The UK’s coal cleanse
It’s Friday, June 12, and the U.K. is using quarantine to kick its coal habit.
It’s been more than two months since the U.K. took its last hit of coal-fired power. The last time the country went so long without coal was before the Industrial Revolution. Now, there’s no end in sight for the country’s green streak.
It’s partly because energy demand is down — people have been staying home and using less power during the COVID-19 lockdown. Manufacturing has slowed during the crisis, too.
But the rise of renewable energy is also helping the U.K. move away from the dirtiest source of electricity. Renewables have generated more power for Brits this year than all the country’s fossil fuels combined, with solar providing 10 percent of the country’s electricity in recent weeks and wind contributing a peak of 48 percent in April.
The U.K. has yet to kick its natural gas dependence, but analysts hope this experiment with coal-free living will make it easier for Britain to meet its 2024 deadline, when the government has said it will decommission all of its remaining coal plants. “This is clearly good news for the U.K.,” Green Party energy spokesperson Andrew Cooper told The Independent, “but it is only one step in the right direction.”
As countries ease social distancing measures, carbon emissions are rising faster than scientists expected. During the peak of lockdowns, global emissions were down by 25 percent, but they have since rebounded to about 5 percent below where they were this time last year.
A study published Thursday found that every year, up to 300 million plastic bottles’ worth of microplastics rain down from the atmosphere into western U.S. protected lands like national parks and wilderness areas. The research suggests that larger bits of plastic come from nearby urban centers, but smaller bits travel long distances high up in the atmosphere before falling back to earth.
A new study found that stronger storms triggered by earth’s changing climate will also lead to more extreme ocean waves over the next 80 years, particularly in the Southern Ocean. The authors warn that an increase in the magnitude and frequency of waves could lead to more flooding and coastline erosion.