Stanford researcher envisions energy and environment landscape after COVID-19

May 19, 2020

As people shelter in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, daily carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have dropped by as much as 17 percent globally, according to a new study by the Global Carbon Project, an initiative led by Stanford University scientist Rob Jackson. Published in Nature Climate Change, the paper compiles government policies and activity data to pinpoint where energy demand has dropped off the most and to estimate the impact on annual emissions.

Jackson, a professor of Earth system science in Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth), sees in the study's findings the outlines of a greener economy and healthier society.

"People marvel at how quickly the air cleared when we stopped driving," Jackson said. "My son in Los Angeles called and said, 'Dad, the skies are blue!' The environment is resilient, and people are too."

Although the study's estimate of a 4 to 7 percent drop in global emissions this year may seem low, it will be the biggest emissions drop since World War II. The estimate reflects the fact that shelter-in-place rules are temporary and staggered across different countries, according to Jackson. Perhaps more surprisingly, U.S. emissions declined one third for part of April, a dramatic drop driven by reduced mobility, manufacturing and electricity demand.

History tells us the current emissions reductions may be short-lived. The recession of 2008 reduced CO2 emissions a percent and a half globally for one year, according to Jackson, who pointed out that emissions "roared back" five percent the next year because nothing had changed in terms of fossil-fuel infrastructure. By contrast, the oil shocks of the 1970s were specific to our fossil-fuel use and, therefore, more transformative. They led to everything from smaller cars to the birth of the solar and Alaskan oil industries.

Almost $50 billion of stimulus funding after the 2008 recession helped transform wind and solar power and energy conservation. "We're still reaping the benefits today from green power, historically cheap wind and solar contracts and a clean-energy industry that employs three million Americans," Jackson said. "We have the same chance to reshape transportation now. We could start by freeing up the $40 billion in low-interest loans currently idled in the Department of Energy's clean energy and advanced vehicle loan programs."

"Opportunities exist to make real, durable, changes and be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement," said study coauthor Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate change science and policy at the University of East Anglia. "For example in cities and suburbs, supporting walking and cycling, and the uptake of electric bikes, is far cheaper and better for wellbeing and air quality than building roads, and it preserves social distancing."

The pandemic could change commuting and transportation permanently, according to Jackson. "Cities from Milan to Seattle are closing miles of streets to traffic permanently and opening them to pedestrians and bicyclists. Telecommuting, even part time, might be the new normal. Traffic congestion has vaporized. Electric cars are fast and can be fossil-free, changing a sector of the economy that's been hard to decarbonize."

Jackson also expressed hope that a post-pandemic recovery strategy would focus on solutions for underprivileged communities more vulnerable to both climate change impacts and diseases such as COVID-19. "People of color and the poor live closer to coal-fired power plants and car-heavy freeways - the two biggest sources of air pollution that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans a year," Jackson said. "Clean power coupled with electric cars could give everyone clean air without sheltering at home."
-end-
(Watch a related Stanford webinar, "Post-Pandemic: Building Back Resiliently," on May 21: https://woods.stanford.edu/events/webinar-post-pandemic-building-back-resiliently)

Jackson is Stanford's Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professor and a senior fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Stanford University

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.