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Frustrations Mount Over Vaccine Shortages in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS – Ian Farrell was just two days away from getting the first of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. He was looking forward, he said, to a major step toward life returning to normal.

So he admitted it was frustrating when he learned, without warning, that his appointment had been pushed back to March.

“Part of it was that I was so close,” Farrell told VOA, explaining his frustration, “and part of it is that my coworkers and I do work that’s not safe for us to do without being vaccinated.”

A 44-year-old social worker focused on community mental health, Farrell must go out and visit patients in their homes, a risky undertaking during a pandemic.

Social workers are renowned for their patience and understanding, and Farrell considers himself a nice guy.

“But, yeah, I kind of snapped when this poor woman called and told me my vaccination was being pushed back two months,” he said. “I can’t imagine what other, less-kind people were saying to her.”

Tens of thousands of calls like the one Farrell received have taken place across Louisiana in the past week. At Ochsner Health, the largest nonprofit health care system in the state, more than 21,000 people were notified that their appointments for COVID-19 vaccines had been canceled or postponed.

Americans across the country are eager to receive their vaccines so they can safely return to the world they knew pre-COVID. But a slow national rollout has frustrated the process.

“We’re ready to go,” said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director of the New Orleans Health Department and the face of the city’s fight against the virus. “People want this vaccine, but we just aren’t getting enough doses to keep up.”

Supply and demand

The Louisiana Department of Health (LDOH) receives doses from the federal government and then is responsible for distributing them to qualified health care providers, including hospitals, clinics and pharmacies across the state. Those providers then administer the vaccines to patients.

“By far the biggest challenge is the small number of doses being made available to us [from the federal government],” said Mindy Faciane, public information officer for the LDOH. In Louisiana, there are 889,000 people in the tiers currently eligible to receive a COVID vaccine, which include health care workers and those at least 70 years old. As of Thursday, only 38% of that number had received their first vaccine dose, according to LDOH.

But that hasn’t stopped thousands of New Orleanians from trying to find coveted appointments for themselves and their loved ones. Entire Facebook groups, such as the 600-member “NOLA Vaccine Hunters,” are dedicated to crowdsourcing information on where the next available appointments might be.

Andi Robinson also used social media to reach out to friends asking for information on where she could get her 82-year-old grandmother an appointment. Robinson said her grandmother has been extremely cautious during the pandemic, avoiding the grocery store and listening to church services on the phone instead of going in person. She even asked family members to change their clothes upon entering the house during the virus’ early days.

“I was worried about her and what the virus could do to her because of her age,” Robinson said, “so as soon as the vaccine was made available, I wanted to get her one.”

She said it took more than a week of busy signals, frustrating computer searches and wait lists before Robinson was finally able to find an appointment for her grandmother at a hospital in February.

But she recently received a call from a local Walgreens pharmacy, where she was on a wait list, notifying her that a spot came available for her.

“And she got her first dose of the vaccination,” Robinson said. “It wasn’t as smooth as we hoped, but I feel like it could have been much worse.”

Being intentional about equity

“Obviously we need to make sure it’s not just the people with the most tech-savvy grandkids who are getting the vaccine,” said Dr. Avegno of the New Orleans Health Department.

Louisiana is one of the most racially diverse states in America. In New Orleans, for example, about 60% of the population is Black.

But the pandemic has not affected all demographics equally. African Americans account for three of every four coronavirus deaths in the city. Experts believe this is because of interrelated factors such as poverty and a disparity in access to affordable healthy food and health care compared with white residents.

“It’s our goal to find and protect the people in our community who are most susceptible to this virus,” Avegno said. “We can’t hope that they just magically find us.”

Gabrielle Perry, a clinical epidemiologist who works at a private health system in New Orleans, said that while troubling early data from around the United States has shown that African Americans are less likely to get vaccinated than their white counterparts, she has been encouraged by the work the city has done to reach Black residents.

“I think New Orleans is a guidepost for how community health can be used to instill public trust,” Perry said. “They’ve used television, deans from historically Black universities and other methods to reach the Black community.”

Avegno said that effort will only gear up in the city as more vaccines become available.

“We have a lot of work still to do, but if we have to go to every church in the city to convince our residents this vaccine is safe, then we’ll visit every church in the city,” she said.

Turning a corner

It hasn’t only been city and state governments that are making incredible efforts to get vaccines to Americans.

“Our health care providers are working so hard,” Avegno said. “You have pharmacies, for example, who are used to receiving a dozen calls an hour, who are now receiving 450. And then they find out with very little lead time whether or not they’re getting doses of vaccines to administer. If they are, that’s another huge effort to quickly get patients in the door on short notice.”

And if they find out they aren’t getting vaccine doses, that’s a massive effort, as well.

John DiMaggio and his wife, Daisy, for example, have owned Patio Drugs in a suburb of New Orleans for nearly 30 years. Over the years they’ve developed a loyal following of individual customers, as well as partnerships with larger facilities such as behavioral health organizations and retirement homes.

“We like to say that we’re large enough to serve you but small enough to know you!” he said.

So when it was announced that the federal government would begin sending vaccines to states, customers began reaching out to the DiMaggios hoping to schedule vaccinations.

“We’d request doses and we’d be told to keep checking the system for when we might get some,” he said, “but every time we checked, there weren’t any to give us.”

DiMaggio said he felt frustrated for his customers.

“We want them to be able to get vaccinated so they can go to their job and be safe.”

As January continued and they weren’t receiving doses, they decided to help their customers find other places to get the vaccine. Asked about whether it was hard to send business away, DiMaggio scoffed.

“My wife and I don’t think about this as business,” he said. “We’re trying to help our community beat this thing. That’s what this is about.”

DiMaggio knows a lot of pharmacists and health care professionals in the area, and he said that’s a feeling he believes they all share.

“We’re ready to make our community healthy. We have everything we need to do it except the vaccines. As soon as we get them, we’ll be ready to go.”

And in the last few days there are reasons to be optimistic. The DiMaggios received an email saying vaccines were being delivered to them in the next few days.

Ian Farrell, meanwhile, got a call to tell him he was being moved off a waiting list and into a vaccine appointment this upcoming Wednesday.

“As long as it doesn’t get canceled, I’ll be a happy guy,” he said. “And I’m cautiously hopeful. The Biden administration stressed a strong federal rollout of vaccines, and I’m crossing my fingers that that’s what we’re starting to see.”

Source: Voice of America

WHO Team Visits Wet Market Linked to First Coronavirus Cases

A team of World Health Organization scientists investigating the source of the coronavirus visited a wet market Sunday in Wuhan, China.

A cluster of cases were linked to the Huanan Seafood Market when the novel coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019. Since then, the coronavirus has infected more than 102 million people worldwide and killed more than 2.2 million.

The scientists have already visited at least one of the hospitals in Wuhan that treated some of the first patients.

“Just back from visit at Jinyintan hospital, that specialized in infectious diseases and was designated for treatment of the first cases in Wuhan,” Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans said on Twitter Saturday. “Stories quite similar to what I have heard from our ICU doctors.”

The scientists want to know where the virus originated, in what animal, and how it made its way into humans, something that could take years to figure out.

The team is also planning to visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology and laboratories at state facilities, such as the Wuhan Center for Disease Control, according to the Geneva-based WHO.

China recorded over 2,000 domestic cases of the virus in the month of January – the highest monthly total recorded since the end of March 2020, according to the National Health Commission.

The European Union announced Sunday that British company AstraZeneca had agreed to send 9 million more doses of the vaccine to EU countries.

AstraZeneca will also deliver the doses a week earlier than planned, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter, calling the news a “step forward on vaccines.”

On the African continent, only a handful of countries have been able to begin vaccinating their populations. On Sunday, Ghana announced Sunday that it planned to acquire 17.6 million doses of the vaccine by this summer, with the first batches arriving by March.

“Our aim is to vaccinate the entire population, with an initial target of 20 million people,” President Nana Akufo-Addo said Sunday.

He also announced stricter measures against the virus, including banning large gatherings, as the country battles a second wave.

The Associated Press reports that Israel has agreed to transfer 5,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine to the Palestinians for front-line medical workers. Israel has been criticized for not providing vaccines to the Palestinians before but says it is not responsible for them.

The Australian city of Perth is on lockdown orders after a security guard at a quarantine facility tested positive for the coronavirus. Perth had not had a COVID-19 case in 10 months.

The lockdown starts Sunday evening and ends Friday evening, if no more cases are uncovered. People will only be allowed out for essentials, including shopping for groceries and medicine. Bars, gyms and entertainment venues will be closed.

Peru also instituted lockdowns on Sunday amid a new surge in cases, but the Associated Press reported that the regulations were largely ignored, with most markets in Lima crowded as usual.

Russia reported Sunday that there had been more than 18,000 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours.

The U.S. remains the country with the most cases at more than 26 million, followed by India with 10.7 million and Brazil with 9.1 million, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center said early Sunday.

Data reported by the Associated Press and The New York Times has shown disparities between the racial makeup of the country and who is receiving the vaccine.

In North Carolina, Black people are just a scant 11% of the vaccine recipients even though they are 22% of the population and 26% of the health care workforce, the AP found.

In comparison, AP reported, “White people in North Carolina are 68% of the population and 82% of those vaccinated.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that Los Angeles County data has also revealed racial disparities in the coronavirus pandemic. The mostly Latino neighborhood of Pacoima, the Times said, “has one of the highest case rates in the nation … roughly five times the rate of COVID-19 cases as much richer and whiter Santa Monica.”

Source: Voice of America

Researchers Probe New Territory in Treating Patients with Lung Cancer during COVID-19 Pandemic

Press Briefing with International Researchers Explores this Question at IASLC 2020 World Conference on Lung Cancer Singapore

To view a recording of the press briefing, visit: https://vimeo.com/506248459/caa7346336

SINGAPORE, Jan. 29, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — On February 27, 2020, the flagship journal of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, published a case study that described two patients from Wuhan, China who recently underwent lung lobectomies for adenocarcinoma and were retrospectively found to have had COVID-19 at the time of surgery.

Eleven months later, the lung cancer research community gathered virtually at the IASLC 2020 World Conference on Lung Cancer Singapore to share a number of research findings examining the intersection of COVID-19 and lung cancer. Researchers from a variety of countries participated in a press briefing to examine the connection between lung cancer and COVID-19.

The press briefing was moderated by IASLC President-Elect Dr. Heather Wakelee, chief of the Division of Medical Oncology at Stanford University and deputy director of the Stanford Cancer Institute. Patient Advocate and lung cancer survivor Ivy Elkins, MBA, cofounder of the EGFR Resisters and a member of the IASLC Lung Cancer News (ILCN) Editorial Group, contributed insights from the advocacy community’s perspective.

Earlier this year, Ms. Elkins co-authored an article for ILCN that reported that Black patients, Indigenous People, patients of Pacific island descent, and Hispanic patients are 3.7 times, 3.5 times, 3.1 times, and 2.8 times, respectively, more like to succumb to COVID-19, than White patients.(1) These disparities cannot be explained by differences in income alone.(2) It is, therefore, very likely that the pandemic will only exacerbate lung cancer health care delivery gaps in these already disenfranchised communities.

Studies Underscore Significance of Mental Health Impact and Importance of Support Organizations

The fear of contracting COVID-19 among patients with lung cancer is palpable, and three new research studies presented today underscore how vulnerable patients with lung cancer feel as they cope with the pandemic.

Dr. Domenico Galetta, of the Medical Thoracic Oncology Unit of IRCCS Oncology Istitute of BARI Italy, examined 176 patients with lung and breast cancers, as well as lymphoma, for signs of psychological distress and found that about a quarter of them report severe symptoms of Post traumatic stress disorders (PTDS) with female presenting higher levels when compared with males.

(Featured Poster, FP06.04).

“Patients with lung cancer have higher distress compared to the other groups. This condition risks being overlooked by clinical concerns, so we underline the importance [in our abstract] to place even more attention on the psychological needs of patients,” he reports.

Another study conducted by the Chicago-based LUNGevity Foundation echoed Dr. Galetta’s findings. The group surveyed 302 patients with lung cancer about anxiety regarding access to lung cancer care, patient preparedness to navigate care, and information needs (Abstract 3800).

Overall, 96% of respondents were concerned that the pandemic will affect their cancer care, and 46% reported interruption in lung cancer care, including not being able to see their doctor.  Another 18% said they experienced increased difficulty in receiving appropriate care, and 45% of respondents worry about accessing care post pandemic.

“Our study reveals that patients with lung cancer continue to feel vulnerable and ill-equipped to navigate cancer care post shelter-in-place. Indeed, patient-specific factors (treatment status) and local COVID-19 caseload are important predictors of patient worries. Access to healthcare should be taken into account both during patient—physician discussions and during lung cancer-care planning at a systems-level,” according to Jessica Selig, LUNGevity Foundation, Research, Chicago.

At a time when patients are in more need of support services, including mental health support, organizations that provide these services report their resources have been negatively affected during the pandemic.

The Global Lung Cancer Coalition (GLCC) is a partnership of 40 patient organizations across 29 countries, dedicated to improving outcomes for patients with lung cancer. The GLCC conducted a survey of its members and found that 64% receive more requests from patients with lung cancer as compared with before the pandemic, but 67% had closed or discontinued services such as support groups and seminars.  GLCC found that 18 percent of organizations surveyed added new programs such as new digital services, including calls to patients and online consultations and extending helpline hours and adding new online content.

“Patient advocacy and support organizations are providing more support to patients during the pandemic. However, many organizations have seen a decrease in funding, making it more challenging to [continue or increase support programs]. Patient organizations need urgent financial support to continue to meet increased patient needs and, for some, to survive,” said Dr. Matthew Peters, of Concord Hospital, Concord, Australia (Abstract 3384).

Would the Pandemic Affect Access to Lung Cancer Care or Slow Diagnosis? One Study From Spain Suggests That Occurred in 2020

A study conducted by a group led by Dr. Roxana Reyes, of the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona, Thoracic Oncology Group, Barcelona, collected data of new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in two periods, during COVID and the same period in 2019, and found a decrease in the incidence by 38% during COVID.

 Of those, researchers found that in the group of NSCLC there was more symptomatic and severe disease at diagnosis compared to 2019, with worse outcomes (Abstract 3700).

“During COVID, the number of new cases diagnosed decreased by 38% (43 NSCLC; 19 SCLC), compared to before-COVID period (67 NSCLC; 33 SCLC),” Dr. Reyes reported. “Among those hospitalized, the mortality during hospitalization was 44% vs. 17% before COVID.”

TERAVOLT Study Reveals Persistently High COVID-19 Mortality Rates Among Patients with Thoracic Malignancies but no Significant Difference According with Race or Ethnicity

Previously reported data on patients with thoracic malignancies who develop COVID-19 have suggested a higher mortality rate compared to the general population and to other cancer types, particularly in patients aged 65 or older or those patients suffering from active or progressive disease. This underscores importance of COVID-19 vaccination in this vulnerable patient population, when available.

The TERAVOLT study, a multicenter, international observational study composed of a cross-sectional component and a longitudinal cohort component that examined more than 1,000 patients with both lung cancer and COVID-19, found that overall mortality remains high, and males have significantly higher hospitalization and mortality rates compared to females. Importantly the researchers found no significant differences in COVID-19 related mortality among different racial or ethnic groups, according to Dr. Umit Tapan, of Boston Medical Center in Boston. (Poster P09.18).

Can Telemedicine Play a Role for Patients with Lung Cancer During the Pandemic?

Although much of the world has moved to remote working and virtual meetings, there was concern about medicine’s ability to adapt to the constraints caused by COVID-19. The use of telemedicine has flourished, but what role might it play for patients with complex diseases such as lung cancer?

Previous research has shown that patients with lung cancer who pursue an exercise regimen before treatment, a process known as prehabilitation , may increase their chances of survival. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, the capacity to deliver face-to-face hospital appointments has significantly been reduced. If these crucial in person visits are curtailed by COVID-19, patients may suffer.

However, a study by Stephanie Wynne, of Guy’s Cancer Centre, Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, , London, demonstrated that virtual, home-based prehabilitation is feasible and may improve patients’ pre-surgical physical activity levels and exercise capacity (Abstract 3614).

About the IASLC:
The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) is the only global organization dedicated solely to the study of lung cancer and other thoracic malignancies. Founded in 1974, the association’s membership includes nearly 7,500 lung cancer specialists across all disciplines in over 100 countries, forming a global network working together to conquer lung and thoracic cancers worldwide. The association also publishes the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, the primary educational and informational publication for topics relevant to the prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment of all thoracic malignancies. Visit www.iaslc.org for more information.

About the WCLC:

The WCLC is the world’s largest meeting dedicated to lung cancer and other thoracic malignancies, attracting more than 7,000 researchers, physicians and specialists from more than 100 countries. The goal is to increase awareness, collaboration and understanding of lung cancer, and to help participants implement the latest developments across the globe. The conference will cover a wide range of disciplines and unveil several research studies and clinical trial results. For more information, visit wclc2020.iaslc.org.

Chris Martin CMartin@DavidJamesGroup.com | 630-670-2745

Downdetector: Social Media Platform Reddit Hit by Outages in US

Social media company Reddit was experiencing problems on its website on Saturday, according to outage monitoring website Downdetector.com.

Customers reported trouble logging in and sending messages on its website. The outage affected regions such as New York, Boston and Washington in United States and Toronto in Canada, according to an outage map on Downdetector’s website.

It was not immediately known what caused the glitches. Reddit did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Reddit has come into THE the forefront after a social media chatroom on its platform, “Wallstreetbets,” led to a so-called “Reddit rally,” which has helped attract a flood of retail cash into stocks such as GameStop Corp., burning hedge funds that had bet against the company and roiling the broader market. WallStreetBets has about 6 million members.

Source: Voice of America

Downdetector: Social Media Platform Reddit Hit by Outages in US

Social media company Reddit was experiencing problems on its website on Saturday, according to outage monitoring website Downdetector.com.

Customers reported trouble logging in and sending messages on its website. The outage affected regions such as New York, Boston and Washington in United States and Toronto in Canada, according to an outage map on Downdetector’s website.

It was not immediately known what caused the glitches. Reddit did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Reddit has come into THE the forefront after a social media chatroom on its platform, “Wallstreetbets,” led to a so-called “Reddit rally,” which has helped attract a flood of retail cash into stocks such as GameStop Corp., burning hedge funds that had bet against the company and roiling the broader market. WallStreetBets has about 6 million members.

Source: Voice of America

Fighting Climate Change in America Means Changes to America

Climate isn’t the only thing changing.

What comes next in the nation’s struggle to combat global warming will probably transform how Americans drive, where they get their power and other bits of day-to-day life, both quietly and obviously, experts say.

So far, the greening of America has been subtle, driven by market forces, technology and voluntary actions. The Biden administration is about to change that.

In a flurry of executive actions in his first eight days in office, the president is trying to steer the U.S. economy from one that uses fossil fuels to one that no longer puts additional heat-trapping gases into the air by 2050.

The United States is rejoining the international Paris climate accord and is also joining many other nations in setting an ambitious goal that once seemed unattainable: net-zero carbon emissions by midcentury. That means lots of changes designed to fight increasingly costly climate disasters such as wildfires, floods, droughts, storms and heat waves.

Think of the journey to a carbon-less economy as a road trip from Washington to California that started about 15 years ago.

“We’ve made it through Ohio and up to the Indiana border. But the road has been pretty smooth so far. It gets rougher ahead,” said climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, climate and energy director at the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental research center in Oakland, California.

“The Biden administration is both stepping on the gas and working to upgrade our vehicle,” Hausfather said.

What isn’t visible, and what is

The results of some of Biden’s new efforts may still not be noticeable, such as your power eventually coming from ever-cheaper wind and solar energy instead of coal and natural gas that now provide 59% of American power. But when it comes to going from here to there, you’ll notice that.

General Motors announced Thursday that as of 2035 it hopes to go all-electric for its light-duty vehicles, no longer selling gasoline-powered cars. Experts expect most new cars sold in 2030 to be electric. The Biden administration promised 550,000 charging stations to help with the transition to electric cars.

“You will no longer be going to a gas station, but you will need to charge your vehicle whether at home or on the road,” said Kate Larsen, director of international climate policy research at the Rhodium Group, an independent research organization. “It may be a whole new way of thinking about transportation for the average person.”

But it will still be your car, which is why most of the big climate action over the next 10 years won’t be too noticeable, said Princeton University ecologist Stephen Pacala.

“The single biggest difference is that because wind and solar is distributed you will see a lot more of it on the landscape,” said Pacala, who leads a study on decarbonizing America by the National Academy of Sciences that will come out next week.

Less expensive, plus health benefits

Other recent detailed scientific studies show that because of dropping wind, solar and battery prices, Biden’s net-zero carbon goal can be accomplished far cheaper than had been predicted in the past and with health benefits “many, many times” outweighing the costs, said Pacala, who was part of one study at Princeton. Those studies agree on what needs to be done for decarbonization, and what Biden has come out with “is doing the things that everyone now is concluding that we should do,” Pacala said.

These are the types of shifts that don’t cost much — about $1 day per person — and won’t require people to abandon their current cars and furnaces but replace them with cleaner electric vehicles and heat pumps when it comes time for a new one, said Margaret Torn, a senior scientist at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, who co-authored a study published recently by Berkeley Lab, the University of San Francisco and the consulting firm Evolved Energy Research.

Part of the problem, said study co-author Ryan Jones, co-founder of Evolved Energy Research, is that for years, people have wrongly portrayed the battle against climate change as a “personal morality problem” where individuals have to sacrifice by driving and flying less, turning down the heat and eating less meat.

“Actually, climate change is an industry economy issue where most of the big solutions are happening under the hood or upstream of people’s homes,” Jones said. “It’s a big change in how we produce energy and consume energy. It’s not a change in people’s day-to-day lives, or it doesn’t need to be.”

One Biden interim goal — “a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035” — may not be doable that quickly, but can be done by 2050, said study co-author Jim Williams of the University of San Francisco.

Electric vehicles, conservation, wind energy

Biden’s executive orders featured plans for an all-electric federal fleet of vehicles, conserving 30% of the country’s land and waters, doubling the nation’s offshore wind energy and funding to help communities become more resilient to climate disasters. Republicans and fossil fuel interests objected, calling the actions job-killers.

“Using the incredible leverage of federal government purchases in green electricity, zero-emission cars and new infrastructure will rapidly increase demand for home-grown climate-friendly technologies,” said Rosina Bierbaum, a University of Michigan environmental policy professor.

The next big thing for the administration is to come up with a Paris climate accord goal — called Nationally Determined Contribution — for how much the United States hopes to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. It has to be ambitious for the president to reach his ultimate goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but it also has to be doable.

His administration promises to reveal the goal, required by the climate agreement but nonbinding, before its Earth Day climate summit, April 22.

That new number “is actually the centrally important activity of the next year,” said University of Maryland environment professor Nate Hultman, who worked on the Obama administration’s Paris goal.

Getting to net zero carbon emissions at midcentury means about a 43% cut from 2005 levels — the baseline the U.S. government uses — by 2030, said the Rhodium Group’s Larsen. The U.S. can realistically reach a 40% cut by 2030, which is about one-third reduction from what 2020 U.S. carbon emissions would have been without a pandemic, said Williams, the San Francisco professor.

All this work on power and vehicles, that’s easy compared with decarbonizing agriculture with high methane emissions from livestock and high-heat industrial processes such as steelmaking, Breakthrough’s Hausfather said.

“There’s no silver bullet for agriculture,” Hausfather said. “There’s no solar panels for cows, so to speak, apart from meat alternatives, but even there you have challenges around consumer acceptance.”

Source: Voice of America

Fighting Climate Change in America Means Changes to America

Climate isn’t the only thing changing.

What comes next in the nation’s struggle to combat global warming will probably transform how Americans drive, where they get their power and other bits of day-to-day life, both quietly and obviously, experts say.

So far, the greening of America has been subtle, driven by market forces, technology and voluntary actions. The Biden administration is about to change that.

In a flurry of executive actions in his first eight days in office, the president is trying to steer the U.S. economy from one that uses fossil fuels to one that no longer puts additional heat-trapping gases into the air by 2050.

The United States is rejoining the international Paris climate accord and is also joining many other nations in setting an ambitious goal that once seemed unattainable: net-zero carbon emissions by midcentury. That means lots of changes designed to fight increasingly costly climate disasters such as wildfires, floods, droughts, storms and heat waves.

Think of the journey to a carbon-less economy as a road trip from Washington to California that started about 15 years ago.

“We’ve made it through Ohio and up to the Indiana border. But the road has been pretty smooth so far. It gets rougher ahead,” said climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, climate and energy director at the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental research center in Oakland, California.

“The Biden administration is both stepping on the gas and working to upgrade our vehicle,” Hausfather said.

What isn’t visible, and what is

The results of some of Biden’s new efforts may still not be noticeable, such as your power eventually coming from ever-cheaper wind and solar energy instead of coal and natural gas that now provide 59% of American power. But when it comes to going from here to there, you’ll notice that.

General Motors announced Thursday that as of 2035 it hopes to go all-electric for its light-duty vehicles, no longer selling gasoline-powered cars. Experts expect most new cars sold in 2030 to be electric. The Biden administration promised 550,000 charging stations to help with the transition to electric cars.

“You will no longer be going to a gas station, but you will need to charge your vehicle whether at home or on the road,” said Kate Larsen, director of international climate policy research at the Rhodium Group, an independent research organization. “It may be a whole new way of thinking about transportation for the average person.”

But it will still be your car, which is why most of the big climate action over the next 10 years won’t be too noticeable, said Princeton University ecologist Stephen Pacala.

“The single biggest difference is that because wind and solar is distributed you will see a lot more of it on the landscape,” said Pacala, who leads a study on decarbonizing America by the National Academy of Sciences that will come out next week.

Less expensive, plus health benefits

Other recent detailed scientific studies show that because of dropping wind, solar and battery prices, Biden’s net-zero carbon goal can be accomplished far cheaper than had been predicted in the past and with health benefits “many, many times” outweighing the costs, said Pacala, who was part of one study at Princeton. Those studies agree on what needs to be done for decarbonization, and what Biden has come out with “is doing the things that everyone now is concluding that we should do,” Pacala said.

These are the types of shifts that don’t cost much — about $1 day per person — and won’t require people to abandon their current cars and furnaces but replace them with cleaner electric vehicles and heat pumps when it comes time for a new one, said Margaret Torn, a senior scientist at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, who co-authored a study published recently by Berkeley Lab, the University of San Francisco and the consulting firm Evolved Energy Research.

Part of the problem, said study co-author Ryan Jones, co-founder of Evolved Energy Research, is that for years, people have wrongly portrayed the battle against climate change as a “personal morality problem” where individuals have to sacrifice by driving and flying less, turning down the heat and eating less meat.

“Actually, climate change is an industry economy issue where most of the big solutions are happening under the hood or upstream of people’s homes,” Jones said. “It’s a big change in how we produce energy and consume energy. It’s not a change in people’s day-to-day lives, or it doesn’t need to be.”

One Biden interim goal — “a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035” — may not be doable that quickly, but can be done by 2050, said study co-author Jim Williams of the University of San Francisco.

Electric vehicles, conservation, wind energy

Biden’s executive orders featured plans for an all-electric federal fleet of vehicles, conserving 30% of the country’s land and waters, doubling the nation’s offshore wind energy and funding to help communities become more resilient to climate disasters. Republicans and fossil fuel interests objected, calling the actions job-killers.

“Using the incredible leverage of federal government purchases in green electricity, zero-emission cars and new infrastructure will rapidly increase demand for home-grown climate-friendly technologies,” said Rosina Bierbaum, a University of Michigan environmental policy professor.

The next big thing for the administration is to come up with a Paris climate accord goal — called Nationally Determined Contribution — for how much the United States hopes to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. It has to be ambitious for the president to reach his ultimate goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but it also has to be doable.

His administration promises to reveal the goal, required by the climate agreement but nonbinding, before its Earth Day climate summit, April 22.

That new number “is actually the centrally important activity of the next year,” said University of Maryland environment professor Nate Hultman, who worked on the Obama administration’s Paris goal.

Getting to net zero carbon emissions at midcentury means about a 43% cut from 2005 levels — the baseline the U.S. government uses — by 2030, said the Rhodium Group’s Larsen. The U.S. can realistically reach a 40% cut by 2030, which is about one-third reduction from what 2020 U.S. carbon emissions would have been without a pandemic, said Williams, the San Francisco professor.

All this work on power and vehicles, that’s easy compared with decarbonizing agriculture with high methane emissions from livestock and high-heat industrial processes such as steelmaking, Breakthrough’s Hausfather said.

“There’s no silver bullet for agriculture,” Hausfather said. “There’s no solar panels for cows, so to speak, apart from meat alternatives, but even there you have challenges around consumer acceptance.”

Source: Voice of America