Dealing with Coronavirus and Climate Breakdown

Anything to be learned?

With the global spread of the coronavirus disease, and the drastic actions being taken by national governments to try to contain it, it is not surprising to see many asking if there are any lessons to be learned for dealing with climate breakdown.

Some argue that similarities between coronavirus and climate breakdown suggest that we can deal with both in similar ways.  We suggest that this is a simplification.  Looking at the similarities and distinctions between the two may reveal some of the complications in any such comparisons.


The two phenomenon share certain traits: they are both global in reach; they have no respect for physical or political boundaries; they are unseen, invisible enemies; they rely on science to resolve; they require national and international cooperation; they are going to cost global economies trillions or more than we can count.

While other similarities might be found, they are outweighed by the distinctions.


Coronavirus is an immediate, fast moving, global threat to our health that exploded on the scene and appeared at our front doors in a matter of days or weeks, and the impacts are present and obvious.  Climate breakdown has been around for decades and its impacts are unfolding but the really scary consequences are decades in the future.

Climate breakdown is happening because greenhouse gases (GHGs) are spread in the ambient air all over the planet, and they stay there for long periods of time, while coronavirus is transferred from person to person, generally within several feet, for short periods, so isolation of the virus is possible.

Coronavirus will kill thousands to tens of thousands in days or weeks or months.  Climate breakdown is an “existential threat” that computer models tell us will kill hundreds of thousands to millions of people in decades, or half a century.

Climate breakdown will be with us forever, while coronavirus likely will depart in a short time – weeks, months, a few years.

Coronavirus is shutting down much of the world’s economy, albeit for a short period – maybe months – while mitgation measures for climate breakdown, like switching to renewable energy from fossil fuels, can transform and strengthen the economy.

While the extent of the impacts of climate breakdown are elusive, difficult to measure, the effects of coronavirus are only too visible.

Coronavirus is primarily a devastating health crisis, while climate breakdown is primarily an environmental disaster (rising seas, droughts, heat waves), which has severe health impacts.   Of course, we do not understand all the possible consequences of climate breakdown, which could unleash pandemic diseases across the planet.   It has been suggested that air pollution that is exacerbated by climate breakdown increases risks of people getting sick from viruses, including for pneumonia.  And climate breakdown can disrupt ecosystems, driving wildlife to places they never were before and forcing contact with other animals and leading to transmission of new pathogens.

Efforts to reduce the impacts of climate breakdown have been undermined for decades by fossil fuel interests with massive amounts of money.  Nobody is arguing in favor of more virus, though D. Trump and his malign policies are arguing (back to work!) in favor of protecting the investments of the few over the health of the many.

Coronavirus results in a temporary loss of food supplies on grocery shelves, while climate breakdown threatens food security through extreme weather events and destruction of soil itself, which losses can be global in reach and long-term.

While global in reach, some countries or areas can control coronavirus impacts even if others, including neighbors, ignore the threats and do nothing.  On the other hand, one country can take drastic mitigation measures for climate breakdown that can be nullified by greedy, ignorant neighbors or even distant countries that ignore the impacts of climate change.

The coronavirus can be controlled, to some extent, through testing and masks and gloves and social distancing, and maybe a vaccine.  Climate breakdown requires a transformation of the world’s energy sources (wind and solar, not fossil) and electric grids; sustainable, denser, walkable cities; plant-based diets; carbon taxes.  And much more.








In comparing the two phenomenon, one particular hope may be more of a delusion.   Many commentators suggest that what everybody is learning from the coronavirus crisis can be applied to resolve climate breakdown challenges once the virus crisis ends.  It is respectfully submitted that there will be few voices calling for more restraint and austerity and sacrifice once the virus is  “conquered.”   Rather it is likely people will be exhausted, angry, looking to blame someone, longing for security, and desperate to get back to “normal,” or business-as-usual, not to a transformative Green New Deal.

Some suggest that the challenge of coronavirus demonstrates that people can change their behavior when faced with a large and imminent threat.  This is of course the Holy Grail of climate breakdown activists.  And it is true that the fight against coronavirus has created some modifications of behavior in response to the virus, some of which will even be helpful in overcoming climate breakdown.  Less flying and more telecommuting and videoconferencing are several examples.  But little behavior change is evident in the young people who flocked to beaches in Florida, and older people who belittled the virus, fed of course by the Virus Denialist D. Trump.

But perhaps the most telling comparison is the argument that we need to fight climate breakdown in the same ways we fought world wars, with full-scale, national mobilization of resources.  With the coronavirus, that argument is gaining force with the demand that factories manufacturing certain products (e.g., cars) that are no longer in immediate need be repurposed, by government dictate, to manufacture products that are critical, e.g., ventilators and protective gear for medical personnel and the general public.  Once the crisis passes, “normal” production can return.

That argument for national action to fight coronavirus may well result in various forms of war-time-like mobilization.  In any event, the argument is being examined and challenged and that is a useful exercise for our eventual dealing with the climate breakdown crisis heading our way.

Finally, perhaps the strongest ray of hope could come from the general public seeing the critical role of science in helping them stay healthy and alive.  So much the better for efforts to fight climate breakdown.



Shannon Osaka, “Why don’t we treat climate change like an infectious disease?” Grist (16 March 2020).

Eric Galbraith, “Coronavirus response proves the world can act on climate change,” The Conversation (19 March 2020).

Neela Banerjee, “Q&A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties Between COVID and Climate,” inside climate news (12 March 2020).

John Schwartz, “Social Distancing? You Might Be Fighting Climate Change, Too: Isolation and other shifts in behavior during the coronavirus outbreak could also alter our greenhouse gas emissions. But will the changes stick?”  The New York Times (17 March 2020).

Damian Carrington, “Climate emergency: global action is ‘way off track’ says UN head:  Deadly heatwaves, floods and rising hunger far greater threat to world than coronavirus, scientists say,” The Guardian (10 March 2020).

Dan Gearino, “Coronavirus ‘Really Not the Way You Want To Decrease Emissions’,” inside climate news (11 March 2020).

John Sutter, “The pandemic isn’t fixing climate change,” CNN (27 March 2020).

The Emperor of the Paris Climate Accord Has No Clothes On

Now what do we do

There is increasing concern (realistic recognition?) that the Paris climate agreement (2015-16) to limit global warming was a fantasy.   The great hope at Paris was that we could limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7F) over pre-industrial levels, but that hope seems dashed against the rocks of continued reliance on fossil fuels.   Indeed we have already allowed a 1.0 to 1.3C rise in temperature.  And only three signatories to the Paris Accord, out of 197 countries, have submitted by February 9th the required plans to strengthen their climate actions.

The question is now whether the fallback target of a 2 degrees C (3.6F) rise is foregone.  It probably is.  Just look at the doomsday analysis in most recent assessments.  David Roberts’ article in Vox is a well-reasoned, thoughtful example.   See, Sources.

While it seems theoretically, technically possible to meet the 2 degrees rise target, there seems no political willpower to stave off our failure.  Perhaps the only question is when the failure will be undisputed.

So what then, or now.






First, meeting the Paris target was largely dependent on mitigation alone.

We certainly cannot rely on the fossil fuel interests that are largely intent on continuing to explore and drill for more fossil fuels until stopped by someone.   Nor can we count on these companies to remove from the atmosphere the the bulk of the GHGs still in our atmosphere that they produced.

And who can we rely on to stop the fossil fuel interests?  It is critical that each of us still does everything possible to ward off the climate breakdown, no matter how small the gestures.  But global large-scale action is clearly required.  And we are not getting and will not get such action with the current crop of autocratic, dictatorial leaders, led by the unholy marriage of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

If mitigation is not going to do the job, and many political leaders are feckless, at best, what’s left beyond prayer or despair.  Technology?  Many are turning to negative emissions, where we remove carbon from the atmosphere to keep the temperature manageable.  The most talked about option is carbon capture and storage, but that technology is more talked about than developed.  It also seems unlikely that it will be available on a large scale before we pass the 2 degrees rise in temperature.

The rapid advances, and economies of scale, in solar and wind energy are impressive and will do much to save us from even worse impacts from climate breakdown, but they likely will not prevent the 2 degrees rise.

While all this negative talk brushes against deep despair, it also should give rise to anger.

For those who are least responsible for all the GHGs in the atmosphere are the one most likely to be subjected to the impacts from the resulting climate breakdown.

Those with secure financial resources are more likely to survive the serious, immediate impacts of climate change breakdown, such as extreme weather events (e.g., fires, flooding, intense heat waves).  Rich people living in at-risk coastal, wooded or other areas of developed countries may lose their real estate, whether of houses or businesses, but most of them likely can and will move to safer ground.  See “Climate Gentrification” in the iePEDIA section of irish environment (below).  They will also buy more and larger air conditioning systems.

But the most vulnerable to climate breakdown are often the poorest and they will be out of luck and resources.  Those who live on coastal or wooded areas of developing economies will lose their homes and they will have to evacuate, as environmental refugees, with no ability to replace their lost homes or even much of a chance of returning to their home area.  Perhaps only refugee mega tent cities will be available for them, for a long period.  Or forever.


Who is going to allow the millions and millions of environmental refugees into their country?  Who is going to pay for the food and care for those living in these tent cities?  How many potential hosts will have the resources, including  armed forces, to resist the migrations while their own lands and resources and populations are under severe stress from climate breakdown.

The rich should not feel too secure in such scenarios.  First there are millions and millions more of the poor and disadvantaged than them.  And while the poor may simply accept their fate, we know that such distress can generate  profound unrest, and violent uprising.

For as the rich have provoked and prosecuted wars over oil, to feed their enterprises, the poor are equally capable of going to armed conflict to fight for their very existence.  Increasingly, armed conflict around the world is fueled in part by the effects of climate breakdown.

And as climate breakdown spreads, it will not be just intermittent extreme weather events that have to be dealt with.  Food supplies will become unpredictable or permanently interrupted.  The basics of many economies will be at risk, and damaged.






Even the rich cannot always escape such wide-spread consequences.  For example, the coronavirus does not respect country boundaries, it is not impressed or intimidated by wealth, and it can disrupt supply and demand markets, and stock markets.

Likewise, climate breakdown will not be deterred by border walls or sandbags or armed forces or wealth or prayer.

But enough with the dire dark thoughts.  Even if we pass the 2 degrees C mark, we will still have to fight to remain below 2.5, or 3.0, or 4.0, or more degrees.

So let’s pretend for the moment there is some hope.  The 2021 New Year may see at least Trump, if not Putin, gone and a new energy in America for proactive climate action.  The youth movement may continue to pressure the fossil fuel interests and force them to curtail their exploration and drilling.  The global community may control coronavirus, and businesses and governments can get back to controlling their carbon rather than any viruses.

Finally, we can end with a concrete note of optimism.   We recently got a commitment from Microsoft to make the company carbon negative by 2030, and by 2050 to have removed all the carbon dioxide that the company has released since its founding in 1975.

Well, it is something.  And perhaps it would be a useful legal requirement to impose on the fossil fuel companies.  After all, the polluter must pay.



David Roberts, “The sad truth about our boldest climate target:  Limiting global warming to 1.5˚C is almost certainly not going to happen. Admitting that need not end hope,” Vox (3 Jan 2020).

John Benson, “Climate Change – When Time Runs Out,” energy central ( 21 May 2019).

Kevin O’Sullivan, “Is 2020 the world’s last chance to tackle climate change,” The Irish Times (22 Feb 2020).

Shannon Osaka, “The Paris Agreement set an unrealistic target for global warming. Now what?”  Grist (12 Feb 2020).

“Climate Gentrification” in the iePEDIA section of irish environment (1 March 2019) at

Conor Cawley, “Microsoft Vows to Eliminate Carbon Emissions,” (16 Jan 2020).

“Negative Emissions” in iePEDIA section of current issue of  irish environment magazine (1 March 2002).

Juliana v. United States: A Disappointing Result

But with a lesson to be learned: we need to focus on the rhetoric of remedies, not causes

It is always better to win a major, complicated, cutting-edge lawsuit (or any lawsuit) than to lose it.  But even in losing there are things to be learned.  As in the case of Juliana v. United States, the recently dismissed climate lawsuit by a group of young people in the United States.

The Juliana lawsuit was brought by 21 young citizens, an environmental organization, and a “representative of future generations” (Dr. James Hansen) against the President of the United States, the US and numerous federal agencies.  The claims were based on the government’s continuing actions of permitting, authorizing, and subsidizing fossil fuel use despite clear knowledge of the risks to climate change from such uses.  The plaintiffs asserted injuries for psychological harm, impairment of recreational interests, various medical conditions, and damage to property.  The legal basis for the claims included violations of various provisions under the Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteen Amendments to the US constitution.

The case was before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, on appeal from a California US District Court.  Courts of Appeals are the federal courts below the US Supreme Court.

The sole issue before the court on appeal was whether the plaintiffs had “standing to sue.”  There had not been any trial or testimony in the lower District Court, but only procedural disputes.  The issue of “standing” is typically an early issue that has to be resolved before the court will proceed to trial.

Under US federal law, whether plaintiffs have standing, or are entitled to bring the particular claims against the specific defendants turns on whether plaintiffs have: (1) a concrete and particularized injury that (2) is caused by the challenged conduct and (3) is likely redressable by a favorable judicial decision.

The 9th Circuit had no problems finding that the first two requirements were met by plaintiffs since they had the requisite injuries and had sufficiently alleged, with supporting factual and expert documentation, that their injuries were caused, at least in part, by the government’s support for fossil fuel usage.

The sticking point for two of the three judges on the 9th Circuit Panel was whether the claimed injuries are “redressable.”  For purposes of this argument, the court assumed, without deciding, that the government had deprived plaintiffs of a substantive constitutional right to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life.”  At 21.

But the question still remained whether there was anything the courts could do to redress these grievances.

The plaintiffs requested, as a remedy, an injunction requiring the federal government, both Executive and Congressional, to cease permitting, authorizing and subsidizing fossil fuel use, and to prepare a plan subject to judicial approval to reduce harmful emissions.

The court found that such remedies were beyond the pale of a federal court’s power.  The court found that the remedy was too sweeping, that it would require fundamental transformation of the country’s energy system, that federal courts would have to monitor and supervise all the elements of the remedy over decades, and at the end of the day, as the plaintiffs admitted, the requested relief would not alone solve global climate change.  As a result the court found there was a lack of standing and the case had to be dismissed.

A dissenting opinion by 1 of the 3 judges argued that there was sufficient case law to support an extensive participation by the federal courts in long, drawn-out remedies (e.g., in school desegregation cases).  The dissent also argued that the case presented by the plaintiffs alleged that climate change was now irreversible and as a nation the US is on the brink of no return, so any relief, no matter how incomplete, was better than none.

While the majority opinion dismissed the lawsuit, the court did so “reluctantly,” as it spent much of its opening on the facts on climate change alleged by Plaintiffs, which were largely accepted by the court.  It found that the “extensive” record, with “copious expert” evidence established that the “unprecedented rise stems from fossil fuel combustion and will wreak havoc on the Earth’s climate if unchecked.” At 14.  Moreover, it concluded that: “Absent some action, the destabilizing climate will bury cities, spawn life-threatening natural disasters, and jeopardize critical food and water supplies.”  At 15.  And, “The record also establishes that the government’s contribution to climate change is not simply a result of inaction. The government affirmatively promotes fossil fuel use in a host of ways, including beneficial tax provisions, permits for imports and exports, subsidies for domestic and overseas projects, and leases for fuel extraction on federal land.”  At 15-16.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) could not put the case for climate action better.

Since the case was dismissed because of the court’s lack power to redress the injuries, it may not have been necessary to go over the realities of climate change.  But the court did so, and indeed concluded by suggesting that:

The plaintiffs have made a compelling case that action is needed; it will be increasingly difficult in light of that record for the political branches to deny that climate change is occurring, that the government has had a role in causing it, and that our elected officials have a moral responsibility to seek solutions. We do not dispute that the broad judicial relief the plaintiffs seek could well goad the political branches into action. Diss. at 45–46, 49–50, 57–61. We reluctantly conclude, however, that the plaintiffs’ case must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large, the latter of which can change the composition of the political branches through the ballot box.  At 11.

So the majority, case-dismissing court has sent a clear signal that climate denial arguments will not pass muster in that court.   The Ninth Circuit court is widely regarded as the most liberal of the thirteen Appeals Courts, and, to its credit, often evokes tirades from Trump.  It is widely respected and other courts likely will follow this lead.   In any case, it will be increasingly more difficult for courts to embrace climate denialism.

While the court’s adoption of the experts served the significant purpose of supporting climate action, yet the experts may have undermined their own case. The submissions by the plaintiffs’ experts convinced the court of the dire straits the earth is in.  Indeed the majority began its opinion, probably as only the 9th Circuit could, by citing a popular 1960s song, Eve of Destruction, to describe the current status of the climate.  The experts argued, in part, that any corrective actions less than a total transformation of the economy or energy markets would be ineffective.

They described the current status of climate breakdown so dramatically that they may have helped convince the court that there was nothing the court could do to alleviate the crisis and so it was not redressable, at least not by the federal court.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned from the Juliana case is that we have been largely successful in winning the rhetorical battle on how bad things are.  Now we need to concentrate on the rhetoric of what can be done.

While the facts and law are obviously very different, we do note that in contrast to the Ninth Circuit US court, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands held, in the Urgenda case, that the Dutch government is required to do its part in addressing the threat of dangerous climate change.  The Dutch court ordered the government to reduce GHG emissions by at least 25% by 2020, a limited form of relief that was requested by the plaintiffs.


Juliana vs. United States, No. 18-36082 (9th Circuit, January 17, 2020).

The State of the Netherlands and Stichting Urgenda (20 Dec 2019).

Climate Action for Others

Oh, yeh, for us too: music concerts, internet, and online shopping with home delivery


Often we exhort others — fossil fuel and all other industries, large and medium businesses, institutions, and politicians — to do more to counter climate breakdown.  As for individual actions, some, if not many, argue that individual action is nice but hardly sufficient to counter the unfolding climate breakdown, and that only international agreements will work.

There is no question that international actions are necessary.  But that does not nullify the push to have individuals to take what actions they can.   First, if those engaged in the larger conversations and arguments ignore their own carbon footprint, they undermine their “global” arguments.  Second, if individuals who are living their life outside the bubble of international negotiations are encouraged to take what actions they can, they more likely will support what is unfolding on the larger stage, and also push their local politicians to support regional, national and international climate actions.  Otherwise they can dismiss their individual responsibilities on the grounds that it is up to others to resolve this overwhelming problem.

Finally, in 2019 we have seen that collective street actions and protests have generated widespread support and pressure on local and national governments while international forums are ineffectual, and at times regressive, thanks to autocratic-led governments like the United States, Russia, Australia, Brazil, Hungary and Poland.

So individual action is much needed.

The focus on individual action often is about switching to more efficient light bulbs, avoiding plastic bottles, and walking or riding public transport instead of driving private cars — all most useful steps.  But there are other more challenging individual actions that require broader behavioral changes.   Here are a few of those challenging behaviors, applicable especially to privileged people.

Music Concerts

With a nod of deep appreciation to Greta Thunberg, “flight shame,” or “flygskam” in Sweden, is increasingly undercutting air travel because of its heavy carbon emissions.   While many of us rely on air travel from time to time, and need to avoid even that usage as much as possible, others rely on air travel as a significant part of their life style or work experiences.

One instance is the music business where many, if not most, successful musicians, whether from the world of rock or classical music, fly to a lot to concerts they arrange.  Some musicians perform close to 100 concerts a year, around the world, to reach their audiences.  Some are beginning to acknowledge the impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from these actions.

Arranging a global tour for a rock or classical group, or individuals, requires use of concert halls and large venues, like sports stadiums.  Each facility will be responsible for GHG emissions, in construction and operation, and these have to be calculated.  Audiences have to travel, from near or far.  The performers have to travel around the country or world.

The question is to what extent do they “have to” travel like this.







Some performers are offsetting concerts with music written as a reaction to climate breakdown, and donating proceeds of any sales or performance of that music to environmental projects.  Some are substituting train for air travel.  Several are working with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research to assess the impacts from concerts and to find solutions.

Some are re-organising their tours to concentrate their concerts in space and time to reduce travel.

While the music business is dealing with its GHG emissions, so too should the global climate negotiations business as it periodically brings together thousands of people from far distances to one spot.

We do need to acknowledge that coming together to experience music can be thrilling, and networking with others trying to address climate breakdown can be very useful.  And exploring other cultures at far distances in person can be enlightening, and advance global relations.  At the same time, we need to think about alternatives, including telecommunications.

The Internet

You used the internet to get access to this magazine and to read this BLOG.  If you think that is unusual behavior, just count the number of days you did not use the internet in the past week, month, year.  Probably not too many, if any.  Indeed many are connected to the internet from the moment they wake until they go to sleep.  The explosion of live streaming has deepened that reliance.

And all this connectedness comes at a heavy cost, not just for your personal budget but also for your personal GHG footprint.  “Streaming one hour of Netflik a week requires more electricity, annually, than the yearly output of two new refrigerators.”  Lozano, in Sources.  The internet accounts for 10% of global electricity demand, and it is estimated that the internet will use 20% of global electricity by 2030, producing more carbon than any country except China, India, and the United States.  Moreover, half the world’s population has not yet logged on the internet, but they are coming soon.






At the same time that the internet is draining more electricity, and producing more carbon, it is becoming more vulnerable to the very climate breakdown to which it is contributing.  Data centres require cooling and energy, and these costs will rise in hotter environments.  Thousands of miles of conduits, tubes and wires will be destroyed by salt from water from coastal flooding, and rare earth metals necessary for the internet will become rarer and more costly with climate changes.  As faster 5G wireless networks expand, along with 4k and 8k video, clouds and streaming, GHG emissions will ride along with this growth.  It has been suggested that the total electricity usage of the internet could reach 50% of global usage.

Some are promising to create a satellite-distributed internet, or files on “manufactured DNA,” whatever that means.  But as usual, such technology may be available only to the well-off.

Some propose that we need local control over internet usage, not unlike local control over energy supplies with locally owned wind and solar power.  For example, when superstorm Hurricane Sandy struck New York City, Goldman Sachs protected its headquarters, in a vulnerable spot in lower Manhattan, with thousands of sandbags and backup power generators.  A short ferry ride away, a section of Brooklyn, Red Hook, lost power for weeks.  However, a section of Red Hook happened to be the site of a pilot program where a foundation had created a local intranet system, called a MESH network, built on rooftops of homes.  That system, with its inherent limitations, remained in operation during the power loss.

While system-wide advances develop in reducing the GHGs from the internet, you can certainly shut off your connections whenever possible.

Buying Online with Home Delivery

More than 1.5 million packages are delivered every day in New York City.  The systems behind these deliveries also deliver gridlock, pollution, and safety risks.  And it is clear that online shopping and home delivery of all these purchases is only going to increase.  As one CEO of a delivery company noted, “Seven years ago, thinking that you’d be getting cheeseburgers delivered by the millions was kind of crazy, right?”  That’s right!  Ingram, in Sources.

Besides cheeseburgers, we also get groceries, household goods, furniture — almost anything that can fit in a box.

Besides the convenience of all this stuff showing up on our doorstep or in our lobby, the deliveries are creating havoc on our streets.  Cities were not designed to handle all this local traffic, much of which represents the “last mile” of delivery, that portion of the entire delivery from distribution or fulfillment centres to doorstep.  The “last mile” can account for up to 28% of delivery costs.

Warehouses that can store goods for this last mile, generally within the city, are now required also within or on the edge of cities.  The trend now is for building vertical, multifloor warehouses because of the cost of land within large cities.

There just is not enough room in most cities for street access and parking to accommodate all the vans and trucks needed for these deliveries.



Lisle Illinois Library system


While city planners are struggling with the design of new spaces and re-design of existing spaces, others are searching for short-term fixes.  Some are experimenting with delivery by drones, cargo bikes and electric scooters.  Others are requiring customers to meet drivers at the curb instead of the front door, or requiring customers to buy online but pick up in a store, which becomes a sort of a mini-fulfillment centre.  Presumably customers would pick up the order and take it home by walking, bike, cab, subway or bus.


Regardless of what people do in the global negotiations or what other individuals do, there is a lot of room for each of us to do things that will help reduce our GHG or carbon footprints.  And to help save the planet.



Jasper Parrott, “Classical music must play its part in tackling the climate crisis,” The Guardian (20 Dec 2019).

Laura Foster, “Climate Change:  Plan to cut carbon emissions from concerts,” BBC News (28 Nov 2019).

Kevin Lozano, “Can the Internet Survive Climate Change?” The New Republic (18 Dec 2019).

David Ingram, “Delivery dilemma: Americans are ordering more, but the U.S. can only handle so much:  The delivery crunch is a year-round phenomenon that’s causing people to rethink the design of American cities,” NBC News (23 Dec 2019).

Adam Robinson, “What Is Last Mile Logistics & Why Are More Shippers Looking at This Transportation Function?” Cerasis

What’s the Word from the UN Emissions Gap Report 2019


Just in time for the next climate negotiations, to be held in Madrid in December 2019, the UN Environment Programme has published its Emissions Gap Report 2019.  The report provides the current assessment of scientific studies on current and estimated future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and compares these with the emission levels permissible for the world to progress on a least-cost pathway to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. This difference between “where we are likely to be and where we need to be” has become known as the ‘emissions gap’.  This is the 10th such report from the UN and over those 10 years carbon dioxide emission have risen 11 percent.

So much for the global commitment to reduce GHG emissions.










Based on this current rate of emissions, we can expect a rise of 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by 2100 over the average temperature at the start of the industrial age, when GHG emissions started to change the atmosphere in significant ways.

That 3.2°C rise is more than double the targeted rise of 1.5°C in this time frame.  With this increased rise, impacts will be catastrophic, as has been documented by almost every climate breakdown study over the past 30 years.   The impacts include extreme weather events, which are becoming all too familiar; the accelerated melting of glaciers; and, the swelling of seas.  As a result, the lives of billions of people are and will be at risk.

The Gap report shows how recent developments are aggravating these dire results.  For example, some countries, including Canada and Norway, are promoting reduced GHG emissions at home while they expand production of fossil fuels for sale abroad.  Other reports have shown that the popularity of sport utility vehicles (S.U.V.s), which burn more gasoline than regular cars, wipes out much of the saving of fossil fuels from the slowly expanding electric vehicle market.

Given the ongoing expansion of GHG emissions, it will now be necessary for emissions to decline by 7.6% every year between 2020 and 2030 in order to make it possible to avoid some of those catastrophic impacts.  Yet we see a 1.5% increase every year over past ten years.










While the Report paints a bleak picture, it does offer some hope.  It points out that the picture would be even darker if countries had not taken steps to curb their GHG emissions over the past several decades.    Renewable energy sources, particularly wind and solar, are rapidly growing.  And young people across the globe are actively engaged in public demonstrations about climate breakdown.

It remains hard to be optimistic in light of the decline of international cooperation, thanks to the Trump-Putin alliance and other autocrats across the globe.  And let’s not forget that much of the control over those nasty fossil fuels remains with rather self-serving, greedy nation states.

Bleak, indeed.



UN Environment Programme, Emissions Gap Report 2019

Somini Sengupta, “‘Bleak’ U.N. Report on a Planet in Peril Looms Over New Climate Talks,” The New York Times (27 Nov 2019).

Umair Irfan, “UN: The world has backed itself into a treacherous corner on climate change,” Vox (27 Nov 2019).