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October 2020, Volume 26, Number 4
Climate: US, Amazon
The Government Accountability Office released a report in July 2020 that found the Trump Administration reduced the social cost of carbon to future generations to justify relaxing regulations aimed at slowing global warming. Democrats who requested the GAO review argued that the Obama administration’s estimate that the social cost of carbon should be $50 a ton in 2020 is correct. The Trump administration reduced the social cost of carbon to less than $10 a ton, which makes large energy projects feasible.
The two critical Trump administration assumptions are measuring only US damages from emitting carbon and changing the discount rate. Obama assumptions put the social cost of carbon at $82 a ton in 2050, while Trump assumptions make the cost $11.
In July 2020, new regulations were issued to reduce the time for environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, and to limit consideration of the cumulative effects of climate change of major projects to discourage suits that often delay projects. The Trump administration re-interpreted regulations that aim to protect air and water over 100 times to speed up the construction of energy and infrastructure projects.
The Trump administration in July 2020 reversed an Obama administration environmental impact statement to allow the development of the gold and cooper Pebble Mine, which would be the largest mine in North America. The issue is whether the mine would adversely affect salmon in Bristol Bay, the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery worth $1.4 billion a year. Pebble’s leaders were taped while boasting of their abilities to ensure government approval of the mine, putting a projected that aimed to mine $500 billion worth of minerals in jeopardy.
A September 2020 report on the Convention on Biological Diversity warned that the world is losing its biodiversity as plants and animals disappear. The report warned that loss of habitat due to farming, overfishing, and climate change were threatening many species. Governments spend five times more on environmentally harmful activities, such as building coal-fueled power plants, than they do to protect biodiversity.
China has the world’s largest long-distance fishing fleet of up to 17,000 vessels, compared with 300 for the US. Chinese fishing ships sometimes encroach on the 200-mile exclusive economic zone granted to all coastal nations by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, but more often overfish on the high seas.
Electric cars are two percent of vehicles sold in the US, and five percent of those sold in Europe, where the price of gasoline is higher and governments provide more subsidies to electric car buyers. The price of lithium-ion batteries is falling as their energy density increases. When the cost of battery packs drops from the current $150 or more per kilowatt hour to below $100, electric cars will be as cheap as gas-powered cars. As batteries improve, the range of electric cars should increase beyond the current maximum 300 miles on one charge.
Amazon. The Amazon is about 55 percent of the world’s rainforests, and 55 percent of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil. President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019 and relaxed restrictions on clearing the rainforest to plant crops and to develop pasture for cattle.
Some 3,900 square miles of Amazon were burned during the May through October dry season of 2019, up from an average 2,500 square miles a year burned during the previous decade. A similar amount of the Amazon forest is expected to be burned in summer 2020 despite the presence of army troops meant to deter illegal deforestation.
A study released in July 2020 that mapped new farm land in the Amazon rainforest and rural Cerrado over the past decade found that 20 percent of the soy exported by Brazil may have come from recently deforested areas; most Brazilian soy exports become feed for cattle, hogs and chickens. An even higher share of Brazilian beef exports may begin with cattle that are pastured in recently deforested areas.
The Amazon rainforest is believed to produce 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. Several European investment funds threatened to sell the stocks of Brazilian beef producers and grain traders unless more is done to prevent deforestation; Brazil’s bid to join the OECD is also threatened by deforestation. In response, the Brazilian government in July 2020 banned fires in the Amazon for 120 days.
Covid-19 was especially prevalent along the Amazon river in summer 2020. The largest city on the river, Manaus with 2.2 million people, was especially hard hit. Indigenous peoples were affected as the boats plying the river with passengers spread the virus.
Water. South Asia’s monsoon season between June and October brings cyclones and floods to low-lying areas of Bangladesh and India. A third of Bangladesh, a country the size of Iowa with 165 million people, was flooded in August 2020, as the Brahmaputra and other rivers overflowed their banks due to heavy rains and snow melt upstream in India.
The 2,400-mile long Brahmaputra begins in Tibet, flows into northeastern India, and merges with the Ganges before passing though Bangladesh en route to the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh could lose up to 10 percent of its land area within a decade due to rising sea levels.
Metro Mexico City has over 21 million people and receives more rainfall each year than London, but struggles to provide water for its residents. Most of the Mexico City’s water is from dams up to 125 miles away, and over 40 percent is lost through leaks. Rainfall often mixes with sewage, making it unusable.
Isla Urbana aims to help residents capture rainwater before it is polluted with a $750 house-by-house system that collects rooftop rainwater, filters it, and collects the water in an in-home tank. Filters are needed because rainwater collected from rooftops often includes dirt and organisms.
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