To say that there has been a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world would be insensitive to those who have lost businesses and loved ones, who are suffering pangs of loneliness, or who have experienced hardship to financial, mental, or physical wellbeing. However, there was one encouraging moment during the crisis–a glimmer of hope of what could be: when the pandemic hit and travel ceased, businesses shuttered and people stopped driving their cars, Mother Earth gave a little sigh of relief–carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions had dropped dramatically.
But the possibility of a planet that’s not being poisoned by greenhouse gases was as ephemeral as the pandemic seems to be enduring. Indeed, when it became clear that the virus wasn’t going to be eradicated by summer, as was once hoped, states were pressured to find ways to safely accommodate businesses and economic activity. But emissions are surging back as countries and states reopen, reports The New York Times, with the 17 percent reduction in emissions in April 2020 (as compared to the same time in 2019) shrinking to a measly five percent below last year’s numbers as of mid-June 2020. And that’s not all: global methane emissions reached an all-time high in 2017 and show no signs of slowing.
Methane is a greenhouse gas that has a carbon dioxide equivalent of about 25 to one over a 100-year period. Reporter Hiroko Tabuchi explains that when trapping the sun’s heat, methane can warm the earth’s atmosphere about 86 times as much as the same mass of CO2 over the next two critical decades.
And the bad news doesn’t end there: as oil and gas companies file for bankruptcy, they’re leaving dangerous, invisible gases, including methane, leaking into the atmosphere from spent wells, pipelines, broken tanks, and other leaky equipment. Companies like MDC Energy, which has filed for bankruptcy, have explained that the cost of cleaning up unproductive wells is exorbitant–more than $40 million for the Texas oil producer. As more companies continue to file for bankruptcy at an unprecedented rate–fueled by the pandemic that’s ravaging solvency–the world faces not just an economic crisis but also an environmental disaster, as leaking wells that are unprofitable will be left unattended and unrepaired, spewing potent greenhouse gases. With their businesses on the brink, some company boards actually approved multi-million dollar payouts to top executives only days before filing for bankruptcy.
Of course, concerns over rising emissions, air quality, and greenhouse gases are only exacerbated by the current political reality–the Trump Administration has reversed, rewritten, or rescinded nearly a hundred environmental regulations, including regulations related to power plant and motor vehicle CO2 emissions, clean air and water regulations, and drilling and extraction regulations, amongst others.
In the midst of a pandemic, statistics and information like those presented above are devastating. And while it certainly will not be easy, there is cause for optimism. The clock on how much time we have to halt climate change is ticking, but there is still the possibility of meaningful, effective action that not only saves our planet, but also saves lives.
The right time to take action on climate change was decades ago when we first learned of the effects–and the potential range of consequences–of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. That moment passed, but today we have a new opportunity. As a human being, a community member, and a constituent, there are things that each of us can be doing to make a difference. Small things–like planting a garden, growing one’s own food, choosing low-CO2 emissions forms of transportation, composting, and reducing the use of single-use plastics–can be meaningful and help to shape how our culture interacts with our planet; however, such actions may not be accessible to everyone. Something that nearly every adult living in our state can do, though, is vote.
This year, the most important thing that you can do is make it to the voting booth and cast your ballot for a candidate who cares about the future of humanity and our planet, and who will commit to taking significant, sincere action on climate change policy.
We need strong representatives at the local, state, and federal levels who will work to defund the climate disaster, stop fracking, help us transition to a fossil fuel-free economy and promote renewables, and who will support a just transition to more sustainable communities. Our representatives have a lot on their plates as they try to effectively manage pandemic-related decisions and make safe choices for their communities and constituents, but climate change cannot be on the periphery; we need to make sure that action on climate change is an immediate, direct objective.
As the pandemic rages on and greenhouse gas emissions return to pre-pandemic levels, we are precariously positioned on a ledge that could have fatal–quite literally–consequences should we take a misstep. Take action today to help make a difference by registering to vote and committing to showing up on election day.
Did you enjoy this blog post? If so, please consider making a donation to 350 Colorado to support our newsletter committees efforts to bring you informative and engaging content every month!