Marilyn Sewell | Climate Change: The Time to Act Is Now – The New York Times – Letter to the Editor


“To the Editor:

Re “Earth Is Nearing the Tipping Point for a Hot Future” (front page, March 21):

“I can’t begin to express the deep grief I feel after reading about the new U.N. climate report, which spells out our challenge more plainly than past reports and is more specific about time lines.

As your article says, we need to cut greenhouse gases roughly in half by 2030 and stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by the early 2050s if we are to have a 50 percent chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Considering the actions of the leading offenders — China, the United States and other countries — it is patently clear that we’re not going to make even this conservative goal.

Humans will not disappear from the earth, but we can expect apocalyptic death and destruction, hints of which we’re already seeing: floods, fires, famine, frightened migrants chasing safety and authoritarian governments rising to control borders.

I’m 81, and I’ll be dead by the time the worst happens, but my grandchildren will not. Can we not think to protect future generations, and the earth they’ll inherit? Our problems are not chiefly economic and political — our problems are spiritual: They have to do with values and meaning.

Marilyn Sewell
Portland, Ore.
The writer is minister emerita of the First Unitarian Church of Portland.

Earth to Hit Critical Warming Threshold by Early 2030s, Climate Panel ReportSays – by Brad Plumer – The New York Times


“Earth is likely to cross a critical threshold for global warming within the next decade, and nations will need to make an immediate and drastic shift away from fossil fuels to prevent the planet from overheating dangerously beyond that level, according to a major new report released on Monday.

The report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of experts convened by the United Nations, offers the most comprehensive understanding to date of ways in which the planet is changing. It says that global average temperatures are estimated to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels sometime around “the first half of the 2030s,” as humans continue to burn coal, oil and natural gas.

That number holds a special significance in global climate politics: Under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, virtually every nation agreed to “pursue efforts” to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond that point, scientists say, the impacts of catastrophic heat waves, flooding, drought, crop failures and species extinction become significantly harder for humanity to handle.

But Earth has already warmed an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius since the industrial age, and, with global fossil-fuel emissions setting records last year, that goal is quickly slipping out of reach.” . . . . .

David Lindsay: Excellent, but tragic report, thank you Brad Plumer. Here is a great comment, from one of my favorite commentors:

Erik Frederiksen
Asheville, NC  5h ago

Many people are simply unaware of the scale of the threat which climate change poses to humanity. The carbon cycle for the last 2 million years was doing 180-280ppm atmospheric CO2 over 10,000 years and we’ve done more change than that in 100 years. The last time CO2 went from 180-280ppm global temperature increased by around 4 degrees C and sea level rose 130 meters. (graph of the last 400,000 years of global temperature, CO2 and sea level ) One amplifying feedback alone out of dozens, loss of albedo or heat reflectivity from Arctic summer sea ice melt, over the last several decades has been equivalent to 25 percent of the climate forcing of anthropogenic CO2. And that will continue to increase as that ice largely disappears by mid century. The Titanic sank because by the time the lookout called the warning the ship had too much momentum to turn. The Earth has a lot more momentum, e.g. we’ve already likely locked in at least 6 meters of sea level rise from the marine sectors of Greenland and West Antarctica’s ice sheets, and decade to decade warming in the near term is also virtually locked in. That momentum is building and the higher we let global temperatures rise the greater the risk of them going really high as amplifying feedbacks strengthen.

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Earth’s Last 8 Years Were the Hottest on Record – The New York Times

“The world remained firmly in warming’s grip last year, with extreme summer temperatures in Europe, China and elsewhere contributing to 2022 being the fifth-hottest year on record, European climate researchers said on Tuesday.

The eight warmest years on record have now occurred since 2014, the scientists, from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, reported, and 2016 remains the hottest year ever.

Overall, the world is now 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.1 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than it was in the second half of the 19th century, when emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels became widespread.

Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus service, said the underlying warming trend since the pre-industrial age made 2022’s ranking in the top five “neither unexpected or unsurprising.” “

Our Favorite 2022 Climate Coverage. (Some of It’s Even Good News!) – The New York Times

In a year of groundbreaking news from the frozen (but warming) Arctic to the shores of the Red Sea, The Times’s Climate Desk produced hundreds of articles, covering multibillion-dollar legislation, clandestine obstructionism, even a “shrinkflation” expert.

Here are selected pieces that the journalists who write about climate found most memorable this year, in their own words.

“Many American cities have set ambitious climate goals, but slashing planet-warming emissions within their borders is often easier said than done, especially when it comes to transportation. My colleague Nadja Popovich and I went to Portland, Ore., a city that considers itself a climate leader, to find out why. What we found was a bitter fight over official plans to expand several major highways.”

— Brad Plumer

We’re on our way to a global carbon surveillance state – David Wallace-Wells – NYT

Author Headshot By David Wallace-Wells
“For decades, those of us wondering why so little action had been taken to reduce carbon emissions, and why the public felt so little urgency about that failure, would sometimes lament that carbon dioxide was invisible. Unlike the pollution that smogged up cities, set rivers on fire and inspired the Clean Air and Water Acts here and similar legislation abroad, the stuff that was damaging the climate was being put into the atmosphere without anyone really seeing it.
That’s why one of the most fascinating developments from this year’s major climate conference, COP27, which kicked off Nov. 6 with the U.N. secretary general António Guterres declaring that the world was on a “highway to climate hell,” is a new online tool released by the nonprofit coalition Climate Trace that allows us to see emissions in near-real time.
For a while, we’ve used ballpark estimates for emissions from countries, industries and the planet as a whole. The point of the Climate Trace project is to bring it down to the level of individual polluting facilities: to make it possible to track climate-damaging carbon released from more than 72,000 “steel and cement factories, power plants, oil and gas fields, cargo ships, cattle feedlots,” as The Times put it — to name just a handful of the sources.”

Source: We’re on our way to a global carbon surveillance state

David Wallace-Wells | The Coldhearted Carbon Math – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

The best-selling science writer and essayist explores climate change, technology, the future of the planet and how we live on it.

“Last November in Glasgow, the annual United Nations climate conference ended with its president, Alok Sharma, declaring that the global goal of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius had been just barely kept alive. “Its pulse is weak,” he said.

This week in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, delegates reconvened for COP27, this year’s conference, amid a flurry of confident assertions that the same goal — which has energized and mobilized a global generation of activists and provides the conventional standard for judging progress on emissions — was now dead.

“Say goodbye to 1.5° C,” The Economist intoned on a cover this month, in an edition that called climate adaptation “the challenge of our age” and also raised the specter of cooling the planet with geoengineering. With an image of the flooded Cologne Cathedral — repurposed from a 1986 issue warning of a coming “Klima-Katastrophe” — the November cover of Der Spiegel announced that the target would be missed and advised, grimly: “Save yourself, those who can.” The United Nations secretary general António Guterres, who has spent the past few years raising the rhetorical stakesdeclared on Monday that “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

This kind of rhetoric, designed to focus attention and clarify the stakes of inaction, can also make things murky. What is the line between climate danger and climate disaster? Or between climate normal and climate disruption, and climate catastrophe and climate apocalypse? Is “climate hell” what awaits us past 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels, or past 2.0 degrees, or at the level the U.N. expects the world’s current policy commitments to take us this century, 2.6 degrees?”

Beyond Catastrophe: A New Climate Reality Is Coming Into View – by David Wallace-Wells – The New York Times

“You can never really see the future, only imagine it, then try to make sense of the new world when it arrives.

Just a few years ago, climate projections for this century looked quite apocalyptic, with most scientists warning that continuing “business as usual” would bring the world four or even five degrees Celsius of warming — a change disruptive enough to call forth not only predictions of food crises and heat stress, state conflict and economic strife, but, from some corners, warnings of civilizational collapse and even a sort of human endgame. (Perhaps you’ve had nightmares about each of these and seen premonitions of them in your newsfeed.)

Now, with the world already 1.2 degrees hotter, scientists believe that warming this century will most likely fall between two or three degrees. (A United Nations report released this week ahead of the COP27 climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, confirmed that range.) A little lower is possible, with much more concerted action; a little higher, too, with slower action and bad climate luck. Those numbers may sound abstract, but what they suggest is this: Thanks to astonishing declines in the price of renewables, a truly global political mobilization, a clearer picture of the energy future and serious policy focus from world leaders, we have cut expected warming almost in half in just five years.

For decades, visions of possible climate futures have been anchored by, on the one hand, Pollyanna-like faith that normality would endure, and on the other, millenarian intuitions of an ecological end of days, during which perhaps billions of lives would be devastated or destroyed. More recently, these two stories have been mapped onto climate modeling: Conventional wisdom has dictated that meeting the most ambitious goals of the Paris agreement by limiting warming to 1.5 degrees could allow for some continuing normal, but failing to take rapid action on emissions, and allowing warming above three or even four degrees, spelled doom.

Genetically Modified Mosquitoes As rising temperatures force animals to migrate, vector-borne diseases like those caused by the yellow fever, dengue and Zika viruses will proliferate via mosquitoes. To stop the spread, the biotechnology company Oxitec has engineered a breed of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that produce only viable male offspring, which are nonbiting. These mosquitoes are intended to mate with wild populations and lead, ultimately, to the collapse of those populations. The company led its first pilot project in 2021, releasing approximately four million mosquitoes into the Florida Keys. Here, a scientist transports genetically modified mosquitoes to release them.

Neither of those futures looks all that likely now, with the most terrifying predictions made improbable by decarbonization and the most hopeful ones practically foreclosed by tragic delay. The window of possible climate futures is narrowing, and as a result, we are getting a clearer sense of what’s to come: a new world, full of disruption but also billions of people, well past climate normal and yet mercifully short of true climate apocalypse.

Over the last several months, I’ve had dozens of conversations — with climate scientists and economists and policymakers, advocates and activists and novelists and philosophers — about that new world and the ways we might conceptualize it. Perhaps the most capacious and galvanizing account is one I heard from Kate Marvel of NASA, a lead chapter author on the fifth National Climate Assessment: “The world will be what we make it.” Personally, I find myself returning to three sets of guideposts, which help map the landscape of possibility.

First, worst-case temperature scenarios that recently seemed plausible now look much less so, which is inarguably good news and, in a time of climate panic and despair, a truly underappreciated sign of genuine and world-shaping progress.

Second, and just as important, the likeliest futures still lie beyond thresholds long thought disastrous, marking a failure of global efforts to limit warming to “safe” levels. Through decades of only minimal action, we have squandered that opportunity. Perhaps even more concerning, the more we are learning about even relatively moderate levels of warming, the harsher and harder to navigate they seem. In a news release accompanying its report, the United Nations predicted that a world more than two degrees warmer would lead to “endless suffering.”

Third, humanity retains an enormous amount of control — over just how hot it will get and how much we will do to protect one another through those assaults and disruptions. Acknowledging that truly apocalyptic warming now looks considerably less likely than it did just a few years ago pulls the future out of the realm of myth and returns it to the plane of history: contested, combative, combining suffering and flourishing — though not in equal measure for every group.

It isn’t easy to process this picture very cleanly, in part because climate action remains an open question, in part because it is so hard to balance the scale of climate transformation against possible human response and in part because we can no longer so casually use those handy narrative anchors of apocalypse and normality. But in narrowing our range of expected climate futures, we’ve traded one set of uncertainties, about temperature rise, for another about politics and other human feedbacks. We know a lot more now about how much warming to expect, which makes it more possible to engineer a response. That response still begins with cutting emissions, but it is no longer reasonable to believe that it can end there. A politics of decarbonization is evolving into a politics beyond decarbonization, incorporating matters of adaptation and finance and justice (among other issues). If the fate of the world and the climate has long appeared to hinge on the project of decarbonization, a clearer path to two or three degrees of warming means that it also now depends on what is built on the other side. Which is to say: It depends on a new and more expansive climate politics.

“We live in a terrible world, and we live in a wonderful world,” Marvel says. “It’s a terrible world that’s more than a degree Celsius warmer. But also a wonderful world in which we have so many ways to generate electricity that are cheaper and more cost-effective and easier to deploy than I would’ve ever imagined. People are writing credible papers in scientific journals making the case that switching rapidly to renewable energy isn’t a net cost; it will be a net financial benefit,” she says with a head-shake of near-disbelief. “If you had told me five years ago that that would be the case, I would’ve thought, wow, that’s a miracle.”

David Lindsay: This is an excellent magazine article by David Wallace-Wells on the climate crisis, with complicated negative comments, by many who feel it is childishly optimistic. I beg to differ. This is a cold-eyed piece of really good news, wrapped in an appreciation of failure. It calls me and you to work harder.

David Wallace-Wells | What’s Worse: Climate Denial or Climate Hypocrisy? – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“In early 2020, Larry Fink — the chief executive of BlackRock, a financial firm whose $10 trillion in assets under management are roughly equivalent to the aggregate wealth of Latin America, and about twice that of Africa — did his best to stake his claim as the face of an environmentally responsible business future. “Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects,” Fink wrote in his annual letter to C.E.O.s that year. He called global warming the most serious threat to the financial system in his 40 years of experience and promised a drastic response from his firm: making sustainability “integral to portfolio construction and risk management”; ditching investments that contribute to the problem; and pursuing not just sustainability but transparency, too, so we all could see what impacts the company was having.

Not long before, captains of industry like Fink could have gotten away with climate indifference, and many with outright denial. But something had changed — with the Paris agreement and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, with Greta Thunberg’s school strikes and the arrival, in the global North, of obvious climate disasters long sequestered in the global South. And finance seemed to take the hint, creating a new wave of purportedly virtuous “environmental, social and governance” (E.S.G.) investing.

But in his annual letter this January, just two years later, Fink struck a radically different tone, rejecting “woke” capitalism and elevating the principle that investors should center only on profits. In the spring, the firm announced it would support fewer shareholder resolutions on climate change, “as we do not consider them to be consistent with our clients’ long-term financial interests.” Just months before, BlackRock closed a $15.5 billion investment in Saudi pipelines.”

David Lindsay.  Amen. Bravo. Here is one of many good comments:

Nomind     Nowhere3h ago

Quarterly profits; that’s what drives this. Something that happens 20, 30, or 100 years in the future doesn’t affect my bottom line right now. Like any animal, human beings are wired to maximize immediate gain. Although we have the cognitive capacity to plan for the future, collectively, we don’t. Time and again, I return to E.O. Wilson’s famous quote: “The real problem of humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.”

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David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Thank you David Wallace-Wells. I really thought we had turned a major corner, because of the leadership of Larry Fink at BlackRock. Well, I was wrong again. Edward O Wilson wrote of extinction and date ranges, that included the following paraphrase, we are on track to lose 80% of the species on the planet in the next 80 years. If we lose 50% of the world’s species, humans will probably not make it.
David blogs at

David Wallace-Wells | What Vaccine Apartheid Portends for the Climate Future – The New York Times

“. . . .  Last week Michael Bloomberg committed $242 million to accelerate the adoption of clean energy in 10 countries across the developing world. (The pledge was on top of his commitment of $500 million to buy and close American coal plants.) Mark Carney — a former head of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England who has taken to describing a 25 percent cut to global G.D.P. as his “base case” expectation for warming — has mobilized companies managing $130 trillion in a corporate alliance for net-zero emissions. The Glasgow agreement urged countries to double their commitments to financing adaptation in the developing world by 2025.

This isn’t nothing. But while philanthropy and finance’s move toward climate action is not an illusion, forensic accounting tells a more nuanced story: Even the headline pledges (which include a fair amount of greenwashed money alongside directed real climate investment) amount to less than a third of the spending necessary to meet the Paris goals, according to the International Energy Agency (and, being largely profit-minded investment, almost entirely neglect the financial needs of those devastated by climate impacts today). This new ambition is real, in other words, and worth celebrating, to greater or lesser degrees.

But as with so much of the climate crisis, finally moving in the right direction, in fits and starts toward only a certain set of opportunities, is not the same as solving the problem whole or giving the world a path to anything we might want to call success. A doubling of adaptation finance, even if fulfilled, could mean as much as $60 billion annually, for instance; the U.N. Environmental Program estimates needs of as much as $300 billion.” . . . .

David Lindsay: Good essay, thank you. Sorry the comments section closed after just 79 comments. I have a fantasy of working as a stand up comic, and saying to the audience, The only problem with the  pandemic is that it didn’t kill nearly enough human beings. The ugly truth behind such gallows humor, is that scientists think the correct carrying capacity of humans on earth is probably about 4 billion, if we are going to not cause the sixth great extinction of species. Somehow,  Wallace-Wells missed the opportunity to connect these dots. Failures to save human lives is never a completely bad thing, when worring about the horrid effects on other species, or human overpopulation and all their garbage and pollution.

David Wallace-Wells | Climate Change Inaction in Congress Has High Costs – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“How bad is the climate stalemate? In the United States, we have gotten used to legislative inaction, on climate as with much else. But even by those debased standards a failure to pass a major emissions-cutting bill this Congress would be, potentially, a generational setback — pushing hopes for paradigm-shifting legislation so far over the time horizon they effectively disappear. To listen to many on the environmental left, it could prove to be a defeat worse than the election of Donald Trump — potentially more damaging both because it comes at a more perilous and urgent time and because it’s not at all clear when the next opportunity would materialize.

At the moment, prospects for such a bill seem grim. The key vote, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has rejected version after version of Build Back Better and has recently begun huddling with Republicans to talk about a bipartisan energy bill — which may or may not be political theater, and surely signals at least frustration with, and possibly disinterest in, negotiating further with other Democrats and the White House.

But since Memorial Day is one conventional-wisdom deadline for introducing new legislation, since no major replacement has publicly emerged, and since the political prospects for passing anything headlined by climate action on a bipartisan basis seem intuitively thin, the most recent iteration of Build Back Better still hangs in the air as a sort of natural comparison point and conceptual model — what we talk about when we talk about Democrats passing climate legislation. And when we talk about it in those terms, the cost of inaction looks really, really large.

Here are seven ways of tabulating it.

We would add about five billion tons of additional carbon to the atmosphere.

It can be hard to calculate the precise effect of legislation before it is passed and goes into effect (as some of the underwhelming impacts of Obamacare have demonstrated). But a team of Princeton researchers led by Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor of energy systems engineering and policy, has been running real-time projections of the impact of Build Back Better as it evolved (including finding that when the bill was revised to offer much more carrot and much less stick, there was a negligible effect on its estimated impact).

With no bill at all, by 2030, Jenkins and his REPEAT (Rapid Energy Policy Evaluation and Analysis Toolkit) team calculate, the country would be 5.5 billion tons short of a net-zero pathway by 2030. Five billion of those tons would be the result of this legislative failure, and the gap would be growing by the year; in 2030, they calculate an annual shortfall of 1.3 billion.

Ninety-one percent of Biden’s decarbonization pledge would go unfulfilled.

President Biden has repeatedly pledged to make America carbon-neutral by 2050, and to meet the necessary interim target of cutting the country’s emissions in half by 2030. Overall, Jenkins and his team calculate, legislative failure would leave 91 percent of the job unfulfilled.

Jenkins also estimates that failure to pass the bill will cost two million American jobs, compared to a future in which it had become law; will withdraw $1.5 trillion of necessary investment from new energy supplies and sectors, potentially killing the future of not just much-debated carbon-capture projects but also nuclear and hydrogen power; and will raise overall energy expenditure by 7 percent nationwide, despite what critics often say about the “costs” of clean energy.”

David Lindsay:  Excellent piece. I hope you could access all of it. Above is just 1/3.

Here is one of many good comments: Click on the link.

Erik Frederiksen
Asheville, NC May 19

In the 31 years since the first report by the IPCC emissions of CO2 have gone up by 60 percent. During a time when we could not plead ignorance we made more change to the climate than during the entire prior history of humanity. The carbon cycle for the last 2 million years was doing 180-280ppm atmospheric CO2 over 10,000 years and we’ve done more change than that in 100 years. The last time CO2 went from 180-280ppm global temperature increased by around 4 degrees C and sea level rose 130 meters. That’s over 30 meters per degree rise in temperature and we’re at about 1.2 degrees now. Here’s a graph of the last 400,000 years of global temperature, CO2 and sea level Within a decade or two droughts worse than the Dust Bowl are likely to severely impact the breadbaskets of the world causing massive famines and economic decline. Shortly thereafter we’d be faced with retreat from the coastal areas where most of our large cities are located as the West Antarctic ice sheet breaks and the rate of sea level rise increases dramatically along with maximum storm strength. It is difficult to imagine us walking into this with our eyes open, but here we go.

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And here is another comment by Erik Frederiksen:
Erik Frederiksen
Asheville, NC May 19

For those questioning the clear climate science in these comments: 1824 Fourier says the surface of the Earth is warmer than it should be, it must be doing something like a greenhouse. 1856 Foote says, hmmm, CO2 is doing it. 1896 Arrhenius says hey if we burn fossil fuels we’re raising CO2, we’re going to warm the Earth and this is how much and he was pretty close. 1940s the modern quantum version with the US Air Force right after WWII. They weren’t doing global warming, they wanted sensors on heat-seeking missiles to shoot down Soviet bombers before they incinerated their cities. The CO2 absorbs infrared whether its coming from the engine of an enemy bomber or the Sun warmed Earth. The idea scientists don’t know what they are talking about is completely absurd.

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