THE LIGHTBULB

The quickly spreading coronavirus has closed schools, constricted travel, shaken markets and infected more than 100,000 people. It is also already having impact on the environment: The buildup of climate-warming emissions has dipped amid the outbreak.

The spread of a novel coronavirus around the world is nothing to celebrate. But it's true that dampened demand for electricity, oil and air travel in China has led to a drop in greenhouse gas emissions in that country, the world's largest contributor to climate change. And as the virus spreads, it may further weigh on economic activity in other nations and decrease their emissions.

These three charts explain what has happened to emissions during the outbreak — and where we may be going: 

1. The economy in China, the world's largest emitter, has contracted. And that downturn may be best seen by looking up. More than a dozen airlines have scaled back service in China, where the outbreak began late last year. From Jan. 23 to Feb. 13, the number of daily departures and arrivals fell from 15,072 to just 2,004, according to the New York Times:

The air travel industry is just one of many affected by the virus. “If there is a bright side to the coronavirus,” Elizabeth Economy, a China expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The Post, “it is that the drop in industrial production, manufacturing, and automobile use will produce a noticeable drop in CO2 emissions for at least the first two months of the year.”

2. So now there is less air pollution in China. As my colleagues Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens report, carbon emissions in China are down at least a quarter over February. So, too, has small-particle air pollution decreased. And most dramatically of all, concentrations of another pollutant released by burning fossil fuels called nitrogen dioxide — pictured below —  are down also about 40 percent.

3. But don't expect it to last. Past crises — including the Great Depression, the oil shortages in the 1970s and, yes, an influenza pandemic in 1918 — have spurred drops in emissions before. But those declines proved to be fleeting. After the global economy regained its footing following the last dip during 2008 financial crash, for example, “[e]missions started to rise again almost immediately,” Mooney, Dennis and Muyskens write.

 

Read more here:

Climate and Environment
Emissions are already way down in China, the world's largest yearly contributor to climate change.
Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens

POWER PLAYS

— Oil prices tank amid outbreak: Saudi Arabia is flooding the market with hundreds of thousands of barrels of additional oil per day in yet another effect of the coronavirus outbreak, Will Englund reports.

  • What happened: To prop up oil prices as the virus spreads, Saudi Arabia had pushed last week for a steep cut in production by OPEC countries and Russia. “But Russia balked, not wanting to give up market share, and over the weekend, the Saudis turned 180 degrees.”
  • The effect on the price of oil: In the wake of the move, the price of U.S. benchmark West Texas intermediate crude fell from about $41 to $32 a barrel Sunday night — a four-year low.
  • What the move means for drivers — and for oil companies: “While the tumble should lower prices at the pump for consumers, it is terrible news for stock markets, as well as oil companies and their massive workforces, which could see hard times ahead … Analysts fear the move is the beginning of a price war between the Saudis and Russia — which will squeeze American shale oil producers as prices are heading sharply downward.”

— GAO says BLM did not properly assess impact of move: A report from the Government Accountability Office said the Trump administration relocated the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters “without fully supporting its reasons for doing so,” The Post’s Darryl Fears reports

  • More details: The report also said the agency has “not completed a strategic workforce plan that demonstrates how it will recruit for and fill vacant positions resulting from the relocation.”
  • The reaction: Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who requested the GAO investigation, said the “administration has created an intentionally abusive and cruel relationship between the federal government and its employees.”
  • What BLM says: “In a statement, bureau officials disagreed with some of the report’s findings but said it vindicated them against” the claim from Grijalva that the relocation was carried out hastily, per Fears.
  • What next: GAO “will continue investigating the Bureau of Land Management's reorganization plan and could issue a second report on its findings in the next month,” per E&E, which added it’s “not clear what GAO would focus on in a possible second report.”

— These are the amendments Senate Democrats are focusing on in the energy package: Democrats are zeroing in on a pair of amendments — one on energy efficiency and another that seeks to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons — for the sprawling energy package from Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). 

  • What Murkowski said: “Our bill now addresses priorities from nearly 70 members of the Senate. We have made it even better than it was, and now we need to move on to our final steps,” the Alaska Republican said on the Senate floor last week.
  • But: “The list, however, doesn't include several provisions that Democrats — and some Republicans — have been fighting to add in,” The Hill reports. That includes a proposed amendment from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on expanding tax incentives for electric vehicles and renewable energy.

— Heartland Institute’s financial misfortune: The right-wing think tank allied with the Trump administration has laid off nearly a dozen staffers, HuffPost reports

  • What Heartland does: The group dismisses the consensus among climate scientists that human activity is warming the planet. Last month it made headlines for paying a German teenager, Naomi Seibt, to question established climate science.
  • What it says now: The layoffs, the group wrote in a statement, “will put us in a stronger financial position to continue advocating for personal freedom, as well as to continue our important role in educating the public and public officials about climate alarmism.”

— This 3-inch hook could determine whether PG&E committed a crime: The decades-old metal hook, called the “C-hook,” broke on Nov. 8, 2018. That caused a high-voltage electric line to fall, helping spark the Camp Fire that killed 85 people. 

  • Why it matters: Whether the state’s largest utility, which has hundreds of thousands of hooks, was “negligent in inspecting and replacing these hooks has emerged as a key factor in a continuing California investigation that could determine whether the company and some of its former executives face criminal charges for their role in wildfires,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

DAYBOOK

Coming Up

  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management holds a hearing on FEMA’s priorities on Wednesday. 
  • The House Natural Resources Committee holds a markup on Wednesday. 
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies holds a hearing in the “Impact of PFAS Exposure on Servicemembers” on Wednesday. 
  • The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment holds a hearing on climate change on Thursday. 

EXTRA MILEAGE

— Astronauts wanted: NASA is hiring astronauts for the first time in four years, Ben Guarino reports. Please note the job description says: “Extensive travel required.”