Ivanka Trump donning a face mask amid the coronavirus pandemic that derailed the U.S. economy.
Image: Michael Brochstein / SOPA Images / Shutterstock
By Mark Kaufman2020-11-24 20:35:24 UTC
In a tweet about greenhouse gases, Ivanka Trump has redefined ignorance.
On Tuesday, the president’s daughter, an official adviser to the president, tweeted about a huge drop in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (9.2 percent) this year. She tagged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the tweet, apparently proud of the Trump administration for reigning over a notable fall in heat-trapping carbon emissions.
What the tweet fails to explicate, and perhaps Ivanka Trump fails to comprehend, is that carbon emissions fell significantly in 2020 because of the largely uncontrolled COVID-19 disease outbreak in the U.S., not bold actions by President Donald Trump’s administration to radically curb carbon emissions. (In laughable contrast, this administration selected a dubious climate adviser who believes the planet is in dire need of more CO2.)
The 9.2 percent drop Ivanka Trump references is taken from a recent energy report published by the research organization BloombergNEF. The researchers found that amid a pandemic that’s killed well over a quarter of a million Americans, emissions from the transportation sector (unsurprisingly) plummeted dramatically by some 14 percent. For much of the year, many Americans stayed home and often limited travel to avoid spreading the coronavirus, a microbial parasite that uses hosts (us) to spread. What’s more, BloombergNEF estimated that emissions from the U.S. power sector fell by over 10 percent, along with a drop of close to 7 percent in the industrial sector as demand in the greater economy sagged. Yet, Bloomberg expects emissions to rebound in the coming years as the pandemic wanes.
You’re so right, we often forget the silver lining to the inept bungling of the coronavirus response — that along with a quarter million dead and an economy ground to a halt, the reduction in travel was actually good for the environment. So, yay?
— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) November 24, 2020
In a dark way, the Trump administration did unwittingly usher in a big drop in carbon emissions, the largest decline since the early 1980s, according to BloombergNEF, by allowing the virus to infect millions of Americans. Though billions in taxpayer dollars have been used to incentivize the rapid creation of vaccines (“Operation Warp Speed“), there has been no coherent, coordinated national plan to curb the coronavirus as it surged through the population multiple times this year.
The coronavirus spread through the citizenry as the Trump administration misled Americans about the severity of the national outbreak. In January, President Donald Trump said “We have it totally under control.” In June, Vice President Mike Pence claimed “we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.” After the coronavirus hospitalized President Trump in October — resulting in a formidable team of doctors treating him with a cocktail of strong drugs including a then-rare medication developed with the help of cells taken from a human fetus — he advised Americans not to be intimidated by the virus. President Trump said “You’re going to beat it,” even after the virus had killed over 200,000 Americans (at the time).
Sickness and death, along with local shutdowns to slow the virus, walloped the economy, depressed demand, and inherently cut carbon emissions (because the U.S. economy largely runs on fossil fuels).
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“This is truly unprecedented,” Christopher Hayes, a labor historian at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, told Mashable in April. “This is like the 1918 flu and the Great Depression at the same time,” Hayes said.
Yet, Ivanka Trump still peers through the fog of tragedy and loss to celebrate a large, unexpected decline in U.S. carbon emissions this year. But the White House adviser’s ignorance about emissions doesn’t stop there. Overall, carbon levels in the atmosphere will still go up in 2020, and the U.S. is a big reason why.
While carbon emissions have “dropped” in 2020 compared to 2019, the U.S. will still add a prodigious 5.9 billion metric tons of heat-trapping carbon to the atmosphere this year. Other countries will emit immense amounts of carbon too, even as their carbon emissions temporarily drop (BloombergNEF estimates global emissions overall will drop by eight percent this year). As Mashable previously reported:
Critically, the true number global warming cares about — the amount of carbon dioxide saturating the atmosphere — will barely be impacted by an unprecedented drop in carbon emissions this year, a drop the International Energy Agency estimates at nearly eight percent (compared with historic 2019 levels).
That’s because atmospheric CO2 levels are like a massive bank account that’s been accruing more and more carbon every year for well over a century (this bank account is now at its highest levels in at least 800,000 years, but more likely millions of years). This year’s carbon emissions, however, are just a deposit. This 2020 deposit may be smaller than in 2019, but it’ll still add to the atmospheric CO2 bank account.
“It will still be a big increase over last year,” said Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist and director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental research center, referencing atmospheric CO2 levels. “It’s not fundamentally changing the trajectory of where the world is headed,” he added.
(Note: Greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. have gradually trended down, but certainly haven’t plummeted, for around 12 years. But that’s not due to any meaningful effort by the Trump administration. Rather the coal industry — which President Trump attempted to prop up — is in sharp decline, and coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels. The coal industry, which has been vastly outcompeted by the lower prices of natural gas, has lost 24 percent of its jobs during the Trump administration.)
Overall, the Trump administration has little to celebrate here. Ivanka Trump is, maybe unknowingly, cheering that a deadly pandemic derailed the U.S. economy. Carbon emissions consequently fell. This sort of grossly out-of-touch view from the White House, a place currently seeped in nepotism, is why over 80 million voters, the most ever, voted the Trump administration out of office.