Oil supply is booming while demand is crashing. Oil Price Information Service chief Tom Kloza predicts that by early May, gasoline will cost perhaps half of what it did a year ago but we’ll be spending less than a third as much each day on gasoline, from $1.1 billion per day last year to $350 million per day. But gasoline can drop to below a dollar a gallon, and people still won’t have anywhere to drive other than their local drive-through coronavirus testing site or to Costco for one last binge-buy before retreating their bunkers in the woods.
But on the brighter side…
I was listening to The Current Friday and heard the announcer say that the sky over Minneapolis was a remarkable shade of blue, not just because the air was unusually dry but also because traffic and thus auto emissions had dwindled significantly. The shutdown of industry in China, Italy, and Spain has reduced air pollution, which has the bonus effect of reducing other respiratory illnesses and deaths. Travel less, buy less, pollute less.
How long might we enjoy coronavirus-depression-induced bluer skies? Various economists are forecasting a 12% to 24% contraction in the U.S. economy over the next three months. 23 million jobs could be lost. Between 2007 and 2009, during the last recession, U.S. carbon emissions dropped 10%. This economic retraction would be more intense than the last, and while some see signs of a quick industrial restart in China as evidence that our coronavirus freeze will thaw quickly, others see the combination of physical and economic sickness having longer-lasting effects on consumer psychology that will slow the economic recovery.
So on the even brighter side, consider the possibility that coronavirus could buy us an extra year or two to respond to climate change. Our consumption rates had us on a collision course with imminent ecological disaster. A sharp downturn in consumerism and carbon emissions could turn down the heat just long enough for the United States to kill some unnecessary pipelines, elect a new President capable of long-term planning (Biden isn’t perfect, but maybe he could bring Al Gore back as Veep, or at least climate tsar?), rejoin the Paris Agreement, and get back to saving the world.
I don’t wish coronavirus, unemployment, or economic depression on anyone. And I don’t really want to spend two years in rolling lockdowns trying to keep my family from catching a deadly disease. But maybe pandemic and depression will work together to change how we think about our society, our economy, and our planet. Maybe the crushing impacts of one scientific phenomenon that certain powerful people until very recently denied dismissed as a political hoax will give us both the time and the resolve to finally take seriously another scientific phenomenon that those same people have similarly steadfastly denied for purely selfish reasons. Maybe a couple weeks or months or years of rationing groceries and walking past 99-cent gasoline signs with a shrug will help us realize we don’t need to buy and burn nearly as much stuff to lead a good life. Maybe as we recover from this global double-sickness, we’ll recover from our overconsumption and anti-intellectualism and save the planet.
Go outside today. Get some fresh air. Look up at that blue sky and consider what buying less stuff and doing more science can do to keep that sky blue, the air clean, and the planet livable.