with Paulina Firozi

Here's one surprising result of the mass quarantines taking place across the globe: The animal kingdom has more free rein.

My colleague Terrence McCoy has a vivid dispatch from Rio de Janeiro about the resurgence of wild animals in public spaces as the coronavirus pandemic sends billions of people indoors and empties the streets.

“Wild boar have descended onto the streets of Barcelona. Mountain goats have overtaken a town in Wales. Whales are chugging into Mediterranean shipping lanes,” he writes. And in Brazil, the sea turtles are hatching and dashing to the ocean in peace.

With many Brazilian beaches closed due to stay-at-home orders, environmentalist Herbert Andrade has witnessed sea turtle hatchings like never before. (The Washington Post)

As McCoy puts it: “The apparent resiliency of the natural world is leavening a global tragedy with brief moments of wonderment. For people. And, apparently, for animals, too.” 

“The goats absolutely love it,” Andrew Stuart, a resident of Llandudno, Wales, tells Terrence about the goats that apparently stroll into town to eat windowsill flowers and take over parking lots. 

“They’re taking the town back. It’s now theirs," Stuart said of the goats.  

With everyone inside, Stuart added: “Nothing is stopping them.” 

Andrew Stuart, a resident of Llandudno, Wales, followed a herd of goats as they continued to return to town over a period of days from March 26 to March 31. (The Washington Post)

Here are the goats on the lam:

Conservationists hope the pandemic brings more opportunity to secure environmental protections.

They, along with animal rights activists, tell McCoy it's possible that the benefits to wild animals will go beyond the short term.

“I am hopeful,” anthropologist Jane Goodall told The Post. “I am. I lived through World War II. By the time you get to 86, you realize that we can overcome these things. One day we will be better people, more responsible in our attitudes toward nature.”

Three-quarters of emerging diseases come from animals. 

And research suggests the risks are “exacerbated by deforestation, hunting and the global wildlife trade, particularly in exotic or endangered species,” per McCoy. Wildlife markets “have been linked to both severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.” 

Some action is already happening in the wake of the coronavirus. 

“China, whose insatiable demand for animal parts drives much of the global wildlife trade, has taken the extraordinary step of banning the consumption of wild animals, and may do the same for dogs. Vietnam, another country with a large demand for animal products, said it intends to follow suit,” per McCoy.  

“The U.N. biodiversity chief has called for a global ban on wildlife markets. So have 60 members of the U.S. Congress. More than 200 of the world’s leading conservation groups have asked the World Health Organization to take action against the wildlife trade. A World Wildlife Fund survey of 5,000 people in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia found 90 percent supported government closures of unregulated wildlife markets.”

This is all having an impact on demand for illegal wildlife trafficking. “The ripple effects of enforcement in Asia could be felt as far away as Latin America, where jaguars and turtles are hunted and killed to meet demand in China,” McCoy writes. 

Read more here:

NOTE TO READERS: We are on a limited schedule this week and will not publish on Friday. The Energy 202 will be back in your inbox on Monday, April 20. 

Power plays

Democrats are worried coronavirus relief funds could help the fossil fuel industry. 

Dozens of Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the chairman of the Federal Reserve to oppose any use of coronavirus aid to help the fossil fuel industry.  

“Funds from the CARES Act are intended to support struggling families, workers, businesses, states, and municipalities,” read the letter from Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) and 39 colleagues in both chambers. “Giving that money to the fossil fuel industry will do nothing to stop the spread of the deadly virus or provide relief to those in need. It will only artificially inflate the fossil fuel industry’s balance sheets.” 

House Democrats want pipeline projects paused during the pandemic. 

Nearly 30 Democratic lawmakers led by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to place a moratorium on new natural gas-pipeline projects as well as Liquefied Natural Gas export facilities during the coronavirus crisis. 

“Continuing with business-as-usual during this crisis when so many Americans are unable to participate in the review process will cast a dark cloud over the integrity and results of your proceedings,” the letter reads. “…With our nation struggling to manage the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, FERC must issue an immediate moratorium on the approval and construction of new shale-gas pipeline projects and Liquid Natural Gas export facilities to protect the public health, our environment, and the American people’s confidence in the integrity of governmental administrative and legal proceedings.” 

Coronavirus fallout

Thousands of clean-energy workers lost their jobs last month. 

More than 106,000 clean-energy workers filed for unemployment benefits in March, according to a new report from clean-energy advocacy group Environmental Entrepreneurs. And that number is set to grow, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“Consultants at BW Research who analyzed the numbers also project that the clean energy sector will shed more than 500,000 jobs — or 15% of its workforce — in the months ahead ‘if no additional actions are taken to support the industries,’” per the report. “Two-thirds of the people who have lost their jobs so far work in energy efficiency, which includes heating and air conditioning and the installation of efficient lighting and appliances — work that often involves going into people’s homes. Renewable electricity, which includes wind and solar power, was the next most-affected sector, followed by the production of electric and hybrid cars.” 

Controlled burns on public lands in the West have been put on pause. 

The Trump administration has suspended controlled burns — a toll used to prevent blazes in wildfire-prone California — on public lands in the state as the pandemic spreads. The U.S. Forest Service’s move at the end of last month is mean to protect first responders, Reuters reports.

The move “comes as forecasters predict yet another above-average year for wildfires in parts of the state because of dry conditions, and follows President Donald Trump’s repeated criticism of California’s own forest management work following the 2018 fires.” 

A spokesman for the Forest Service in California did not say when they would restart. The fire director for the U.S. Forest Service region in Washington and Oregon said controlled burns are halted there, too. 

Oil check

The oil supply in the United States is overflowing. 

Tanks storing crude oil are almost 65 percent full as a result of the coronavirus-fueled global oil supply glut. Oil demand has plummeted, and prices are at record lows.

“After an increase of 19.2 million barrels, there are 503.6 million barrels of crude in commercial tanks across the U.S., 6 percent above the seasonal average, the Energy Information Administration said Wednesday,” the Houston Chronicle reports. “The U.S. has an estimated capacity of 768.8 million barrels at refineries and commercial tank farms.” 

Global warming watch

The climate crisis continues as the world grapples with a pandemic. 

Climate change is often called a threat multiplier. As The Post’s Sarah Kaplan writes, it “exacerbates existing problems and creates new ones. No aspect of life on this planet has been untouched by climate change — viruses included.” 

In some ways, the current pandemic is not connected to climate change. “Although climate change is expected to worsen many kinds of disease, especially tropical illnesses carried by insects, coronaviruses like the current one are not on the list,” she writes. “…The virus doesn’t appear to care what the average global temperature is.”

But in other ways, climate change is connected. “Most of the pandemics of the past 100 years — indeed, most of the diseases that humans can have — were caused by “zoonoses,” or germs that come from other animals,” Kaplan adds. “…By altering the environment at a faster rate than any other moment in geologic history, scientists say, humans have created a wealth of chances for viruses to evolve.” 

And specific to the current public health crisis, a Harvard University study of those sickened in the coronavirus pandemic found “people living in polluted environments are far less able to fight off the disease — an issue that will become even more prominent as the planet warms.” 

There are record-shattering temperatures in parts of the United States. 

Most of Florida, for example, has endured record heat in the past month.

Some of the temperatures are “rivaling typical readings during the heart of summer. Miami even endured its earliest heat wave on record last week, when it hit at least 90 degrees on three consecutive days,” The Post’s Matthew Cappucci writes. “Miami’s temperature climbed to 95 on Friday, at a time of year when average highs are 83. To date, this April has been the city’s hottest on record coming after its second-warmest March.” 

The warming bears a fingerprint of climate change, he adds. “[L]ike nearly all major cities in the Lower 48, Miami has been warming — but, in Miami’s case, while also dealing with the growing dangers of climate-driven sea level rise.” 

Climate change could begin destroying many animal species within the next decade

If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, The New York Times's Catrin Einhorn reports that many animal species could collapse sooner than previously thought. Einhorn cites a study published this month in Nature, which she writes “predicted that large swaths of ecosystems would falter in waves, creating sudden die-offs that would be catastrophic not only for wildlife, but for the humans who depend on it.” 

“The study looked at more than 30,000 species on land and in water to predict how soon climate change would affect population levels and whether those levels would change gradually or suddenly,” Einhorn writes. “…When they examined the projections, the researchers were surprised that sudden collapses appeared across almost all species — fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals — and across almost all regions.” 

Key quote: “It’s not that it happens in some places. No matter how you slice the analysis, it always seems to happen,” Cory Merow, a University of Connecticut ecologist and one of the study’s authors, told Einhorn.  

More: “If greenhouse gas emissions remain on current trajectories, the research showed that abrupt collapses in tropical oceans could begin in the next decade,” Einhorn writes. “Coral bleaching events over the last several years suggest that these losses have already started, the scientists said. Collapse in tropical forests, home to some of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, could follow by the 2040s.”