Newsdesk – August 25

Embers blow off a burned tree after the LNU Lightning Complex Fire burned through the area on August 18, 2020 in Napa, California. Credit: Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Fast-Moving California Wildfires Boosted by Climate Change. Firefighters battled nearly two dozen wildfires in California three days ago after a week of raging blazes blackened more than 1 million acres across the state. The fast-moving fires, which are seen by many scientists as a sign of climate change, have killed five people, destroyed more than 1,000 structures, and forced thousands to flee.  Altogether, the fires have burned an area the size of Rhode Island.  The fires on Saturday burned part of the oldest state park in California, Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County. Flames damaged historic buildings, the campground, and “all of the infrastructure.” The week was filled with horror stories and heroic efforts. Volunteers helped evacuate senior citizens from a Vacaville retirement home in the middle of the night as fire raced toward the facility. Others helped rescue “dozens and dozens of individuals with intellectual disabilities” in Santa Clara. Hundreds saw their homes destroyed. The American Red Cross, wary of the coronavirus pandemic, put some survivors in hotel rooms so they could be separated from other evacuees, said Jim Burns, a Red Cross spokesman. Others went to evacuation shelters where protocols were in place to keep people spaced out. The Red Cross was also talking to colleges to see whether dorm rooms were available. Fires erupted beginning Aug. 15 when more than 1,200 lightning strikes hit the baking landscape within 72 hours. Those came “the exact week that we were experiencing some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in human history, 130-degree temperatures in the southern part of the state,”  Gov. Gavin Newsom said. It was “maybe the hottest modern recorded temperature in the history of the world.”  Hotter temperatures, less dependable precipitation and snowpack that melts sooner lead to drier soil and parched vegetation. Climate change also affects how much moisture is in the air, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA. “It’s actually drying out the air during these extreme heat events,” which zaps plants of additional moisture, Swain said. That left much of the state a tinderbox when hundreds of lightning strikes scorched the countryside –  Scientific American

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Newsdesk July 31

 

Deforestation is both an environmental and a health hazard.Ales Krivec/Unsplash

Protecting nature could prevent the next pandemic.  As humans and wildlife increasingly intermingle due to wildlife trade and deforestation, these types of viruses will only have more opportunity to infect homo sapien hosts.  The CDC estimates that 6 in every 10 new diseases originate in animals, and those of concern in the US include coronaviruses, West Nile, rabies, and Lyme. These zoonotic diseases infect people during close contact with wildlife, with livestock sometimes serving as an intermediate vector. Deforestation increases this risk. When we increasingly carve up forests with roads and settlements, we also reduce habitat for wildlife, making humans and animals more likely to interact. To help reduce deforestation-related risks, ecologists could target areas where high-risk species—including bats, rodents, primates, and pangolins—dwell alongside humans. With the COVID-19 pandemic raging, the team of scientists prepared an economic analysis to see how much it might cost to stop zoonoses at their source. Using their expertise and existing information on policies to address deforestation and wildlife trade, the researchers assembled a global estimate of what it might cost to stave off pandemics. In total, preventing future pandemics through strategic protection of forests and regulating wildlife trade would cost between $22 and $31 billion a year. In addition, when the researchers considered the value of carbon sequestration provided by leaving trees alone, the cost of preventing pandemics went down by $4 billion per year. Pandemic prevention can also create new jobs in conservation, research, and veterinary medicine – Popular Science

  • Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace Campaign for a Breakup Between Big Tech and Big Oil – Inside Climate News
  • Keep ‘unreliable, immoral’ Chevron Corp. out of Israel, activists urge MKs – The Times of Israel
  • France to ban cafe terrace heaters as no longer cool – Reuters
  • In 100 days, the climate emergency may be even more serious. That’s why we’re launching this series – The Guardian
  • My Midlife Crisis as a Russian Sailor – Outside 
  • Germany’s forests decimated by insects, drought – Made for Minds
  • London’s Covid-Safe Commute Idea: Open-Air Buses – Bloomberg.com
If America is ever going to win on climate change, it must first break its addiction to fossil fuels and racism.’ Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Environmental racism is killing Americans of color. Climate change will make it worse.  Communities of color have appealed for decades to politicians, policymakers and environmental organizations that they “can’t breathe,” only to be ignored. In fact,  Black, Brown, Indigenous and lower-wealth communities have disproportionately been the dumping grounds for our country’s deadliest toxic pollutants. Studies show that Hispanics, Asians, American Indians/Alaska Natives and especially African Americans experience higher risks of harm (including premature death) from air pollution. The late congressman John Lewis even warned: “When we take our air, waters and land for granted; when we show a simple lack of respect for nature and our environment, we unmake God’s good creation. Humanity is the most important endangered species under threat from climate change and yet we flood our ecology with poisons and pollution.” In particular, frontline communities are hit first and worst from climate change. They are the least likely to be able to recover, often forgotten as decisions take place about rebuilding their communities by those who benefit from the disaster economy. In conclusion, If America is ever going to “win” on climate change, it must first break its addiction to fossil fuels and racism. Only then can it truly be great – The Guardian

Mother Jones illustration; Courtesy of Georgia State University School of Public Health

How Trees Can Help Us Fight a Pandemic. Christina Hemphill Fuller is an environmental exposure scientist and epidemiologist focused on the intersection of air pollution, public health, and racial justice. Her expertise has taken on even greater relevance as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that Black and Latino communities have experienced some of the worst effects of COVID-19, being three times as likely to become infected as white people, and nearly twice as likely to die. Air pollution has been known for a long time to be associated with different diseases and conditions linked to respiratory disease, but it’s also linked to heart attack, heart disease, and lung cancer, in addition to pregnancy outcomes like preterm birth and babies being born early and babies being born smaller. There are many studies that have documented that communities with more Blacks or Hispanics have higher air pollution, and that’s because industries are placed there on purpose.  Highway or major roads that has lots of cars and trucks on it run through communities of color, leading to high air pollution exposures in those neighborhoods. Natural gas and coal-fired power plants are also disproportionately in communities of color and low-income communities. There are other types of industries, like car body shop and dry cleaners, that are smaller producers, but they do produce air pollution and those are also disproportionately in color or low-income communities. With traffic pollution, in particular, in areas where we can’t necessarily remove a highway, we could reduce the impact that it has on the neighboring communities by putting in a barrier of trees there. It’s not only that green environments are wonderful for mental health, but they also can reduce the pollution that is coming off that roadway and affecting people who live next to it. There are thousands of schools across the country that are right next to highways, and kids are playing outside next to the road. But if we’re able to put something there like a tree barrier, they actually have been shown to reduce pollution – Mother Jones

Newsdesk – July 6, 2020

The project is intended to bring development to Turkey’s impoverished and insurgency-riven southeast.

An Ancient Valley Lost to ‘Progress’.  This Turkish river valley was prized for millennia for its beauty and treasures. Today the valley is submerged and 70,000 people are displaced, victims of President Erdogan’s ambitions for change. Government officials have emphasized that hydropower offered their greenest option when they decided to push ahead with the dam a dozen years ago, allowing Turkey to reduce its dependence on imported coal and gas. But many who lost their homes and livelihoods say they were never really consulted. When Mr. Erdogan first announced his determination to build the dam, he championed it not only for the energy it would provide Turkey’s expanding economy but also for the development it would bring to the impoverished and insurgency-riven southeast. The dam is part of the massive Southeastern Anatolia Project irrigation plan that was begun in the 1980s. Zeynep Ahunbay, a conservation architect, campaigned for more than a decade to save Hasankeyf, not only for its archaeological gems but also for the value of its ancient natural setting. “You see this valley, it is so impressive,” Ms. Ahunbay said, describing what it was like to round the hillside and see Hasankeyf come into view. “You see this river cutting the rock and it goes down and down, and in the end you have the citadel of Hasankeyf. It is really marvelous, and nature and man have formed this place.” Many who lost their homes and livelihoods are traumatize and bitter. Their efforts to save Hasankeyf collapsed in the face of Mr. Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism. International law, lagging behind the shifting attitudes around climate change and the value of protecting the environment, was inadequate for safeguarding the cultural heritage.  Environmentalists and archaeologists, in Turkey and abroad, are angry and frustrated, too, at the loss of the valley and its treasures – The New York Times

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Newsdesk – June 27, 2020

Basic income street art. Photo: Michael von der Lohe, (CC BY 2.0)

Should Environmentalists Embrace Universal Basic Income? Cash payments from the government could help ease the transition to a climate-safe economy and weather the natural and economic storms to come. It’s a question a lot of Americans started pondering after entrepreneur Andrew Yang proposed just that when he jumped into the 2020 presidential race. Yang’s idea of a “freedom dividend” lasted about as long as his candidacy,  but the idea of a universal basic income (UBI) is neither radical nor new. The principles behind the idea date back at least as far as Thomas Paine in the late 1700s. Over the past 40 years, dozens of universal basic income programs have been tested across the world, in countries like Finland, Namibia, Brazil, India, Canada, and Spain. Currently, small pilot projects are running in the United States in  Stockton, California, and Jackson, Mississipi. The motivations behind universal income programs aim to help ensure that everyone has a decent standard of living. But could it also be a useful tool for addressing another, larger problem? That is, climate change and related efforts to transition to a clean economy? How would UBI benefit the environment? There are many theories. More income, some experts say, could help people purchase longer-lasting and eco-friendly goods, including sustainably produced foods, that are now financially out of their reach. And it could give people the resources to increase the energy efficiency of their homes or purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles. “I think it’s incredibly hard to quantify, but if you actually can give people the financial freedom to have more options generally, then I think that there is, at the very least, the opportunity that you could get people to make more environmentally responsible choices,” Jim Pugh, co-founder of the  Universal Income Project says.  One bit of recent evidence could support that. An anti-poverty program in Indonesia that provided cash payments to the poor resulted in a 30% drop in deforestation. Many people no longer had to resort to cutting down the forests around their communities to get by – The Revelator

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Newsdesk – June 20

Kirk Smith on a field visit for the Household Air Pollution Intervention Network (HAPIN) randomized controlled trial in Kallakurichi, Tamil Nadu, India, in 2017. Photo: Ajay Pillarisetti

Kirk R. Smith, Nobel Prize recipient and environmental health giant, dies at 73.  He was an environmental titan who championed the poor and disenfranchised, especially rural women and children in the developing world.  “Kirk showed an overwhelming commitment to the poor and the planet, and in fact showed us how we were failing both,” said Professor Justin Remais, head of the Division of Environmental Health Sciences at Berkeley Public Health, who first met  Smith as a Berkeley undergraduate in 1998.  Smith was big on environmental health ever since he began his career as a health scientist studying the risk associated with nuclear reactors, founding the Energy Program at the East-West Center in Honolulu. But in the late 1970s, a trip to Asia led to the realization that air pollution posed a much bigger threat to human health than did nuclear accidents. Smith started the pioneering work in indoor air pollution.   “Smith was really a true public health hero”, according to John Balmes, director of Berkeley Public Health’s Joint Medical Program.  ” I don’t know anyone I’ve worked with who saved more lives than he has. Kirk helped the world understand that the burning of dirty household fuels was devastating the health and well-being of women and children around the world and he dedicated his career to providing the evidence from robust and creative science that was needed to convince policymakers to reduce pollution and improve the lives of millions.” Before Smith’s pioneering research, starting in 1981, there had been only one study on the health effects of indoor air pollution from cookstoves. Smith led studies on the problem and worked on practical solutions in 20 countries in Latin America and Asia. He also spearheaded the design and implementation of small, smart, fast, and cheap air sensors for people in low-income countries. Smith went on to lead and contribute to the authorship of important chapters of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, including on climate change health impacts and climate adaptation.  In 1997, Smith was elected as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors awarded to U.S. scientists by their peers. He and 300 other scientists shared in the Nobel Peace Prize with Vice President Al Gore in 2007.  In addition to sharing a Nobel Prize, Smith received the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, often called “The Nobel for the environment” in 2012.  In 2018  Smith was named one of 75 Most Influential Alums of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health Berkeleyside

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Newsdesk – June 9

 

Having a racist and violent police force in your neighborhood is a lot like having a pollution-emitting factory in your neighborhood. [Photograph by Jim West / Alamy]

Racism, Police Violence, and the Climate Are Not Separate Issues.  Over the years, the environmental movement has morphed into the environmental-justice movement. The two groups of Americans who care most about climate change, Latino- Americans and African-Americans tend to be disproportionately exposed to the effects of global warming. Living in a community with high levels of air pollution impairs human bodies,  but so does living in a place with a brutal police force. As one recent study recently put it, “When faced with a threat, the body produces hormones and other signals that turn on the systems that are necessary for survival in the short term. These changes include accelerated heart rate and increased respiratory rate. But when the threat becomes reoccurring and persistent—as is the case with police brutality—the survival process becomes dangerous and causes rapid wear and tear on body organs. Deterioration of organs occurs more frequently in Black populations and can lead to conditions such as diabetes, stroke, ulcers, cognitive impairment, autoimmune disorders, accelerated aging, and death”.  John Muir, who has some claim to being the original modern environmentalist, once said,  “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” He was talking about ecosystems, but it turns out that he was more correct than he knew: the political world is hopelessly intertwined with the natural world. So, if you put it in today’s context, having a racist and violent police force in your neighborhood is a lot like having a coal-fired power plant in the place you live in.  African-Americans are three times as likely to die from asthma as the rest of the population. “I Can’t Breathe” is the daily condition of too many people in this country. One way or another, there are a lot of knees on a lot of necks – The New Yorker

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Newsdesk – May 31

A new study in the journal Science found that floating ice shelves can melt much more rapidly than previously thought—at a rate of about six miles per year. Credit: Massimo Rumi/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Antarctic Ocean Reveals New Signs of Rapid Melt of Ancient Ice, Clues About Future Sea Level Rise.   Climate researchers racing to calculate how fast and how high the sea level will rise found new clues on the seafloor around Antarctica. And as global warming speeds up the Antarctic meltdown, the findings “set a new upper limit for what the worst-case might be,” said lead author Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge. And if the rate of retreat estimated by the new study extended across an 18-mile wide and half-mile thick ice shelf, as found in the closely watched Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica,  the researchers calculated it would release 138-gigatons of ice per year. It is three to five times more ice than is currently lost annually from that glacier system. “With such retreat rates, the sea level rise contribution from Antarctica could be a lot higher and quicker than expected,” said the University of Liège ice researcher Xavier Fettweis. However, there’s still no way to know exactly how fast the meltdown will happen with increasing human-caused warming, Fettweis said. The new study highlights the deep uncertainty on how fast an ice sheet can retreat.  “Along the Antarctic Peninsula, we’ve already seen glaciers speeding up by a factor of eight following the collapse of an ice shelf, “glaciologist, Eric Rignot says.  “Now we hear about glaciers retreating 10 kilometers per year. “Between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago, global sea level rose about 1.5 to 2.3 inches per year for several centuries, raising sea level by 82 feet over a 500-year period. “Glaciers in Greenland retreat at 500 meters (1,640 feet) per year,” said Rignot.  “Glaciers in alpine landscapes retreat more like 100 meters (328 feet) a year.  Rapid ice melt would increase risks of flooding, saltwater intrusions into drinking water supplies, and coastal erosion. The most important message to take home is that the current projections are too conservative. “The real drama in all of this is that the faster rates of retreat may turn out to be the most probable in some places, and as of now we do not know where and when.” – Inside Climate News

  • COVID-hit UK begins 18-month preparations for UN climate summit – Climate Home News
  • ‘A summer unlike any other’: heatwaves and Covid-19 are a deadly combination – The Guardian 
  • EU’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to fall as coal ditched – The Guardian
  • Climate Change And Deforestation Mean Earth’s Trees Are Younger And Shorter – NPR
  • 135-year-long streak is over: US renewable sources topped coal in 2019 –
  • Breakthrough in Artificial Photosynthetic System That Produces Clean and Renewable Energy From Sunlight and Water – SciTech Daily
  • Major milestone: Coal consumption falls behind renewable energy in the United States – CNN Business
Indigenous people from the Mura tribe in a deforested area inside the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State, Brazil, last August.Credit…Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

The Amazon Will Soon Burn Again (Opinion). When the dry season returns, the Amazon forest will burn again, as it does every year. But this time promises to be different. But unlike drier areas in Australia or California, the rainforest can’t catch on fire unless humans cut trees down. The Amazon is being devastated on an industrial scale. Criminal groups are targeting public lands for low-productivity cattle ranching and mining. Illegal land-grabbing schemes destroy biodiversity and the potentials of bioeconomics, enriching well-connected individuals. Mr. Bolsonaro and his administration encourage it.  Now, with all eyes on the pandemic crises, the Amazon and its Indigenous groups face existential threats, while criminals act as if they have permission to plunder. The president and his allies support a bill that provides further incentives to deforestation, allowing land grabbers to gain ownership of public lands, including Indigenous territories.  Deforestation relies on the labor of the poor, but it requires large sums of money and leaves behind desolation and social conflict. There is no evidence that it remedies poverty. Most scientists agree that we are nearing a tipping point in deforestation that will lead to Amazon’s “salinization.” This would have dire consequences not only for the forest, but also for Brazil’s agriculture, urban water and energy supplies, and global temperatures. And to save the Amazon, international organizations and investors need to use their leverage and pressure counterparts in Brazil. The future of the forest’s biodiversity depends on its human diversity. Demarcated Indigenous lands and extractive reserves, where local communities engage in sustainable and often traditional economic activities, have proved to be effective against the illegal destruction of the forest. – The New York Times

Climate adaptation policies are needed more than ever.  Pulling on the parachute.  In the early days of political action on climate change adaptation was seen as a poor relation to cutting greenhouse-gas emissions or as a distraction.  In 2010 with emissions rising steeply as the world bounced back from the financial crisis of 2007-09, adaptation began to take its proper place as a topic of international concern.  Global average temperatures are already roughly 1°C warmer than they were in the 19th century, bringing more extreme and more erratic weather patterns. On May 16th this year he satellite images taken over the Bay of Bengal warned of impending disaster. Huge waves swept over the Indian and Bangladeshi coast. Tens of thousands lost their homes, yet the number of deaths was relatively low. For the last several decades,  Bangladesh’s cyclone death tolls have been falling even though the storms have not become less brutal.  Bangladesh has developed a layered adaptation plan to cope with these disasters. It now has an early-warning system giving people extra minutes to evacuate and seek shelter. In some developed countries, adaptation is also saving lives. An estimated 15,000 died in France in 2003 as a result of scorching August temperatures, but a  heatwave in 2019 is estimated to have killed 1,500. The improvement was thanks to increased awareness of the threat, public policy, and private investment. There is now targeted support and medical attention for the most vulnerable. The authorities put air-conditioning into some public buildings. Many private citizens installed it, too.  We know now that adaptation is not just a matter for poor countries. The damage which Hurricane Sandy wreaked in New York City in 2012 showed that extreme events could bring one of the world’s most important financial centres to its knees. Damages topped $19bn. Such losses spurred a $19.5bn urban-adaptation plan. In the eyes of some, rich governments are not the only guilty parties. In December the Philippines’s Commission on Human Rights declared that events leading to devastating storms like Typhoon Haiyan, which killed thousands of people in 2013, were a violation of human rights. They pointed the finger at fossil-fuel companies and other corporations – The Economist

Newsdesk – May 24

‘Where we’re sat right now might well be underwater, right next to the Thames. I wouldn’t fancy our chances.’ [Photograph: Alexandre Rotenberg/Shutterstock]
I don’t want to be seen as a zealot’: what MPs really think about the climate crisis – The difference between what they say in private and in public is striking – and shows us how we can make climate action central to post-pandemic politics. And in particular, the MP Interviewed by Rebecca Willis was a woman who was young and, at least on the surface, confident, and had two, conflicting, demands: she wanted urgent action on climate, and she also wanted government support to allow her local industry to continue polluting. The MP was also simultaneously backing and opposing climate action. And let’s go beyond this one MP’s opinion, but from the perspective of UK politics, in which there is strong cross-party support for far-reaching carbon targets. In June last year, the government passed a law to strengthen these targets, committing the UK to end virtually all emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases within the next 30 years. But for now, Covid-19 is, understandably, taking up all the political and media attention there is. However, the need for fast, radical carbon cuts – and a political strategy that will allow this to happen – has not gone away. And if we are to make the right choice here, as a society, the essential first step is a simple one: speaking out. Politicians, and others, need to speak openly and with unflinching honesty about the significance of climate change. The Guardian

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Newsdesk – May 17

When Social Distancing Ends, Will We Rethink the World We Want?  When we emerge from our pandemic-mandated separation, can we reconnect with each other and reconsider how the way we live impacts the natural world?  How we behaved during this period of quarantine will fascinate researchers for years to come. Especially, for the first time in most of our lifetimes, the population as a whole has been told we have to shut down normal life, abandon most of our regular routines. That we have to change. It’s hard, but since it’s necessary we’ve done it — and surprisingly well. But what happens when we are released from detention will be at least as compelling — and for those of us hoping for an environmentally different future, it may be telling. Who knows? One possibility is that when all this is over we will revert straight back to normal, or even to some worse version of it. In search of recovery, nations could respond by trying to prop up old businesses like the fossil fuel industry (indeed, that is what our country is doing). Another possibility — and it’s only a possibility — is that we might actually find ourselves embracing gregariousness. In truth, we began social distancing a long time ago. First came the move to the suburbs: In the postwar years, America spent the bulk of its prosperity on the task of building bigger houses farther apart from each other. This caused environmental woes — all those big houses to heat and cool and migrate between — but it also meant that we simply ran into each other less. But have these new habits made us happy? Not really. The percentage of Americans who say they’re very happy with their lives peaked somewhere in the 1950s, according to the pollsters. However, coronavirus quarantine came like a stroke of lightning from a bright blue sky.  That shock means, perhaps, that this time we will notice — that the long, slow slide into a kind of solipsistic trance will suddenly register. Maybe we’ll want to go back to something more like the normal that has defined our species for most of its existence: a desire for contact with each other, and with the natural world – Yale Environment 360

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Newsdesk – May 9

The Rio Grande near Mesilla in 2014. Photo Credit: Laura Paskus

How Climate Change Is Contributing to Skyrocketing Rates of Infectious Disease.  Indeed, over the past few decades, the number of emerging infectious diseases that spread to people — especially coronaviruses and other respiratory illnesses believed to have come from bats and birds — has skyrocketed In fact, one crucial study estimates that more than as many as 3,200 strains of coronaviruses already exist among bats, awaiting an opportunity to jump to people. Today, the planet’s natural defense systems are being demolished by climate warming and results in reckless deforestation and use of wildland for economic development that pushes farms and people closer to the wild and opens the gates for the spread of disease. COVID-19, the disease that has become a pandemic and is believed to have originated from Chinese horseshoe bats, is one of the coronaviruses coming from southern China where scientists have warned that swift climate and environmental change there — in both loss of biodiversity and encroachment by civilization — was going to help new viruses jump to people. In fact, there are three ways climate influences emerging diseases. Climate is bringing old viruses back from the dead and vector-borne diseases — those carried by insects like mosquitoes and ticks and transferred in the blood of infected people — are also on the rise as warming weather and erratic precipitation vastly expand the geographic regions vulnerable to contagion. And in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic, even as it unfolds in the form of an urgent crisis, is offering a larger- lesson. It is demonstrating in real time the enormously undeniable power that nature has over civilization and even over its politics, which alone may make the pandemic prologue for more far-reaching and disruptive changes to come. But, finally, it also makes clear that climate policy today is indivisible from efforts to prevent new infectious outbreaks, or, as Bernstein put it, the notion that climate and health and environmental policy might not be related is “a ​dangerous delusion”- NM Political Report

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