Coronavirus is a ‘sliding doors’ moment. What we do now could change Earth’s trajectory



Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Pep Canadell, CSIRO; Corinne Le Quéré, University of East Anglia; Felix Creutzig, Mercator Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change; Glen Peters, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Matthew William Jones, University of East Anglia; Pierre Friedlingstein, University of Exeter; Rob Jackson, Stanford University, and Yuli Shan, University of Groningen

The numbers of people cycling and walking in public spaces during COVID-19 has skyrocketed. Cities from Bogota to Berlin and Vancouver have expanded bike lanes and public paths to accommodate the extra cycling traffic. In Australia, the New South Wales government is encouraging councils to follow suit.

Mandatory social distancing under COVID-19 is disrupting the way we live and work, creating new lifestyle patterns. But once the crisis is over, will – and should – the picture return to normal?

That’s one of many key questions emerging as the precise effect of the pandemic on carbon emissions becomes clear.




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Our research published today in Nature Climate Change shows how COVID-19 has affected global emissions in six economic sectors. We discovered a significant decline in daily global emissions – most markedly, on April 7.

The analysis is useful as we consider the deep structural change needed to shift the global economy to zero emissions.

Take, for example, our quieter streets. The fall in road traffic was a main driver of the global emissions decline. So, if we encourage cycling and working from home to continue beyond the current pandemic, our climate goals will become far more achievable.

Global daily fossil emissions of carbon dioxide in million tonnes. Dash lines represent different future scenarios in the evolution of the pandemic and confinement levels.

Crunching the numbers

At the end of each year we publish the Global Carbon Budget – a report card on global and regional carbon trends. But the unusual circumstances this year prompted us to run a preliminary analysis.

We calculated how the pandemic influenced daily carbon dioxide emissions in 69 countries covering 97% of global emissions and six economic sectors.

It required collecting new, highly detailed data in different ways, and from diverse sources.

For example, we examined surface and air transport activity using data from TomTom and Apple iPhone direction requests, highway traffic records and airport departures. We used daily data to estimate changes in electricity usage.

And we built an index showing the level and size of the population under confinement in each country, to extrapolate the available data worldwide.

The pandemic’s peak

In early April, the reduction in global activity peaked. On April 7, global emissions were 17% lower than an equivalent day in 2019.

Total daily emissions in early April were similar to those observed in 2006. The fact that the world now emits as much under “lockdown” conditions as it did under normal conditions just 14 years ago underscores the rapid emissions growth in that time.

Road traffic contributed the most to the emissions decline (43%). The next biggest contributors were the power sector (electricity and heat) and industry (manufacturing and material production such as cement and steel). These three sectors combined were responsible for 86% of the fall in daily emissions.

The peak daily fall in global aviation activity (60%) was the largest of any sector we analysed. But aviation’s contribution to the overall fall in emissions was relatively small (10%) because it makes up just 3% of global emissions.

As people stayed at home, we found a small increase in global emissions from the residential sector.

In Australia, our widespread, high-level confinement triggered an estimated fall in peak daily emissions of 28% – two-thirds larger than the global estimate of 17%.

The 2020 outlook

We assessed how the pandemic will affect carbon dioxide emissions over the rest of 2020. Obviously, this will depend on how strong the restrictions are in coming months, and how long they last.

If widespread global confinement ends in mid June, we estimate overall carbon emissions in 2020 will fall about 4% compared to 2019. If less severe restrictions remain in place for the rest of the year, the reduction would be about 7%.

If we consider the various pandemic scenarios and uncertainties in the data, the full range of emissions decline is 2% to 13%.




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Now for the important context. Under the Paris climate agreement and according to the United Nations Gap report, global emissions must fall by between 3% and 7% each year between now and 2030 to limit climate change well below 2℃ and 1.5℃, respectively.

Under our projected emissions drop, the world could meet this target in 2020 – albeit for the wrong reasons.

Stabilising the global climate system will require extraordinary changes to our energy and economic systems, comparable to the disruption brought by COVID-19.

Victoria’s Yallourn coal station. COVID-19 offers a chance to restructure energy systems.
Wikimedia

A fork in the road

So how could we make this byproduct of the crisis – the emissions decline in 2020 – a turning point?

A slow economic recovery might lower emissions for a few years. But if previous global economic crises are any indication, emissions will bounce back from previous lows.

But it need not be this way. The recent forced disruption offers an opportunity to change the structures underpinning our energy and economic systems. This could set us on the path to decarbonising the global economy.

Let’s consider again the extra people now walking and riding bikes. What if governments took the chance now to support such active, low-emissions travel, and make it permanent? What if we accelerate the rollout of electric cars, bikes and scooters, to both broaden transport options and save lives through cleaner city air?




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Encouragingly, the NSW government recently announced a A$15 million fund to help councils create bigger public thoroughfares and extra road crossings during the crisis. If the community embraces the changes, they may become permanent.

And Paris will invest €300 million (A$500 million) into a 650km bicycle network post-lockdown, including new “pop up” cycleways established during the pandemic.

The crisis has opened the way for other structural change. People and businesses have been able to test what travel is essential, and when alternative remote communication might be equally or more efficient.

Finally, energy and material consumption dropped during COVID-19. While such forced reductions are not a long-term answer to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, lower consumption can be achieved in other ways, such as new types of energy efficiency, that allow both environmentally sustainable development and rising well-being, incomes and activity.

We can rapidly return to the old “normal”, and the emissions pathway will follow suit. But if we choose otherwise, 2020 could be the unsolicited jolt that turns the global emissions trend around.The Conversation

Pep Canadell, Chief research scientist, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere; and Executive Director, Global Carbon Project, CSIRO; Corinne Le Quéré, Royal Society Research Professor, University of East Anglia; Felix Creutzig, Chair Sustainability Economics of Human Settlements, Mercator Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change; Glen Peters, Research Director, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Matthew William Jones, Senior Research Associate, University of East Anglia; Pierre Friedlingstein, Chair, Mathematical Modelling of Climate, University of Exeter; Rob Jackson, Chair, Department of Earth System Science, and Chair of the Global Carbon Project, globalcarbonproject.org, Stanford University, and Yuli Shan, Research Fellow, University of Groningen

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Yes, carbon emissions fell during COVID-19. But it’s the shift away from coal that really matters



Flickr/David Clarke

Frank Jotzo, Australian National University and Mousami Prasad, Australian National University

Much has been made of the COVID-19 lockdown cutting global carbon emissions. Energy use has fallen over recent months as the pandemic keeps millions of people confined to their homes, and businesses closed in many countries. Projections suggest global emissions could be around 5% lower in 2020 than last year.

What about Australia? Here we’ve seen sizeable reductions in electricity sector emissions, but mostly from the sustained expansion in solar and wind power rather than the lockdown.

That is good news. It means our electricity sector emissions will not bounce back once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, as they might in other parts of the world.

But on the other hand, a prolonged recession could cloud the outlook for new investments in the power sector, including renewables.

What’s clear right now is this: COVID-19 restrictions matter far less to Australia’s power sector emissions this year than the shift away from coal and towards renewables.

A recession would dampen investment in new power projects, including renewables.
AAP

Small fall in electricity demand

We examined Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM) in the seven weeks from March 16 (when national restrictions came into force) to May 4 this year. We compared the results to the same period in 2019.

The NEM covers all states and territories except Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Total electricity demand was 3% lower during the first seven weeks of the lockdown, compared with the same period in 2019. About 2% of this was due to an actual fall in electricity use. The rest was due to extra rooftop solar panels installed since May 2019 which lowered demand on the grid.




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Some of the 2% reduction may be due to cooler weather this autumn, leading to lower air conditioning use.

So while COVID-19 restrictions have hammered the economy in recent weeks, they haven’t had a big effect on electricity use. Most industrial and business power use has continued uninterrupted. Most office buildings have not fully shut down, although many people are working from home and use more electricity there.

A hefty drop in emissions

Despite the modest fall in electricity demand in the first seven weeks of lockdown, emissions fell substantially – by 8.5%. Comparing the first quarter of 2020 and 2019, emissions fell by 7%.

This is primarily because more renewable energy is now supplying the grid. Output from solar farms increased by 55% and from wind parks by 19% compared with the first quarter of 2019, reflecting massive amounts of new installed capacity coming online. Output from hydroelectricity increased by 18%, likely reflecting higher rainfall.

More renewables supply combined with falling demand means less output from fossil fuel power plants. Coal plant output fell 9% compared to the same period in 2019, entirely due to lower output by black coal plants in New South Wales and Queensland. Gas fired power output fell by 8%.

Electricity prices plunge

Meanwhile, wholesale prices in the NEM have fallen dramatically. The average price was 60% lower in the seven weeks since March 16 compared with the same period in 2019. A marked reduction in prices was evident from November 2019.

Why? One reason is that prices for natural gas are much lower and hence gas-fired power stations can make lower bids for electricity. Gas prices fell through much of 2019, and dropped further in the first quarter of 2020, associated with the pandemic-induced economic downturn. Gas plants often set the prices for everyone in the market, so this has a big effect on the market overall.




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Also, coal and hydropower plants lowered their bids in this more competitive environment.

The outlook for wholesale prices remains flat. Gas prices seem unlikely to rebound soon. More wind and solar power will come into the market and there is no underlying growth trend in electricity demand.

Relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions is unlikely to make a big difference. What may drive prices up once again is the next large coal plant closure. The last one to close was Victoria’s Hazelwood plant in 2017.

What does this mean for coal and renewables?

Low wholesale electricity prices are good for consumers – in particular industry, where the wholesale price is a bigger proportion of the total charges for electricity supply. On the flip side, they mean less money for power generators.

Across the National Electricity Market, revenue for generators was about A$160 million per week lower during the first seven weeks of lockdown compared to the same period in 2019.

This revenue fall makes coal plants less profitable, and makes life uncomfortable for plants with relatively high costs for fuel and maintenance. It’s likely to push older plants closer to closure.




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Lower prices also make investment in new renewable power less attractive. In recent years, average wholesale prices were well above the typical lifetime average costs of producing electricity from newly built solar and wind parks. There is also uncertainty around how prices will be set in power markets in the future, and how congestion of power transmission lines will be managed.

Nevertheless, the longer term prospects for renewables in Australia remain very good. Solar and wind power are the cheapest of all new generation technologies producing power, and solar power is expected to become even cheaper. A new coal-fired power plant, if one was ever built, would have far higher costs per megawatt hour. Costs for a nuclear plant would be higher still.

A drop in revenue during COVID-19 is bad news for coal-fired power generators.
Wikimedia

The way forward

The numbers show Australia does not need a painful recession to drive carbon emissions down. It needs sustained investment in new, clean technology.

The better the Australian economy recovers, the more private businesses will invest in new energy supply. But if the world falls into a deep and lasting recession, and the Australian economy with it, then the prospects for private investment in new power plants will suffer.

In that case, governments may be well advised to invest public funds in clean energy, more so than they have in the past.The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Australian National University and Mousami Prasad, Research Fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Environmental activism goes digital in lockdown – but could it change the movement for good?



Greta Thunberg talks with Professor Johan Rockström about the coronavirus and the environment at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, April 21 2020.
EPA-EFE/Jessica Gow

William Finnegan, University of Oxford

The environmental movement’s past recently collided with its future. April 22 marked the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, a milestone for environmentalism. A few days later, a global school strike was organised by Fridays for Future, the international coalition of young people inspired by Greta Thunberg’s protests against climate change. But after months of careful planning, both occasions were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic – and went online instead.

So when social distancing measures are eased, will protests return to the streets, or do these events mark a turning point?

In 1970, an estimated 20 million Americans (10% of the US population at the time) participated in the first Earth Day. Back then, US senator Gaylord Nelson conceived of a national “teach-in” to raise environmental awareness and recruited Harvard law student Denis Hayes to organise the event.




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Teach-ins had emerged in the mid-1960s as a hybrid of student sit-ins and informal lectures in opposition to the Vietnam War. Rather than going on strike, teachers and students occupied classrooms instead. According to environmental historian Adam Rome, 1,500 universities and 10,000 schools held Earth Day teach-ins in April 1970, “nurturing a generation of activists.”

A postage stamp issued to commemorate the first Earth Day, April 1970.
Michael Rega/Shutterstock

In the decades that followed, the environmental movement grew into a political and cultural force. Yet subsequent Earth Days failed to capture the urgency and grassroots passion of the original.

The 50th anniversary Earth Day sought to address this by going back to its roots. Teach-ins were planned for classrooms and campuses across the world, but COVID-19 closed schools. The day of action evolved into a 12-hour live-stream during which actors, athletes, musicians, politicians, and even Pope Francis shared messages of environmental stewardship and climate action.

The school climate strikes originated in August 2018, when 15-year-old Greta Thunberg skipped school to protest inaction on climate change outside the Swedish parliament.

Within little more than a year, seven million students and their supporters were joining school strikes around the world and Thunberg was making headlines for her scathing speeches at the UN climate conference in Poland and [World Economic Forum in Davos]. Another global strike was scheduled for April 2020, but COVID-19 again pushed the event online.

The school strikes and annual Earth Day celebrations reflect different generations of environmental activism and different philosophies of protest. Yet both have been guided by the environmental slogan “think globally, act locally”. During the pandemic, environmental activists are now thinking globally and acting digitally.

‘Clicktivism’ and digital natives

I’m researching climate change education and youth climate activism in the UK. Like the protesters, I’ve been forced to adapt my plans and have been exploring the digital side of climate activism.

Online activism has been called “clicktivism”, or, disparagingly, “slacktivism”. It’s been characterised as impulsive, noncommittal and easily replicated, emphasising the lower risks and costs of political expression on social media versus protest and political engagement in the real world. But the relationship between digital technology and social movements is more complicated.

Researchers are split on the precise role of digital activism. From one perspective, campaigners can use social media to “supersize” their public engagement. This helps them to reach more people and bypass traditional media channels. Other researchers emphasise the power of the internet to help activists self-organise. Without the structure or hierarchy of traditional organisations, digital platforms can allow completely new forms of activism to flourish.




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A recent study found that climate advocacy groups that started on the internet, such as 350.org, have different online strategies, tactics and theories of change compared to older environmental groups such as Greenpeace. Founded in 2008, 350.org (which is both a URL and reference to the safe level of 350 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) led the first wave of internet-savvy, youth-driven environmental organisations.

Successful digital campaigns at 350.org have been described as a virtuous cycle where online tools spur offline action – the results of which can be documented and shared online to inspire further action.

Modern activists can film demonstrations using smartphones and share them online, reaching a much wider audience.
Rachael Warriner/Shutterstock

It’s too early to say how the school climate strikes of 2019 have influenced the broader movement, but current research is exploring how climate strikers are using Instagram and how collective identities on social media may drive collective action. As “digital natives”, these young climate activists grew up with the internet, smartphones and social media. Their movement uses memes and hashtags across YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, where Thunberg has more than four million followers.

While COVID-19 prevents offline action, thousands of #ClimateStrikeOnline social media posts show solitary protesters around the world armed with handmade signs, a virtual echo of where the movement started. When it comes to climate activism, digital natives are now leading the way. The revolution will be live-streamed.The Conversation

William Finnegan, PhD Candidate in Climate Education and Activism, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why it doesn’t make economic sense to ignore climate change in our recovery from the pandemic



shutterstock

Anna Skarbek, Monash University

It will be tempting for some to overlook the climate change challenge in the rush to restart the economy after the pandemic.

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor has flagged he wants to develop Australia’s gas-fired power to help boost the economy. And conservative political strategist Sir Lynton Crosby recently argued business survival is more important than environment, social and governance matters.




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In the United States, the Trump administration is reportedly contemplating a coronavirus rescue package tailored specifically to oil and natural gas producers, while the Chinese government is trying to stimulate its economy by allowing polluters to bypass environmental regulations.

But the pandemic is not a reason to weaken the commitments to net zero emissions. In fact, climate action is a vital protection against further global shocks, especially as governments plan their post-pandemic stimulus packages.

The economic shock from climate change

The devastation the virus has inflicted is a reminder of our vulnerability and the importance of prevention and mitigation.

It’s a point bolstered by fresh evidence about the scale of economic shock we might face if we fail to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.

A major study published in Nature Communications last month put a dollar value on the cost of climate inaction. If we don’t prevent the planet warming, we can expect a bill of between US$150 trillion and US$792 trillion by 2100. That’s up to A$1,231 trillion in Australian dollars.




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The predicted “global shock” would be even more financially catastrophic than coronavirus.

The research, however, also points out some good news. The limitation of global warming to 1.5℃ would deliver a corresponding boost, with the global economy growing by US$616 trillion compared to inaction.

Big businesses on board

The economic cost of the shutdowns imposed to address the coronavirus pandemic have not been compared to the value of the lives saved.

Climate change action, on the other hand, has repeatedly been found to pass traditional cost-benefit tests. The solutions are known to already be available and effective if deployed in time.

What’s more, new research – with Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz and leading climate economist Nicholas Stern at the helm – shows climate mitigation actions deliver maximum economic growth multiplier benefits from a stimulus perspective.

It found spending on new green energy projects generates twice as many jobs for every dollar invested, compared with equivalent allocations to fossil fuel projects.

Climate action, then, is vital for the economy. That’s why a remarkable list of business leaders have just added their names to a call for stimulus funds to be invested in what they call “the economy of the future”.

This includes chief executives, chairs and senior executives from major organisations including Rio Tinto, BP, Shell, Allianz and HSBC, together with the Energy Transitions Commission (a global group of companies and experts working towards low-carbon energy systems).

They’re urging for massive investments in renewable power systems, a boost for green buildings and green infrastructure, targeted support for innovative low-carbon activities and other similar measures.

In Europe, a coalition of chief executives, politicians and academics is calling for major investment in projects to make the European Union the “world’s first climate-neutral continent” by 2050.

They say the need for state intervention in the wake of the pandemic provides an unparalleled chance to build economies that are sustainable, resilient and dynamic.

Representatives of global companies have signed the “green recovery” platform. These include PepsiCo, Microsoft, Enel, E.ON, Volvo Group, L’Oréal, Danone, Ikea and more.

Technology is getting better

Boosting the economy with climate action is a message our recent research from ClimateWorks Australia reinforces. It shows how we can achieve the Paris targets with technologies already available.




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But we can only do it if government, business and consumer decisions support the accelerated deployment of these technologies, and only if we roll out mature zero-emissions technology solutions more quickly across all sectors (not just electricity), and invest in development and commercialisation of emerging solutions in harder-to-abate sectors.

Across all sectors of the Australian economy, technology provides opportunities to decarbonise, and has rapidly improved.

For example, advances in lithium ion technology mean high-tech batteries cost only a fifth of what they did ten years ago. So it’s easier and cheaper to store electricity than ever before – even as renewables now offer a consistently cheaper source of generation than fossil fuels.

Lithium ion batteries have come a long way in a short time.
Shutterstock

Innovations like that have changed the game. A new Australian Energy Market Operator study makes clear that, within five years, Australia can run a power grid in which 75% of electricity comes from wind and solar.

A clean stimulus package

Measures these pathways involve are ideally suited to a stimulus package. Governments could create jobs and spur industry, while modernising the economy for the challenges ahead.

How? By building charging infrastructure to support electric vehicles powered by renewables; encouraging investment in sustainable agriculture, fertiliser management and carbon forestry; deploying PV and battery systems across city buildings; or embracing any number of other “shovel ready” solutions.

Through this pandemic we’ve witnessed how people have learned new approaches and switched mindsets almost as quickly as the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and social distancing restrictions began.

Just as we’re remembering to wash our hands more than we used to, coming out of the pandemic, it will pay to be more attentive about remembering to choose the zero-emissions option at every step.




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We stand at a crossroads. If government stimulus packages around the world favour carbon-intensive practices and miss the moment to modernise and decarbonise, we will lock ourselves into a warming future.

If, however, we rise to the challenge, we can use the recovery from one crisis to simultaneously address another.The Conversation

Anna Skarbek, CEO at ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No, Aussie bats won’t give you COVID-19. We rely on them more than you think



Justin Welbergen, CC BY-SA

Pia Lentini, University of Melbourne; Alison Peel, Griffith University; Hume Field, The University of Queensland, and Justin Welbergen, Western Sydney University

In this pandemic it’s tempting to look for someone, or something, to blame. Bats are a common scapegoat and the community is misled to believe getting rid of them could be a quick fix. But are bats really the problem?

Australian bats have been in the news recently for two main reasons: the misplaced fear they might carry COVID-19, and overblown reports they carry a koala-killing virus.

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This recent bad press has seen increased incidences of disturbing cruelty against Australia’s bats, as well as calls to cull or “move on” bats that live close to people. Because fewer bats would mean less disease, right? Wrong. Here’s why.

Debunking bad press

COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This virus is one of thousands of coronaviruses found in mammals all over the world, most with no impact on people.

A closely related virus has previously been identified in a species of horseshoe bat in China, so it’s probable the ancestor of the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated in bats.




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While several coronaviruses have been detected in various Australian bat species, none are closely related to those viruses associated with zoonotic (animal-borne) diseases like COVID-19, SARS and MERS. And none have been recorded to infect people.

More contact between humans and wildlife, through activities such as unregulated wildlife trade can lead to potentially harmful novel viruses spilling over from their natural hosts into new species.
Hume Field, Author provided

Australian bats also recently appeared in the news because of the discovery of a retrovirus in black flying-foxes related to koala immune deficiency syndrome. Some news outlets have falsely suggested bats pose a risk to koala populations.

But the original scientific paper clearly stated the proposed transmission from bats to koalas happened long ago, on evolutionary time scales. What we see in these species today are two separate viruses – there’s no evidence the virus detected in today’s bats can infect koalas, let alone cause disease.

Aussie bats have had it tough

There are about 1,400 species of bats worldwide, including 81 in Australia.

All of our bat species are native and unique. Most are small, nocturnal, and call outside of the human hearing range, so the average Australian would be lucky to see more than a couple of species in their lifetime.

This is important to remember when it comes to thinking about how often they actually interact with people.

A selection of Australia’s bat diversity (Top row from left: grey-headed flying-fox; orange leaf-nosed bat; common blossom bat; southern myotis; Bottom row: golden-tipped bat; eastern horseshoe bat; common sheath-tailed bat; ghost bat)
Justin Welbergen (grey-headed flying-fox, eastern horseshoe bat); Nicola Hanrahan (ghost bat); Bruce Thomson (golden-tipped bat); Steve Parish & Les Hall for remainder of species

Most Australians tend to think of “bats” as the two species of flying-foxes (or “fruit bats”) we commonly see in our cities: grey-headed flying-foxes (in the south) and black flying-foxes (in the north).

Flying-foxes have had a tough few months. Many Eucalypts failed to flower, so food shortages saw thousands of flying-foxes perish from starvation, and then many more died en masse in this summer’s extreme heat.

They were also heavily affected by the summer bushfires that burnt large tracts of the bats’ winter feeding areas.

What are bats doing in urban areas?

Flying-foxes show up in urban areas in search of food. Many residents equate seeing more flying-foxes to the species increasing in numbers, and are frustrated that the bats are classified as threatened.

In fact, grey-headed flying-foxes have experienced substantial population declines in recent years. While there are currently hundreds of thousands, historical data indicate that there were once millions.

Part of a flying-fox colony, asleep during the day before they fly out for breakfast at dusk.
Justin Welbergen, Author provided

Nonetheless, bats are not always easy to live close to. Their fly-outs make for spectacular shows, but colonies can also create a lot of noise, smell and mess.

This, plus misunderstandings around disease risks, including from COVID-19, has meant loud voices are calling for the eviction of bats from urban areas by any means possible.




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Why can’t we just move or cull them?

Managing bats in urban environments is no straightforward matter. Flying-foxes have complex movement dynamics, which makes “dispersing” them from urban areas extremely difficult.

Those who advocate for dispersals to be carried out often cite the Sydney and Melbourne Botanic Gardens as examples of successes. But these took place over months and years, large areas, and cost more than A$2 million each. Relatively cheaper dispersals have also been attempted, but ultimately failed.




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Culling is an equally impractical and extremely controversial suggestion. Most Australians accept that needless killing and harming of native wildlife is unacceptable, and our laws reflect this.

There are the obvious animal ethics issues, but from a practical perspective, proposing we could cull (by shooting) flying-foxes in densely-populated urban areas to effectively reduce populations is also completely unrealistic.

What’s more, attempts at both dispersals and culling are known to have the undesirable effect of splintering colonies, and driving stressed bats into surrounding areas (parks, residential backyards, school grounds). Essentially, increasing people’s exposure to bats.

Physiological stress could also promote viral shedding. Flying-fox populations are already struggling to recover from severe food shortages, extreme heat events and bushfires. So advocating such actions is misguided, with the potential to amplify, rather than alleviate disease risk.

A Mexican free-tailed bat with insect prey, and a Christmas Island flying-fox covered in pollen.
Flickr: US Department of Agriculture (left); Carol de Jong (right)

Are bats to blame?

No, bats are our friends – we rely on them more than most people realise.

Many bats are voracious predators of insects and their service to the global agricultural industry is worth billions of dollars each year.

Flying-foxes also help maintain the integrity of forests by providing long-distance pollination and seed-dispersal services. That makes them integral to the recovery of Australia’s forests from last summer’s fires.




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The fundamental issue is not the viruses in bats. SARS-CoV-2 is now a human virus, and we are responsible, knowingly or not, for its global spread.

The “epidemiological bridges” that we’ve inadvertently created – which increase our contact with wildlife through encroachment into natural areas, habitat destruction, and unregulated wildlife trade – are what’s really to blame.The Conversation

Pia Lentini, Research Fellow, School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne; Alison Peel, Senior Research Fellow in Wildlife Disease Ecology, Griffith University; Hume Field, Science and Policy Advisor for China & Southeast Asia, EcoHealth Alliance | Honorary Professor, School of Veterinary Science, The University of Queensland, and Justin Welbergen, President of the Australasian Bat Society | Associate Professor of Animal Ecology, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Can’t go outside? Even seeing nature on a screen can improve your mood



Damon Hall/Unsplash, CC BY

Cris Brack, Australian National University and Aini Jasmin Ghazalli

Are you feeling anxious or irritated during the coronavirus lockdown? Do you constantly want to get up and move? Maybe you need a moment to engage with nature.

Getting into the great outdoors is difficult at right now. But our research soon to be published in Australian Forestry shows you can improve your mood by experiencing nature indoors. This could mean placing few pot plants in the corner of your home office, or even just looking at photos of plants.

Our work adds to a compelling body of research that shows being around nature directly benefits our mental health.

Virtual images of nature have similar effects to being in the physical presence of nature.
Kishoor Nishanth/Unsplash, CC BY

Biophilia

Public gardens and parks, street verges with trees and bushes, and even rooftop gardens bring us a broad range of benefits – boosting physical health, reducing air pollution, and even lowering crime rates.




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But inside, in your hastily constructed home office or home school room, you may be unable to take full advantage of urban nature.

Natural products such as wooden furniture can also improve working conditions.
Noemi Macavei Katocz/Unsplash, CC BY

Embracing the notion of “biophilia” – the innate human affinity with nature – while locked down inside may improve your productivity and even your health.

The biophilia hypothesis argues modern day humans evolved from hundreds of generations of ancestors whose survival required them to study, understand and rely on nature. So a disconnection from nature today can cause significant issues for humans, such as a decline in psychological health.

In practice at home, connecting with nature might mean having large windows overlooking the garden. You can also improve working conditions by having natural materials in your office or school room, such as wooden furniture, natural stones and pot plants.

Indoor plants

Our research has demonstrated that even a small number of plants hanging in pockets on along a busy corridor provide enough nature to influence our physiological and psychological perceptions.

These plants even caused behavioural differences, where people would change their route through a building to come into contact with the indoor plants.

We surveyed 104 people, and 40% of the respondents reported their mood and emotions improved in the presence of indoor plants.

They felt “relaxed and grounded” and “more interested”. The presence of indoor greenery provides a place to “relax from routine” and it made the space “significantly more pleasant to work in”.

Our study showed the benefits of indoor greenery.
Author provided

As one person reported:

When I first saw the plants up on the wall brought a smile to my face.

Whenever I walk down the stairs or walk past I mostly always feel compelled to look at the plants on the wall. Not with any anxiety or negative thoughts, rather, at how pleasant and what a great idea it is.

Looking at wildlife photography

Our research also explored whether viewing images, posters or paintings of nature would make a difference.

We photographed the plants from viewpoints similar to those the corridor users experienced. Survey responses from those who only viewed these digital images were almost the same as those who experienced them in real life.

While we can’t say for sure, we can hypothesise that given the importance of vision in modern humans, an image that “looks” like nature might be enough to trigger a biophilic response.




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However, physically being in the presence of plants did have some stronger behavioural effects. For example corridor users wanted to linger longer looking at the plants than those who viewed the photographs, and were more likely to want to visit the plants again. Maybe the other senses – touch, smell, even sound – created a stronger biophilic response than just sight alone.

So the good news is if you can’t get to a nursery – or if you have a serious inability to keep plants alive – you can still benefit from looking at photographs of them.

Looking at photos of nature can improve your mood.
Bee Balogun/Unsplash, CC BY

If you haven’t been taking your own photos, search the plethora of images from wildlife photographers such as Doug Gimesy, Frans Lanting and Tanya Stollznow.

Or check out live camera feeds of a wide range of environments, and travel to far-flung places without leaving the safety of home.

While we haven’t tested the mood-boosting effects of live videos, we hypothesise their physiological and psychological effects will be no different than digital photographs.

Here are seven places to help you get started.

  • The Bush Blitz citizen science app launched a new online tool today. The species recovery program encourages children to explore their backyard to identify different species.

  • “From the bottom of the sea direct to your screen”: watch this underwater live stream of Victoria’s rocky reef off Port Phillip Bay

  • The Coastal Watch website offers live camera feeds on beaches around Australia.

  • Watch the running water, trees and occasional fauna in California’s Redwood Forest River.

  • In pastoral Australia, go on a four-hour drive through the country side along tree-lined roads.

  • Zoos Victoria has set up live cameras that show its animals in natural (and nature-like) environments from Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Open Range Zoo.

  • Yellowstone National Park may be closed right now, but webcams are stationed in various locations throughout the park.




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The Conversation


Cris Brack, Associate Professor, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University and Aini Jasmin Ghazalli, Graduate student

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Air quality near busy Australian roads up to 10 times worse than official figures



FABRIZIO BENSCH/ Reuters

Hugh Forehead, University of Wollongong

Air quality on Australia’s roads matters. On any given day (when we’re not in lockdown) people meet, commute, exercise, shop and walk with children near busy streets. But to date, air quality monitoring at roadsides has been inadequate.

I and my colleagues wanted to change that. Using materials purchased from electronics and hardware stores for around A$150, we built our own air quality monitors.

Our newly published research reveals how our devices detected particulate pollution at busy intersections at levels ten times worse than background levels measured at official air monitoring stations.




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Our open-source design means citizen scientists can make their own devices to measure air quality, and make the data publicly available.

This would provide more valuable data about city traffic pollution, giving people the information they need to protect their health.

Air pollution can have serious health consequences.
Tim Wimborne/Reuters

Particulate matter: a tiny killer

Everyone is exposed to airborne particulate matter emitted by industry, transport and natural sources such as bushfires and dust storms.

Particulate matter from traffic is a mixture of toxic compounds, both solid and liquid. It’s a well-known health hazard, particularly for children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists and people working on or near roads.

Particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, referred to as PM2.5, is particularly harmful. To put this in context, a human hair is about 100 micrometres in width.

When inhaled, these fine particles can damage heart and brain function, circulation, breathing and the immune and endocrine systems. They have also been linked to cancer and low birth weight in newborns.

Do-it-yourself air monitoring

Highly reliable equipment to measure air quality has traditionally been expensive, and is not deployed widely.

Official air quality monitoring usually takes place open spaces or parks, to provide an averaged, background reading of pollution across a wide area. The monitoring stations are not typically placed at pollution sources, such as power stations or roads.

However there is growing evidence that people travelling outdoors near busy city roads are exposed to high levels of traffic emissions.

An air quality monitor built by the researchers and painted purple, attached to a light pole in Liverpool, Sydney.
Author supplied

Air quality monitors can be bought off the shelf at low cost, but their readings are not always reliable.

So I and other researchers at the University of Wollongong’s SMART Infrastructure Facility made our own monitors. They essentially consist of a sensor, weatherproof housing, a controller and a fan. Anyone with basic electronics knowledge and assembly skills can make and install one. The monitor connects to the internet (we used The Things Network) and the software required to run it and collect the data is available for free here.

The weatherproof housing cost about A$16 to make. It consists of PVC plumbing parts, a few screws and small pieces of fibreglass insect screen, which can be bought at any hardware store.

Sensors can be bought from electronics retailers for little as A$30, but many are not tested, calibrated or overseen by experts and can be inaccurate. We tested three, and chose the Novasense SDS011, which we bought for A$32.

A controller is needed to run the monitor and send data to the internet. We bought ours from an online retailer for under A$60. A fan, needed to circulate air through the housing, was bought from Jaycar for A$14.

Accounting for wiring and a few other parts, our monitors cost under A$150 each to make – ten times cheaper than mid-grade commercial detectors – and produce reasonably accurate results.

What we found

Following community meetings, we deployed our sensors at nine key locations and intersections around Liverpool in Western Sydney, a region which has traditionally suffered from poor air quality.

Our monitors have been in place since March 2018, placed close to pedestrian height on structures such as light poles, shade awnings or walls.




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They have detected roadside measurements of PM2.5 at values of up to 280 micrograms per cubic metre in morning peak traffic. This is more than ten times the readings at the nearest official monitoring station. The severity of the pollution and how long it lasts depends on how bad the traffic is.

These findings are comparable to other studies of busy roads.

Pollution from vehicle emissions can have serious health consequences.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Breathing easier

Our experience of roadside air quality can be improved in a number of ways.

Obviously, exposure to air pollution is worst at peak traffic times, so plan your travel to avoid these times, if possible.

Pollution levels drop quickly with distance from busy roads and can be at near background levels just one block away. So try to detour along quieter back streets or through parks.

Barriers, such as dense roadside vegetation, can shield pedestrians from pollution. Children in prams are more exposed to traffic pollution than adults, as they are closer to the level of vehicle exhaust pipes. Pram covers can reduce infants’ exposure by up to 39%.

Of course, the best way to reduce air pollution from traffic is to have fewer vehicles on our roads, and cleaner fuel and engines.

In the meantime, we hope our low-cost technology will prompt citizen scientists to develop their own sensors, producing the data we need to breathe easy in city streets.




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The Conversation


Hugh Forehead, Research Fellow, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.