Hello again friends,
As we review the news of the last month, we’d like to shine a light on something that is too often ignored by the prognosticators, something which, again and again, defies their darker predictions. Call it human will … or human intelligence … or even the human spirit. With backs against the wall, people can find unexpected resources to bend the curve. And they do. Here in the U.S. we’ve witnessed this spirit among the astonishing number of Americans overcoming the devastation of extreme weather and disasters playing out in their own backyards.
Mother Nature will continue to play by different rules. But we can, too. We can develop new tools, new processes, even new forms of energy, as showcased by recent breakthroughs in fusion. And while we are behind the curve in addressing the threat of climate change, we’ve been encouraged by new evidence that tipping points in human behavior and awareness could trigger faster emission cuts than currently projected.
From technology breakthroughs to deep dives into human and social psyches, we are pleased to be reminded that the past is not always prologue … the future is not written in stone … and (more specifically to our mission) the internationally agreed cap of 1.5℃ of global warming may still be attained.
So as always, much to lament during the last month, but also much to applaud. We welcome your feedback and questions about the latest climate news.
The C-Change Conversations Team
“… achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 is not only an aspirational goal. It is an economic growth imperative.” A statement from Deloitte.
News of Hope
In February, the scientific journal Nature published a new study arguing that the variable of human behavior has been ignored by most climate models so far and could have a positive impact on our climate future. With the human factor included, the researchers’ model predicts the world is headed for .5℃ less warming than envisioned at the end of the Glasgow climate summit late last year. In other words, if policy making follows behavioral scientists’ models, we do stand a chance to cap global warming below catastrophic levels.
The science of old-fashioned physics, meanwhile, delivered additional cause for long-term optimism in the form of a major fusion energy breakthrough. As a reminder, fusion seeks to harness the reactions that power the sun and stars in order to ‘fuse’ together molecules of seawater in a reaction that would create limitless clean energy. Although the scientists involved foresee a long road ahead to commercial fusion, their advance is a welcome step forward at a moment when private capital is already taking risks on promising fusion startups.
From the galactic to the terrestrial: a prodigious bloom of agricultural startups aim to adapt food crops to drought conditions. The goal is not to limit climate change per se, but to avert food crises caused by rising temperatures. Future food supplies may also benefit from new reports of growing efficiencies in solar energy production. Big increases in capacity will reduce the acreage needed for solar farms.
And while we’re talking about human ingenuity, it’s worth mentioning that Ford Motor Company – arguably the historic starting point for the world’s love affair with gas-fueled automobiles – is planning a major reorganization to accelerate its push into electric vehicles. Happily, these changes (and more EV innovations elsewhere) are unfolding just as the U.S. begins testing its first stretch of ‘electrified road’ outside Detroit next year. If the concept is scalable, we may see roads capable of charging electric cars in motion.
There is an increasing recognition that home-produced energy – including wind and solar with battery storage – can be a growing and important part of energy security, which is why we applaud the latest pivot to create more batteries in the U.S. instead of depending on China.
These innovations and thousands of others are evidence for an argument we’ve made many times and one that Deloitte sharpened in a new report the company just released: the U.S. is at a turning point on climate change. It bolsters our belief that those who think the world will shrink from climate action are mistaken. Why? First, because the economic equation is too stark. Unabated climate change is just too expensive: the aforementioned report predicts that failing to take sufficient climate action could result in U.S. economic losses of $14.5 trillion by 2070. Second, there are too many industries, including many of the premier utilities in the U.S., that see great promise and opportunity in the transition to cleaner fuels. Third, new industries built around meeting the challenge are creating lots of new jobs and shareholder profits.
And, as a minor proofpoint – though it’s hardly a silver lining – we note that there was a market surge for renewables just after Putin’s troops crossed the Ukrainian border. Presumably investors are anticipating that Europe may seek to cut its dependence on Russian natural gas and look elsewhere for energy.
News of Concern
None of this comes a minute too soon – as the recent Winter Olympics demonstrated with stark, if not-so-cold clarity. We remind you that much of the snow in Beijing was artificially produced – a chilling sign of our climate times. Some commentators queried whether global warming had already brought an end to the Winter Olympics as we’ve known them.
Hopefully not. Hopefully, evidence like this will accelerate the tipping point in public opinion that the behavioral scientists have been modeling. And, if evidence is needed closer to home, it sadly abounds. A new report finds that extreme weather disasters hit 1 in 10 U.S. households last year – a staggeringly high percentage.
We’ve brought you stories of drought in the American West for the last couple of summers, and we’ve possibly been remiss for not emphasizing that the devastatingly dry conditions are not just seasonal events but part of a multi-year crisis that has reached historic proportions. In fact, new calculations say the drought is the worst in 1,000 years. Even more troubling, scientists say it’s been made 40% worse by climate change and may last until 2030.
Drought, of course, is a common precursor for wildfires. Sure enough, another new United Nations report warns of a “global wildfire crisis” with the possibility that this country and the rest of the world will see a 50% rise in record-smashing fires.
And while the country’s dry areas face skyrocketing fire threats, our coastal regions face more flooding. Top sea-level scientists anticipate that sea levels will rise one full foot by 2050 along our coastlines. Put in perspective, the rise over the next three decades will match that of the last century.
We are encouraged by the drumbeat of change and by the myriad of ways our country is ramping up the much-needed energy transition away from fossil fuels. If additional encouragement is needed, consider this: a team of Stanford University scientists has calculated that domestic gas stoves leak more greenhouse gases than previously thought – as much as half a million cars annually. They also release pollutants that can worsen asthma and other conditions. Two good reasons to go electric when you upgrade your kitchen – or invest in induction technology. At least until fusion cooktops hit the market.
… And feel the excitement generated by the latest fusion breakthrough from the joint European project based in Britain, as reported by the BBC.