Oil Prices Fall Below Zero for First Time in History
"We are experiencing an unparalleled upending in our economies," 350.org's associate director of Fossil Finance Campaigns Brett Fleishman said in a statement. "And it is time for the fossil fuel industry to recognize that, from now on, the cheapest and best place to store oil is in the ground."
"We are experiencing an unparalleled upending in our economies. And it is time for the fossil fuel industry to reco… https://t.co/2QnjELi9tM— 350 dot org (@350 dot org)1587414085.0
But it is uncertain what this dip in prices will mean both for fossil fuels and renewable energy going forward. The New York Times explained that Monday's price fall was partly because of how oil is traded. Future contracts for May expired Tuesday, which means buyers would have had to take possession of any oil purchased for the month despite a lack of storage space.
"The May crude oil contract is going out not with a whimper, but a primal scream," Pulitzer Prize-winning oil historian and vice chairman of IHS Markit Ltd Daniel Yergin told the Los Angeles Times.
But contracts for June closed at a relatively normal price of $20.43 per barrel, and it is hard to know what the coronavirus-induced oil crisis will mean for the renewable energy transition once lockdown orders are lifted. Oil demand has fallen by almost a third compared to April of last year, according to International Energy Agency figures reported by TIME, and coal-fired electricity generation in the U.S. is at an all-time low, the Los Angeles Times reported. Carbon dioxide emissions are also down, but could ramp up again when the economy reopens.
Whether the recovery is based on fossil fuels or clean energy will depend on political decisions, energy researcher Alex Gilbert, a fellow at the Payne Institute at the Colorado School of Mines, told the Los Angeles Times.
"The big question with clean energy is probably what happens on the policy side," he said. "How much do China, the U.S. and the European Union pursue clean energy technologies as a stimulus method?"
Jason Bordoff, founding director of Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy, cautioned that oil demand could bounce back if people are afraid of taking public transportation following the pandemic.
"I live in New York City," Bordoff told the Los Angeles Times. "I think a lot more people will want to take personal cars if they have them, or even Ubers, before they get back in the subway again. When economies are struggling and people are struggling, environmental ambition in government policy wanes."
But some analysts think the oil industry will never be the same and that the world will never use as much oil as it did last year, as TIME reported. Many smaller companies will likely go out of business, and the larger companies will have less political power and feel more pressure to respond to the climate crisis.
In this view, the coronavirus has only accelerated a reckoning for an industry whose product is a key source of global warming. Even last year, energy performed the worst of any sector on the S&P 500 stock index.
"The basic model is in pieces, it's fallen apart," director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) Tom Sanzillo told TIME. "This is an industry in last place."
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.