Social Distancing Is Also Helping the Climate
As schools close, as workers are asked to stay home, and as concerts and sports events are put on hold in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that the World Health Organization has declared a pandemic, the practice of social distancing is having a collateral benefit — it's slowing the climate crisis.
Kimberly Nicholas, a researcher at the Lund University Center for Sustainability Studies in Sweden, told The New York Times that three common activities account for the largest sources of our carbon emissions. "Any time you can avoid getting on a plane, getting in a car or eating animal products, that's a substantial climate savings." Thanks to social distancing and travel restrictions, many people are not flying and have drastically reduced how much time they spend in cars.
Nichols authored a 2018 study about actions people can take to reduce emissions and is writing a book on the subject.
As E&E News pointed out, the rapidly spreading virus has caused massive dips in industrial activity and demand for oil. Experts estimate that carbon emissions have fallen by nearly one-fourth in China, which is the world's largest carbon emitter.
There is a complex and intertwined relationship between responses to emergencies and carbon emissions. "Pull one string here, and it affects everything else," said Christopher Jones, a climate policy expert at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead developer at the CoolClimate Network, a research consortium focused on tools to reduce carbon emissions, to E&E News. "With the economy and carbon footprints, they're so interrelated that you really quickly start to have all these complex interactions.
The New York Times identified four climate consequences from social distancing.
First, there have been massive reductions in transportation-related carbon emissions.
"For average Americans, the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions is driving," said Nichols to The New York Times. Whenever we reduce driving, it "has a big impact on our climate pollution."
A larger impact is felt when we stop flying. Fewer airplanes in the sky dramatically reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions people create. In fact, it takes eight years of recycling to offset the carbon emissions from one round-trip New York to London flight, according to The New York Times.
As Al Jazeera noted, with more nations going into lockdown, demand for air travel, oil and electricity could continue to drop. Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant that is released when fossil fuels are burned, have decreased some 40 percent in China.
Jones from the CoolClimate Network at UC Berkeley said the increase in people dining at home has not produced a clear effect on carbon emissions, according to The New York Times. And whether we eat out or at home, we tend to waste 25 percent of the food we buy.
However, Nichols said that what we eat matters much more than where, since eating beef has a huge carbon footprint, considering how resource-intensive cattle farming is. Therefore, if you stockpiled beans and rice, you can lower your carbon footprint by working your way through them, as The New York Times suggested.
Working from home means you need to create a comfortable environment. If people are blasting the heat, so they're comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt, then it won't matter that they are not commuting — they will still produce greenhouse gases, according to The New York Times.
Finally, The New York Times discussed shopping from home, which can have a positive impact if you are patient and not demanding rushed delivery. Ordering groceries online allows for efficient packing and logically organized delivery routes.
Unfortunately, the lasting effects of the current reduction in greenhouse gas emissions are doubtful. The virus will pass and industry will ramp up again. People will continue to fly for vacations and sit in traffic as they wait to park at a concert or ball game.
Gernot Wagner, a clinical associate professor at New York University's Department of Environmental Studies, told MIT Technology Review: "Emissions in China are down because the economy has stopped and people are dying, and because poor people are not able to get medicine and food. This is not an analogy for how we want to decrease emissions from climate change."Furthermore, Helen Mountford of the World Resources Institute told POLITICO that post-recession economies can see a surge in emissions: "After the global financial crisis of 2008, for example, global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production grew 5.9 percent in 2010, more than offsetting the 1.4 percent decrease in 2009."
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As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.
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BiOceanOr's AquaREAL system. BiOceanOr
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By Cathy Cassata
With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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