Each week, we’re compiling the most relevant news stories from diverse sources online, connecting the latest environmental and energy economics research to global current events, real-time public discourse, and policy decisions. Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
Governments are pursuing drastic action to protect public health despite the coronavirus pandemic. Do our social distancing efforts come with environmental co-benefits?
China, with over 80,000 cases, and Italy, with over 40,000 cases, have emerged as the epicenters of the growing coronavirus pandemic—and their governments have responded drastically by imposing strict limits on nonessential travel. This week, California ordered all residents to “shelter in place,” too, becoming the first American state to implement similarly restrictive measures. Local governments and public health officials elsewhere are advocating for “social distancing,” asking Americans to limit contact with others in order to slow the spread of the virus. As widespread social distancing upends the global economy—causing steep reductions in transportation and changes in electricity use—some wonder what the ultimate environmental impacts of the pandemic will be.
This week, Valentina Bosetti, a senior scientist at the RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics & the Environment in Italy, coauthored a working paper that investigates the ongoing environmental consequences of social distancing. Bosetti and her colleagues have been continually analyzing emissions data from before and after the outbreak of COVID-19 at 151 monitoring stations in 31 provinces across China. The paper summarizes their findings in Wuhan and Beijing, both of which imposed severe travel restrictions. While social distancing has affected pollution levels in Beijing and Wuhan in different ways, concentrations of PM10 and NO₂ have decreased in both cities; in Wuhan, a rise in confirmed coronavirus cases is correlated with a decline in emissions. The paper also considers preliminary data from Milan, which show that the disease’s spread has had similarly “sizeable” impacts on pollution, collectively suggesting “a positive and substantial role for voluntary and imposed social distancing.”
Related research and commentary:
- Working paper: Social Distancing Measures Following Covid-19 Epidemics Had Positive Environmental Consequences
- Blog: On the Issues: Coronavirus Threatens Human Health and Oil, Financial Burdens of Flooding, and More
- Podcast: Communicating Complex Social Issues, with Matthew Nisbet of Northeastern University
Should national parks turn away tourists to prevent the spread of coronavirus, even if the economic impacts of a prolonged park shutdown are substantial?
The National Park Service (NPS) is slowly closing parks and monuments, but many remain open, potentially endangering the health of millions of tourists who visit each year. The US Department of the Interior is allowing individual parks to restrict access, while also waiving all entrance fees at those that remain open, claiming that open parks would facilitate social distancing efforts. Not everyone agrees with this course of action. An organization representing NPS retirees has argued that more parks should be shut down to protect the health of park rangers, while the Southeast Utah Health Department declared a “local public health emergency,” citing concerns that an outbreak in a nearby park would overwhelm the region’s limited hospital infrastructure. And while the threat of a pandemic looms large, the economic costs of closure are massive too: businesses surrounding national parks depend on a constant influx of tourists to stay afloat.
Like national parks, national monuments—protected public lands that contain historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, or objects of historic or scientific interest—attract eager visitors. The impacts of national monuments on local economies has been debated for decades. But a groundbreaking new study from RFF researchers analyzes the impacts of 14 monument designations over 25 years and finds that establishing national monuments helps, rather than hinders, rural economic growth. The authors find that, on average, a new monument designation prompts an 8.5 percent increase in nearby jobs and has no discernible impact (neither positive nor negative) on jobs across the mining, forestry, and livestock grazing sectors—contradicting claims that protected lands impede those industries. For more, read the cover story of the new issue 203 of Resources magazine, which contends “that future monument declarations likely will benefit not only the goals of environmental and cultural preservation, but also help to safeguard local economies.”
Related research and commentary:
Can the government pursue any good strategies to mitigate the impact of the oil price war on US oil companies and avert long-term economic challenges?
In an attempt to support US oil producers following “the worst week for crude since 2008,” President Trump announced plans to purchase at least 30 million barrels of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette issued a memo ordering his agency to “immediately initiate the process of purchasing American-made crude oil” for the underground reserve, which was first created in the 1970s to ensure that the United States always maintains an emergency supply. Still, such a purchase would necessitate congressional approval, and many legislators are wary of using public funds to “bail out domestic fossil fuel producers without significant tradeoffs”—even amid an unprecedented public health and financial crisis. Crude oil futures temporarily surged following Trump’s announcement but have since declined, as the industry braces for a potentially prolonged price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which could plunge some US oil companies into bankruptcy and might involve long-term economic ramifications.
This week on the Resources Radio podcast, Amy Myers Jaffe, director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations, explores how the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the oil price war and increasing the likelihood of a protracted economic downturn. Jaffe discusses why this oil crisis—caused by increasing supply and declining demand—presents unique challenges. “We all use so much oil in our daily life. We go to the store and we buy things that are packaged in plastic. We drive around in our cars ... 80 percent of things that are shipped around the world come on ships that use oil as their fuel. Airlines use oil-based jet fuel. As each prong of demand is disappearing in a historic way, this is unprecedented,” Jaffe says. For more on what actions can be taken to avert the possibility of “systemic problems,” listen to the podcast.
Related research and commentary: