Plastic Bag Bans Are Reversed Because Covid-19 Clings to Reusable Bags

(p. 8A) PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Just weeks ago, cities and even states across the U.S. were busy banning straws, limiting takeout containers and mandating that shoppers bring reusable bags or pay a small fee as the movement to eliminate single-use plastics took hold in mainstream America.

What a difference a pandemic makes.

In a matter of weeks, hard-won bans to reduce the use of plastics — and particularly plastic shopping sacks — across the U.S. have come under fire amid worries about the virus clinging to reusable bags, cups and straws.

Governors in Massachusetts and Illinois have banned or strongly discouraged the use of reusable grocery bags. Oregon suspended its brand-new ban on plastic bags this week, and cities from Bellingham, Washington, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, have announced a hiatus on plastic bag bans as the coronavirus rages.

For the full story, see:

AP. “Virus Deals a Blow to Bans on Plastic Bags.” Omaha World-Herald (Monday, April 20, 2020): 8A.

2,000-Year-Old Seeds Sprout “Long-Lost Judean Dates”

(p. A8) KETURA, Israel — The plump, golden-brown dates hanging in a bunch just above the sandy soil were finally ready to pick.

They had been slowly ripening in the desert heat for months. But the young tree on which they grew had a much more ancient history — sprouting from a 2,000-year-old seed retrieved from an archaeological site in the Judean wilderness.

. . .

These were the much-extolled but long-lost Judean dates, and the harvest this month was hailed as a modern miracle of science.

. . .

. . ., to bring something back to life from dormancy is so symbolic,” Dr. Sallon said. “To pollinate and produce these incredible dates is like a beam of light in a dark time.”

. . .

The research was peer reviewed and detailed in a paper published in February this year in Science Advances, a leading scientific journal.

For the full story, see:

Isabel Kershner. “Israel Dispatch: After 2,000 Years in the Wilderness, It’s a Date. And It’s Delicious.” The New York Times (Monday, September 7, 2020): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Israel Dispatch: Aided by Modern Ingenuity, a Taste of Ancient Judean Dates.”)

The paper in Science Advances mentioned above is:

Sallon, Sarah, Emira Cherif, Nathalie Chabrillange, Elaine Solowey, Muriel Gros-Balthazard, Sarah Ivorra, Jean-Frédéric Terral, Markus Egli, and Frédérique Aberlenc. “Origins and Insights into the Historic Judean Date Palm Based on Genetic Analysis of Germinated Ancient Seeds and Morphometric Studies.” Science Advances 6, no. 6 (Feb. 5, 2020), DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax0384.

Net-Zero Emissions Costs 16% of GDP Per Year; Climate Change at Most Costs 4% of GDP Per Year

(p. C1) For decades, climate activists have exhorted people in the wealthy West to change their personal behavior to cut carbon emissions. We have been told to drive less, to stop flying and, in general, to reduce consumption—all in the name of saving the planet from ever higher temperatures.

The Covid-19 pandemic has now achieved these goals, at least temporarily. With the enormous reduction in global economic activity, it has been as if people around the world suddenly decided to heed the activists and curtail their travel and consumption. Largely as a result of the crisis, the International Energy Agency recently concluded, “global CO2 emissions are expected to decline by 8% in 2020, or almost 2.6 [billion tons], to levels of 10 years ago.”

It’s an unprecedented and impressive drop in emissions—by far the biggest year-to-year reduction since World War II. Unfortunately, it will have almost no discernible impact on climate change. Glen Peters, the research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway, estimates that by 2100, this year’s enormous reduction will bring down global temperatures by less than one five-hundredth of a degree Fahrenheit.

. . .

(p. C4) Sadly, the vast majority of the actions that individuals can take in the service of reducing emissions—and certainly all of those that are achievable without entirely disrupting everyday life—make little practical difference. That’s true even if all of us do them.

. . .

Achieving global “net zero” emissions in three decades, as a growing number of activists and politicians advocate, would require the equivalent of a series of ongoing and ever-tightening lockdowns until 2050.

. . .

William Nordhaus of Yale, who in 2018 was awarded the first Nobel Prize for work in climate economics, has tabulated all of the estimates of climate-related economic damages from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and peer-reviewed studies to determine the total impact of different levels of global temperature increases. He found that, by 2050, the net negative impact of unmitigated climate change—that is, with current emissions trends unabated—is equivalent to losing about 1% of global GDP every year. By 2100 the loss will be about 4% of global GDP a year.

For comparison, what would it cost to reach net-zero by 2050, through cutting emissions and mandating new energy sources? So far, only one country, New Zealand, has commissioned an independent estimate. It turns out the optimistic cost is a whopping 16% of GDP each year by 2050. That projected figure exceeds what New Zealand spends today on social security, welfare, health, education, police, courts, defense, environment and every other part of government combined.

As this simple comparison suggests, suffering a 16% loss of GDP to reduce a problem estimated to cost 1% or even 4% of GDP is a bad way to help. That is especially true for the many parts of the world that are still in the early stages of economic development and desperately need growth to improve the lives of their impoverished populations.

For the full commentary, see:

Bjorn Lomborg. “Lockdowns Highlight The Climate Challenge.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 11, 2020): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Lockdown’s Lessons for Climate Activism.” Where there are slight differences in wording between the versions in the passages quoted, the online version appears above. The online version does not list an author. I cite James Barron, who is listed as the author in the print version.)

Lomborg’s commentary, quoted above, is related to his book:

Lomborg, Bjørn. False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet. New York: Basic Books, 2020.

Environmentalism Is a “Substitute Religion” Offering “Purpose and Transcendence”

(p. A13) There is a recurring puzzle in the history of the environmental movement: Why do green activists keep promoting policies that are harmful not only to humans but also to the environment? Michael Shellenberger is determined to solve this problem, and he is singularly well qualified.

He understands activists because he has been one himself since high school, when he raised money for the Rainforest Action Network. Early in his adult career, he campaigned to protect redwood trees, promote renewable energy, stop global warming, and improve the lives of farmers and factory workers in the Third World. But the more he traveled, the more he questioned what Westerners’ activism was accomplishing for people or for nature.

He became a different kind of activist by helping start a movement called ecomodernism, the subject of “Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.” He still wants to help the poor and preserve ecosystems, but through industrialization instead of “sustainable development.” He’s still worried about climate change, but he doesn’t consider it the most important problem today, much less a threat to humanity’s survival—and he sees that greens’ favorite solutions are making the problem worse.

. . .

Mr. Shellenberger makes a persuasive case, lucidly blending research data and policy analysis with a history of the green movement and vignettes of people in poor countries suffering the consequences of “environmental colonialism.” He realizes, though, that rational arguments alone won’t convince devout environmentalists. “I was drawn toward the apocalyptic view of climate change twenty years ago,” he writes. “I can see now that my heightened anxiety about climate reflected underlying anxiety and unhappiness in my own life that had little to do with climate change or the state of the natural environment.”

For him and so many others, environmentalism offered emotional relief and spiritual satisfaction, giving them a sense of purpose and transcendence. It has become a substitute religion for those who have abandoned traditional faiths, as he explains in his concluding chapter, “False Gods for Lost Souls.” Its priests have been warning for half a century that humanity is about to be punished for its sins against nature, and no matter how often the doomsday forecasts fail, the faithful still thrill to each new one.

For the full review, see:

John Tierney. “BOOKSHELF; False Gods for Lost Souls.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 22, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 21, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Apocalypse Never’ Review: False Gods for Lost Souls.”)

The book under review is:

Shellenberger, Michael. Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. New York: HarperCollins Books, 2020.

Reduce Spread of COVID-19 “With Plenty of Fresh Air” in Buildings

(p. B5) One way to reduce the spread of coronavirus is to maintain ventilation .

. . .

Modifications from equipment manufacturers such as Trane Technologies PLC, Carrier Global Corp. and Johnson Controls International PLC include filtering indoor air more thoroughly, drawing more outdoor air into buildings and deploying ultraviolet light against the virus inside ventilation systems.

“More fresh air and cleaner air are the direction that customers are going. This is top-of-mind for building owners and contractors,” said Jeff Williams, president of global products for Johnson Controls, maker of York-brand heating and air-conditioning equipment.

. . .

Research released this spring by the Department of Homeland Security found that coronavirus particles decay faster at a room temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 50% than at lower temperatures and humidity. Add in a strong dose of ultraviolet light, and the virus decays by 90% in less than seven minutes, according to the department. Humans’ immune systems also are more effective against viruses in warmer, more humid conditions, according to a Yale University study published in May 2019.

“We can minimize the spread of the virus in the summer when there is plenty of sunlight and higher humidity. They’re actually effective in a defined space,” said Luke Leung, epidemic task force leader for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, a trade association.

. . .

Recirculated air should include about 20% outdoor air to effectively dilute coronavirus particles, the Atlanta-based engineers’ society says. Many buildings’ air handlers were set up to draw less outdoor air, to maximize energy efficiency.

“The past few years there was a lot of emphasis on energy saving and there was less outside air in buildings,” said Seth Ferriell, chief executive of SSC Services for Education, a Tennessee-based company that manages ventilation systems for schools and universities. The firm has a contract to upgrade air handlers at Texas A&M University.

Mr. Ferriell estimated that increasing the amount of outdoor air in a building by 50% would drive up natural gas or electricity costs by as much as 15% a year because that additional air has to be cooled or heated to match the desired interior temperature.

For the full story, see:

Bob Tita. “Virus Spurs Ventilation Boost.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, July 9, 2020): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 8, 2020, and has the title “Offices Try to Combat Coronavirus With More Fresh Air.” The last couple of paragraphs quoted above, appeared in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

With Covid-19, War on Plastic Takes “a Back Seat to the Larger Quest for the Health and Security of Travelers”

(p. B9) Will planetary health be as urgent to travelers focused on preserving personal health? In a germophobic world, will single-use plastics make a comeback?

“The work on reduction of plastic is going to take a back seat to the larger quest for the health and security of travelers,” said Megan Epler Wood, the managing director of the Sustainable Tourism Asset Management Program at Cornell University.

For the full commentary, see:

Elaine Glusac. “Is the Green Wave Over?” The New York Times (Saturday, May 16, 2020): B9.

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated May 6 [sic], 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Global Warming Allows Study of Transhumance to Flourish

(p. D3) OSLO — Ice patches that melted from the slopes of a remote mountain pass in Norway have revealed artifacts that provide new insight into the livelihood of hunters, traders and travelers along a route thousands of years old, archaeologists said this month.

. . .

The discoveries, outlined in the scientific journal Antiquity, were made on the central mountain range in Norway’s Innlandet County by the Glacier Archaeology Program, one of many programs worldwide studying what glaciers and ice patches are laying bare as they shift and melt because of climate change.

. . .

These discoveries have illuminated scientists’ understanding of transhumance, which describes how, where and why people moved from one place to another for trade, food, marriage or customs — sometimes over icy mountain passes rather than through the easier terrain, but longer distances, of valleys.

In 1991, hikers accidentally discovered the remains of a man, later nicknamed Ötzi the Tyrolean Iceman, preserved in 5,300 years’ worth of ice and snow in the Italian Alps. This marked the start of a promising period of archaeology that has gained pace as climate warming has revealed more artifacts, said Dr. Stephanie Rogers, a research assistant professor at Auburn University’s department of geosciences.

. . .

Dr. Rogers, who has done research on glacier archaeology in the Alps, said the discovery of the Iceman “really flipped a switch.”

“What was that person doing up there?” she asked, adding that researchers realized that “if we found something in this place, we are going to find something in other places.”

The field of transhumance has gained momentum in the past 10 to 20 years as artifacts have been laid bare because of the warming climate melting ice patches and moving glaciers, Dr. Rogers said.

For the full story, see:

Henrik Pryser Libell and Christine Hauser. “Warming Climate Reveals an Ancient Trade Route.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 28, 2020): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 16 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Warming Climate in Norway Reveals Relics of Ancient Viking Trade Route.”)

Small Is Not Always Beautiful

(p. A16) Zaid Kurdieh has so many fava beans growing at his farm in upstate New York that he could send 4,000 pounds a week to the best chefs in New York City. In Kentucky, Robert Eversole and Thomas Sargent planted enough winter greens to fill the all the salad bars at the University of Kentucky and still have enough left over to feed fans at the state’s two major spring horse races.

But the coronavirus pandemic has postponed the Kentucky Derby and shut the university. And in New York, chefs who would normally be shelling Mr. Kurdieh’s fava beans for their spring menus have closed their restaurants.

So these small farmers, like many others across the country who spent decades building a local, sustainable agricultural system, are staring at their fields and wondering what to do now that the table has been kicked out from under the modern farm-to-table movement.

. . .

Farm-to-table — the term has become a fixture in the culinary lexicon — started in the 1970s, when Chez Panisse and a handful of other restaurants hatched what then seemed like a radical notion: Build menus from food grown by nearby farmers who are thoughtful about everything from the seeds they select and the soil they grow them in to the communities they feed.

That idea grew into a pipeline connecting farmers, ranchers and chefs that in 2019 had generated $12 billion in income for small-scale producers including cheesemakers and vintners. Governments, hospitals and schools have come to see the value in buying locally grown food. No Silicon Valley tech company worth its stock price would dare to design a cafeteria without local food.

Since the pandemic hit, that conduit has shut down. The loss in sales could run as high as $689 million, with much higher costs in jobs and other businesses that make up the farm-to-table economic ecosystem, according to a report compiled in March by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

For the full story, see:

Kim Severson. “Farm-to-Table Falters, and Growers Are in Limbo.” The New York Times (Friday, April 10, 2020): A16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 9, 2020, and has the title “The Farm-to-Table Connection Comes Undone.”)

Covid-19 Pandemic Reduces Appeal of Reusable Bags

(p. B5) An oft-cited study by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found that reusable plastic bags can contain bacteria, and that users don’t wash reusable bags very often.

. . .

In New York, John Flanagan, the top Republican in the State Senate, called for the state this month to suspend the plastic bag ban that went into force on March 1 [2020]. The ban’s enforcement had already been delayed pending a legal challenge unrelated to the virus.

“Now is not the time or place,” Mr. Flanagan said in an interview. “This is a state of emergency.” Moreover, “people miss the plastic bags,” he said. “They were very functional and useful. We need to reopen the discussions.”

Libertarian groups have joined the effort. In Albuquerque, the Rio Grande Foundation, which bills itself as New Mexico’s premier free-market think tank, has spearheaded opposition to a move to strengthen the city’s plastic bag ban.

. . .

“Is there a worse idea in this time of Coronavirus,” the group quipped in a recent posting on Twitter, “than a plan to ‘more fully’ ban plastic bags?’”

Some supermarket chains have moved ahead with their own ban on reusable bags. The Midwestern supermarket chain Hy-Vee has said it was no longer accepting reusable bags at their stores. Price Chopper said on Twitter that it was phasing plastic bags back into use at its stores in New York.

For the full story, see:

Hiroko Tabuchi. “Plastics Industry Sees Chance to Undo Bans on Single-Use Bags.” The New York Times (Friday, March 27, 2020): B5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 26, 2020, and has the title “In Coronavirus, Industry Sees Chance to Undo Plastic Bag Bans.”)

The “oft-cited study” mentioned above, is:

Williams, David L., Charles P. Gerba, Sherri Maxwell, and Ryan G. Sinclair. “Assessment of the Potential for Cross-Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags.” Food Protection Trends 31, no. 8 (Aug. 2011): 508–13.

Fresh Water Great Lakes at Near-Record High Levels

Global warming activists sometimes claim that a harm of global warming is reduced fresh water supplies. As noted in the passage quoted below, the Great Lakes, the world’s greatest reserve of fresh water, are now at record or near-record levels.

(p. A3) Record and near-record water levels in all five Great Lakes are resulting in tens of millions of dollars in damage from Minnesota to New York as eroding shorelines and monster waves cause homes to plummet into the water, public piers and lakeside trails to crack and crumble, and parks and properties to flood.

The high levels come after several years of above-average rains and snowfall in the region. Last year was the wettest on record for the Great Lakes and the second wettest across the continental U.S., according to federal data. Forecasts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers show the elevated lake levels persisting through at least July.

Lakes Huron and Michigan set record lows in early 2013—an unprecedented swing, said Drew Gronewold, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability. He said the warming climate is exacerbating both precipitation and evaporation, the two main forces affecting lake levels. “My eyes are open right now that water levels may continue to swing like that,” he said, but the question needs more study to make better predictions about what might happen next.

For the full story, see:

Erin Ailworth. “Rising Great Lakes Pose Peril.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, February 21, 2020): A3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2020, and has the title “On Rising Great Lakes, Backyards Are Disappearing Overnight.”)

“Local Adaptations” Might Be a “Workable Solution” to Global Warming

(p. 5) Around the time of every new and full moon, the sea rushes soundlessly past the trash-strewn shores, up over the single road running along the spine of Batasan, population 1,400, and into people’s homes. The island, part of the Tubigon chain in the central Philippines, is waterlogged at least one-third of the year.

. . .

“People say this is because of the Arctic melting,” said Dennis Sucanto, a local resident whose job is to measure the water levels in Batasan each year. “I don’t understand but that’s what they say.”

. . .

“They wanted us to go to a hilly farming place,” said Rodrigo Cosicol, 66, shaking his head at the affront. “We are fishermen. We need fish.”

“We don’t fear the water anymore,” Mr. Cosicol added. “This is our way of living.”

This unwillingness of people on Batasan to abandon their homes — instead choosing to respond, inch by inch, to a new reality — may hold valuable lessons for residents of other vulnerable island states. Rather than uprooting an entire population, with the enormous trauma and cost that entails, the more workable solution might be local adaptations.

“The climate refugee message is more sensational but the more realistic narrative from the islanders themselves is adaptation rather than mass migration,” said Laurice Jamero, who has researched the Tubigon islands for five years and runs the climate and disaster risk assessment efforts at the Manila Observatory, a research institute.

And Batasan’s residents have adjusted. They have rolled up their hems. They have placed their houses on blocks of coral stone. They have tethered their goats to sheds on stilts. They have moved most plant life from floodable patches of land to portable pots.

There are other concessions. The Roman Catholic priest at the local church declared that parishioners no longer have to kneel for prayer when the tides are high.

“We will find a way to do things because this is our home,” said Annie Casquejo, a local health committee member who once worked off the island but has, like many others, returned to Batasan.

Nature’s constant threat has imprinted resilience on the Philippine DNA.

. . .

Children on Batasan who are lucky enough to own bikes have one option — up and down the main road, the only road.

The concrete strip runs for less than two-thirds of a mile, then peters out in a mangrove swamp near the home of Alma Rebucas, where thigh-high waters regularly infiltrate. She secures the family’s utensils lest they float away. Her dog and goats are swimmers. So is the cat.

Ms. Rebucas said she has no plans to move away.  . . .

She oversees a fishing business, plucking sea cucumbers, crabs and grouper from the shimmering sea. Life here is like a magic trick, Ms. Rebucas said, making something from nothing.

“We don’t need much land,” she said. “We have the whole sea.”

For the full story, see:

Hannah Beech. “PHILIPPINES DISPATCH; Life on an Island Being Devoured by the Rising Sea.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, February 23, 2020): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 22, 2020, and has the title “PHILIPPINES DISPATCH; Adapting to Rising Seas, Schools Move to the Rafters and Cats Swim.”)