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The Green New Deal’s 10-Year Timeframe Is Unrealistic Even If a Lot Can Happen in a Few Decades
By Seth Blumsack
The Green New Deal Democratic lawmakers recently proposed would confront climate change by eliminating America's net carbon emissions within a decade. If enacted, it would transform America's energy industries and slash pollution, improving public health.
This proposal is a non-binding resolution, not an actual bill, and many of the proposed measures are long shots as long as the Republican Party holds a majority in the Senate and the Trump administration remains committed to its fossil fuel-supporting energy dominance policies.
Having studied the electric power sector and energy policy for more than 20 years, I think that some of the changes in the Green New Deal could actually happen within a decade – as long as all three branches of the federal government were on board.
But even if the most progressive Democrats were calling all the shots, the idea that the U.S. could accomplish this ambitious overarching goal within a decade strikes me as a stretch. California, which is committed to making all of its electricity carbon-free, aims to get that done by 2045, rather than 2030.
Even if completely revamping the nation's power grid within a decade proved feasible, the Green New Deal also targets emissions from sectors such as transportation and agriculture. And reducing their carbon footprints has proven much harder around the world.
Change Can Be Fast
Politically, the Green New Deal certainly seems like a non-starter even if the environmental and economic benefits would likely outweigh many of the costs. But are the ideas in the Green New Deal – especially those that would require radical changes, such as reinventing how the U.S. generates and consumes energy within a decade – truly outlandish?
While no nation has ever achieved anything quite as dramatic in so short a time, countries can rapidly change how they get their energy, without destroying their economies or compromising energy security. There are several good examples, especially in Europe.
France's swift adoption of nuclear power is the best one. Nuclear reactors generated only 10 percent of France's electricity in the mid-1970s, a share that rose to 70 percent within 10 years and has remained at about that level ever since.
More recently, countries such as Denmark, Germany, Ireland and Portugal have made strides toward shrinking their carbon footprints within a decade by ramping up the power they get from renewable energy, primarily onshore wind energy.
Brazil managed to boost the share of ethanol produced from sugarcane in the fuel it used to run cars and trucks from virtually nothing to about 50 percent within a decade following the adoption of targeted policies in 1975.
Change Can Also Be Slow
A common thread running through many of these success stories is a limited number of players. France's nuclear embrace largely involved its big state-run utility company, Électricité de France. Having a single big state-run oil and gas company, Petróleo Brasileiro, or Petrobras, made it easier for Brazil's government to bring about such a quick shift with ethanol.
When there are multitudes of companies and decision-makers, as is the case in the U.S., these transitions tend to be harder and take longer.
Two proposals in the Green New Deal, to make buildings highly energy-efficient and to electrify transportation, would require action on the part of hundreds of millions of people. These are also areas where change has generally come much more slowly.
The potential for energy efficiency is vast, but getting people to upgrade appliances or buildings to increase energy efficiency has been particularly difficult. What's more, some researchers have found a persistent gap between whether an energy efficiency investment is worthwhile and the willingness of consumers and businesses to spend their money on them.
This is probably due to a number of different factors. Researching and replacing your old appliances and equipment takes time and effort. There are usually high upfront costs when you own your own washing machines and hot-water heaters.
And for renters, problems arise when it's up to landlords to buy new equipment so their tenants can save money on their electric bills.
Some states have ramped up energy efficiency through outreach efforts and incentives. But there is still a long way to go, and revising building codes to raise these standards is politically very challenging.
Replacing vehicles that run on gasoline, diesel and other fuels with electric models is also harder than it may sound. Despite years of federal subsidies for electric vehicles, U.S. EV sales remain sluggish. Only around 360,000, or 7 percent, of the 5.5 million passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2018 were electric models.
And because cars generally last longer than a decade, replacing all of the nation's cars, trucks and SUVs will take a long time. Power plants also last a long time, but since many of the most polluting power plants in the U.S. are several decades old, many of them could be retired soon.
Market Forces and Policies
One common thread in every country that has been able to make rapid and major changes in their energy supply has been the role of government initiatives.
Big changes in the U.S. energy mix are nothing new. The U.S. transformed from a wood-based energy economy to mostly coal within a few decades at the end of the 19th century. And as Americans rapidly increased how much energy they were using in the the mid-20th century, their reliance on oil, natural gas and nuclear power grew. Since 2000, wind and solar power have become more significant contributors to a diverse mix of energy sources.
But, from what I can tell, market forces alone are setting a much slower path toward a lower-carbon economy than the Green New Deal's supporters would like to see. A two-decade transition, in my opinion, is more likely to succeed as long as the nation's politicians were to unite around making it a top priority.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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A central player in the fight against the novel coronavirus is our immune system. It protects us against the invader and can even be helpful for its therapy. But sometimes it can turn against us.
How does our immune system react to the coronavirus?<p>The coronavirus is — like any other virus — not much more than a shell around genetic material and a few proteins. To replicate, it needs a host in the form of a living cell. Once infected, this cell does what the virus commands it to do: copy information, assemble it, release it.</p><p>But this does not go unnoticed. Within a few minutes, the body's immune defense system intervenes with its innate response: Granulocytes, scavenger cells and killer cells from the blood and lymphatic system stream in to fight the virus. They are supported by numerous plasma proteins that either act as messengers or help to destroy the virus.</p><p>For many viruses and bacteria, this initial activity of the immune system is already sufficient to fight an intruder. It often happens very quickly and efficiently. We often notice only small signs that the system is working: We have a cold, a fever. </p>
Is there an immunity? How long does it last?<p>The good news is that it is very likely there is an immunity. This is suggested by the proximity to other viruses, epidemiological data and animal experiments. Researchers <a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.13.990226v1" target="_blank">infected four rhesus monkeys,</a> a species close to humans, with SARS-CoV-2. The monkeys showed symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, developed neutralizing antibodies and recovered after a few days. When the recovered animals were reinfected with the virus, they no longer developed any symptoms: They were immune. </p><p>The bad news: It is not (yet) known how long the immunity will last. It depends on whether a patient has successfully developed neutralizing antibodies. Achim Hörauf estimates that the immunity should last at least one year. Within this year, every new contact with the virus acts as a kind of booster vaccination, which in turn might prolong the immunity.</p><p>"The virus is so new that nobody has a reasonable immune response," says the immunologist. He believes that lifelong immunity is unlikely. This "privilege" is reserved for viruses that remain in the body for a long time and give our immune system a virtually permanent opportunity to get to know it. Since the coronavirus is an RNA (and not a DNA) virus, it cannot permanently settle in the body, says Hörauf.</p><p>The Heidelberg immunologist <a href="https://www.klinikum.uni-heidelberg.de/immunologie/immunologie" target="_blank">Stefan Meuer</a> predicts that the novel coronavirus will also mutate like all viruses. He assumes that this could be the case in 10 to 15 years: "At some point, the acquired immunity will no longer be of any use to us because then another coronavirus will return, against which the protection that has now been formed will not help us because the virus has changed in such a way that the antibodies are no longer responsible. And then no vaccination will help either."</p>
How can we take advantage of the antibody response of the immune system?<p>Researchers are already collecting plasma from people who have successfully survived an infection with SARS-CoV-2 and are using it to treat a limited number of patients suffering from COVID-19. The underlying principle: <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-drugs-can-antibodies-from-survivors-help/a-52806428" target="_blank">passive immunization.</a> The studies carried out to date have shown positive results, but they have usually been carried out on only a few people.</p><p>At best, passive immunization is used only when the patient's own immune system has already started to work against the virus, says Achim Hörauf: "The longer you can leave the patients alone with the infection before you protect them with passive immunization, the better." Only through active immunization can one be protected in the long term. At the same time, it is difficult to recognize the right point in time.</p><p>PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are currently used to find out whether a person is infected with the coronavirus. With the help of PCR, it is not possible to tell whether or not there is reproducible viral RNA; it is just a proof of whether the virus is still present, dead or alive. A PCR test cannot tell us whether our immune system has already intervened, i.e. whether we have had contact with the virus in the past, have formed antibodies and are now protected. Researchers are therefore working on tests that check our blood for the presence of antibodies. They are already in use in Singapore, for example, and are nearing completion in the USA. With the help of these tests, it would finally be possible to gain an overview <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/corona-confusion-how-to-make-sense-of-the-numbers-and-terminology/a-52825433" target="_blank">of the unclear case numbers.</a> In addition, people who have developed antibodies against the virus could be used at the forefront of health care, for example. An "immunity passport" is even under discussion.</p>
Is it possible to become infected and/or ill several times with the coronavirus?<p>"According to all we know, it is not possible with the same pathogen," says Achim Hörauf. It is possible to become infected with other coronaviruses or viruses from the SARS or MERS group if their spike proteins look different. "As far as the current epidemic is concerned, it can be assumed that people who have been through COVID-19 will not become ill from it for the time being and will not transmit the virus any further," he says.</p>
How long before you're no longer contagious?<p>A study <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2196-x" target="_blank">carried out on the first coronavirus patients in Germany</a> showed that no viruses that are capable of replication can be found from day eight after the onset of symptoms, even though PCR can still detect up to 100,000 gene copies per sample. This could change the current quarantine recommendations in the future.</p><p>According to the Robert Koch Institute, patients can currently be discharged from hospital if they show two negative PCR samples from the throat within 24 hours. If they have had a severe case of the disease, they should remain in domestic isolation for another two weeks. For each discharge, whether from hospital or home isolation, they should have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours.</p>
Why do people react differently to the virus?<p>While some people get off with a mild cold, others are put on ventilators or even die of SARS-Cov-2. Especially people with <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-who-is-particularly-at-risk-and-why/a-52710881" target="_blank">pre-existing conditions</a> and older people seem to be worst-affected by the virus. Why? This is the hottest question at the moment.</p><p>It will still take a very, very long time to understand the mechanistic, biological basis for why some people are so much more severely affected than others, virologist Angela Rasmussen told <em>The Scientist</em>. "The virus is important, but the host response is at least as important, if not more important," her colleague Stanley Perlman told the magazine.</p><p>Stefan Meuer sees a fundamental survival principle of nature in the different equipment and activity of our immune systems: "If we were all the same, one and the same virus could wipe out the entire human species at once. Due to the genetic range, it is quite normal that some people die from a viral disease while others do not even notice it. "</p><p>Achim Hörauf also suspects immunological variants that could be genetically determined. Since interstitial pneumonia is observed with the coronavirus, the focus is probably on an overreaction of the immune system. However, it is also possible that each person affected may have been loaded with a different dose of the virus, which in turn leads to different outcomes. And finally, it makes a difference how robust the body and lungs are: Competitive athletes simply have more lung volume than long-time smokers. </p>
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