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A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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Coronavirus and Climate Change

Uploaded: Mar 7, 2020
“Coronavirus and Climate Change”. How’s that for a depressing headline? In some ways I see the former as a mini version of the latter. Both are serious problems with potentially far-reaching health and economic impacts whose mitigation demands global coordination. One important difference is that we can see the end of the coronavirus. We will have a vaccine in about a year, and we can make plans with that in mind. We also have experience with similar issues, and can generally anticipate how this will play out. Climate change has many more unknowns, with potentially graver risks to our entire ecosystem. There is no end in sight, and we have no analog for it. It is also slower moving. Despite the differences, we can look at our response to coronavirus and consider whether our experience with it will change how we think about addressing and preparing for climate change. I think the learnings below apply to both.

Science takes time and money. The coronavirus process has made us more aware that we don’t magically “know” things about viruses, like how long they persist in different environments, how easily they pass between people, or even the fatality rate of the diseases they cause. This takes time, people, and diligence. We also see that we can’t instantaneously come up with safe vaccines. Good science takes long-term, sustained investment. It can’t just be trotted out when you need it. We should not muzzle, hollow out, de-fund, or redirect the agencies and organizations whose work this is, whether it is personal or environmental health.

We need to pull together as a community. The response to coronavirus is, in many ways, a plea to people to do the right thing. If we each take steps to improve our hygiene and stay home when sick, it will protect the most vulnerable members of our community. The solution isn’t something that only a few people can do, or that only a few people need to worry about. We all need to chip in.

Little things matter. In that same vein, we see that little things matter, and in fact little things are the big things, until a vaccine can be developed. It is not enough to engage in “business as usual” while waiting for the vaccine. Technical remediations take time. The small actions, whether it is washing your hands or eating less beef, are important steps to take in the interim.

Government plays an important role. Government health agencies are informing us about what matters and what we can do to help. People, organizations, and businesses are listening. Effective, science-driven policies and communications from our government work. Without that, rumors, misinformation, and uncertainty lead to inaction and discord. And that is exactly where we have been with climate change in the US for decades.

Transparency is key. We make better progress when countries share accurate and timely data. If countries let national pride or other politics get in the way, it hurts the effort by masking the truth. We should come to these globe-spanning problems with a spirit of cooperation, addressing a common need, and keep a lid on casting blame or touting one’s superiority. As one example, the current lack of testing and misguided focus on having “good numbers” in the US is a travesty. We should have no tolerance for this, whether it is coronavirus or emissions data.

Planning reduces instability. The fast-changing nature of coronavirus has meant that elements of our economy are changing very quickly. We haven’t seen this play out yet, but it is worrying. Some might say that this has been good for the climate. On the contrary, it’s a lesson on what we don’t want to do. When we are reactive and panicked, the impacts are distorted and worse than they need to be. Last-minute emergencies can move attention from root causes to quick fixes. Planning aggressively in advance for events like this is not alarmism. It is smart.

We are not immune. (1) Finally, we learn that when science says we are all at risk, it pays to listen. As early as February 24, Dr. James Hamblin wrote an essay for The Atlantic titled “You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus”. That was an eye-opener for me. Sometimes we see things happening in far-off places and think it won’t happen to us. We may similarly write off one or two things that do happen locally. If we all acted as though this would impact us, directly, we might pay more attention.

This has been an anxious few weeks, and I expect there will be more to follow. I hope everyone is finding ways to stay healthy and hopeful, and to help those around them do so as well. Our strength and resilience in the face of this challenge will inform how we address similar challenges in the future. We can and should step up.

Notes and References
1. Pun intended...

Current Climate Data (January/February 2020)
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

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Comments

 +   27 people like this
Posted by Maurice, a resident of another community,
on Mar 7, 2020 at 1:35 pm

I really enjoy reading your columns and appreciate your insights, but, it's important to realize that more or less you're preaching to the choir. Many of us (myself included) live in a bubble. We associate with like-minded people, we're educated, we read, and we analyze what we read. But, many if not most of us probably have little or no exposure to less educated and less informed people and don't realize that they can be spectacularly uninformed. They're not less intelligent, just less informed.

I'm a recently retired physician having worked for the last 20 years in a small, blue collar and poorly educated community on the east coast of Canada. In my role as a physician, I loved to speak with my patients about current affairs, politics, environment and so on before dealing with the reason for their visit. I always ran late because of conversations we had. It never ceased to amaze me how uninformed people were. My best example of this was a woman who had moved to my community from the USA about 30 years earlier. She was still an American citizen and voted in US elections.

She lamented about the poor health care given to her aging and ailing sisters who live in the US and she reveled in how lucky she was with her health care in Canada, YET SHE VOTED FOR TRUMP. Why, because her family had always voted Republican. When I explained things to her in terms I hoped she could understand, it was as if a light went off. She really had no idea of the damage being done to the US by the Republicans.

What's my point? Trump and his supporters don't believe anything that comes from an intelligent educated source. This interview clip is mind boggling.

Web Link

The Black Plague and the Spanish Flu killed millions and they did not develop suddenly. Looking back historically we see the damage but when it was happening, it was slow and took years. We're at the beginning of a probable global catastrophe. So far, looking at it in an insular fashion, it's on the US west coast and also in New York City among other places. It's also in Canada but has not yet reached the east coast.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 picks off the weak, the immunosuppressed and one ophthalmologist. I'm worried for my spouse and me (I'm a retired ophthalmologist and Dr. Li, the Chinese ophthalmologist who was among the first to sound the alarm has died). I'm sorry to be so pessimistic but I suspect that by the time a vaccine is available, the pandemic will have become firmly established and countless people will have died. I hope I'm wrong. I'm not going to discuss antivaxxers.

The climate issue meanwhile continues.


 +   22 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 7, 2020 at 2:19 pm

Now may not be the time to be worried about the issue in light of the safety concerns surrounding the virus.

Starbucks is not refilling reusable cups.

Grocery stores and similar in many cases are not bagging in customers' reusable bags but insisting on using their own new paper bags.

Paper towels are much more hygienic that air blowers or even cloth towels at home.

Napkins are being used to hold food and paper rather than cloth napkins are more likely to be hygienic.

We are using more water as we wash our hands more frequently and for longer.

More laundry is being done as we keep aim to keep ourselves cleaner by not wearing clothes as more than one day, towels more frequently, etc.

Keeping ourselves healthy has to be the main issue.


 +   16 people like this
Posted by Deep status of the deep state, a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos),
on Mar 7, 2020 at 2:29 pm

- Government plays an important role.

Nah, b. Gub'mint just a bunch of deep-state operatives. I hear this on AM radio and the teevee machine.


 +   19 people like this
Posted by David Coale, a resident of Barron Park,
on Mar 7, 2020 at 10:36 pm

While there are many similarities between the coronavirus and climate change, there are two very important areas where they are different. The first one is the time scale and the second one is the economics.

The coronavirus is has spread world wide in only a few months and has caught everyone's attention (regardless of political party) as an immediate threat that has to be dealt with right a way. And governments and people are taking actions right a way to try and avoid the worst out comes and resources are forth coming, though a bit slower in this country.

While climate change is a much greater threat to the entire planet, since the time frame is seen as less urgent, we have not seen the mobilization needed to avoid the worst out comes. The issue has become politicized in this country and our current government is doing as much as possible to drive us in the wrong direction as fast as possible. In the early 2000's a reduction of 2 to 3% of carbon emissions per year would have been enough to stay below 2 degrees temperature change. By 2010 reductions would have to have been around 5 to 8% per year and now the needed carbon reductions are more like 10 to 12 % per year and emissions are still going up. We can't put off actions on climate change any longer and think that we will really have a chance of saving the planet as the level of effort just won't be possible in the time left to avoid disaster.

While there will be economic disruptions from the coronavirus, the solutions to climate change will actually be far better for the economy than business as usual. So why are we not getting started with climate change solutions? World wide we are subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, harmful agriculture practices and other harmful business with trillions of dollars that should be spent on renewable energy, clean transportation and restorative agriculture practices. Until we get a price on carbon and stop subsidizing the destructive businesses, we are not going to make the needed headway on climate change to save our planet.


 +   15 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Mar 8, 2020 at 4:37 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Interesting comments, thanks! I have a few thoughts to add, but would love to hear more.

@Maurice: Great comment and story, thanks! FWIW, I’m not sure I agree that this blog is preaching to the choir, and that the big problem is uninformed Trump supporters. Our community, like most, is pretty diverse. Yes, uninformed Trump supporters are having difficulty with these changes, but there are many reasons for inertia, for second-guessing experts, or for just having a tendency to want to listen to people who scoff at “alarmism” and “over-reacting”, particularly when there are elements of truth to all of that. None of this is easy. I think it’s helpful for all of us to think about how we as individuals and how our countries more generally are responding to coronavirus and to climate change, and consider what similarities and differences we see, and think about why that is. What lessons will we take from coronavirus?

@David: Yes, a critical distinction is that our response to climate change does not have to hurt the economy. And it better not, because those changes are much longer-term. A different economy does not have to be a worse economy, and it could in fact be a better one.

@Resident: Keep in mind that climate change is largely about greenhouse gases, and so involves reducing emissions from “the big four”: transportation (cars, planes), diet (beef, food waste), home energy (space and water heating), and general consumption. But, switching gears to trash, you pose an interesting question, namely, can we be hygienic without creating lots of trash? I certainly hope so. But some of it is not obvious to me. I hope at some point to do a post on hospitals and how they approach sustainability in general and reducing single-use items specifically, since it strikes me as difficult.

Thanks again for the great comments.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Change Is Both Good & Bad, a resident of Barron Park,
on Mar 9, 2020 at 8:48 am

COVID-19 & global warming. Are the two inter-related?

If so, expect more mutant viruses in the future.

If not, expect milder winters with springtime temperatures.

Maybe the SF Bay Area will someday boast that its year-round weather/climate rivals that of San Diego.

The result...expect even more population congestion & spread of communicable diseases.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Cent or two, a resident of Professorville,
on Mar 9, 2020 at 12:36 pm

"If not, expect milder winters with springtime temperatures."

Based on what?

Wilder weather swings, more drought, more fires, etc...


 +   19 people like this
Posted by Change Is Both Good & Bad, a resident of Barron Park,
on Mar 9, 2020 at 3:15 pm

> Based on what? Wilder weather swings, more drought, more fires, etc...

You can't have it both ways. Even SoCal is known for a fire or two with occasional drought.


 +   13 people like this
Posted by Rick, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Mar 9, 2020 at 3:25 pm

"The small actions, whether it is washing your hands or eating less beef, are important steps to take in the interim.

Eating carbs, especially sugar and grains, are driving the obesity epidemic and metabolic disease. Eating beef and other animal proteins do not cause obesity and metabolic disease. Pardon me if I prioritize my health over monoculture and non-scientific retrospective studies on diet.

Best,

Rick


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Beef. It's What's For Dinner, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Mar 9, 2020 at 4:21 pm

[Comment removed, poster using multiple names]


 +   17 people like this
Posted by Charles, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 9, 2020 at 6:43 pm

Once again Climate Change rears it head. The news of constant climate change is getting old. I love how the posters throw out their politics with anti Trump hysteria.
I thought Al Gore solved Climate Change while he was inventing the internet... Relax, I know he never said that, just fun to throw it out like climate change


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Menlomaniac, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 10:55 am

The Climate is getting warmer. How much is natural and how much is anthropogenic is the real question.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Aseem Prakash, a resident of another community,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 11:20 am


this might be of interest:

Coronavirus And Global Supply Chain Disruption: A Wake-Up Call For Climate Policy?

Web Link


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Cent or two, a resident of Professorville,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 12:40 pm

The deniers, while both small in size and feeble of facts, sure do love to troll.

Hottest years on record, other demonstrable facts, etc.. and all they have is noise.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Tropical Attire In Winter, a resident of another community,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 2:50 pm

[Post removed, commenter using multiple names]


 +   7 people like this
Posted by C, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 5:16 pm

I really dislike how climate change has taken the center of ecology. It's made conservation into a political football -- and CoVid is now one, too.

Back in my days, during the 70's, we didn't have this climate change arguing. We had "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle". Nobody made that into a political issue, and you could *see* the litter on the street and you knew smog from cars was getting into your lungs. Nobody was intruding into your daily lives, but you could see trash bins around the city and cars everywhere reminding you that pollution was still an issue.

I'm fine with regulating large businesses, such as oil and energy companies -- because we do that already. Governments should subsidize the use of recycled materials, and tax the use of virgin materials, both foreign and domestically produced. That means, as consumers, we'll still pay the costs of conversation, but it hopefully won't be political, and it certainly won't be as intrusive to our daily lives.

Speaking of which, I'd like to thank Palo Alto for the bins. Dunno how many of you remember the old days of separating the crates into glass, metal, and paper, but I think the bins are a much more convenient and less messy way for residents to recycle. Obviously, it transfers the work of separation to the city (and we probably pay for it), but I think the easier you make it to recycle, the more recycling gets done.

As said, now that CoVid has become a political issue, it's going to have the same delays that protecting the environment has. Given how much can change in a week, that's not good news. YOYO.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Sophie88, a resident of another community,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 6:14 pm

With outbreak of Coronavirus in China since December , many factories have been closed, many industrial activities have been suspended, few cars have been on the road, people have been staying at home for more than 2 months. This certainly reduced carbon emission greatly. Global wide, international travels have been down to minimum, freight are reduced at least 1/3, which also reduce carbon emission greatly. Ironically, this incident actually has positive impact on climate change.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of another community,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 1:59 am

I live in France now, but am told that Palo Altans are among the biggest hoarders of paper and plastic-based products since COVID-19 became a thing. Palo Altans are also notorious for big energy-burning houses (face it - square footage and energy consumption go hand in hand), and Palo Altans are deniers when it comes to the fact that recycling does nothing to help the environment (re-use does, but show me the Palo Altans that live by that credo, helloooooo?).

The climate alarmists I know generally drive the biggest cars, have the biggest homes and the fattest travel CO2 footprints. Until the author and her PA readers walk the walk, I would kindly ask that they don't talk the talk.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by parler des mensonges, a resident of Green Acres,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 6:32 am

[Post removed for disparaging comments]


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 7:53 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Rick: Ha, yeah, there are a lot of sources of dietary input! FWIW, the reports I’ve seen on beef consumption, with regard to climate, suggest that getting to one-quarter pound of beef per person per week would be great. So it’s not zero, and it also doesn’t specify whether you substitute fried chicken and pulled pork, or lean meat and legumes, or grilled cheese and pasta. But it’s clear that a few foods (beef, lamb, farmed shrimp) have a very outsized contribution to global warming, and the recommendation is that we limit those things in our diet. But, unlike with hand washing, we aren’t hearing a clarion call for that from our government, and it’s not even something to be found in the EPA’s footprint calculator.


Source: NY Times

@Charles: I kind of agree with you that it’s getting old. But it’s not going away, in fact it’s getting worse, and we aren’t doing much about it. Probably the best way to stop the drone is for the government to get real about it, like we are starting to do with this virus.

@Menlo: When you make a claim like that, that is so far from established science (which is clear that this change is anthropogenic), please include a reference, or I will need to moderate it out. It does help to see the reference, because it gives us something to talk about.

@Prakeesh: Thanks for the link -- nice article! Worrisome about the supply chain challenges for the rare earth minerals that we need to decarbonize, particularly about a few countries having a near-monopoly. I hope we can R&D our way around it, and/or find a way to encourage global cooperation. None of this is easy, is it?

@Chris: It would be great to get your perspective on climate-friendly practices and policies that you see in France that you would recommend for the mid-Peninsula. I hope you share those.

You may be new to the blog, but as you can imagine, hypocrisy comes up often. It’s fair to express frustration about it, but please refrain from angry generalizations about Palo Altans, or anyone else. More generally, please review the commenting guidelines and abide by them.

FWIW, a number of comments have argued that some form of “better” behavior is needed before a person can advocate for the climate. “You shouldn’t say anything until you do xyz.” It seems like you are saying “xyz” includes living in a small home and driving a small car? If you want to dig into the topic of hypocrisy, I’d ask that you be thoughtful in spelling out what you’d like to see or not see, and why. Consider also the perspective of people in developing countries, not just in Europe. Importantly, please avoid antagonistic or ad hominem comments, or I will have to moderate them since they are not conducive to a productive discussion.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Rick, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 10:49 am

@Sherry, I hear you :) I've never cared about my diet for most of the last 60 years except that I've never really liked highly processed foods. Full disclosure: A friend turned my on to the Ketogenic diet about a month ago and I've embraced that. Zero carbs, zero sugar, 75% fat, 25% protein. My energy levels are through the roof and I'm shedding visceral fat.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Dementia Joe, a resident of Professorville,
on Mar 12, 2020 at 5:33 pm

@Sherry: love your stuff " keep up the good work.

@Mauricio: good stuff as well. Speaking of Trump and Biden: Today Biden blasted Trump's Coronavirus response, and then went on to plagiarize Trump's Plan. Of course, plagiarism has always been one of Biden's strong suits!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Bette, a resident of Stanford,
on Mar 13, 2020 at 5:10 pm

I have thought a great deal about the relationship the the virus impacts and climate change.

It is extraordinary that it is possible to change society in an instant.

We can easily see that there can be dramatic drops in fossil fuel use immediately. There are far fewer cars on the roads and airlines are cutting back.

This time holds a positive message for me that we don't just have to walk off the cliff into extinction. The necessary compassion is emerging as folks on Nextdoor offer kindly to get groceries for elders.

We hold the power to change.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by parler des mensonges, a resident of Green Acres,
on Mar 13, 2020 at 6:19 pm

"plagiarize Trump's Plan"

What is "Trump's Plan"? (Other than incessant fretting on twitter about the Trump Bear Market and how it's killing his feeble reelect chances.)


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Mar 14, 2020 at 10:32 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Bette: I agree! There is absolutely no doubt that we could avoid the worst parts of climate change, while at the same time making many other improvements to our health and well-being (e.g., air quality), if we would only agree to do so. In the case of coronavirus, after a significant delay in the US, we are making change. Why is that? And how do we ensure it happens for climate change as well, in a timely enough fashion? Why are there so many angry people in these forums about coronavirus, but almost no angry people about climate change? (Not that angry is a good approach, but it is an indicator of concern.)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, and a hopeful takeaway.


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