The Huffington Post reports what they consider the 5 Environmental News Stories To Watch In 2020. The Huffington Post certainly hits many of the biggest environmental stories that will dominate the headlines and the concerns of most Americans in 2020. Their list leads with a sleeper– air pollution, which hasn’t gotten much attention to date, but ought to: 90% of the world’s inhabitants breathe polluted air, and it contributes to early death for 7 million of them every year.
Second on HuffPost’s list is protests, which surged around the world in 2019 and give every sign of continuing and growing in 2020, as the young try ever harder to get the politicians to act to preserve some semblance of a future for their generation and those to come.
Also on the list are extreme heat, the Amazon, and the US elections. All are climate change stories. The World will continue getting hotter, dangerously so in the tropics, the Middle East, Australia, and parts of Africa.
The destruction of the Amazon rain forest by fires and clearcutting for agriculture or pasture land threatens to make the climate crisis worse by losing both its capacity to absorb carbon and release oxygen.
The US presidential elections are a climate story because if Donald Trump is reelected, it is likely that the US will do little or nothing to counter the climate emergency. Without US leadership, other countries will find easy excuses for inaction.
It’s hard to quarrel with any of HuffPost’s choices, but they will not be the only climate stories clamoring for coverage by the media and impinging on our conversations. The Huffington Post solicits your suggestions for inclusion on its list. So does ClimateYou. What climate or environmental stories do you think will force their way onto our media and into our consciousness?
I can think of four off-hand.
- Fires. This year it was California and Australia. Those fires made the headlines but there were others, in Siberia, the Arctic Circle, Greenland, Alaska, and Indonesia, among other places. In 2020 there will be more fires, bigger ones, in more places, deadlier. Hotter temperatures, longer droughts, less rain, less snowmelt, all mean more fires and longer fire seasons.
- Floods. The sea level is rising, partly from all the melting ice caps and glaciers at both poles, and partly because water expands as it warms. Kiribati and other low-lying Pacific islands are being inundated. As seawater infiltrates their freshwater supplies and kills off their life-sustaining crops, entire populations will be forced to leave their homelands for safe havens willing to accept thousands of displaced islanders. Coastal cities worldwide are already seeing recurring floods that have inspired costly efforts to hold back the sea. Jakarta is flooded — again, and now the Indonesian government has decided to relocate its capital to a safer spot inland. Other cities are facing the same hard choices, which will only get harder in 2020 and beyond.
- Oceans. Everywhere, the oceans are under siege. They are warming, they are getting more acidic, and they are getting more polluted. All three trends imperil all marine life. Many sea creatures are temperature-sensitive. As the seas warm, some fish migrate to colder waters, others die. Coral bleaches and withers. Anaerobic bacteria “bloom,” creating dead zones where nothing else can survive. These expanding zones are almost sure to become a major environmental story in 2020. Fertilizer and pesticide runoff from industrial agriculture is a major contributor to creating the conditions for such dead zones. Plastic pollution is another increasing threat to marine life, from gulls to whales.
- Finance. Politicians have been slow to act, as witness the disappointing results from the latest United Nations summit, COP25, held in Madrid in December. However, financiers have begun to tighten the screws on the fossil fuel industry. Investment bank Goldman Sachs just declared it wouldn’t fund any oil projects in the Arctic, and set conditions on funding exploration and production projects elsewhere. It is likely that other financial institutions will follow suit, and some will set even more stringent conditions on loans to the fossil fuel industry. Major insurance companies have already closed the door on loans to coal producers, and Chubb has put conditions on providing insurance coverage to oil and gas companies. Other insurers are likely to emulate Chubb in 2020. Without financial backing and cheap insurance coverage, fossil fuel’s expansion plans will be scaled back or cancelled entirely. If the financiers extend their restrictions on the fossil fuel industry to the plastic-producing petrochemical industry, growth of demand for fossil fuels would be severely curtailed. Continued growth of renewables plus storage in the energy sector and increasing demand for electric vehicles in the transportation sector will make further inroads into the demand for fossil fuels, putting at risk their stock prices and the value of their discovered but unexploited reserves. It’s unlikely that we’ll see the bankruptcy of any oil major in 2020, but more coal companies and some minor fracking players probably will go under, and the sudden shakiness — the newly appreciated vulnerability — of the oil majors will become a topic of concern among money managers, and a harbinger of hope for climate activists, a category that in 2020 will come to include most of the general public. Stay active and keep the faith in a liveable world forever.