Climate Change is Real, and COVID-19 Proves It

The coronavirus pandemic has clearly demonstrated the link between human activity and climate change, and the need to take aggressive action to decarbonize once life begins to return to normal.

Because of the abrupt shutdown of the national and global economy as a result of COVID-19 people stopped commuting to work and school, flights were halted, and the demand for gasoline has hit record lows.  In late March and early April, a growing number of oil refineries began closing or curtailing their operations. And an analysis of global emissions reported that COVID-19 will cause the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions.  This massive reduction of CO2 emissions that coincides with global lockdowns and self-quarantine orders is no coincidence – it’s evidence that our actions directly impact the climate for better or worse.

In Wuhan, China for instance, where the coronavirus was first identified, air pollution levels between mid-February and mid-March dropped 44 percent. New Delhi, India, usually one of the most polluted cities in the world experienced fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels drop by 60 percent while the city was lockdown compared to the same time period in 2019. And Los Angeles, California saw a 31 percent reduction in particulate matter emissions in March as cars and trucks left the road and the transportation sector broadly came to a screeching halt.

In a , Elizabeth Sawan, co-director of the think tank Climate Interactive said that “the virus has shown that if you wait until you can see the impact, it is too late to stop it.”

With COVID-19, the impact was felt swiftly. With climate, there’s a slower curve but the COVID0-19 pandemic demonstrates that there is still time for climate change initiatives.

In the New Normal, Energy Demand will Rise Again

It’s unlikely that life will ever return to the “normal” that existed before this pandemic. Businesses that shifted to remote work may continue with this model moving forward. Families may still purchase many of their goods and supplies online, and students may choose to continue their education in virtual schools.

But even so, as the world opens back up, the demand for energy and fuel will rise again. And the big question is, how will we respond to this clear evidence that heavy fossil fuel usage impacts our climate and causes serious health risks?

One of COVID’s lessons is it’s Time to Decarbonize Transportation

In 2017 the EPA ranked transportation as the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. CO2was responsible for a staggering 82% of greenhouse gas emissions, and transportation accounted for 37% of the CO2.

Today, transportation still ranks first in greenhouse gases. Even if workers and families are less mobile, when the world moves into its new normal, CO2 emissions are expected to again start to rise. To stop this from happening, we must take action on the lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic.

Natural gas is an alternative fuel that can power all types of vehicles. It’s clean-burning, affordable, and widely available.  The use of compressed natural gas (CNG) as a transportation fuel has significant environmental and health benefits, especially when fueling with natural gas replaces a dirty diesel engine.  CNG fuel produces 17% less CO2 than diesel, so its climate benefit is significant; and has virtually no Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) or Particulate Matter emissions, eliminating a significant cause of respiratory illnesses.

Further benefits exist when the natural gas is sourced from anaerobic digestion of waste at landfills, commercial food waste facilities, or agricultural sites.  This Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) is the cleanest transportation fuel in existence given that it is created by capturing methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, that would otherwise enter the atmosphere through naturally occurring decomposition.  “RNG is the climate twofer. RNG is the lowest-carbon fuel available on a full fuel-cycle basis (production to end-use), according to California Air Resources Board analyses for the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, updated in 2015. It’s produced by capturing methane—a potent short-lived climate pollutant—that would otherwise flow into the air from landfills, wastewater treatment plants, food waste, and dairies, and other large agricultural operations.”(link to article).  In fact, because it is a “twofer,” it is carbon net negative, meaning that on a lifecycle basis it reduces carbon impact by as much as 300%.  There is no other fuel source on the planet that achieves this goal.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of RNG was on the rise. “RNG Coalition reports that 110 facilities are currently in operation in the U.S. and Canada, with an additional 98 more under construction or in substantial development. A recent study by ICF for the American Gas Foundation found that within the next two decades enough RNG could be produced in the United States to meet 75% of on-road diesel fuel needs.”(link to article). In 2019, 39 percent of all transportation fuel used in natural gas vehicles was RNG, but it’s only a fraction of its estimated overall potential. According to the International Energy Agency, biogas and biomethane could cover 20 percent of today’s worldwide gas demand.

Currently, RNG usage as a transportation fuel has increased by more than 291 percent in the last five years. During this time, RNG has displaced close to 7.5 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). (link to article).

RNG is pipeline-quality and fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas. It works for heavy-duty vehicles such as semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, and transit as well as medium-duty vehicles like shuttles, airport service, and government vehicles.  Although electric power has proven to be effective in the light-duty transportation sector, electrification of the medium- and heavy-duty transportation sectors is a long way off.  In contrast, RNG and the infrastructure to fuel medium- and heavy-duty transportation is available now, which will have direct environmental and public health benefits immediately.

There have been many lessons learned in recent months from COVID-19, one certainly being how clear the impact that human activity has on our environment.  Knowing this, and the dire consequences of climate change, tells us it doesn’t make sense to “return to normal” as it relates to transportation and fueling if there’s a cleaner, affordable, and accessible alternative.

Renewable natural gas can and should be that alternative to reap immediate public health and environment gains.

American Natural Gas (ANG), founded in 2011, is a veteran in the transportation industry. Located in Saratoga Springs, NY, ANG maintains a growing network of CNG stations in the U.S and has been an early adopter of RNG. To learn more about the company, visit the ANG website.

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