From my friend, Marilyn Bardet, September 12, 2020
Hello dear Friends and Family,
By now I’m sure that each of you has your routine, mask-wearing habit down for social distancing and for simply breathing outside in our smoky air.
But, do you like your mask?
Is it protective against Covid AND smoke (deadly PM2.5 — invisible particulate matter at 2.5 microns that sticks in your lung tissue and sends its toxic gases into your bloodstream)? The invisible particles carry more than dead trees into your lungs, but also the chemicals found in everything combusted in these gross fires: burned out houses, cars, electrical infrastructure, facilities of all kinds. . .
So, your mask needs to be protective for both Covid AND PM2.5.
But, from the evidence I see when I’m out, many people still don’t know that a cloth or paper mask for Covid will not protect against PM2.5. Children, the elderly, and persons with chronic respiratory disease (asthma, COPD, bronchitis) are particularly vulnerable to the risks of exposures to PM2.5. Please tell your friends and family who may not yet know about this.
So, given the amount of smoke and the number of days and weeks we’re facing in Fire Season this year, I’ve done some research and tried out a few types of masks that protect against both Covid and PM2.5.
My criteria: mask must be well designed, fit tight but feel comfortable and breathable for extended use. I do not want to buy disposable “throw-away” type that must be discarded after one day’s use. (This doesn’t apply to medical professionals!!)
So, the reusable/disposable ones I’m recommending are called KN95 masks. Different companies make them. I like the type that has a metal nose piece hidden inside the fabric. These non-cloth masks fit snuggly around the face, are light weight and breathable. They can be reused, but are not washable.
ANOTHER TYPE I HIGHLY RECOMMEND:
The GMASK-Graphen Breathing Mask that’s made of a specially patented light weight material (called Graphene), which according to the manufacturer is the strongest, most durable flexible material ever made.
It’s very comfortable to wear, breathable, hand washable, has a pocket inside to put replaceable PM2.5 filters. You can order it at Amazon, in black or grey.
As people across the globe stay home to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, the air has cleaned up, albeit temporarily. Smog stopped choking New Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world, and India’s getting views of sights not visible in decades. Nitrogen dioxide pollution in the northeastern United States is down 30%. Rome air pollution levels from mid-March to mid-April were down 49% from a year ago. Stars seem more visible at night.
People are also noticing animals in places and at times they don’t usually. Coyotes have meandered along downtown Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. A puma roamed the streets of Santiago, Chile. Goats took over a town in Wales. In India, already daring wildlife has become bolder with hungry monkeys entering homes and opening refrigerators to look for food.
When people stay home, Earth becomes cleaner and wilder.
“It is giving us this quite extraordinary insight into just how much of a mess we humans are making of our beautiful planet,” says conservation scientist Stuart Pimm of Duke University. “This is giving us an opportunity to magically see how much better it can be.”
Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, assembled scientists to assess the ecological changes happening with so much of humanity housebound. Scientists, stuck at home like the rest of us, say they are eager to explore unexpected changes in weeds, insects, weather patterns, noise and light pollution. Italy’s government is working on an ocean expedition to explore sea changes from the lack of people.
“In many ways we kind of whacked the Earth system with a sledgehammer and now we see what Earth’s response is,” Field says.
Researchers are tracking dramatic drops in traditional air pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, smog and tiny particles. These types of pollution kill up to 7 million people a year worldwide, according to Health Effects Institute president Dan Greenbaum.
The air from Boston to Washington is its cleanest since a NASA satellite started measuring nitrogen dioxide,in 2005, says NASA atmospheric scientist Barry Lefer. Largely caused by burning of fossil fuels, this pollution is short-lived, so the air gets cleaner quickly.
Compared to the previous five years, March air pollution is down 46% in Paris, 35% in Bengaluru, India, 38% in Sydney, 29% in Los Angeles, 26% in Rio de Janeiro and 9% in Durban, South Africa, NASA measurements show.
“We’re getting a glimpse of what might happen if we start switching to non-polluting cars,” Lefer says.
Cleaner air has been most noticeable in India and China. On April 3, residents of Jalandhar, a city in north India’s Punjab, woke up to a view not seen for decades: snow-capped Himalayan peaks more than 100 miles away.
Cleaner air means stronger lungs for asthmatics, especially children, says Dr. Mary Prunicki, director of air pollution and health research at the Stanford University School of Medicine. And she notes early studies also link coronavirus severity to people with bad lungs and those in more polluted areas, though it’s too early to tell which factor is stronger.
The greenhouse gases that trap heat and cause climate change stay in the atmosphere for 100 years or more, so the pandemic shutdown is unlikely to affect global warming, says Breakthrough Institute climate scientist Zeke Hausfather. Carbon dioxide levels are still rising, but not as fast as last year.
Aerosol pollution, which doesn’t stay airborne long, is also dropping. But aerosols cool the planet so NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt is investigating whether their falling levels may be warming local temperatures for now.
Stanford’s Field says he’s most intrigued by increased urban sightings of coyotes, pumas and other wildlife that are becoming video social media staples. Boar-like javelinas congregated outside of a Arizona shopping center. Even New York City birds seem hungrier and bolder.
In Adelaide, Australia, police shared a video of a kangaroo hopping around a mostly empty downtown, and a pack of jackals occupied an urban park in Tel Aviv, Israel.
We’re not being invaded. The wildlife has always been there, but many animals are shy, Duke’s Pimm says. They come out when humans stay home.
For sea turtles across the globe, humans have made it difficult to nest on sandy beaches. The turtles need to be undisturbed and emerging hatchlings get confused by beachfront lights, says David Godfrey, executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
But with lights and people away, this year’s sea turtle nesting so far seems much better from India to Costa Rica to Florida, Godfrey says.
“There’s some silver lining for wildlife in what otherwise is a fairly catastrophic time for humans,” he says.
Associated Press writer Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi contributed to this report.
As the coronavirus cripples world economies, greenhouse gas emissions are plummeting: This year, they could drop by as much as 5.5 percent—the largest decrease ever recorded. On Monday, the price of oil went negative, meaning storing oil now costs more than the oil itself. Since we’re burning less gas and fuel, air pollution has dropped 30 percent in northeastern cities, and Los Angeles’ notorious smoggy skyline has cleared.
You might be thinking all this is great news for the environment. It’s a nice idea—but the real story is more complicated. “You don’t want companies collapsing like this,” says Andrew Logan, oil and gas director of Ceres, a think tank focused on sustainable investment. “Even the most ardent climate advocate shouldn’t wish for a chaotic transition in this sector. A chaotic transition brings all sort of pain to workers and also the environment.”
It helps to think of COVID-19 as a test run—a very painful one—of what an industry in decline will look like. “We’re seeing, as is case the now, what the cliff looks like if everyone shuts down at the same time,” Logan says.
With a glut of supply, North America producers Exxon, Shell, Devon Energy, and Cenovus Energy have already collectively announced spending cuts this year totaling $50 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. In North Dakota, Trump donor Harold Hamm’s Continental Resources drilling company has cut output by 30 percent the next two months. In Canada, the famously destructive tar sands are too expensive to mine and refine on oil prices this cheap. Even the Southwest’s Permian Basin, the most productive region for oil and gas in the United States, is expected to see dramatic closures.
Environmentalists are worried about what comes next, because of the many unintended consequences of market chaos. For starters, when gas prices tank, Americans will likely start buying more cars and taking more road trips, driving up demand all over again.
Other environmental problems aren’t quite so obvious. Lorne Stockman, a senior research analyst with the climate advocacy group Oil Change International, worries that the coming bankruptcies this year “are an environmental nightmare in the making,” with “wells left to rot as bankruptcy proceedings are going through.”
As the industry contracts, some drilling operations will simply leave their wells, and many don’t have the funding set aside to take proper precautions to make sure greenhouse gases and other pollutants don’t leak out. Environmental advocates are especially worried about leaks of methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas.
Abandoned wells are already a big problem. Even in relatively good times, oil and gas wells still dry up. When they do, they might be sold to smaller, sometimes less scrupulous operators to tap what’s left in the well. Then those operators eventually abandon the well or go bankrupt. They can’t afford to clean up the site, which involves plugging the well with cement to avoid leaks into groundwater.
We don’t know for sure how many of these wells exist around the country, though the EPA estimates there are more than 1.5 million of them that have accumulated over a century. Wyoming has had thousands it’s in the process of plugging, and Pennsylvania has 8,000. Taxpayers will eventually pay for both cleanup and environmental damages.
Drilling operations that don’t shutter will have to find ways to cut costs. In boom times, methane is valuable to drillers because it can be captured and reused for fuel. But when oil and natural gas prices have crashed in the past, drillers have sought to get rid of excess methane in the cheapest way possible—by burning it (a process known as “flaring”) or simply letting it leak into the atmosphere (called “venting”). Both processes can contribute to climate change and contaminate surrounding communities. Flaring and venting worry many environmental advocates. The International Energy Agency notes that “low natural gas prices may lead to increases in flaring or venting, and regulatory oversight of oil and gas operations could be scaled back.”
Methane emissions hit a 20-year high last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Although scientists don’t fully understand why, they believe that fracking operations may dramatically underestimate the methane they release. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, operations typically lose 15 times the rate that producers report because of malfunctions and intentional venting. The COVID-19 crisis could lead to more leaks, because companies won’t have any incentive to capture methane to use for fuel.
Amid the turbulence in the oil sector, the Trump administration has continued to roll back environmental regulations, and it has already undone Obama-era rules targeting methane emissions from oil and gas operations.
Nathalie Eddy, a field advocate for the environmental watchdog Earthworks, is worried that environmental contamination will be made worse as the administration weakens rules. “When the market falls like this one of the first things that will go is the limited capacity for inspection,” she says. The EPA, Department of the Interior, and Department of Transportation have already announced they will suspend some routine inspections and monitoring, including pipeline reporting and field inspections, and waive civil penalties if violators say COVID-19 was a factor.
Climate advocates have urged the EPA and Department of the Interior to require companies to monitor methane leaks and set aside money for their cleanup. To help the sector recoup the lost revenue, they propose a job stimulus program aimed at reclaiming these sites for the double-duty benefit of a clean environment and keeping workers employed.
But so far, those pleas are going unanswered. The Trump administration has floated several schemes for helping the oil sector: During the first round of stimulus, congressional Democrats managed to shoot down the oil industry’s bailout request. Now, the administration is considering paying producers to leave crude in the ground until the global glut shrinks. Meanwhile, the major banks want some collateral for the $200 billion they are owed from oil companies: According to Reuters, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup could even seize the industry’s assets, which could pose an enormous conflict of interest for a financial sector that just months ago was signaling a move away from the oil sector.
So far, it looks like the short-term emissions drop won’t result in any lasting policy improvements, Stockman says. “We have seen the wrong kind of stimulus that isn’t aimed at changing our relationship to fossil fuels.”
When oil industry supports legislators, air quality suffers
By By Kathryn Phillips, April 22, 2019
California journalists have reported over the last two election cycles on the effort by the Legislature’s “moderate caucus,” composed of conservative Democratic state legislators, to increase the caucus’ influence
During normal times—say, when the planet’s very future hasn’t depended on dramatically cutting combustion fueled by oil and methane gas—such facts would be just interesting data points for analyzing the Legislature’s political dynamics.
Now, though, the caucus members’ devotion to maintaining California’s oil dependence is having health-threatening consequences.
This devotion is especially playing out in the Assembly Transportation Committee. The committee is chaired by Jim Frazier, a Democrat from Discovery Bay, a leader of the moderate caucus.
California’s notorious air and climate pollution is driven by transportation. The smog and toxic particles that spark maladies ranging from low birthweight to asthma and heart disease are tightly linked to tailpipe emissions.
Reams of data, scientific papers and regulatory agency reports point to the need to transition California’s cars and trucks to zero-emission vehicles if the state is to ever have clean air or avoid the worst effects of climate change.
So one would expect to see growing devotion by the Democratic-led California Legislature to do more to help Californians access electric cars and cut pollution from delivery trucks.
Instead, the California Assembly is the graveyard for legislation designed to help advance zero-emission vehicles.
Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Frazier has a commanding, no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners style of governing. He has demonstrated that style by stopping bills to advance clean transportation by refusing to schedule them for a hearing in his committee.
One of the most recent victims is Assembly Bill 40, which would require the regulatory agency responsible for tailpipe emissions regulations, the California Air Resources Board, to produce and deliver to the legislature a strategy for fully transitioning brand new cars sold in California to zero-emission by 2040.
That is, the bill by San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting would have asked for a study to be done and sent to the Legislature. It did nothing more. Yet it’s a bill the oil and gas industry and the California Chamber of Commerce strongly oppose. The bill isn’t being scheduled for a hearing.
There are a few bills in the Senate that advance clean transportation that may pass in that house. But they are sure to face the buzzsaw in the Assembly once they reach Frazier’s committee.
How can a single legislator stop progress in advancing technology and cutting pollution?
He can do this by not acting alone. The Assembly Transportation Committee includes at least four other moderate caucus members who won’t buck the chairman, and whose votes, when counted with the handful of Republicans on the committee, can stop any bill.
In essence, the committee is stacked against zero-emission technology.
Frazier isn’t the only pro-oil Democrat sitting in a leadership role this year. Rudy Salas, Jr., a Democrat from Bakersfield, is chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. His first action was to try to get an expansive and expensive audit of the air resources board’s work on transportation.
It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Salas’s audit request, which failed to garner the votes needed, echoed the complaints commonly heard from the oil and gas industry about the air resources board’s transportation policies.
Who pays campaign costs has consequences. In the California Legislature, the consequences are that we all live with more health-threatening transportation pollution with no end in sight.
Kathryn Phillips is director of Sierra Club California, the legislative and regulatory advocacy arm of the Sierra Club’s 13 local chapters. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.