breathing for people with respiratory ailments and consistently clear views of landmarks often obscured by smog, such as the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles and the Manhattan skyline.
“There have been some interesting pseudo-experiments, like when Beijing closed its plants for the [2008 Summer] Olympics, but only for a few days,” said Melissa Lunden, chief scientist for Aclima, a San Francisco company that measures pollution with street-level sensors. “Now, everyone on the planet can see the changes.”
The reasons, experts say, is that factories have shut down, and people who can’t go to the office, church or restaurants have stopped driving. Vehicle traffic in Los Angeles and New York has plunged about 90% from levels in January 2020, according to data analytics firm StreetLight Data Inc.
One of the biggest airborne pollutants to fall off has been nitrogen dioxide, which is a byproduct of fossil-fuel emissions that most scientists believe is contributing to climate change. Satellite data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration show NO2 levels in the Northeastern U.S. dropped 30% during March from the previous four-year average for the month.
San Francisco-based Aclima has compiled data that shows the NO2 readings dropping in lockstep as the coronavirus swept first from China in January to Europe in February and the U.S. in March. Scientists said it was the first time they could remember so many cities going clean all at once.
In addition, Aclima found a 39% drop in particulate matter such as from smoke and a 41% plunge in soot created by diesel fumes and other human sources. The company’s scientists say they believe those are the lowest levels since the first half of the last century.
“We knew how bad the pollution was,” said Davida Herzl, Aclima’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “What we didn’t know was how significantly it could drop.”
The reductions in air pollution weren’t evenly distributed in the Bay Area, however. In the northwest corner of Oakland known as West Oakland, the level of human-caused carbon dioxide fell 56% over that April 6 time period compared with 43% for the Bay Area as a whole. Aclima officials attribute the drop to the fact that West Oakland, a majority African-American neighborhood, is in an industrial zone surrounded by ships, trucks, trains and factories.
“This tells me, look, there really is a direct correlation between the health outcomes in communities like West Oakland and the levels of pollution,” Mr. Beveridge said.
Pollution levels will inevitably rise in the U.S., as they have in other parts of the world that have begun to return to normal, Ms. Herzl said. But she said it was likely to be more gradual than the drop, as the economy won’t restart as quickly as it slowed.
Four-Legged City Dwellers Get Their Moment While Humans Are Stuck Inside
Add to the list of what we’ve learned about our communities during the coronavirus lockdown: Wilderness is not as far as it seems.
It turns out boar, deer, coyotes and birds have been right under our noses all along.
Cornelius Gati, a research scientist at Stanford University, stumbled across some coyotes while out walking as part of his permitted exercise near his home in San Francisco’s Twin Peaks neighborhood. “To see a coyote in broad daylight in what is typically one of the most touristy places in San Francisco was just mind blowing,” he said.
In fact, the animals have been in and around the city since the early 2000s, after California restricted the use of snares and poison bait. They largely kept out of sight. But now, said Janet Kessler, who has been watching them for 13 years, the same coyotes are being spotted again and again, often during the day, as the city’s human residents stay home or venture out for occasional runs.
“All of a sudden, people either gush over them or worry they are going to eat them or rip out the livers of the children,” she said. “They were here all the time.”
Ms. Kessler worries that more people might start feeding them now they know coyotes are around. “There’s nothing more pitiful than a coyote hanging around waiting for food,” she said. “We don’t want to turn them into stray dogs.”
Animals have always been at the edges of cities, especially as development has pushed farther into the wild. Now they’re making themselves more at home, enjoying the relative calm while humans are stuck inside.
He hopes it leads to better things after the pandemic. “If it brings us a little closer to nature, then hopefully that will give us a better understanding of how to coexist with the world around us,” he said.
Before the lockdowns, London had a love-hate relationship with its population of urban foxes—as many as 28,000 of them.
“Usually you only hear or see them at night. They can make a right nuisance of themselves,” said Robert Wilson, who lives in the Crystal Palace neighborhood in the south of the city. “It’s different when you see them during the day. It feels more like you’re sharing the city with them. I saw one yesterday, like it was just out for a morning stroll.”
In Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, people have started howling like coyotes each evening at 8 p.m. to show support for health workers and to let off a little steam.
Camilla Fox, who founded Project Coyote, a nonprofit in the area that aims to help people and coyotes get along, said she hopes the choice of the howl as a symbol of resolve might make for better coyote-human relations in the region. “It’s a good sign,” Ms. Fox said.
“Coastal residents are being advised that, due to a lack of food sources, seagulls may be more hungry than normal and may behave aggressively” to snatch food, it said.
The toads of Riddlesden in northern England could also be in for a bumper mating season this spring thanks to the pandemic.
Typically they risk life and limb as they hop their way down from the moor and attempt to cross a busy road before spawning in a nearby reservoir.
“There are far fewer cars than normal,” she said. “The toads are going to have a rare old time.”
Covid Gives Tourism Chance To Curb Future Environmental Damage
A plunge in visitors allowed nature to recover at overrun hotspots. Now, some countries don’t want to go back to to the destruction of mass tourism, even when Covid ends.
Thai Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa has wanted for decades to give the country’s national parks time to recover from the damage caused by an endless stream of tourists. Covid-19 gave him the chance.
Now, able to see the benefit of giving nature a respite, Varawut is going further. He has decreed that all national parks in Thailand will close for an annual average of three months, beginning in 2021. It’s a bold move to make the nation’s vital tourism industry more sustainable — one that puts him at odds with many businesses in hotspots like Phuket that are being crushed by re-opening delays.
“We have to find balance and should use this pandemic as a lesson,” said Varawut, 47. “If humans keep on abusing Mother Nature, one day she will take it back. She’s taking it back now.”
Tourism has been among the biggest economic victims of the pandemic, with the industry losing 440 million visitors and $460 billion globally in the first half of the year, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. But the virus, which has killed more than a million people, has also forced an awareness of the effects industries from power generation to air travel have had on the environment.
Since Thailand banned overseas visitors because of the pandemic, more killer whales and dugongs have been spotted roaming Thai waters, Varawut said. Rare leatherback turtles have been laying eggs in droves on beaches normally packed with sunbathers.
Other tourism-dependent countries have noticed benefits to nature. Bryan Celeste, the 24-year-old mayor of Alaminos in the Philippines, said in his constituency’s Hundred Islands National Park, the local scubasureros — divers who collect garbage — have been retrieving only a few kilograms a month recently, compared with hundreds before the pandemic.
He’s also pushing for longer-term tourism restrictions even as the local government faces an estimated loss of about 40 million pesos ($824,165) in revenue this year, without accounting for the damage to businesses.
Celeste commissioned a “carrying capacity” study to help decide visitor limits to the park and is considering using a digital visitor management platform such as homegrown Visita to help monitor tourist numbers.
The moves to shorten tourism seasons have met with resistance from travel-related businesses, most of whom are counting on a recovery in visitor numbers once global restrictions ease. Travel and tourism contributed about 12% of Southeast Asia’s GDP last year and 13% of employment, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.
“It’s the rule that looks good on paper,” said Kalawin Kumnaung in Koh Samet, Thailand, a fire dance performer also known as Petch. “But in reality, especially for small business operators who have rent to pay, the two-month closures will be devastating,” said Kalawin, who also owns a bar on the island where he’s lived for more than 30 years.
Tourism authorities also are being cautioned to not appear to be excluding key segments of the tourist population while promoting sustainability measures — and to focus instead on “how do we bring back the quantity and improve the quality at the same time,” said Steve Saxon, a partner for McKinsey & Co. in Shenzhen.
“Countries need to be careful how they talk about reducing tourism to not mean elite tourism only,” said Saxon. “Higher-end or more affluent tourism does support a bit more in terms of jobs and GDP, but in terms of flights coming in, hotel rooms you need — that’s dependent on the number of guests.”
Suvarin Mayazes, vice president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said the government should worry more about damage from illegal activities rather than tourists. “Only illegal fishing boats will benefit from the park closures, not the environment, because they can operate freely without anybody seeing them,” said Suvarin, who owns Siam Catamaran Co. Ltd., a diving company that operates in the popular Mu Ko Chumphon National Park.
Mobility restrictions “caused a huge blow to the tourism industry, but did enable our environment to ‘rest and recuperate,’” said the municipal tourism office in Donsol, a Philippine dive site that’s home to endangered whale sharks. Donsol has had a longer-than-usual off-season this year as the virus struck before the naturally quieter July-October, when the whale sharks migrate elsewhere.
The drop in tourism may also allow officials an opportunity to assess the hidden costs of mass tourism, including pollution, groundwater contamination and infrastructure.
Most countries that rely on tourism for an economic boost have been more focused on trying to make up for lost income by promoting domestic travel, or using the downtime to spruce up attractions while awaiting the return of tourist hordes.
Sri Lanka is enjoying something of a boom in domestic tourism, while at Cambodia’s world-famous Angkor Wat temple complex, authorities are adding flower beds and some 3,000 trees to the surrounding park and relocating unsightly shops and stalls from the front of the complex, according to a local news report.
New Zealand, which is also encouraging locals to take domestic holidays, has set up a task force to look at the impact of tourism on the environment on concern that surging visitor numbers had begun to spoil the clean-green image that the nation promotes.
“Environmental and tourism priorities should be seen as partners in recovery,” said Billie Dumaliang, a Philippines-based conservationist and co-founder of Visita, who advocates higher-value, lower-volume tourism. But without government intervention to force the industry to take a more sustainable path, the onslaught of visitors may return.
“Most of the gains, like reduced carbon emissions and pollution, are immediately reversible once lockdowns are lifted,” Dumaliang said.
Birds Really Did Sound Louder During Lockdowns
When traffic noise disappeared from San Francisco, the city’s white-crowned sparrows took advantage of the silence, researchers found.
You can tell what part of the Bay Area a male white-crowned sparrow is from just by a few notes of its song. The buzzes and trills of the North American birds can vary dramatically over just a few miles. (Think Bronx versus Brooklyn accents, but for birds.) These distinctive dialects have made the species a focus of ornithological attention for decades; since the 1960s, researchers have mapped 10 birdsong dialects across San Francisco, their borders shifting and evolving over time.
But in recent years many of the urban sparrows’ melodies had been “masked” by noise pollution, and the birds began singing at a higher frequency to overcome the cacophony of cars and city life.
That changed in March, when Bay Area counties went into coronavirus lockdown. Traffic disappeared, coyotes began prowling the traffic-free streets, and nature, famously, began healing.
Elizabeth Derryberry, an associate professor of behavioral evolution and phylogenetics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, wondered about the white-crowned sparrows in the San Francisco region that she’d been studying since 2012. What would they sound like, unmasked?
Using recordings collected from April through June 2015 as a comparison point, Derryberry and four other colleagues analyzed the vocal performance of male white-crowned sparrows in the period from April to May of this year.
The sample area spanned breeding grounds from the rural forests and grasslands of Abbotts Lagoon and Commonweal in Marin County, north of the city, to the more urban East Bay city of Richmond, and Golden Gate Bridge-adjacent Lands End. There, co-author Jennifer Phillips, a postdoc at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, recorded four distinct songs, with four distinct trill patterns.
What the researchers found is that as the city’s sounds dimmed, the urban sparrows’ songs changed. They didn’t get louder, though you may have noticed them more. Instead, they got “sexier.” The birds were able to say more, and say it better, because they didn’t have to shout so much.
Pre-pandemic, urban and rural soundscapes varied widely in these birds’ habitats: The white-crowned sparrow’s San Francisco breeding grounds are typically three times noisier than that of less-dense Marin County.
In these normal conditions, urban males often have to sing more loudly than rural ones, at higher frequencies and at lower bandwidths, to compete with the high “sound energy” of a city. But they face a tradeoff between having their songs detected at a far distance and communicating information in the signals that they’re sending.
When lockdowns hit, the sound patterns of urban and rural areas converged into a blanket of quiet. Ambient noise — intermittent loud sounds like dogs barking or airplanes crossing the sky — dropped in both urban and rural locations, while the disappearance of background low-frequency noises like the hum of cars and buses was noticed more dramatically in cities.
Derryberry’s team did their analysis before the city released comprehensive traffic data that quantified the slowdown, but they knew that vehicle crossings on the Golden Gate Bridge were down in April and May to “levels not seen since 1954.”
“[A] relatively brief but dramatic change in human behavior effectively erased more than a half-century of urban noise pollution and concomitant soundscape divergence between urban and nearby rural areas,” the authors wrote in their paper, which was recently published in Science. “In other words, the Covid-19 shutdown created a proverbial silent spring across the SF Bay Area.”
Urban white-crowned sparrows, whose breeding season started at the same time as the shutdowns, took advantage of this silence.
“When the noise disappeared, that tradeoff went away,” said Derryberry. “Suddenly, their signal could go a long distance and contain a lot of information.”
Male sparrows started singing about 30% more softly, but since the roar of the urban world had dropped by more than 50%, their signal carried twice as far. Features that hadn’t been heard since the 1970s reappeared, along with new trill patterns. “They weren’t actually louder, but they sounded louder,” she said.
To understand how that works, imagine you’re at a party, Derryberry suggested. (Bittersweet, I know.) As more people fill the room, voices creep louder and louder; vocal cords strain and get shrill, and still, you can barely hear the person in front of you. By the end of the night, though, when only a few stragglers remain, everyone speaks more softly and their words carry farther. You can’t help but perk up if you hear something juicy a couple of conversations away.
That emptying room is what the sparrows suddenly found themselves in this spring. Through the stillness, San Franciscans were able to hear four times the number of white-crowned sparrows as before.
For male birds, who use their birdsongs to repel rivals from their territory and to attract mates, being heard is essential to survival. Their tune is both a “keep out” and a “come hither” signal: The frequency exudes strength, and the trilling demonstrates stamina, says Derryberry. Better vocal performance can translate into more mates, and improved odds for successful breeding.
Because the life span of the sparrow is only about 13 months on average, Derryberry says it’s possible that male birds who were already suited to this emerging soundscape were favored for reproduction, and that what we’re hearing is the beginnings of an evolutionary adaptation. Even as traffic returns, Derryberry believes that the legacy of this “silent spring” will be long-lasting, and that songbirds in other cities may be experiencing similar effects.
“Whether it’s plasticity or selection, whatever it is, I think these birds are on a new trajectory,” she said. “Their songs have entered an acoustic space they haven’t been in over 30 years. I really doubt they’re just going to go right back to where they were before.”
This Year’s Emissions Drop Is A ‘Tiny Blip,’ UN Agency Says
The impact of coronavirus lockdowns on greenhouse gas emissions can’t be distinguished from natural variability, WMO says.
Human emissions of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change will fall between 4.2% and 7.5% this year due to the global industrial slowdown caused by coronavirus lockdowns.
But carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will continue to go up, albeit at a slightly reduced pace, according to preliminary data by the World Meteorological Organization released on Monday. The short-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic can’t be distinguished from natural variability, the United Nations agency said.
“The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph,” WMO secretary general Petteri Taalas said in a statement. “We need a sustained flattening of the curve.”
Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries, and in the ocean for even longer. That means concentrations of the warming gas will continue to rise for years, even if human emissions fall or are brought to a halt. In 2019, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere breached a new threshold of 410 parts per million, from 400 parts per million in 2015, according to the WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin released on Monday.
“Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records,” Taalas said. “The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO₂ was 3-5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now —but there weren’t 7.7 billion inhabitants.”
Concentrations of CO₂ in the atmosphere were 48% higher in 2019 than 1750, according to the report. The increase observed from 2018 to 2019 was larger than that observed during the previous one-year period, and larger than the average over the last decade.
Methane presence in the atmosphere were up by 160% from pre-industrial times, while nitrous oxide was up 23%.
Air Pollution In Some Parts Of Italy And Spain Fell As Much As 70% During Coronavirus Lockdowns This Year
The decrease in Europe’s pollution due to stricter environmental regulations over the decade to 2018 helped lower deaths caused by heart and lung disease, according to the European Environment Agency.
Around 60,000 fewer people died prematurely due to fine particulate matter pollution in 2018, compared with 2009, the agency’s annual Air quality in Europe report showed on Monday. During that decade, emissions decoupled from economic activity, meaning there are now fewer emissions for each unit of gross domestic product generated each year.
“Better air quality is an investment for better health and productivity for all Europeans,” said Hans Bruyninckx, executive director at the EEA. “Policies and actions that are consistent with Europe’s zero pollution ambition lead to longer and healthier lives and more resilient societies.”
Air pollutants emitted by the transport, manufacturing or energy sectors were associated with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases that caused about 417,000 premature deaths in 41 European countries in 2018, according to the agency. Gas emissions from transport declined even as mobility demand rose, while progress in reducing building and agriculture emissions has been slow.
In 2018, only Estonia, Finland, Iceland and Ireland had fine particulate matter concentrations below the World Health Organization’s stricter guideline values. Eight countries including Italy and Poland exceeded the European Union’s limit value for fine particulate matter.
Lockdowns implemented this year by several European nations to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic led to significant drops in pollution. Traffic stations in Spain and Italy, which implemented some of the most strict lockdowns, detected some of the sharpest reductions, with nitrogen dioxide emissions down as much as 70% in some places.
A more comprehensive statistical model used by EEA estimated an average reduction of pollution of about 40% in Spain and about 35% in Italy.
Several scientific studies over the past few months have pointed to the links between coronavirus and air pollution. Poor air quality can cause heart and lung diseases which are risk factors for death in Covid-19 patients.
Therefore, long-term exposure to air pollution is expected to increase vulnerability to the virus, in the same way that previous studies indicated exposure to particulate matter worsens the impact of respiratory illnesses, the report said.
Here’s Some Good Climate News For A Change
A butterfly highway, a greener India, and more stories to brighten your day.
The fourth issue of Bloomberg Green’s magazine is coming, and already you can read some outstanding stories featured in its pages. There’s the one about Mexico’s tree-planting program, which has had the perverse effect of encouraging residents of poor districts to cut down historic forests. Just days after that investigation published online, Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced a review of the program.
This new magazine also spotlights an investigation into a program meant to help low-income U.S. homeowners afford climate-friendly home renovations that has often amounts to predatory lending with a green veneer. Contractors target the elderly and non-English speakers, locking them into unaffordable agreements for solar panels and energy-efficient air conditioning. It’s the return of subprime deal, only this time it’s for solar.
Also in this issue: a look inside Global Thermostat, one of the pioneers in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Current and former employees and business partners say the crucial climate startup has been trapped in years of dysfunction and disappointment by its brilliant co-founder and chief executive.
But why focus on the negative? Ever wonder how a carbon border tax might work? This magazine has you covered.
(Here’s the first trick: don’t make it a tax.) What about where to buy the most eco-friendly yoga mat? Try the recycled wetsuit mat made from, you guessed it, recycled wetsuits.
The new magazine pulls together entries in our Carbon Benchmark series, which drills down into the targets countries will have to hit on their way to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.
As always, in the name of keeping an eye on progress, the latest issue of Bloomberg Green ends with a roundup of positive developments in recent months. Because, yes, climate news is often bad but it would be even worse to lose hope.
U.S. Limits Planet-Warming Chemicals
The stimulus bill passed in December included some surprise climate initiatives, including an agreement to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, chemicals used in air conditioning and refrigeration that contribute to global warming. That finally puts the U.S. on par with other nations that have either banned or agreed to phase out their use.
The movement, which translates as “flight shame,” started as a way to get Swedes to choose travel by land rather than air. Now, the Guardian reports that the country will start charging extra fees to high-emitting planes at takeoff and landing. One flight between Stockholm and Gothenburg, the country’s two most populous cities, emits as much carbon dioxide as 40,000 train trips, according to Swedish Railways.
Court Ruling Thaws Some Climate Cases
A U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on a Ford Motor Co. product liability case in March clears a hurdle for a group of idled climate lawsuits. Justices ruled that state courts could decide cases involving out-of-state defendants with certain in-state ties. The resolution allows lawsuits targeting oil companies for their role in climate change to proceed in Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington.
Iconic Paris Road Has Leafy Future
The city has approved a €250m ($298 million) project to add major greenery to the Champs-Élysées. The 1.2-mile avenue is used by about 64,000 vehicles daily that have become a significant source of pollution. The plan will invest in plants to beautify the area and clean the air.
India Looks To Go Greener, Faster
The world’s third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter is debating whether to try to zero out its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to people familiar with discussions among top Indian government officials. The people asked not to be identified, as the discussions are private. A dramatic low-carbon transformation in less than 30 years would challenge India’s coal-dependent economy.
BlackRock Demands Climate Strategies
BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest asset manager, upped the pressure on companies to disclose a business plan compatible with achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In his annual letter to chief executive officers in January, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink warned that for companies not sufficiently focused on this transition, his company will consider voting against management and potentially selling shares from its active portfolios.
A wetlands reserve has welcomed its first cheetahs in almost a century. The addition of three males from South Africa to the Bangweulu Wetlands is meant to help restore the biodiversity of the area. There are fewer than 6,700 African cheetahs remaining in the wild. The species is the fastest land animal in the world.
Rhino Poaching Declines
The number of rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa, which has the world’s biggest population of the animal, fell 33% last year as Covid-19 lockdowns reduced the movement of illegal hunters. That’s the sixth straight year of decline, South Africa’s Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries said in a statement. Only about 27,000 rhinos remain in the wild, according to conservation organization WWF.
African Nation Creates Ocean Haven
Ivory Coast created its first-ever marine-protected area, off the coastal town of Grand-Béréby. The 1,000-square-mile zone, which includes mangroves and reefs, is considered a globally important nesting ground for sea turtles and will protect more than 20 species of sharks and rays. The location will also have space for sustainable fishing and ecotourism activities.
A Butterfly Superhighway
U.K. nonprofit Buglife announced in March that it had completed the first phase of its B-Line project, aiming to create connected wildflower habitats—pollinator pathways—around the country. England has lost more than 97% of its grasslands in less than a century, the group says. So far, Buglife has either created or restored 1,500 hectares of butterfly habitat, 10% of its goal.
Cheetahs Return To Zambia
Nepal’s Rhino Population Grows, Likely Boosted by Covid-19 Closures
With nature reserves shut for most of last year, endangered animals had more freedom to roam, congregate and mate.
The herd of rare rhinoceroses that calls Nepal home has expanded, likely with a little help from the country’s Covid-19 lockdowns.
The endangered, one-horned rhinos got a long holiday from camera-toting tourists as the country’s nature reserves were shut for most of last year. That gave them more freedom to roam, congregate and mate, conservation officials said.
A census showed that the country’s herd of rhinos—also called a crash—increased about 17%, to 752, from the previous survey six years earlier, Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation said Saturday.
“It’s great news for all of us who care for conservation of rhinos,” said Deepak Kumar Kharal, the department’s director general. “Covid-19 had a small but an important role helping the growth in our rhinos’ population.”
The population of greater one-horned rhinos has been growing since it almost disappeared, falling below 100 in the 1960s—rebounding thanks to national efforts to protect them from poaching and preserve the riverine grasslands and jungles of southern Nepal that make up their habitat.
Rangers performed the national survey on the backs of 57 elephants.
In Chitwan National Park, one of the largest nature reserves for rhinos, some rangers and conservation officials involved in this year’s survey said, they found evidence of a baby boom.
The gestation period for rhinos is as long as 18 months, so any conceived during the lockdowns wouldn’t have arrived. However, the rangers saw more baby rhinos than they have before and say more babies may have survived last year without the stress and distraction of hiding from hordes of tourists in jeeps.
“Covid lockdown gave the best environment for the birth and growth of baby rhinos,” said Bishnu Lama, a 64-year wildlife technician called out of retirement for the census.
During their 20 days of counting, Mr. Lama and other trackers counted 694 rhinos inside Chitwan reserve, the main rhino habitat in Nepal. Of those, 125 were children, a group that comprises rhinos as old as 3½ when seen with their mothers. In 2015, they counted 116 rhino children inside the reserve and 111 in 2011.
“Most of the rhino calves we saw this time were very small, probably born within the last four months,” Mr. Lama said. “They seemed happy and relaxed with less human disturbances.”
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