Q&A: Could climate change and biodiversity loss raise the risk of pandemics?

Q&A: Could climate change and biodiversity loss raise the risk of pandemics?

Daisy Dunne, Carbon Brief, 15 May 2020

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Across the world, millions of people have tested positive for Covid-19 – and countless more have seen their lifestyles completely transformed as a result of the virus.

It is not yet known exactly what triggered the current outbreak, but researchers suspect that the virus passed from bats to humans through an unknown intermediary animal, possibly a pangolin.

Politicians in the UK have called this pandemic a “once-in-a-century” crisis. But scientists have warned that the ongoing disturbance of species through human activities and climate change could be raising the risk of potentially pandemic-causing diseases passing from animals to humans.

The study of the “spillover” of disease from animals to humans has received renewed focus in light of the pandemic. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a major international collaboration of climate scientists – is now looking into how the influence of warming on such events could be included in its next major climate report due next year.

In this explainer, Carbon Brief examines what is known about how climate change and biodiversity disturbance, including habitat loss and human-animal conflict, could influence the risk of diseases being transmitted from animals to humans.

How does an animal-to-human disease spillover turn to a pandemic?

When humans come into contact with other animals, they can pass harmful pathogens between one another. The passing of an infection or disease from a vertebrate animal to a human is known as a “zoonosis”, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). (Vertebrate animals include mammals, birds and reptiles, but not insects, such as mosquitoes.)

Such diseases have a major impact on health, accounting for two-thirds of all human infectious diseases and three out of four newly emerging diseases.

Serious diseases that have spilled over from animals to humans include Ebola in Africa, Marburg in Europe (and subsequently in Africa),  Hendra virus in Australia and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus and Nipah virus in east Asia. Some have gone on to have a lasting, global impact, such as HIV/AIDS and swine flu (H1N1). The current Covid-19 pandemic was also most likely caused by a spillover.

The number of potentially harmful viruses circulating in mammal and bird populations that have not yet spilled over to humans is estimated to be up to 1.7m, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). (IPBES is an independent group of international researchers monitoring biodiversity issues).

The spillover of disease from animals to people can happen in many ways, including directly through animal bites, the consumption of raw or undercooked animal meat or products such as milk, or through contaminated water. Diseases can also spread indirectly if humans come into contact with a surface that has been contaminated by an infected animal. Both wild animals and livestock can pass on disease.

A mouse opossum (Marmosa sp.) raids the trash in Peru. Credit: Anton Sorokin / Alamy Stock Photo
A mouse opossum (Marmosa sp.) raids the trash in Peru. Credit: Anton Sorokin / Alamy Stock Photo

(Sometimes, transmission occurs through an intermediary species that can carry the disease without getting sick. Scientists suspect this is how the Covid-19 pandemic started.)

Out in the wild and in settings where humans and animals come into contact, these kinds of interactions happen regularly – and it is rare for one to end with a human being infected by a new disease, explains Dr David Redding, a research fellow at the Zoological Society of London. He tells Carbon Brief:

“There are lots of different factors that need to all overlap at the same time for there to be a contact that is both effective in terms of transferring a live pathogenic organism and then also for that very rare situation where that pathogen has an adaptation that allows it to invade our immune system.”

Even if a disease is effectively transmitted from an animal to a person, it is unlikely that they will then pass it on to someone else, he adds:

“I would say most – possibly 99% – of all diseases that are caused in that way can’t then be passed on. So we’ve got another ‘filter’ that dictates that people have to be infected in a particular way that allows them to shed viruses effectively to other people.”

This “virus shedding” can happen in various ways. Like other respiratory diseases, Covid-19 can be transmitted when a carrier coughs or sneezes in close proximity to another person. (Scientists are still debating whether the virus can also be passed on in other ways.)

The ability of the new pathogen to spread directly from person to person is a key ingredient for a disease to take hold in a population, Redding says. (Some animal-borne diseases require a vector to spread from person to person, such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease.)

An illness outbreak is said to become an “epidemic” when its impact on people in a single community or region is “clearly in excess of normal expectancy”, according to the WHO. The term “pandemic” describes the worldwide spread of a new disease. (When a disease is “endemic” it has a continuous presence in a population or area.) 

Since 1900, there have been pandemics at “intervals of several decades”, according to the WHO. The worst in this time period was Spanish flu, which killed an estimated 50 million people from 1918-19.

A group of people standing outdoors wearing masks over their mouths, probably taken during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Credit: Niday Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo
A group of people standing outdoors wearing masks over their mouths, probably taken during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Credit: Niday Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Prior to Covid-19, every outbreak considered to be a pandemic by the WHO since 1900 has been caused by influenza, a virus that transmits from person to person. Some new strains of flu originate in animals, such as bird flu, but most new strains arise in human populations – and so would not be considered animal-borne.

There are many factors that can determine whether an outbreak reaches epidemic or pandemic status. These include human factors, such as preparedness and early action to prevent the illness from spreading, and also the traits of the pathogen itself, says Redding:

“The characteristics of the pathogen and its ability to spread are two key components in causing these rare events.”

For instance, if the pathogen causes very severe illness, the sufferer is less likely to be able to travel to a new place to pass on the disease, Redding says. This is also the case if the mortality rate is particularly high.

In contrast, if the disease causes mild to undetectable symptoms for at least some sufferers – as is the case with Covid-19 – it is more likely that people will inadvertently spread it to new places, he says.

This may go some way to explaining why previous serious animal-borne disease outbreaks have not reached pandemic status, Redding explains.

Members of a burial team prepare for a burial in Komende Luyama village. Eastern Sierra Leone was a hot spot for Ebola for several months, but eventually authorities managed to bring down infection rates to just a few cases per week. 17 October 2014 Credit: Tommy E Trenchard / Alamy Stock Photo
Members of a burial team prepare for a burial in Komende Luyama village. Eastern Sierra Leone was a hot spot for Ebola for several months, but eventually authorities managed to bring down infection rates to just a few cases per week. 17 October 2014 Credit: Tommy E Trenchard / Alamy Stock Photo

For example, Ebola – a disease initially spread to humans by fruit bats – has caused several serious epidemics in West Africa, but has not established itself on a worldwide scale. It has a mortality rate of around 50%. The mortality rate of Covid-19 is not yet known, though it is likely to be below 10%.

It is also worth noting that the likelihood of a disease turning to a pandemic has been heightened in recent decades by increased global connectivity, particularly through frequent air travel, Redding says:

“Plagues in the medieval times took years to spread across Asia. Whereas we look at today’s outbreaks and we can see that they can spread in hours.”

Overall, for a spillover event to turn into a pandemic, there must be a “perfect storm” of several complex factors all occurring at the same time – which, at present, does not happen very often, says Redding: “I think history shows us that these sort of large outbreaks happen a couple of times a century.”

Could climate change and biodiversity disturbance affect the risk of spillover?

Every new animal-borne disease starts with humans coming into contact with wildlife. And it is likely that climate change and the disturbance of biodiversity could play a role in shaping the frequency, timing and location of these meetings, says Prof Hans-Otto Poertner, head of biosciences at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) and co-chair of the impacts chapter of the next major assessment report from the IPCC. He tells Carbon Brief:

“Climate change is clearly a factor that can influence these relationships. Climate change shapes the biogeographical distribution of species. If, in the future, we see species moving into areas where humans are prevalent, we could see new opportunities for pandemics to evolve.”

Research has shown that climate change is shifting where species live, both on land and in the ocean. This is because, as temperatures increase and rainfall levels change, some species are being forced to seek out new areas with climate conditions they are able to tolerate. (Species that are not able to adapt could face extinction.)

A review published in Science in 2017 looking into 40,000 species across the world found that around half are already on the move as a result of changing climate conditions.

In general, species are seeking cooler temperatures by moving towards the Earth’s poles. Land animals are moving polewards at an average rate of 10 miles per decade, whereas marine species are moving at a rate of 45 miles per decade, according to the review.

Dugong feeding in the seagrass bed, Dimakya Island, Palawan, Philippines. Credit: Nature Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

However, the movement of animals is complicated by other factors, such as the changing availability of food, the shifting distribution of predators and changing patterns of human land-use, the review says. This makes it difficult to predict exactly where species will move to.

It is likely that the movement of species will have consequences for human health, says Prof Birgitta Evengard, a senior researcher of infectious diseases at Umea University in Sweden, who was one of the authors of the review. She tells Carbon Brief:

“When land-based animals move, they bring with them their [viruses] – and they will spread them.” 

So far, there has not been a great deal of research into how climate change-driven shifts to animal ranges could affect the chances of disease spillover on a global scale, says Poertner.

In one example, a research paper by Redding found that climate change could heighten the risk of new Ebola outbreaks in various parts of Africa by 2070.

This is because climate change could cause regions that are currently desert to become warmer and wetter, leading to the formation of the lush plants that bats use as a habitat. The movement of bats into these new areas could increase contact between them and humans, increasing the chances of disease spillover, the study found.

A fruit bat (flying fox) in Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka. Credit: paul kennedy / Alamy Stock Photo
A fruit bat (flying fox) in Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka. Credit: paul kennedy / Alamy Stock Photo

Another study found that climate change could enhance the risk of spillover of the Hendra virus, an animal-borne disease that can pass from flying foxes to humans through horses, which are also affected by the virus.

The virus was first identified when an outbreak broke out in Hendra, a suburb in Brisbane, Australia, in 1994. Since then, there have been at least eight separate outbreaks along the coast of northern Australia, according to the WHO. It has a mortality rate of 50-75%.

Recorded Hendra virus outbreaks in Australia. Source: WHO

The research found that climate change could cause the geographic range of flying foxes to expand southwards and further inland. “Spillover events could potentially increase farther south, and inland with climate change,” the authors say.

Elsewhere, a recent preprint – a preliminary study that has not yet completed peer review – suggests that climate change could drive substantial global increases in the passing of novel diseases from mammals to humans by 2070.

Using modelling, the study maps where around 4,000 mammals species and the diseases they carry are likely to move to by 2070. It finds mammals are “predicted to aggregate at high elevations, in biodiversity hotspots, and in areas of high human population density in Asia and Africa, sharing novel viruses between 3,000 and 13,000 times”.

The authors add: “Most projected viral sharing is driven by diverse hyper-reservoirs (rodents and bats) and large-bodied predators (carnivores).”

It will be important for the IPCC to include the emerging evidence of how climate change could affect the passing of diseases from animals to humans in its next major assessment report, currently due for release in 2021-22, says Poertner:

“We expect to include aspects as they become apparent from the literature.”

The scale of the impact of climate change on wildlife is currently second only to the damage caused by human land-use change, including deforestation, other types of habitat loss and human-animal conflict.

In its first major assessment on biodiversity published in May 2019, IPBES reported that humans have “significantly altered” 75% of the land surface and 66% of the global ocean. During 2010-15, 32m hectares of natural or recovering forest were cleared by humans. This area is roughly equal to the size of Italy.

As a result of ongoing pressures on biodiversity, around one million species are currently threatened by extinction within decades, the report concluded.

The report noted that ongoing pressures on wildlife are likely to increase contact between animals and humans, altering the chances of disease spillover. In chapter three of the full report, the authors say:

“Complex links between increased human disturbance, land-use change, habitat loss/degradation and biodiversity loss have all been linked to increases in the prevalence and risk of zoonotic [animal-borne] disease for a variety of pathogens.”

However, research into how biodiversity disturbance could affect animal-borne disease risk at a global level has so far been limited, it notes:

“Causal mechanisms are only well known for a handful of infectious diseases and it is sometimes hard to pick apart the drivers of disease to isolate the direct effects of environmental change from other human actions.”

Research has shown that bushmeat huntingdeforestation and the trade of wildlife at markets can heighten the risk of diseases passing between animals and humans.

In 2018, a study warned of a possible link between deforestation in southeast Asia and a heightened risk of spillover of novel coronaviruses from bats to humans. The authors say:

“Owing to evolving land-use, bat populations are setting up in areas closer to human dwellings…This increases the risk of transmission of viruses through direct contact, domestic animal infection, or contamination by urine or faeces.”

***

Q&A: Could climate change and biodiversity loss raise the risk of pandemics?

Daisy Dunne, Carbon Brief, 15 May 2020

Published under a CC license. You are welcome to reproduce unadapted material in full for non-commercial use, credited ‘Carbon Brief’ with a link to the article. 

inflection point? · oil major tears up the industry’s financial playbook

In August 2014 Simon Evans of Carbon Brief, reporting on a white paper, “Fossil fuel divestment: a $5 trillion challenge,” published days earlier by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, noted that “‘fossil fuels are investor favourites for a reason’….fossil fuel investments have a history of strong performance.

BNEF looked at seven alternative trillion-dollar sectors and found that only shares in real estate firms have paid higher dividends in recent years than fossil fuel firms.”

(Simon Evans, “Why fossil fuel divestment won’t be easy,” Carbon Brief, 27 August 2014)

Fast forward to today. Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, global energy demand in the first quarter of 2020 was 3.8% lower than in the same quarter of 2019. The IEA expects global energy demand for 2020 to decline by 6% year-on-year, a decline not seen for decades.

Annual rate of change in primary energy demand, %, since 1900, with key events impacting demand highlighted. Source: Josh Gabbatiss, “IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis,” Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020; IEA Global Energy Review

The fossil fuel sector, consistently a source of large dividends over the years, is suddenly under market stress and scrutiny from investors.

While “most analysts expected the world’s largest Western super majors … to defend their dividend at almost any cost given how important the payouts are to North American investors” (Kevin Crowley, Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash, Bloomberg, 29 April 2020), Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, shocked the investing world.

Shell both reduced its dividend, the first time it has done so since World War II, for Q1 2020 and, observing that it would be neither “wise” nor “prudent” nor “responsible” to do so, announced it will not follow industry practice of borrowing against its balance sheet to finance the dividend payment.

The Board of Royal Dutch Shell plc (“RDS” or the “Company”) today announced an interim dividend in respect of the first quarter of 2020 of US$ 0.16 per A ordinary share (“A Share”) and B ordinary share (“B Share”), reduced from the US$ 0.47 dividend for the same quarter last year.

The pace and scale of the societal impact of COVID 19 and the resulting deterioration in the macroeconomic and commodity price outlook is unprecedented. The duration of these impacts remains unclear with the expectation that the weaker conditions will likely extend beyond 2020.

“In response, Shell has taken decisive actions to reduce our spending and position our businesses to compete in the current lower commodity price environment and uncertain demand outlook.

“The Board of Royal Dutch Shell has taken the decision to reset its dividend to provide financial resilience and further flexibility to manage the uncertainty. Shell is taking the steps necessary to ensure that we are well-positioned for the eventual economic recovery.

(“Royal Dutch Shell plc first quarter 2020 interim dividend,” 30 April 2020)

Not only did the dividend reduction, coupled with CEO Ben van Beurden’s further announcement that Shell would not take on debt to fund its dividend payment, shock investors, it also “tore up the industry’s playbook.”

When the boss of Royal Dutch Shell Plc slashed his dividend on Thursday, he didn’t just shock investors,” Laura Hurst of Bloomberg commented, “he tore up the industry’s financial playbook.

For decades Big Oil has used the strength of a large balance sheet to borrow money when the going gets tough and keeps investors sweet until the next upward cycle.

As the coronavirus pandemic potentially causes lasting damage to energy demand, Europe’s largest oil company asked whether this strategy is sustainable.

“’I would say no,’ said Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden. ‘It’s also not wise and prudent, nor even responsible, to pay out a dividend if you know for sure you have to borrow for it.‘”

(Laura Hurst, “Shell’s Dividend Cut Shows This Time is Different for Big Oil,” Bloomberg, 30 April 2020)

Norwegian multinational energy company Equinor (OSE:EQNR,NYSE:EQNR; formerly Statoil) announced on 23 April a cash dividend of US$ 0.09 per share for the first quarter 2020, a reduction of 67% compared to the dividend proposed for the fourth quarter 2019.  

On 28 April, BP announced an interim dividend of 10.50 cents per ordinary share for the first quarter of 2020.

Gaurav Sharma, Senior Contributor at Forbes, observing that whilst first quarter profits at BP have decreased by 67% on lack of oil demand and the crude oil price crash, the company “sprung a surprise for the market by maintaining the company’s 10.5 U.S. cents per share dividend payment, hiked by 2.4% as recently as February.”

The move,” Mr. Sharma noted, “will come as a relief to beleaguered U.K. income funds that have seen over $18.6 billion in payouts cancelled or suspended over the last six weeks.

Collectively, HSBC, GSK, Royal Dutch Shell, British American Tobacco and BP accounted for 40% of FTSE 100 dividend payouts in 2019. With BP promising to payout, HSBC holding back following regulatory pressure, GSK, BAT and Shell, which hasn’t failed to pay a dividend since the Second World War II, appear to be in the bag.”

(Gaurav Sharma, “Profits Slump 67% At BP But Oil Major Maintains Dividend Despite Coronavirus Downturn,” Forbes, 28 April 2020)

On 29 April, Exxon Mobil Corp., based in Irving, Texas and the largest oil company in the Western Hemisphere, announced that for the second quarter 2020 it will pay a dividend of 87 cents per share. This is the same amount that was paid per share for the first quarter of 2020.

For the first time in 13 years, ExxonMobil “froze” its second quarter dividend to the amount paid in the first quarter.

Kevin Crowley of Bloomberg notes “Before now, Exxon had an uninterrupted streak of April increases going back to 2007.”

Most analysts expected the world’s largest Western super majors, including Exxon, to defend their dividend at almost any cost given how important the payouts are to North American investors. Before today, Exxon was the third-largest dividend payer in the S&P 500 Index behind Microsoft Corp. and AT&T Inc., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”

The freeze may not derail Exxon’s multi decade streak of annual increases,” Mr. Crowley continues. “Even if the company maintains quarterly payouts at the current level for the rest of 2020, the annual outlay will be $3.48 a share, or 1.5% above 2019.

“’It’s definitely a sign of the times and to be expected given the price environment,’ said Jennifer Rowland, an analyst at Edward D. Jones &Co. The payout is “secure” because the company has capacity to take on debt to fund it, she said. On an annualized basis, the dividend will cost Exxon almost $15 billion this year.”

(Kevin Crowley, Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash, Bloomberg, 29 April 2020)

See:

Josh Gabbatiss, “IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis,” Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020

First Quarter 2020 Interim Dividend,” Royal Dutch Shell Plc, 30 April 2020

Laura Hurst, “Shell’s Dividend Cut Shows This Time is Different for Big Oil, ” Bloomberg, 30 April 2020

Dividend Information, ExxonMobil dividends per common share,” Exxon Mobil, 29 April 2020

Kevin Crowley, “Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash,” Bloomberg, 29 April 2020

BPp.l.c. Group results, First quarter 2020“, 28 April 2020

Gaurav Sharma, “Profits Slump 67% At BP But Oil Major Maintains DividendDespite Coronavirus Downturn,” Forbes, 28 April 2020

Equinor reducing quarterly cash dividend for first quarter 2020 by 67%,” Equinor, 23 April 2020

Mikael Holter, “Norway Oil Giant Slashes Dividend to Weather Oil-Market Crash,” Bloomberg, 23 April 2020

Financial Times, “Shell dividend cut puts Big Oil investment case in focus” 

Simon Evans, “Why fossil fuel divestment won’t be easy,” Carbon Brief, 27 August 2014

Nathaniel Bullard, “Fossil fuel divestment: a $5 trillion challenge,” White Paper, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 25 August 2014

IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis

IEA: Corona virus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis

Written by Josh Gabbatiss. Published on Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020.

The world’s CO2 emissions are expected to fall by 8% this year as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down much of the global economy, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Such a drop would be the largest ever recorded in terms of tonnes of CO2, some six times greater than the impact of the 2008 financial crisis.

The agency’s new Global Energy Review is based on extensive data from the year so far and is intended to provide close to a real-time estimate of energy usage and emissions.

Its projections for the whole of 2020 are based on a series of assumptions including that the lockdowns, curfews and closure of schools and businesses currently in place are gradually eased over the coming months.

However, as the pandemic spreads and its devastating impacts continue to unfold, the agency makes clear that there are still “major uncertainties” about how it will play out.

The IEA’s central figure of 8% is even higher than previous estimates, including analysis conducted by Carbon Brief and published earlier this month, which was based on a less comprehensive dataset and less recent data.

An 8% cut is roughly equivalent to the annual emissions reductions needed to limit warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures. However, the stretch target laid out in the Paris Agreement would require similar reductions every year this decade.

The agency is clear that the expected decline in emissions due to a pandemic is “absolutely nothing to cheer”. Moreover, it emphasises the importance of prioritising clean energy in economic recovery plans in order to avoid a sharp rebound in emissions.

Unprecedented shock

Describing the pandemic as a “a macroeconomic shock that is unprecedented in peacetime”, the IEA draws comparisons with the impact that wars and other recent crises have had on the global energy system. Some of these events can be seen in the figure below.

The report compares the covid-19 pandemic with the last financial crisis, when growth in China and India “was able to largely offset reductions elsewhere”. This time around, both nations are also feeling the effects of the disease and such an offset is unlikely.

Global energy-related emissions (top) and annual change (bottom) in GtCO2, with projected 2020 levels highlighted in red. Other major events are indicated to a give a sense of scale. Source: IEA Global Energy Review.

As it spreads to virtually every nation on the planet, the impact of coronavirus is being felt in all walks of life, but different sectors are being affected in very different ways.

Energy use for residential gas heating or electricity use for server farms and digital equipment may even show a significant increase in the coming months, the IEA says, whereas other sectors such as aviation have collapsed.

Global energy demand was 3.8% lower in the first quarter of 2020 than last year, the IEA says, and it expects the annual total to drop by 6% year-on-year in 2020. 

Such a decline has not been seen for decades, as the chart below shows, and will effectively wipe out five years of demand growth.

Annual rate of change in primary energy demand, %, since 1900, with key events impacting demand highlighted. Source: IEA Global Energy Review.

CO2 emissions are expected to fall to 30.6bn tonnes of CO2 (GtCO2) this year, an 8% drop from last year, with declining coal use the most significant factor.

The drop in coal combustion is being driven mainly by the power sector, the IEA says, together with competition from cheap natural gas and industrial slowdown. Coal demand is expected to fall 8%, but as China’s industrial sector starts up again, it is expected to go some way to offsetting larger declines.

Demand (left) and annual change in demand (right) for the total quantity of coal used globally (dark) and coal in the power sector alone (light), measured in million tonnes of coal equivalent (Mtce). The change in demand for the first quarter of 2020 (Q1) is shown in red while the projection for the full year is shown in pink. Source: IEA Global Energy Review

Due to the global lockdown’s impact on transport, illustrated in the charts below, demand for oil has fallen at an “unprecedented scale” in the first four months of the year.

Change in road transport activity and flight numbers as a % in 2020 so far compared to the previous year, for selected countries (solid lines) and the whole world (dashed line). Source: IEA Global Energy Review

This is particularly true for fuels used in passenger transport, namely petrol and kerosene. Meanwhile demand for diesel, a substantial portion of which is used to power vehicles that transport goods, is expected to remain stronger. Overall, oil demand is expected to drop by 9% across the year after a 29% drop in the month of April.

As a side-effect of declining transport activity, car sales are expected to decline. In March, EU sales were 55% lower than 2019 levels, and if this trend plays out in nations with fuel economy standards in place, improvements in energy efficiency will be slower, the IEA notes.

Gas demand is expected to fall less than oil or coal as it is less vulnerable to changes in transportation demand, although the IEA says it could still fall by 5%. Gas will be particularly susceptible if countries in the Middle East and North Africa enter long lockdowns, the agency says, due to their reliance on the fuel for power.

In general, nuclear power is expected to fare better than fossil fuels, with lockdowns expected to reduce global output by 3% due to falling demand and disrupted construction. Already, delays have been announced to projects in China and Finland, and more are expected in the UK, US and France.

As the figure below shows, lockdowns in recent months have pushed down electricity demand significantly, with the strongest impacts found in nations with service-based economies and the strictest lockdowns, such as Italy.

Weather-corrected change in electricity demand, %, in selected countries implementing full (solid lines) or partial lockdowns (dashed lines), by number of days since their lockdowns began. Source: IEA Global Energy Review

It is worth noting that as pointed out in Carbon Brief’s recent analysis, it is difficult to assign effects specifically to coronavirus as many other factors will influence energy demand and emissions over the course of the year.

As an example, the IEA points to “milder than average” weather throughout most of the northern hemisphere in the first quarter of the year, which played a part in pushing down energy demand due to less gas being used for heating.

Renewables ascend

As fossil fuel use sank in the first few months of 2020, renewables remained stable, as in general they are given priority access to electricity grids and are not required to adjust their output based on demand. 

Combined with rising capacity as new wind and solar facilities are built, this means that renewable electricity generation rose by almost 3% in the first quarter of the year.

As a result, renewables achieved record-high hourly shares in Belgium, Italy, Germany, Hungary and parts of the US. Analysis just published by Carbon Brief shows a similar trend, with wind and solar reaching a record-high share of generation across Europe over the past 30 days.

These records reflect a rising renewable share of the electricity mix of countries around the world – where demand has declined during lockdowns – as shown in the chart, below.

Changes in the electricity mixes of key emitters in 2020 so far, with the implementation of lockdown strategies indicated by grey shading. Source: IEAGlobal Energy Review

In fact, renewables are also the only energy sources expected to grow this year “regardless of the length of lockdown or strength of recovery”, the report states. This can be seen in the figure below.

Projected % change in primary energy demand by fuel type in 2020 compared to the previous year, with renewables (green) showing the only positive change. Source: IEA Global Energy Review

The chart below shows how a pandemic recovery, in which restrictions are gradually loosened over the course of the year, is expected to push low-carbon electricity sources to 40% of power generation in 2020, extending the slight lead on coal achieved last year. This would be the highest level on record, albeit due in part to a 5% dip in total electricity demand.

Global generation % shares from coal (red line) and low-carbon sources (shaded area), including nuclear (yellow) and all renewables (different shades of green). Source: IEA Global Energy Review

New projects coming online this year are expected to increase wind and solar’s share of global electricity generation up to 9%, twice as high as levels seen just five years ago.

The IEA estimates total renewable energy use, including for heat and transport, will rise by about 1% in 2020, and there will still be an increase even if economic recovery is slow. 

However, despite being more resilient than other industries, the renewable sector has still faced challenges. The end of 2020 marks an important deadline for new wind projects in the US and China to receive tax credits and subsidies, but progress on these projects is now highly uncertain.

In a recent blog post, IEA analyst Heymi Bahar writes that what was meant to be “an outstanding year for renewables” has been hindered by supply chain and labour disruptions linked to the pandemic.

Wind turbine manufacture has been hit particularly hard due to a very global supply chain compared with solar panels, which are largely manufactured in China.

Methods and discrepancies

When Carbon Brief attempted to calculate a figure for total CO2 emissions decline this year due to coronavirus, it reached a slightly more modest figure of  5.5%, compared to the IEA’s 8%.

This analysis was based on five key datasets that cover roughly three-quarters of the world’s annual CO2 emissions, with the expectation that the elements not covered would have added to the final total.

The IEA has access to a much larger array of detailed information, and its analysis was based on data available up until mid-April including country submissions to the IEA, other statistical releases from national administrations and estimates by the agency itself when official data was missing.

Published on Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020, under a CC license. Unadapted material may be reproduced in full for non-commercial use, credited ‘Carbon Brief’ with a link to the article.

walk a lot, love nature, learn to see & understand art

“Always continue walking a lot and loving nature,

for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better.

Painters understand nature and love it,

“and teach us to see

Vincent van Gogh, letter to his brother Theo, London, 1874


Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890), “The Pink Orchard” (Arles, beginning of April 1888, oil on canvas) Credits: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation

The season of orchards in blossom is so short,

and you know these subjects are among the ones that cheer everyone up.”

Vincent van Gogh, letter to his brother Theo, Arles, on or about 5 April 1888


Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890), “Orchard Bordered by Cypresses,” (Arles, 1888, oil on canvas) Credit: Yale University Art Gallery, Promised Gift of William L. Bernhard, B.A.1954, and Catherine G. Cahill

See:

Vincent van Gogh, letter to his brother Theo, London, 1874, Van Gogh Museum

Vincent van Gogh, letter to his brother Theo, Arles, on or about 5 April 1888, Vincent van Gogh, The Letters

Vincent van Gogh, “The Pink Orchard” (1888), Van Gogh Museum

Vincent van Gogh, “Orchard Bordered by Cypresses” (1888), Yale University Art Gallery

Gutai: Tsuruko Yamazaki

“Tsuruko Yamazaki endorsed a distinctly non-humanist view of agency by emphasizing the interface between material properties themselves”

Joan Kee, Professor, History of Art, University of Michigan, introduction to “Artist’s Portfolio: Tsuruko Yamazaki,” Artforum, February 2013

A founding member of the Japanese Gutai Art Association, Tsuruko Yamazaki (山崎 つる子) was the only woman artist who remained with the group from its beginning in 1954 to its disbanding in 1972.  

Tsuruko Yamazaki, “Work” (acrylic on canvas,  mounted on board, 1967). Take Ninegawa and Almine Rech.

Tsuruko Yamazaki joined Gutai’s major exhibitions, including the Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition at Ashiya Park in 1956; the sixth Gutai Art Exhibition held in September 1958 at the Martha Jackson Gallery at 32 East 69th Street, New York (in the same townhouse now occupied by Hauser & Wirth) ; and the international group show “Nul 1965” at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (see discussion in “Zero: Let Us Explore the Stars,” 4 July – 7 November 2015, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam). 

Tsuruko Yamazaki, “Red (Shape of Mosquito Net)” (vinyl, wood, metal fixtures, wires, bolts, light bulbs, 1956). Installation view at  the “Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition”,  Ashiya Park, along the banks of the Ashiya River, Hyogo, Japan, 1956. Image courtesy of Work” (Red Cube)“, the work was exhibited at the Guggenheim’s “Gutai: Splendid Playground”.

Tsuruko Yamazaki: Beyond GutaÏ,” the first solo exhibition of Tsuruko Yamazaki’s work outside of Japan, was held in 2010 by Almine Rech, Paris, organized in collaboration with Midori Nishisawa and Olivier Renaud-Clément (13 March – 30 April). 

Tsuruko Yamazaki’s work has been exhibited in major surveys of Japanese modern and contemporary arts. Examples include “Japon des Avant-Gardes 1910–1970” at the Centre Pompidou, Paris (1986); “Japanese Art after 1945: Scream Against the Sky,” curated by Alexandra Munroe, at the Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan, the Guggenheim SoHo,New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1994–95); and “Gutai: Splendid Playground” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2013).

She participated in the Forty-Fifth (1993) and Fifty-Third (2009) Venice Biennales.

Tsuruko Yamazaki is represented by the Tokyo gallery Take Ninagawa. Take Ninagawa exhibited “Work” (1967) at Art Basel in Hong Kong in 2017.

See:

TsurukoYamazaki at Take Ninagawa

TsurukoYamazaki (1925-2019), Artforum, 13 June 2019

Tsuruko Yamazaki, Art Basel

Joan Kee, introduction to “Artist’s Portfolio: Tsuruko Yamazaki,” Artforum, February 2013

Joan Kee, Professor, History of Art, University of Michigan; to be Clark Professor at Williams College, GradArt, spring 2021

Hilton Als, Joan Kee, Anne Lafont, Kobena Mercer to Join GradArt as Clark Visiting Professors,” Williams College / Clark Art Institute, 24 February 2020

Tsuruko Yamazaki: Beyond GutaÏ,” Almine Rech, Paris 13 March – 30 April 2010

Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky,” curated by Alexandra Munroe,  Samsung Senior Curator, Asian Art, and Senior Advisor, Global Arts, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Zero: Let Us Explore the Stars,” 4 July – 7 November 2015, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 

A Visual Essay on Gutai at 32 East 69th Street,” Hauser & Wirth, 12 September – 27 October 2012

Tsuruko Yamazaki, WikiArt

art, philanthropy, energy: in transition (los angeles)

Clear water in Venice. Blue skies over Beijing. Air monitors in the city of Houston recording less ozone than normal. Clearer and crisper Austin skyline. The cleanest air ever recorded in Los Angeles.

“I think contemporary art changes how you look at the world. And that’s huge for everybody who comes into the situation.”

“Art as responsibility, art as a civic engagement, art has to be a force in society, art has to be courageous, unafraid, ecological, ecological. That was Joseph Beuys talking to my art teacher.”

“As a museum, you have a civic responsibility, you have a role in society, you have to be courageous, you have to open up your doors to allow for dialogue.”

“after 10 years of working for and with [MoMA PS1 board chair; president emerita & trustee, MoMA] Agnes Gund, I follow one very important principle in decision-making: ‘It’s not about you, it’s about the difference you can make.

・Klaus Biesenbach, Director, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles (Deborah Vankin, “New MOCA director Klaus Biesenbach embarks on a’civic-minded’ mission to steady the museum,” Los Angeles Times, 8 November 2018)

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), established in 1979, is the only artist-founded museum in Los Angeles. As of late 2018 its endowment amounted to more than $134 million.

Klaus Biesenbach is MOCA’s sixth director, beginning work with the museum on 23 October 2018. He “’loves fundraising’” and sees his role at MOCA “as strictly administrative, focused on fundraising and growing the museum’s attendance, programming, endowment and board.”

Larry Bell, “Bill and Coo at MOCA’s nest” (site-specific installation, laminated glass, 2019), in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Accession number: 2019-19. Purchase with funds provided by Carol and David Appel.
Larry Bell, “Bill and Coo at MOCA’s Nest” (site specific installation, laminated glass, two parts, 2019), in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Accession number: 2019-19. Purchase with funds provided by Carol and David Appel. Installation view, MOCA Grand Avenue. Image courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Zak Kelley.

Prior to moving to Los Angeles to take up the directorship of MOCA, Klaus Biesenbach lived for 23 years in Manhattan. In 1995 he moved to New York from Berlin where, in 1991, as an intern for the East German government, he established Berlin’s Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art in a vacant former margarine factory.

Biesenbach worked initially with what was then called the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York. The P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center was established in 1971 by Alanna Heiss as the Institute for Art and Urban Resources Inc., an organization devoted to organizing exhibitions in underutilized and abandoned spaces across New YorkCity.

The P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center became an affiliate of TheMuseum of Modern Art in 2000.

Biesenbach joined MoMA in 2004 with a concurrent role at MoMA PS1. He became director of MoMA PS1 in 2010, serving also as chief curator-at-large at MoMA.

Just weeks into his job at MOCA, Mr. Biesenbach described his view of the mission of museums: “’to be a resident among residents,’” “meant not only to display art but to support artists and greater civic life.”

“’“As a museum, you have a civic responsibility, you have a role in society, you have to be courageous, you have to open up your doors to allow for dialogue.’”

“’After 10 years of working for and with [MoMA PS1 board chair] Agnes Gund, I follow one very important principle in decision-making: ‘It’s not about you, it’s about the difference you can make.’”’”

He continues, a primary goal is now “’alignment. To develop a vision for the museum and then align the board and the staff and all the other constituencies. And vision doesn’t necessarily mean huge buildings or blockbusters. It could also be a much more modest vision: simply functioning.

“’I think contemporary art changes how you look at the world. And that’s huge for everybody who comes into the situation.’”

Growing up near Cologne, Germany, Mr. Biesenbach’s love for art began when he was in primary school. Joseph Beuys spoke through his art teacher, who had studied with him.

“Art as responsibility, art as a civic engagement, art has to be a force in society, art has to be courageous, unafraid, ecological, ecological. That was Joseph Beuys talking to my art teacher. We were like 8 or 9 years old!”

Full circle to today’s Los Angeles, and to today’s Houston, Beijing, Venice, and so many other cities.

Clear water in Venice. Blue skies over Beijing. Air monitors in the city of Houston recording less ozone than normal. Clearer and crisper Austin skyline. The cleanest air ever recorded, in March 2020, in Los Angeles.

Home not only to MOCA but also to The Broad (across the street from MOCA and founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad; Eli Broad was founding chairman of MOCA in 1979), the Hammer Museum (affiliated with UCLA), and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art amongst others, Los Angeles has seen a lifting of its “notorious L.A. Smog” due “to the fact that most Angelenos are driving less.”

“The notorious L.A. smog starts as a cloud of traffic emissions that’s spewed into the air during the morning rush hour. This layer of air pollution is then held in place by a combination of the Southland’s topography and its prevailing weather patterns, and baked for hours in SoCal’s warm ultraviolet rays, an effect that air-quality experts liken to a pot of soup heating on a stove.

“There’s no question that the drastic improvement in air quality‪—a combined measure of the particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone we breathe into our lungs—is due to the fact that most Angelenos are driving less and staying inside more.”

・Jason McGahan, “As Many Stay Home, L.A.’s Air Quality Is Better Than It’s Been in Decades,” Los Angeles Magazine, 6 April 2020

Better quality of air is observed also in Houston, home to numerous excellent museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH).

“The primary reason, experts say, is fewer vehicles on the road, which means fewer emissions from the petroleum-based fuels on which so much of the Texas economy relies.” …

“In Houston, where the huge volumes of commuters and sprawl of industrial facilities often result in a lingering smog, emissions of nitrogen oxides, which combine with other pollutants in the atmosphere to form ozone, are already down 15 percent this month compared to last year.”

“The reduction in pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and microscopic particulate matter, not to mention the carbon dioxide that is warming the planet, offers a temporary window on what the world might look like as governments worldwide move to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by mid-century.”

・James Osborne, “As pollution abates and skies clear, coronavirus shutdown gives glimpse of life with less fossil fuel,” Houston Chronicle, 27 March 2020, updated 1 April 2020

“A question we should be asking is, how do we maintain the better air quality without the economic consequences of shutter in place orders?’” Michael Webber, energy resources professor at theUniversity of Texas, Austin.

・James Osborne, “As pollution abates and skies clear, coronavirus shutdown gives glimpse of life with less fossil fuel,” Houston Chronicle, 27 March 2020, updated 1 April 2020

The economic consequences of “shutter in place orders” are dire.

In response to the outbreak of the coronavirus, MOCA, for instance, has laid off all 97 part-time employees. Almost all 69 full-time employees are taking a full or partial furlough or a significant salary reduction.

In correspondence with Deborah Vankin of the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Biesenbach writes, “the coronavirus crisis is changing lives in unprecedented ways and that he couldn’t say ‘how long this slow-burning catastrophe will grow and when it will end.”

“’Given these uncertainties, we are taking significant measures to make sure MOCA’s unique legacy and collection, built through the creative hard work and contributions of so many will continue to be preserved and accessible for generations to come.”

More vulnerable than some other Los Angeles museums, MOCA does not enjoy the financial privilege of a wealthy benefactor behind it, as does the Broad (Eli Broad). Nor is the museum partially funded by a university, as is the Hammer Museum. Nor is it so directly connected to a government entity as is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“’MOCA,’” rather, Biesenbach observes, “’is supported independently, mostly by individuals, and we have to navigate this crisis in our own way.’”

・Deborah Vankin, “Hit by ‘slow-burning catastrophe,’ MOCA forced to furlough or cut pay for most staff,” Los Angeles Times, 1 April 2020

So how might we maintain the better air quality without the economic consequences of shutter in place orders?

A hint at forward direction might come from Cody A. Hill, Vice President, Energy Storage at LS Power.

LS Power is “a development, investment, and operating company focused on power generation, electric transmission and energy infrastructure. We partner with communities across North America to create lower-cost, cleaner energy solutions.”

Mr. Hill has an MS in Electrical and ComputerEngineering from the University of Texas at Austin and is now based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sharing an “astounding chart from the EPA,” Mr. Hill (Twitter: @cody_a_hill) notes, in a tweet of 2 April 2020, that “Los Angeles had the cleanest air ever recorded there in March 2020.”

EPA, generated 2 April 2020, shared by Cody A. Hill, @cody_a_hill, via Twitter, 2 April 2020

Cody Hill continues in the same tweet, “This is mostly from reduced driving with the same vehicle fleet. It could be the new normal and ~13 million people living there would be healthier if we electrify transportation.”

See:

MoMA PS1 history

Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)

Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation | MOCA

The Broad | About

Jason McGahan, “As Many Stay Home, L.A.’s Air Quality Is Better Than It’s Been in Decades,” Los Angeles Magazine, 6 April 2020

Cody A. Hill (@cody_a_hill), tweet of 2 April 2020

James Osborne, “As pollution abates and skies clear, coronavirus shutdown gives glimpse of life with less fossil fuel,” Houston Chronicle, 27 March 2020, updated 1 April 2020

Deborah Vankin, “Hit by ‘slow-burning catastrophe,’ MOCA forced to furloughor cut pay for most staff,” Los Angeles Times, 1 April 2020

Larry Bell, Bill and Coo at MOCA’s Nest (2019),” MOCA

Larry Bell, “Bill and Coo at MOCA’s Nest” (site-specific installation, laminated glass, 2019)

Larry Bell, represented by Hauser & Wirth, New York and Los Angeles, and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

Deborah Vankin, “New MOCA director Klaus Biesenbach embarks on a’civic-minded’ mission to steady the museum,” Los Angeles Times, 8 November 2018

art, philanthropy, energy: in transition

· renewable energy sources are set to account for nearly 21 percent of the electricity the United States uses for the first time this year, up from about 18 percent last year and 10 percent in 2010

· renewable energy provides 18% of total U.S. power generation, up from 10% in 2010

· corporate PPA’s for renewal energy accelerated from 0.1 GW in 2010 to33.6 GW by year-end 2019, with a record breaking 13.6 GW in 2019 alone.

· the carbon intensity of the power sector continues to decline. From 2010 to 2019, power sector emissions fell nearly 25%

· total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have fallen 4.1% over thepast decade, and now sit at roughly 12% below 2005 levels

2020 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook”, produced for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy by BloombergNEF

Art, philanthropy, energy. The relationships between them have history. As the way we generate energy evolves, the relationships between art, philanthropy, and energy will, in all likelihood, evolve as well.

Yves Tanguy (French, 1900-1955), “What” (oil on canvas, 1940), in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The Joseph and Sylvia Slifka Collection. Object Number: 2004.146

“Houston,” observed Gary Tinterow, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 2019, “is a cultural capital largely thanks to the discovery of oil.” (Houston Chronicle)

Yet, the energy economy is shifting in Texas. Renewable energy constitutes an ever increasing percentage of energy produced and used in Texas. 

Texas, a competitive rather than regulated energy market, is first in the United States in wind power capacity and near to having the second-most capacity for solar PV after California.

Solar energy has a significant (“marvelous”) cost advantage over gas-fired power plants: the marginal cost of solar is zero. Texas is on course to build a quarter of the record new industrial-scale solar capacity being installed across the United States in 2020.

As the energy economy evolves, how will the philanthropy that supports so many museums and cultural institutions evolve?

Let’s begin our quest for understanding by taking a look at relationships between art, philanthropy, and energy. We’ll start by looking to Texas.

The U.S. state of Texas consumes the most electricity in the United States. Demand for energy in Texas has grown over five percent over the past five years even as it has declined nationwide (EIA as reported in the FT).

Adding solar power through the incentives of a competitive electricity market, Texas is near to having the second-most capacity for solar PV after California. Texas, further, now ranks first in the United States in wind power capacity.

Texas is home to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). The MFAH is one of the largest museums in the United States. As of late 2011 it had the third-largest museum endowment.

The permanent collection of the MFAH consists of nearly 70,000 works from throughout the world, from antiquity to the present day (MFAH) .

Gary Tinterow, Director of the MFAH, grew up in Houston. He worked at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for 28 years, serving from 2008 until his departure for Houston as chairman of the department of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art. Mr. Tinterow’s appointment as Director of the MFAH was finalized by the museum’s board of trustees in late November 2011. He started his new position in early 2012.

Richard D. Kinder, co-founder (February 1997) and now Executive Chairman of Kinder Morgan, Inc., one of North America’s largest energy infrastructure companies, serves as Life Trustee of the museum and Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Mr. Kinder served as chairman of the museum’s search committee that identified Mr. Tinterow as a candidate for the directorship of the museum.

The business of Kinder Morgan is involved primarily with oil, gas, and petroleum products. Kinder Morgan “owns an interest in or operates 83,000 miles of pipelines and 147 terminals. The company’s pipelines transport primarily natural gas, refined petroleum products, CO2 and crude oil and its terminals store, transfer and handle such products as gasoline, ethanol, coal, petroleum coke and steel.” (Kinder Morgan)

Mr. Kinder commended Mr. Tinterow: “Gary’s passion for the job and his encyclopedic knowledge were what convinced us. He has so many good ideas, and there is so much potential to make this one of the outstanding museums of the world.” (NYTimes)

For his part, Mr. Tinterow explained, “As sorry as I will be to leave the Met after 28 years, I think I’ve landed the best job in the world. It’s a matchless combination: a committed board, a passionate audience, a fine collection and an institution with the third-largest endowment in the country.” (NYTimes)

Mr. Tinterow observed that the endowment of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston stood at $1 billion in December 2011 after the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, which oversees the J. Paul Getty Museum (endowment: $4.8 billion) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (endowment: $2.6 billion).

Asked in June 2019 after the relationship of the museum to energy companies and oil, Mr. Tinterow replied that he has “enormous respect for the energy industry.”

“Houston,” he continued, “is a cultural capital largely thanks to the discovery of oil.” (Houston Chronicle)

Indeed.

As of June 30, 2018, the Kinder Foundation had donated more than $50,000,000 to the Campaign for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (“The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Annual Report 2017 – 2018,”p. 17). This followed $50+ million reported by the museum as donated by the Foundation to the capital campaign as of the years ending June 30, 2017, June 30, 2016, and June 30, 2015.

The Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, dedicated to art after 1900 from the MFAH collections, is scheduled to open in November 2020. Consisting of two floors and more than 100,000 square feet of exhibition space,the building will increase overall MFAH exhibition space by nearly 75%. (MFAH)

While the MFAH has benefited, and continues to benefit, from the business of oil, the mix of Texas energy is changing.

First in the United States in wind power capacity and near to having the second-most capacity for solar PV after California, Texas will build a quarter of the record new industrial-scale solar capacity being installed across the US in 2020 (EIA, FT).

The cost of solar has plummeted, with the average industrial-scale PV project just $0.80 per installed watt last year compared to $3.53/Win 2010, according to the “2020 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook”, produced for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy by BloombergNEF, that looks at the U.S. energy transition over the decade 2010 – 2020.

Solar has a significant cost advantage over gas-fired power plants. The marginal cost of solar is zero. “The key thing is they have a magnificent cost advantage over gas-fired power plants,” observes Edward Hirs, energy fellow at the University of Houston. “The marginal cost of solar is zero.” (FT)

Investors in renewable energy, with time horizons of more than a decade, moreover, like the stable returns of projects backed by long-term contracts. (FT)

Corporations are taking advantage of falling costs to sign long-term solar power purchase agreements. Of the record 13,600MW of clean energy deals that companies completed in the US in 2019, 5,500MW of deals were generated in Texas. The majority of the deals closed were based on solar energy according to the “2020 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook”.

Google, for instance, is committing to buy power from Texas solar plants.

Neha Palmer, Google’s director of operations and head of energy strategy, observes that “[Texas] is a large, deregulated market. Users of electricity have a choice in who they buy electricity from and the type of energy that they buy. I think that’s been another driver of the large uptake of renewables in the state.”

The solar energy travels from the Permian Basin in west Texas, where much of the investment in solar energy is taking place, to cities such as Dallas and Houston aided by special transmission lines. The state of Texas authorized the lines 15 years ago. Designed to handle wind power, they are now enabling the flow of solar also.

Largely disconnected from the interstate transmission networks to the east and west of Texas, the grid is exempted from federal oversight. It is operated by the non-profit body Ercot (Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

“The Ercot power market is designed to be the ultimate competitive market,” Mr Archer says. Chris Archer, head of Americas at Macquarie’s Green Investment Group, a solar and wind developer with projects in Texas.

“Generators are only paid for the energy that they sell, not for having capacity at the ready. Wholesale prices that average about $40 per megawatt-hour are allowed to climb as high as $9,000 per MWh when demand surges on the hottest afternoons, a potential windfall for generators. Solar farms’ output crests when the sun is highest, enabling them to participate in these sales.” (FT)

As renewables grow as a percentage of the energy mix in Texas, and elsewhere, we will follow the evolution of the relationship between art, philanthropy, and energy.

See:

Ivan Penn, “Oil Companies Are Collapsing, but Wind and Solar Energy Keep Growing,” The New York Times, 7 April 2020, updated 8 April 2020

Gregory Meyer, “Texas: how the home of US oil and gas fell in love with solar power,” Financial Times, 7 April 2020

2020, Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, Understanding the U.S. EnergyTransition,” the2020 edition of the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook – produced for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy by BloombergNEF

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Annual Report 2017 – 2018

Richard D. Kinder, Kinder Morgan

Erin Douglas, “Museum of Fine Arts Houston director putting final brushstrokes on $450 million expansion,” Houston Chronicle, 7 June 2019

Carol Vogel, “Met Veteran Named Director of Houston Art Museum,” TheNew York Times, 1 December 2011

Stephanie Cash, “Gary Tinterow leaves the Met for Houston,” artnews.com, 1December 2011

Business Council for Sustainable Energy

BloombergNEF (Bloomberg New Energy Finance)

coronavirus, climate change, the environment, & the arts: positive steps forward

“To my mind, one does not put oneself in place of the past; one only adds a new link.”

 Cy Twombly, quoted by Gagosian

“an elemental Dionysian force of madness rising, like a ‘fire that rises from the depths of the sea'”

Malcolm Bull, “Fire in the Water,” in Cy Twombly Bacchus Psilax Mainonmenos, exh. cat., New York, 2005, p. 55), quoted in Lot Essay, Cy Twombly (1928-2011), “Untitled” (acrylic on canvas, painted in 2005), Christie’s, Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, New York, 15 November 2017, Lot 15 B

Cy Twombly (1928-2011), “Untitled” (acrylic on canvas, painted in 2005). “Untitled” sold at the Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale of 15 November 2017 in New York realizing a price of US$ 46,437,500

Over ten feet high and sixteen feet in length, “Untitled” is the largest example from a group of giant-scaled paintings that Twombly created beginning in 2003 at age 75.

Twombly makes use of spirals of linear loops, culminating fifty years of regularly invoking scrawls, whirls, and writing/drawing.

In his catalogue essay, “Fire in the Water” that accompanied the first exhibition of Twombly’s Bacchus series in 2005, Malcolm Bull argued that the abiding theme of these paintings was that of an elemental Dionysian force of madness rising, like a “fire that rises from the depths of the sea” (M. Bull, “Fire in the Water,” in Cy Twombly Bacchus Psilax Mainonmenos, exh. cat., New York, 2005, p. 55).’ – Lot Essay

Like Dionysian forces of madness, we are all experiencing the dislocation caused by the current COVID-19 pandemic.  

Individuals, families, supply chains, industries, markets, businesses, nations – all are affected.

This pandemic, however terrible, unexpected, and unprepared for, may in part be an outcome of behaviors that we have, however unwittingly, engaged in over decades.

We are all – individuals, peoples, cultures, animals, plants, functional objects and works of art, buildings, systems of transportation, agriculture, and education, etc. etc. etc. – inextricably embedded in nature. We are part and parcel of and subject to the forces of physics. Part and parcel of and subject to the elements and interactions of chemistry. 

As living, breathing creatures, moreover, and complex systems of systems. we are part and parcel of and subject to the complex forces of biology.  We are calibrated precisely, over long periods of time, to our biosphere.

If and should we take our biosphere for granted, fundamentally alter the composition of our atmosphere, and tamper with our climate, the unexpected can occur. Mayhem may let loose,

And so it has.

Yet, in the arts we are global. We reach across time, across space, across borders, across cultures, across nations. We represent mind and passion, interests and preferences. We come from an abundance of backgrounds and industries. 

We may lead, each in our own place, taking steps to realize our ambitions anew.

Together we will have impact.

While we work in our many spheres of activity, what steps, however simple, might we take to realize our objectives while mitigating risks of future such dislocations?

If we want “to do something to prevent disease emergence, first of all we need to seriously reconsider how we do business with the biosphere.”

Q & A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties Between COVID and Climate,”

“We need to hear what nature is trying to tell us, which is clear: let’s be smarter about how we do business with the biosphere and stop disrupting the climate we depend on.” 

 Conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard C-CHANGE

Two recently published articles are insightful. In them, Dr. Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH, Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard C-CHANGE) offers guidance.

Please take a few minutes to read them in full:

Neela Banerjee, “Q & A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties Between COVID and Climate,” Inside Climate News, 12 March 2020

A Conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard C-CHANGE, ” Harvard C-CHANGE  

Excerpts follow, giving us some idea of what we probably already know but don’t always think about or consider in the decisions we make on a daily basis:

The bottom line here is that if you wanted to prevent the spread of pathogens, the emergence of pathogens, … you wouldn’t transform the climate.”

Q & A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties Between COVID and Climate,”

The separation of health and environmental policy is a dangerous delusion. Our health entirely depends on the climate and the other organisms we share the planet with.”

A Conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard C-CHANGE

Simply put, “The likelihood is high that this [a next pandemic] will happen. This has happened through human history but the data we have shows that the pace is accelerating. That’s not terribly surprising. We’re living in highly dense urban places. Air travel is much more prevalent than it used to be. And climate is a part of what is fundamentally reshaping our relationship with the natural world.”

Q & A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties BetweenCOVID and Climate

You look at climate change, we have transformed the nature of the Earth. We have fundamentally changed the composition of the atmosphere, and, as such, we shouldn’t be surprised that that affects our health.”

If you look at the emerging infectious diseases that have moved into people from animals or other sources over the last several decades,the vast majority of those are coming from animals. And the majority of those are coming from wild animals. We have transformed life onEarth. We are having a massive effect on how the relationships between all life on Earth operate and also with ourselves. We shouldn’t be surprised that these emerging diseases pop up.

The principle is that we’re really changing how we relate to other species on Earth and that matters to our risk for infections.”

Q & A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties Between COVID and Climate”

Historically, we have grown as a species in partnership with the plants and animals we live with. So, when we change the rules of the game by drastically changing the climate and life on earth, we have to expect that it will affect our health.

A Conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard C-CHANGE

How might we in our private and business capacities be smarter about how we do business with the biosphere and stop disrupting the climate we depend on?

First, think.

All industries, markets, and economies, including the arts, the art market, and the art economy, are interconnected and all are viable only within our shared biosphere.

“Art” is not self-existent. Art as a phenomenon, culture as a phenomenon, works of art, cultures, collections of works of art, collectors, and all parties to art are inextricably embedded in and dependent on nature.

Take time and steps to learn about and understand the biosphere. Take steps to reconsider how we, in every sphere of work and activity, do business with the biosphere.

We have an opportunity to consider ways to optimize connections, culture, art, the business of art, and the biosphere jointly.

Some simple steps that can be taken:

Minimize travel

Whether curator, museum director, staff, or trustee, collector, dealer, gallerist, advisor, interested party – vet travel requirements.

Minimize travel powered by combustion of hydrocarbons.

“We need to drastically decrease our greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.”

A Conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard C-CHANGE

It goes without saying that travel by foot or by bike is encouraged. Travel by electric-powered cars, buses, and trains – especially insofar as the electricity is generated from renewable, non-hydrocarbon sources – is also encouraged.

Amsterdam-based art dealer Jan Six XI, for instance, bikes to and from work, and across town to consult with experts. (Russell Shorto, “Rembrandt in the Blood: AnObsessive Aristocrat, Rediscovered,” The New York Times Magazine, 27 February 2019)

Work with local partners

We are all somewhere. We do not need to be everywhere.

If you need to do work or close a transaction somewhere else, research, identify, vet, and work with local partners.

Optimize resources and connections made available online

Information, images, and opportunities to meet and discuss face-to-face, even in groups, abound online. As we are now seeing in abundance, education and research can be conducted online. Relationships developed through written and verbal communications optimized online, by mail (even mail that goes through the post office), and by telephone.

As much activity is migrating online, vet also your online service partners and their delivery options.

This website, for instance, is hosted by AISO.net. AISO.net is powered 100% by solar energy generated on site. The company does not make use of carbon credits. Members of staff are knowledgeable, of course, very personable, and extraordinarily helpful. They are great to work with.

Reduce carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions from ongoing operations of physical plants

Galleries,museums, homes, businesses, offices, schools and universities, hotels,hospitals – all house works and collections of art.

Real-life steps can be taken to reduce use of hydrocarbon-based energy sources and achieve net-zero energy.

Expert and experienced stakeholders including architects, engineers, designers, builders, energy consultants, and sources of finance are able and ready to assist.

Information about service providers will follow.

Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum can serve as a model. The Van Gogh Museum operates 100% on renewable (wind)energy. (See Van Gogh Museum, sustainability, and accompanying infographic.)

Change habits of mind and behavior

Allow time for foot and bike travel. Schedule meetings and work requirements accordingly. 

Enjoy the great outdoors en route to work, home, meetings, and shopping.

Enjoy your locality

See:

Cy Twombly (1928 – 2011), “Untitled” (acrylic on canvas, painted in 2005), Christie’s, Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, New York, 15 November 2017, Lot 15 B 

Coronavirus, climate change, and the environment, A Conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard C-CHANGE”, Harvard C-Change, 20 March 2020

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH, C-Change,Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Neela Banerjee, “Q&A:A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible TiesBetween COVID and Climate,” Inside Climate News, 12 March 2020

Russell Shorto, “Rembrandt in the Blood: An Obsessive Aristocrat,Rediscovered,” The New York Times Magazine, 27 February 2019

Jeff Koons & “Rabbit” (1986)

“When I hear “Commodity Art,’ I always feel I was never involved in that. My intentions with my work have always been philosophical and social. I’ve worked with objects, but it’s never been about a dialogue of money. It’s been about a dialogue of desire.

“But I think what happens during certain times you live in, you know, in the ’80s the market was very strong, and so people want to box everything up and package everything. It’s reduced to this level of being about money when it’s really about, I believe, communicating ideas.

“When I’ve worked with objects I always tried to remove critique, it’s really about the removal of judgment. Something can be accepted for being perfect as what it is.

“So it’s about removing hierarchy, removing judgment, removing discrimination and to use objects as metaphors for people.”

Jeff Koons in conversation with artists Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton, Joan Wallace, and Barbara Bloom together with M.H. Miller, arts editor of T Magazine (April 2018)
Jeff Koons’ “Rabbit” (stainless steel, cast in 1986), from the collection of S.I. Newhouse Jr. Image: Christie’s

Jeff Koons’ “Rabbit” (stainless steel, cast in 1986) sold at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale of 15 May 2019 realizing a price of US$91,075,000 (hammer price of $80 million plus buyer’s premium net of any applicable fees) and achieving an auction record for a living artist.

From the collection of publisher Samuel Irving (S.I.) Newhouse Jr., co-owner of Advance Publications and long-time chairman of Condé Nast who passed away in 2017, “Rabbit,” cast in 1986 in an edition of three, plus an artist’s proof, was the last one in private hands.

The other “Rabbits” from the casting of 1986 are in the collections of the Broad Art Foundation in Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and, it is said (Laurel Wamsley, “Jeff Koons’ ‘Rabbit’ Fetches $91 Million, Auction Record for a Work by a Living Artist,” NPR, 16 May 2019), the National Museum of Qatar.

Jeff Koons, “Rabbit” (stainless steel, cast in 1986), from the collection of S.I. Newhouse Jr. Image: Christie’s
Jeff Koons’ “Rabbit” (stainless steel, cast in 1986), from the collection of S.I. Newhouse Jr., on view at Christie’s New York (May 2019)

“Considered the holy grail of Koons works among certain collecting circles”(Eileen Kinsella, “Jeff Koons’ Bunny Sets a New Record for a Living Artist in Christie’s Half-Billion-Dollar Postwar and Contemporary ArtSale,” Artnet News, 15 May 2019), bidding for “Rabbit” started at $40 million.

The bidder on the phone with Xin Li, Christie’s Deputy Chairman of Asia Pacific, conceded to dealer Robert Mnuchin, who placed the winning bid of $80 million on behalf of an anonymous client.

While there had been speculation that Mr. Mnuchin may have been working on behalf of either Mitchell Rales or Steven A. Cohen, Kenny Schachter of artnet News revealed the buyer to be Steven A. Cohen.

See:

M.H.Miller, “The Artists Who Defined the East Village’s Avant-GardeScene; For a short time in the early ’80s, the Manhattan neighborhoodwas the epicenter of experimental art. Jeff Koons, Peter Halley,Ashley Bickerton, Joan Wallace, and Barbara Bloom remember themoment,” T The New York Times Style Magazine, 17 April 2018

Kenny Schachter, “Kenny Schachter Reveals the Mystery Buyer of Jeff Koons’ Bunny – and Blurts Out Other Secrets from Auction Week as Well,” artnet News, 21 May 2019

Jacob Bernstein, “Robert Mnuchin Would Rather Not Discuss His Client (or His Son),” The New York Times, 19 May 2019

Laurel Wamsley, “Jeff Koons’ ‘Rabbit’ Fetches $91 Million, Auction Recordfor a Work by a Living Artist,” NPR, 16 May 2019

Scott Reyburn, “Jeff Koons ‘Rabbit’ Sets Auction Record for Most Expensive Work by Living Artist,” 15 May 2019

Eileen Kinsella, “Jeff Koons’ Bunny Sets a New Record for a Living Artistin Christie’s Half-Billion-Dollar Postwar and Contemporary Art Sale,”Artnet News, 15 May 2019

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), “Rabbit,” Christie’s Post-War and ContemporaryArt Evening Sale, New York, 15 May 2019, Lot 15 B | Jeff Koons: A Masterpiece from the Collection of S.I. Newhouse

Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid”

“So also Vermeer creates a story. A story of everyday life. And it’s amazing, I think, how he’s able to make this everyday scene into a monumental painting.”

Taco Dibbits, General Director of the Rijksmuseum

Put up for sale (for tax purposes) by the Six family in the early 20th century, “The Milkmaid” attracted the attention of American financier J. Pierpont Morgan who would have brought the painting out of the Netherlands.

“The Milkmaid” was, however, not sold to Mr. Morgan nor did it leave the Netherlands.

Instead the painting was acquired in 1908, together with 38 others also offered by the Six family, for 750,000 guilders by a consortium comprised of the Rijksmuseum, the government of the Netherlands, and the Rembrandt Society.

Successfully retained at home, “The Milkmaid” entered the protective custody of the Rijksmuseum where it has remained since.

Johannes Vermeer, “The Milkmaid” (c. 1660, oil on canvas)

“The Milkmaid,” painted in oil on canvas by Delft painter Johannes Vermeer in about 1660, describes a maid standing in the dairy kitchen of a Delft household making a bread pudding.

Bread, protected from the mice in a chest hanging by the window up on the wall, is readied in a basket on the table. A blue porcelain pitcher holds beer to be used as yeast. The milkmaid pours milk, delivered to the door from the countryside, from an earthenware pitcher.

Taco Dibbits spoke engagingly of “The Milkmaid” during his presentation of 26 January 2018 at the Yale University Art Gallery: “Understanding the Rijksmuseum: The History of a National Museum”.

“And then there is the first big intervention of the State. “The Milkmaid” by Vermeer, she was about to be sold to the US, and the Dutch said, ‘no, this cannot happen,’ and a committee was formed, in the Netherlands everything goes by committee, a committee was formed, consensus was reached, it was brought into Parliament, and it was unanimously decided that this painting  should be acquired for the country, and it has been in the Rijksmuseum since the the beginning of the 20thcentury.

“For Vermeer, it is incredible to see how well preserved it is. And it’s a large part of its magic.

“You really feel his brushstroke and the way he indicates the brittleness of the bread and the breadcrumbs

Johannes Vermeer, “The Milkmaid” (c. 1660, oil on canvas, detail)

“and the way he with little dots, you can still see them on the paint surface, and the way he depicts the dark blue skin of the milkmaid, she’s been cleaning, probably in cold water, the way he does that, and contrasts it with the dark blue behind it, it is an amazing painting.

“And it’s a painting that tells a story, a story of a lady, or a maid in  this case, standing in the dairy kitchen, a kitchen on the north. There is a window, but you see the mold. I always say it is the most beautiful plaster wall ever painted, you see the mold here. And the windows on the north, a small hole in the window to show that it’s really glass.

“Bread is in the chest, hanging up against mice.

Johannes Vermeer, “The Milkmaid” (c. 1660, oil on canvas, detail)

“You know it’s cold because there’s a stove here, with a little piece of pottery, within it hot coals.

“And here is the milk. The milk would be delivered at the door from the country, delivered at the door in large buckets.

Johannes Vermeer, “The Milkmaid” (c. 1660, oil on canvas, detail)

“And there is a pitcher with beer which is used as yeast.”

Johannes Vermeer, “The Milkmaid” (c. 1660, oil on canvas, detail)

Taco Dibbits, “Understanding the Rijksmuseum: The Story of a National Museum,” Yale University Art Gallery, 26 January 2018

“The Milkmaid” was “probably purchased from the artist by his Delft patron Pieter Claesz van Ruijven (1624-1674), who at his death appears to have owned twenty-one works by Vermeer.”

The twenty-one paintings were sold in 1696 from the estate of van Ruijven’s son-in-law, Jacob Dissius.

At this sale, “The Milkmaid” was described as “exceptionally good” and brought the second-highest price. (Vermeer’s “View of Delft,”c. 1660-1552, now in the collection of the Mauritshaus, The Hague, fetched the highest price, 200 guilders).

Auctioned in 1719, the painting belonged to at least five Amsterdam collections before it was acquired by one of the great collectors of Dutch art, Lucretia Johanna van Winter (1785 – 1845) who in 1822 married into the Six family of collectors.

Years later, in the early 20thcentury, heirs of the two sons of Lucretia Johanna van Winter intended to auction off “The Milkmaid” together with 38 other paintings in their collection. American financier, J. Pierpont Morgan, expressed interest in acquiring the painting.

In order to keep “The Milkmaid” in the Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum, with support from the Dutch government and the Rembrandt Society, purchased “The Milkmaid,” together with the other 38 paintings, in 1908 for 750,000 guilders.

See:

The So-Called Dissius Auction (1696 sale of 124 paintings by the artmerchant Gerard Hoet)”, Essential Vermeer

The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer,” Walter A. Liedtke, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009, p. 22

The Milkmaid,” The Rijksmuseum

TacoDibbits, “Understanding the Rijksmuseum: The Story of a National Museum,”Yale University Art Gallery, 26 January 2018