PBS: Pandemic May Save Lives If It Inspires Climate Reforms

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Cross posted to the MRC's NewsBusters blog

On Thursday's Amanpour & Co., PBS and CNN International host Christiane Amanpour again devoted a segment of her show to talking up the possibility of preserving the cleaner air that has resulted from people being forced to stay indoors during the deadly coronavirus pandemic. She even suggested that as many as 75,000 lives might be saved as a result of the cleaner air, and fretted over the Trump administration cutting some clean air standards "under cover of darkness" during the pandemic.

Amanpour introduced the segment:

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: So these are, of course, difficult times, but if there is a silver lining in coronavirus news, it is this: The economic shutdown is causing at least temporary relief from air and water pollution. In China, satellite images show air pollution rates dropping dramatically. Researchers say improved air quality could save 15,000 to 75,000 lives. And, in Venice, fish are returning as the canals become visibly cleaner. So could this be a harbinger of a low-carbon future? Or could economic and political pressure turn the clock back again on climate regulation?

She then brought aboard climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, and spent the first couple of questions discussing how difficult it would be to use regulations to try to achieve similar air quality as currently exists during the lockdown. After Hayhoe talked up the possibility of using alternative energy to replace fossil fuels, Amanpour followed up by referring to environmental activists who have gotten their hopes up that the current cleaner air will lead to reforms aimed at effecting the climate:

AMANPOUR: So what do you think is going to come out of this? We've got many people who are activists and scientists on this who just hope this is going to be a turning point. What do you actually think? Because, again, you know, airliners haven't been flying in the way that they normally do, and there's been a massive, massive drop, you know, carbon dioxide emissions dropped 31 percent from airlines in March, you know, 28 million tons of carbon dioxide. That's great news for the planet, great news for us, but, again, is it sustainable? What does airline travel look like after the economy gets back up and running again?

After Hayhoe argued that a warming climate would lead to an increase in certain diseases, Amanpour brought up recent Trump administration deregulation measures as she set up her guest to complain about the move:

AMANPOUR: So now let me ask you about, for wont of a better term, what's happening under the cover of darkness, what's happening under the cover of this pandemic by the Trump administration, all sorts of EPA regulations We just heard today they plan to relieve some of the restrictions on mercury and other pollutants that come out of, for instance, the coal industry. We also obviously know, at the end of March, President Trump -- the administration announced it's rolling back the Obama-era fuel standards -- those obviously are meant to reduce carbon emissions -- and weaken the fuel economy standards.

Amanpour went on to read a recent tweet from former President Barack Obama being critical of the action as she asked her guest for a response. Hayhoe complained that reducing the regulations would hurt people's health, and was "moving in the wrong direction."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Thursday, April 16 Amanpour & Co. on PBS:

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: So these are, of course, difficult times, but if there is a silver lining in coronavirus news, it is this: The economic shutdown is causing at least temporary relief from air and water pollution. In China, satellite images show air pollution rates dropping dramatically. Researchers say improved air quality could save 15,000 to 75,000 lives. And, in Venice, fish are returning as the canals become visibly cleaner. So could this be a harbinger of a low-carbon future? Or could economic and political pressure turn the clock back again on climate regulation?

Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist and author of the U.S. National Climate Association. And her husband, Andrew Farley, will join us in a moment. He's a leading evangelical pastor. So, Katharine Hayhoe, welcome to the program. First, let me just ask you: You saw the pictures -- everybody sort of saw the pictures of the beginning of the global economic lockdown that seem to show that the air was cleaning, and we could breathe better. Tell me, as an atmospheric scientist, what you saw -- what you felt about the longevity of that situation.

KATHARINE HAYHOE, CLIMATE SCIENTIST: Well, the question that you asked at the beginning is exactly the question. We are seeing a glimpse of what our blue skies and our clean air and our clear water would look like in a clean-energy future. Now, we have not achieved those today through sustainable methods. People have to return to work -- children need to return to school -- the economy needs to start back up. But if we had that economy powered by clean energy, that is what our skies, our water, and our land would look like.

AMANPOUR: So I mentioned China, down by 25 percent of carbon and pollution, India, which is very polluted, down by 71 percent .But here's the question then: People are going to say and ask: Is the cost of clean air and clear skies a total haul to the global economy?

HAYHOE: It is not if it is achieved through sustainable methods? What are those? Those are massive increases in efficiency which could take the United States halfway to its Paris goal all by itself, transitioning our economies to clean sources of energy -- a transition that is already under way with about 70 percent of new electricity around the world being installed today in wind or solar energy, and reducing our dependence ultimately on the old and dirty fuels that have served us well for centuries, but are no longer our future.

AMANPOUR: So what do you think is going to come out of this? We've got many people who are activists and scientists on this who just hope this is going to be a turning point. What do you actually think? Because, again, you know, airliners haven't been flying in the way that they normally do, and there's been a massive, massive drop, you know, carbon dioxide emissions dropped 31 percent from airlines in March, you know, 28 million tons of carbon dioxide. That's great news for the planet, great news for us, but, again, is it sustainable? What does airline travel look like after the economy gets back up and running again?

[HAYHOE]

AMANPOUR: The U.S. Army and many have said that climate change are threat multipliers in all sorts of areas around the world. Do you think that climate change, the warming, the carbon pollution -- it's too early to know -- but does it also, in your experience, accelerate the danger of viruses? I mean, we do know that in SARS, according to the statistics in China, in 2003, patients from areas with high pollution were twice as likely to die from SARS. Can you put that into context in this pandemic?

[HAYHOE]

AMANPOUR: So now let me ask you about, for wont of a better term, what's happening under the cover of darkness, what's happening under the cover of this pandemic by the Trump administration, all sorts of EPA regulations We just heard today they plan to relieve some of the restrictions on mercury and other pollutants that come out of, for instance, the coal industry. We also obviously know, at the end of March, President Trump -- the administration announced it's rolling back the Obama-era fuel standards -- those obviously are meant to reduce carbon emissions -- and weaken the fuel economy standards.

This -- President Obama himself reacted to, saying: "We've seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic. We can't afford any more consequences of climate denial. All of us, especially young people, have to demand better of our government at level and vote this fall."

Well, you know, that's not too subtle a message to vote for leaders who believe in saving the environment. But what do you make of, you know, you've been part of the assessment for the country -- of these rollbacks and this sort of lessening of the regulations on the protections that exist already?

HAYHOE: Unfortunately, these rollbacks will attack the very thing that is threatened by the pandemic, which is our health. Why do we have regulations on pollution? It's because pollution effects us. And so, rather than moving in the right direction with the rollback of these standards, we are moving in the wrong direction, putting even more people at risk.

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