COVID Is Shutting Down The Meat Industry

Just as the virus shut down car culture and traffic, it is shutting down meat processing:

Tyson Foods, one of the U.S.’s biggest meat processors, didn’t mince words in a full page New York Times spread that ran Sunday, in which they warned, “the food supply chain is breaking.”

“As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” John Tyson, Chairman of the Board of Tyson Foods, wrote in a letter published as an advertisement. “As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”

Tyson then goes deep Orwell by adding that millions of animals will be “depopulated.” Apart from the cruelty, apart from the fact that industrial meat production will be a source of future pandemics, apart from the fact that meat is a climate disaster, Americans will now get a chance to discover that that daily life without gobs and gobs of meat is…fine.

Multo Bene: Milan is ready to shift…

…from cars to walking and biking:

Milan is to introduce one of Europe’s most ambitious schemes reallocating street space from cars to cycling and walking, in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The northern Italian city and surrounding Lombardy region are among Europe’s most polluted, and have also been especially hard hit by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Under the nationwide lockdown, motor traffic congestion has dropped by 30-75%, and air pollution with it. City officials hope to fend off a resurgence in car use as residents return to work looking to avoid busy public transport.

The city has announced that 35km (22 miles) of streets will be transformed over the summer, with a rapid, experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space to protect residents as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

I hope this idea is contagious.

Virtuous Circle…

…clearer air = more solar power generated = clearer air. Once again, the coronavirus is giving us a hint:

Solar power generation records have been set in three of Europe’s largest markets, with cleaner air as a result of the coronavirus pandemic a contributing factor.

Reduced air pollution from the lockdown has contributed to new records in Germany and the U.K., while Spain’s bumper year of installations in 2019 is going through its first springtime boost.

Money is practically free to borrow right now, and the US Congress is borrowing trillions. How about throwing a trillion or so at solar power installation and grid upgrades? Capital investment = jobs for shattered economy = less reliance on oil, and gas = climate change mitigation = reduced climate costs = more money to invest in renewable energy.

Another very virtuous circle.

Norway Is An Electric Car Leader….

…And it is an inspiring story of what can happen when incentives change, and then a culture changes:

It still has some way to go, but the country looks on course to meet a government target – set in 2016, with full cross-party parliamentary support – of phasing out the sale of all new fossil-fuel based cars and light commercial vehicles by 2025.

“It’s actually quite amazing how fast the mindset’s changed,” said Christina Bu of the Norwegian EV Electric Vehicle Association. “Even in 2013 or 2014, people were sceptical. Now, a majority of Norwegians will say: my next car will be electric.”

But I couldn’t help noticing with all Norway’s efforts, EVs are still only 10% of the passenger fleet. So Norway’s success is also a warning about how hard it is to make this sort of transition and how important it is to start yesterday.

Yes, Electrify Everything…

It is a key to combatting climate change, so lots of cities and towns are starting to ban gas hookups on new construction.

Two key factors have recently aligned to make going all-electric more feasible for policymakers, homeowners, and developers, as both a carbon- and cost-cutting measure. Electricity generation produces far fewer greenhouse emissions than it once did. And electric appliances have become more efficient, user-friendly, and reliable.

A few decades ago, gas furnaces were a cheaper and less-polluting choice than electric space heating systems plugged into a grid dominated by coal-fired power plants. But today’s electric grid is cleaner. In California, more than half of the electricity used by consumers is now zero-carbon; state law requires this share to reach 60 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2045. Nationally, about 38 percent of electricity was generated by zero-carbon (renewables or nuclear) sources in 2019, up from about 23 percent in 1980. Along with new mandates and market trends, recent improvements in energy devices, such as air-source heat pumps that can efficiently keep spaces warm or cool in a wide range of climates, have the potential to make conventional gas-burning heaters — and the vast infrastructure required to fuel them — obsolete.

A Mutant Bacteria That Breaks #Plastic Down?

Of course, that would be a good thing:

A mutant bacterial enzyme that breaks down plastic bottles for recycling in hours has been created by scientists.

The enzyme, originally discovered in a compost heap of leaves, reduced the bottles to chemical building blocks that were then used to make high-quality new bottles. Existing recycling technologies usually produce plastic only good enough for clothing and carpets.

The company behind the breakthrough, Carbios, said it was aiming for industrial-scale recycling within five years. It has partnered with major companies including Pepsi and L’Oréal to accelerate development. Independent experts called the new enzyme a major advance…[snip]

…“It makes the possibility of true industrial-scale biological recycling of PET a possibility. This is a very large advance in terms of speed, efficiency and heat tolerance,” McGeehan said. “It represents a significant step forward for true circular recycling of PET and has the potential to reduce our reliance on oil, cut carbon emissions and energy use, and incentivise the collection and recycling of waste plastic.”

Scientists are also making progress in finding biological ways to break down other major types of plastic. In March, German researchers revealed a bug that feasts on toxic polyurethane, while earlier work has shown that wax moth larvae – usually bred as fish bait – can eat up polythene bags.

But there is always a hitch:

Waste bottles also have to be ground up and heated before the enzyme is added, so the recycled PET will be more expensive than virgin plastic. But Martin Stephan, the deputy chief executive at Carbios, said existing lower-quality recycled plastic sells at a premium due to a shortage of supply.

And you can be sure as long as recycled plastic is more expensive to make (and buy) than virgin plastic, recycled plastic will struggle.

In fact, this is the sort of scientific discovery that reveals that there really are no technological silver bullets (and why breathless reporting on them is actually harmful). What really needs to happen is that governments need to take the initiative to re-price plastic, so that its cost better reflects the environmental impact it inflicts on our health and on the oceans, which will also make recycled plastic more competitive. If that happened, both manufacturers and consumers would get a lot more careful about making, marketing and using plastic.

Pricing social, health and environmental impacts into all sorts of products is the one silver bullet that really could change what is made, how it is made, and what is purchased, and start to slow the relentless pollution and destruction that results from rampant consumption and worshipping the  God Of Convenience. That is the real breakthrough we should all demand.

Blue Skies, Courtesy Of COVID-19

This is nice, right?

The novel coronavirus is giving us a novel glimpse of one of the many benefits to the planet that would occur if humanity could slow its roll.

But one unintended upside to this crisis has been improved air quality, particularly in the hardest-hit areas where the most draconian measures have gone into force. This has been evident in Asia, including China’s Hubei province, where this virus began spreading among humans. It’s also a trend observed in Italy, another devastated region with several thousand deaths.

Now, given that all but a handful of states have implemented stay-at-home orders, the air-quality shifts are also being seen in the United States. This offers a rare — and unintended — large-scale experiment for scientists to see how human emissions contribute to hazardous air quality and analyze the effectiveness of particular policy ideas…[snip]

…Before stay-at-home orders were issued March 16, Zhu said, the EPA’s Air Quality Index, which incorporates multiple air pollutants, including NO2 and PM2.5 (fine particulate matter), was about 60, or in the “moderate” category. Since then, it has improved by about 20 percent and recorded the longest stretch of “good” air quality in March seen since at least 1995.

When a sharp reduction in human presence and activity leads to visible improvements to the welfare and wellbeing of the planet and its other species, it is time to take a hard look at what we could be doing to live more lightly.

If COVID-19 Doesn’t Force Us To Re-think Meat…

Pig Farm
(Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals)

Then every future pandemic is on us. Sorry, but it is true. Because the way we farm, hunt, sell and eat animals is a massive underlying vector.

Zoonotic viruses almost always leap to humans directly from our livestock or from wildlife, the slaughter and hunting of which bring susceptible human hosts in particularly close contact with live animals and their infected tissues and fluids.

Both farmed and caged wild animals create the perfect breeding ground for zoonotic diseases. Extraordinarily high population densities, prolonged heightened stress levels, poor sanitation, and unnatural diets create a veritable speed-dating event for viruses to rendezvous with a weakened human host and transcend the species barrier. In fact, we know that this happens routinely—it’s a simple throw of the dice for one of these leaps to coincide with subtle adaptations that allow the virus to transmit more efficiently from human to human. Swapping host species often allows pathogens to take a more sinister turn, causing severe illness or death in their new host despite only triggering mild symptoms in their animal reservoir.

Time and again, zoonotic viruses emerge from these contexts: wave after wave of avian flu, swine fluNipah virus … the list goes on.

Of course, this is reason #363 why humanity needs to shift to a plant-based diet. But it is a major, and at the moment, highly relevant one. After this is all over, will anyone pay attention?

You know who is enjoying the COVID-shutdown?

British Columbia’s resident killer whales, who are exploring areas of Vancouver harbor that are usually too loud and too busy.

As painful and tragic as this pandemic is, it is so helpful to see the many ways in which human presence (or absence of human presence) affects wildlife. It should help us better acknowledge our outsize impact on the planet, and motivate us to do whatever we can to consider the needs and interests of other species as we make choices in our own lives. .