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March 09, 2020

Good Climate News Travels Very Slowly

Back on February 11, the International Energy Agency (IEA) put out a press release with the headline: “Defying expectations of a rise, global carbon dioxide emissions flatlined in 2019”. This news, as they point out, is startling; almost universally expectations were that global emissions will be locked in an upward ramp for years to come; this belief is at the core of the most drastic climate predictions. The IEA is the world’s scorekeeper for things having to do with energy and is quoted almost very time they publish a statistic about oil prices, the effect of the coronavirus on energy demand, or climate. Moreover, the emissions reported by the IEA for 2019 are BELOW those in the UN’s most rosy climate prediction scenario.

What kind of press coverage did this release get? Just about NADA!

If you search the NY Times online for stories containing IEA since Feb. 11, there are four; this story isn’t among them. I do know that the Times had the AP story on this up for a while but don’t think it made it to the print edition.

If you search the Wall Street Journal there are ten stories in the time period quoting the IEA on various subjects. The story on emissions is not one of them.

Time.com has a story. MSNBC picked up the Time story. CNBC has an abbreviated story.

No other significant media is in eight pages of google results you get if you google the headline and IEA. Coverage is so sparse that my blog post about this is on the first page of these google results (it didn’t go viral).

So why no coverage?

You could say that the NY Times doesn’t want to do anything to reduce climate alarm. But what about the WSJ? They have been decrying alarmist views on climate. @realdonaldtrump hasn’t tweeted about this either. I was at a conference on carbon sequestration by plants last week (more about that to come). Scientists there, who care passionately about climate issues, hadn’t heard this news and I had to show some of them the press release to be believed.

I think the truth is that this story is so unexpected that it breaks a narrative we’ve all been trained on: “Emissions just keep going up and up, especially when the economy is good as it was last year. The problem is getting worse and worse. Nothing we have been doing has any effect. Greta has cause to give up on all.” All of a sudden we see some hope: a combination of renewables, abundant natural gas, and new nuclear replaced so much coal use in developed countries that increased emissions in the developing world were completely offset. An all-of-the-above approach seems to be working. It’s hard to process this hopeful sign. Some people’s preconceptions of the futility of renewables is challenged (this includes me); on the other hand, nuclear and natural gas have shown their value. No one from denialist to alarmist knows what to do with this expectation-defying news, and so it’s being ignored for now.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling gives many current examples of good news being ignored. If he were still alive, he might add this story of a possible turning point to his list.

This may not be a turning point. Although 2020 emissions will almost certainly be lower than those in 2019 thanks to the coronavirus, they could go back up again. We are still putting more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere than nature takes out; and so overall concentrations are still rising. Nevertheless, this is significant news. If nothing else, it tells us what is working and what we should continue working on.

Read also:

Factfulness: Malthus is Wrong – Fortunately

A Convenient Urgency

“Defying expectations of a rise, global carbon dioxide emissions flatlined in 2019” – IEA

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