In these dog days of August, you may have missed the biggest climate news of the summer, or even the decade: the release of The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The title may be eye-glazing, but its conclusions are Earth-roasting. This report is a very big deal, with cause for both hope and concern. We’ve summarized what you need to know in our news roundup, below.
For those who prefer their own eyes to government reports or scientific data, however, the evidence of the past few months is equally devastating. At this writing, the Pacific Northwest – known for its temperate climate – is experiencing its second murderous heat wave [paywall] of the summer with temperatures widely topping 100 degrees. Just a month ago, Portland reached 116° and the town of Lytton, Canada clocked in at 121°– before it burned to the ground.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can still change the future for ourselves and for generations to come, by caring about this issue, setting aside politics and raising our voices (especially with our elected officials), and recognizing and investing time and resources in good policy solutions.
The world is getting hotter. How hot is up to us.
The C-Change Conversations Team
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report “is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse‑gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.
The internationally agreed threshold of 1.5°C is perilously close. We are at imminent risk of hitting 1.5°C in the near term. The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold is by urgently stepping up our efforts and pursuing the most ambitious path.”
News of Concern
As the Wall Street Journal published on its front page [paywall], “The [IPCC] report reflects new scientific methodologies honed in an era of growing climate disturbances. It draws on a better understanding of the complex dynamics of the changing atmosphere and greater stores of data about climate change dating back millions of years, as well as a more robust set of satellite measurements and more than 50 computer models of climate change.”
The report is exhaustive and detailed, but its essential takeaways can be counted on one hand. The science on climate change is crystal clear and human-caused global warming is, indeed, accelerating. We’re on course to reach 1.5℃ of warming by mid-century with weather disasters and rising sea levels to increase with each additional decimal of heat. No place on Earth will escape the effects.
The good news is that the report says the world can still hold the line at 1.5℃. It will take unprecedented international effort and the wholesale transformation of our energy systems – but it is possible. How can it be done? One last IPCC takeaway may help. The report has gone on record affirming that the growing body of science linking climate change to specific extreme weather events is now robust and stronger than ever. Linking local calamities to global warming may be the best tool yet for raising calls to action.
As a case in point, a new analysis from the World Weather Attribution Network says the June heat wave in the Northwestern United States and Canada was “virtually impossible” without climate change. Even worse, the authors predict that heat waves like June’s – with temperatures of 116-120℉ – could occur every 5-10 years if the Earth’s current warming trajectory continues.
With sweltering temperatures again in August, it may seem that July offered a respite – but that would be a false impression. Across the globe, July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). With this news coming just days after the IPCC report, NOAA underscored that the unwelcome new record was part of “the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.”
All this comes against several disturbing background trends reported this month. First, the International Energy Agency said that global electricity demand is expected to surge this year as the world shakes off the COVID recession – with fossil fuels, particularly Asian coal, supplying more than half the increase. Renewable energy is also rebounding but not fast enough to offset the increase in fossil fuel sources and, as a result, the international community is slipping off its path to carbon neutrality.
The second gust of headwind comes from the Amazon basin – often called ‘the lungs of the Earth’ for its capacious, carbon-eating vegetation. A new study suggests that swaths of the rainforest are emitting more carbon than they absorb [paywall], under the dual assaults of deforestation and rising temperatures.
And third, there are increasing signs that the Atlantic Ocean’s current system – a conveyor belt that regulates the climate of Northern Europe may be demonstrating unprecedented weakening in the face of rising atmospheric temperatures. The system’s collapse would be expected to raise sea levels around the Atlantic and change both temperatures and rainfall on both sides of the ocean.
News of Hope
Against all the bad news in July and August, the hopeful steps towards climate solutions that we want to highlight may look small – even, in some cases, like double-edged swords.
Take Congress. We’re very encouraged to see two bills have passed the U.S. Senate with important climate initiatives intact. The bi-partisan infrastructure bill [paywall] includes about $130 billion for climate initiatives including ‘climate resilience,’ renewable energy, public transit and the largest ever federal expenditure on electric car recharging stations. A few weeks previously, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the “Growing Climate Solutions Act” to help farmers make money by selling carbon credits. It was a rare upswell in bipartisan cooperation around a climate solution proposal. We’re hoping these examples of bipartisanship in support of climate action will endure and expand in future legislation.
In response to the climate urgency, California regulators are once again in proactive mode – taking steps to alter state building codes [paywall] to require solar power and battery storage in new commercial construction and some large residential projects.
The move is one of many indicators that the economics around energy and climate are changing rapidly – even faster than many business leaders have anticipated. Another sign is in a recent S&P Global Market Intelligence report that the value of fossil fuels is declining as renewable energy deployment accelerates – and concludes some $68 billion in coal and natural gas investment may have to be written off as stranded assets.
Although we don’t relish the prospect of investors and shareholders losing money, we do applaud forewarning – and the drumbeat of evidence that smart money will be pursuing clean energy investments across economic sectors. We note with pleasure that the market for hybrid cars is booming – boding well for electric vehicles – and even lawn care operations in politically conservative areas are shunning gas in favor of electric power.
And if you don’t think that’s innovative enough, we leave you with this: researchers in Oregon are working to make marine algae (aka seaweed) the food source of the future. It absorbs carbon, it grows easily, and it’s nutritious. According to the ‘aquaculturists’ behind the idea, it even tastes like bacon when it’s smoked and fried.
As uncontained wildfires once again destroy communities in California, Canada, and Australia – even the Arctic is burning. Again. Hundreds died in Germany and Belgium last month as lethal flash floods linked to climate change overwhelmed some of the richest and most technologically advanced regions of the world.
Flooding in China killed even more people – some in an inundated city subway line. Watch the video taken by passengers who survived.