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Even Wall Street Asks: 'Why Would You Not?' Take Action on Climate Change
Given the economic, environmental and public health benefits of transitioning to a low-carbon future, a new report from Citigroup asks: When presented with the opportunity to take action on climate change, "Why would you not?"
"While fossil reserves aren’t running out, our ability to burn them without limit may be," reads the report from America's third-largest bank, "due to the fact that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and equivalents are rapidly approaching the so-called "carbon budget"—the level that if we go beyond is likely to lead to global warming in excess of the important 2°C level."
Fortunately, the report finds that taking action to cut carbon pollution and slow global warming by investing in energy efficiency and renewable power generation would result in a positive return on investment, ultimately saving trillions of dollars.
In fact, in its analysis of two scenarios—"inaction," which involves continuing on a business-as-usual path and "action," which involves transitioning to a low-carbon energy mix—Citigroup found that because of savings due to reduced fuel costs and increased energy efficiency, the action scenario is actually slightly cheaper than the inaction scenario. The report predicts that following a low carbon path would incur a net cost per year until 2025, after which net savings would stem from via lower fuel usage.
And down the line, a low carbon energy mix could account for $30-50 trillion in savings from avoiding climate damage, the report states.
"The incremental costs of following a low carbon path are in context limited and seem affordable, the 'return' on that investment is acceptable and moreover the likely avoided liabilities are enormous," reads the introduction to Energy Darwinism II: Why a Low Carbon Future Doesn't Have to Cost the Earth, issued this month by the Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions division. "Given that all things being equal cleaner air has to be preferable to pollution, a very strong 'Why would you not?' argument begins to develop."
To be sure, the implications of such a paradigm shift are not rosy for everyone. As the report authors note, "[s]witching to a low carbon energy future means that significant fossil fuels that would otherwise have been burnt will be left underground."
In particular, Citigroup forecasts rough waters ahead for the coal industry, for which it predicts mine closures, liquidation and bankruptcy. The "clear loser" between the action and inaction scenarios is coal, according to the report, "which sees its total investment bill fall by some $11.5 trillion over the next quarter century."
The financial giant's analysis is hardly the first to address "stranded assets"—those fossil fuel reserves that must stay in the ground to avoid climate catastrophe—or the economic benefits of increased investment in alternative energies. As David Roberts wrote for Vox, Citigroup's conclusions echo those of "an increasingly huge body of research."
But Roberts expressed hope that someone will take the Citigroup analysis and push it further, pointing out that "having a model scenario doesn't help much if you don't understand the sociopolitical barriers to implementing it."
Especially in the lead-up to this fall's climate talks in Paris, "here's what I'd like to see," he wrote. "[A] report as extensive as Citi's, conducted by an equally distinguished group of researchers, about the political economy of the action scenario. Which companies, industries and governments face threats to which interests? Which industries give money to which public officials and through what channels? Which industries do public officials gravitate to when they leave office? Which spend the most on lobbying? What domestic and international levers do industries and governments have at their disposal to impede or delay the transition?"
He continued: "In short, I want a report that answers 'why would you not?'— a report that canvases potential winners and losers and charts their sociopolitical capacity to accelerate or delay the transition."
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In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
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