Traffic Is Way Down Because Of Lockdown, But Air Pollution? Not So Much


“In some cities, the amount of one pollutant, ozone, has barely decreased compared with levels over the past five years, despite traffic reductions of more than 40%. Ground-level ozone, or smog, occurs when the chemicals emitted by cars, trucks, factories and other sources react with sunlight and heat.”

Tropospheric Ozone Pollution


Health Effects of Tropospheric Ozone Pollution

“NPR analyzed more than half a million air pollution measurements reported to the EPA from more than 900 air monitoring sites around the country. We compared the median ozone levels detected this spring with levels found during the comparable period over the past five years.”

“Our analysis revealed that, in the vast majority of places, ozone pollution decreased by 15% or less, a clear indication that improving air quality will take much more than cleaning up tailpipes of passenger cars.”

“In cities such as Los Angeles, stubbornly poor air quality during the coronavirus lockdown underscored how vast fleets of trucks are a dominant source of pollution. In industrial cities like Houston, refineries and petrochemical plants spew considerable air pollution. And in Pittsburgh and across a swath of the eastern U.S., much of the air pollution still comes from burning coal.”


Pandemic Drones & Other “Remote” Uses of Drones for Environmental Data Collection

Talk about social distancing: drones are a means of remote sensing – in essence, gathering information (visible energy, non-visible energy, temperature, sound, computer vision and facial and body recognition, and so on) remotely, without being in contact with the object. Technological distancing.

Some of this is very advanced – but much of it can be done with a drone and camera purchased in a store or online.

Source: HIT Consultants: ‘Pandemic Drone’ Could Detect Virus Symptoms Like COVID-19 in Crowds

The ‘pandemic drone’ will be equipped with a sensor and computer vision system that can monitor temperature, heart and respiratory rates, as well to detect:

  • people sneezing and coughing in crowds
  • offices
  • airports
  • cruise ships
  • aged care homes
  • other places where large groups congregate

Professor Chahl and his research team achieved global recognition in 2017 when they demonstrated image-processing algorithms that could extract a human’s heart rate from drone video. Since then they have demonstrated that heart rate and breathing rate can be measured with high accuracy within 5-10 meters of people, using drones and at distances of up to 50 meters with fixed cameras. They have also developed algorithms that can interpret human actions such as sneezing and coughing.

The research has previously looked at using drones to monitor and react to elderly falls, look for signs of life in war zones or following a natural disaster and monitoring the heart rate of babies in neonatal incubators.

(source of above graphic here)

Drones are among a range of devices for collecting environmental data: including handheld devices to airplanes and satellites.

More applications of drone remote sensing are summarized in this graphic, from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for Remote Sensing Applications — A Review (Huang Yao, Rongjun Qin, and Xiaoyu Chen, Remote Sens. 2019, 11, 1443)


One Way to Potentially Track Covid-19? Sewage Surveillance

As part of a strategy of testing for Covid-19…

…passive forms of disease surveillance, like monitoring our sewers, could get us that information sooner.

The approach holds promise because a number of studies have shown high levels of viral shedding in fecal samples from Covid-19 patients. Since that shedding happens early in the disease’s progression, well before patients show any symptoms, there’s reason to suspect evidence of the virus might show up in a city’s wastewater, even before the residents of that city have been tested.

Last week, researchers at the KWR Water Research Institute in the Netherlands were the first to publicly report they had detected SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater samples. The group started testing in early February in cities across the country, before the Netherlands had identified any Covid-19 cases. As the first cases emerged and then spread in early March, the researchers found the viral concentration in sewer water went up in tandem.

Source: Wired: One Way to Potentially Track Covid-19? Sewage Surveillance

Google Sewage Surveillance

U.S. Cities Disregarding Flood Rules: The Cost: $1 Billion

Source: New York Times: Cities are Flouting Flood Rules. The Cot: $1 Billion

Tax-subsidized insurance is paying for buildings built illegally in flood zones.

It’s a simple rule, designed to protect both homeowners and taxpayers: If you want publicly subsidized flood insurance, you can’t build a home that’s likely to flood.

But local governments around the country, which are responsible for enforcing the rule, have flouted the requirements, accounting for as many as a quarter-million insurance policies in violation, according to data provided to The New York Times by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the flood insurance program. Those structures accounted for more than $1 billion in flood claims during the past decade, the data show.

That toll is likely to increase as climate change makes flooding more frequent and intense.

Local governments are responsible for enforcing the requirements, but almost none have been penalized for failing to do so. “There’s no negative consequences for violating the rules,” said Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council.


Cats as Coronavirus Fomites. Fomites?

CNN via  Boing Boing: Limit the spread of coronavirus by keeping your cat indoors

From CNN:

Cat owners who are self-isolating or have Covid-19 symptoms should consider keeping their pets indoors to stop them carrying the virus on their fur, a veterinary body has advised.

The British Veterinary Association said animals “can act as fomites” (objects that can become contaminated with infectious organisms) and could hold the virus on their fur if they are petted by someone who has contracted it.
“For pet owners who have Covid-19 or who are self-isolating we are recommending that you keep your cat indoors if possible, during that time,” the BVA said in a statement. “The virus could be on their fur in the same way it is on other surfaces, such as tables and doorknobs.”
The body said, however, that its main advice to pet owners was to practice good hand hygiene.

A Fashionable Call for Sustainability

Source: The Business of Fashion: In Crisis, Don’t Ditch Sustainability

Under severe economic pressure, it’s tempting to see social responsibility as dispensable, but it’s as essential as ever to long-term strategy.

In tough times, sustainability can easily be sidelined. After all, it’s a luxury, right? A nice-to-have when you aren’t busy navigating shuttered stores, a crash in consumer demand and supply chain disruption? Wrong. Something I keep hearing: sustainable businesses that uphold their responsibilities to employees, suppliers, society and the planet will not only survive this but be better positioned to win when the coronavirus crisis eventually ends.

From environmental pollution to the exploitation of factory workers, fashion is one of the most destructive industries in the world and tolerance for these failures is wearing thin. Last month, a mountain of textile waste turned up on the cover of National Geographic. Governments are increasingly turning their attention to the topic, even if legislation has been slow coming. And on the flip side, a new generation of consumers is increasingly attracted to brands with firm values and a clear social mission. Same with employees. These are long-term trends that will endure coronavirus and its economic impact. And companies which keep them in focus will emerge from this crisis in a far stronger position.


These states are criminalizing fossil fuel protests

Source: Independent (UK): While focus is on the coronavirus, these states are criminalizing fossil fuel protests

Ohio has a similar law that is still in committee: Energy News Network: Ohio anti-protest bill could criminalize support for pipeline demonstrations

These laws have been in the pipeline (so to speak) since before the pandemic, to be fair. They are coordinated by the delightful American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC (find out who funds this group) and copied from their model Critical Infrastructure Protection Act

Criminal penalties for protesting against the fossil fuel industry are being introduced into law by three states with others expected to follow suit.

As the nation focuses on the raging coronavirus pandemic, governors in Kentucky, South Dakota and West Virginia signed laws last month deeming oil and gas pipelines and facilities “critical” or “key” infrastructure and enacting strong penalties for protests.

Mitch Jones, policy director, Food & Water Action told The Independent: “Under the fog of a global health crisis, states are aggressively pursuing legislation that would strike at the heart of every American’s right to free speech and assembly.


U.S. to Announce Rollback of Auto Pollution Rules, a Key Effort to Fight Climate Change

If the industry does not want these drastic reductions in fuel efficiency standards, then why?

Even many large automakers, which had asked Mr. Trump to slightly loosen the Obama-era rule, had urged him not to roll it back so aggressively, since the measure is certain to get bogged down in court for years, leaving their industry in regulatory limbo.


WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is expected on Tuesday to announce its final rule to rollback Obama-era automobile fuel efficiency standards, relaxing efforts to limit climate-warming tailpipe pollution and virtually undoing the government’s biggest effort to combat climate change.

The new rule, written by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, would allow cars on American roads to emit nearly a billion tons more carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the vehicles than they would have under the Obama standards and hundreds of millions of tons more than will be emitted under standards being implemented in Europe and Asia.

Trump administration officials raced to complete the auto rule by this spring, even as the White House was consumed with responding to the coronavirus crisis. President Trump is expected to extol the rule, which will stand as one of the most consequential regulatory rollbacks of his administration, as a needed salve for an economy crippled by the pandemic.

Source: New York Times: U.S. to Announce Rollback of Auto Pollution Rules, a Key Effort to Fight Climate Change


The Climate Crisis Will Be Just as Shockingly Abrupt


The coronavirus isn’t a reason to put climate policy on hold. It’s a warning of the calamities ahead.

As governments around the globe debate how to respond both to the coronavirus itself and the economic chaos it has unleashed, a theme that’s come up over and over is how to prioritize what makes it into spending packages. In the United States, right-left fault lines have emerged over the question of bailing out emissions-heavy industries versus a greener stimulus. On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a large-scale rollback of environmental regulations as a response to the pandemic—allowing many emitters to police themselves when it comes to pollution.

While some argue that the oxygen in the climate debate should be taken up by the pandemic instead, the two issues aren’t mutually exclusive, experts say. In a warming climate, more diseases are likely to emerge and spread, making climate change action an important part of addressing future health crises. Moreover, the perception that climate change isn’t as urgent as other crises may rely on misunderstandings about how climate-related changes will happen. The rate isn’t constant: Instead, there’s reason to believe everything from Arctic melt to Amazon deforestation might experience what’s known as “tipping points,” where small changes in nature shift into rapid and irreversible damage.

Source: The New Republic (also PDF)

EPA Suspends Enforcement of Environmental Laws

Source: The Hill: EPA suspends enforcement of environmental laws amid coronavirus

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a sweeping suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws Thursday, telling companies they would not need to meet environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak.

The temporary policy, for which the EPA has set no end date, would allow any number of industries to skirt environmental laws, with the agency saying it will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations.”

Cynthia Giles, who headed the EPA’s Office of Enforcement during the Obama administration, called it a moratorium on enforcing the nation’s environmental laws and an abdication of the agency’s duty.

The coronavirus has made many routine activities impossible, or nearly impossible.

Thus it’s understandable that enforcement of environmental laws is difficult if not possible during the crisis.

But is the suspension of EPA enforcement an inevitable outcome of the virus, or an attempt to take advantage of the situation for industry to skirt what are often costly environmental laws? Laws that limit emissions of toxins into air, water and on land, or exposure to toxins by employees or the public, or the destruction of wetlands, waterways and other environmental features?

Part of the goal of the #OWUENVS project is to make sure that, amid the virus crisis (visis?), we don’t open the door to unnecessary environmental destruction.