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.

scoop
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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 InconvenientNews.net

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 http://www.ces.fau.edu/nasa/images/impacts/slr-co2-temp-400000yrs.jpg 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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David Wallace-Wells | Climate Change Has Made Deadly Heat Waves Normal – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

It doesn’t take the end of the world to upend the way billions live in it. The punishing weather we are uneasily learning to call “normal” is doing that already.

Late last month, a heat wave swallowed South Asia, bringing temperatures to more than a billion people — one-fifth of the entire human population — 10 degrees warmer than the one imagined in the opening pages of Kim Stanley Robinson’s celebrated climate novel, “The Ministry for the Future,” where a similar event on the subcontinent quickly kills 20 million. It is now weeks later, and the heat wave is still continuing. Real relief probably won’t come before the monsoons in June.

Mercifully, according to the young science of “heat death,” air moisture is as important as temperature for triggering human mortality, and when thermometers hit 115 degrees Fahrenheit in India and 120 in Pakistan in April, the humidity was quite low. But even so, in parts of India, humidity was still high enough that if the day’s peak moisture had coincided with its peak heat, the combination would have produced “wet-bulb temperatures” — which integrate measures of both into a single figure — already at or past the limit for human survivability. Birds fell dead from the sky.

In Pakistan, the heat melted enough of the Shipsher glacier to produce what’s called a “glacial lake outburst flood,” destroying two power stations and the historic Hassanabad Bridge, on the road to China.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
This is an excellent column, thank you David Wallace-Wells. I do not care at all about the need for news organizations of all stripes to push their email newsletters. It smells of marketing intrusion, even if it isn’t. And furthermore, I read this paper for almost half the day, almost every day, so I have no time to study more of it when I go to crash through my emails. I fault the writer, and the paper, for not communicating clearly, if these newsletters, will also be printed in the paper, or always get printed at least in the on-line version of the paper. Who said, the truth is now more important than ever. Is this “newsletter” part of the paper? Or is it an attempt at developing a new revenue stream? Meanwhile, the earth is heating itself to our probable demise. I will remind the NYT of my request last year, that all your news and opinion pieces on climate change and the sixth extinction be removed from your paywall, like you did for Covid, since we are already in a climate crisis, and the public will probably reward you for your excellent work.
Respectfully,
David Lindsay Jr
InconvenientNews.net

Climate Change’s Effects Outpacing Ability to Adapt, I.P.C.C. Warns – The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/28/climate/climate-change-ipcc-report.html

“The dangers of climate change are mounting so rapidly that they could soon overwhelm the ability of both nature and humanity to adapt unless greenhouse gas emissions are quickly reduced, according to a major new scientific report released on Monday.

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of experts convened by the United Nations, is the most detailed look yet at the threats posed by global warming. It concludes that nations aren’t doing nearly enough to protect cities, farms and coastlines from the hazards that climate change has unleashed so far, such as record droughts and rising seas, let alone from the even greater disasters in store as the planet continues to warm.

Written by 270 researchers from 67 countries, the report is “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” said António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general. “With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.”

The perils are already visible across the globe, the report said. In 2019, storms, floods and other extreme weather events displaced more than 13 million people across Asia and Africa. Rising heat and drought are killing crops and trees, putting millions worldwide at increased risk of hunger and malnutrition, while mosquitoes carrying diseases like malaria and dengue are spreading into new areas. Roughly half the world’s population currently faces severe water scarcity at least part of the year.”

Thank you Plummer and Zhong. Here is my favorite comment.

gbb
Boston, MA3h ago

“climate change has begun slowing the rate of growth (in the food supply), the report said, an ominous trend that puts future food supplies at risk as the world’s population soars past 8 billion people.” In addition to reduction of the use of fossil fuels, the world desperately needs to get its population growth under control. Birth control should be free, readily available, and encouraged. It would be a lot easier to mitigate climate change if the world population was half its current size, matching that in the 1970’s. We simply can’t continue doubling the population every 50 years.

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After Hurricane Sandy, a Park in Lower Manhattan at the Center of a Fight – The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/02/us/hurricane-sandy-lower-manhattan-nyc.html

Listen to This Article  Listen 44:42

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“The day after the storm swallowed her neighborhood, Nancy Ortiz woke before dawn to buy ice. It was 2012, and Hurricane Sandy had reclaimed Lower Manhattan for Mother Nature. Making landfall near Atlantic City, it swept north, ravaging the New Jersey coast, destroying thousands of homes and inundating New York City with waves as high as 14 feet.

Sandy shuttered Wall Street, rattling global markets, and for a moment the storm restored Manhattan’s early 17th-century coastline. A brackish murk of waist-high water submerged all the landfill that humans had dredged, salvaged and shipped to widen the island, and that now supported the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. It also swamped a large cluster of public housing developments and a beloved but bedraggled ribbon of greenery built by Robert Moses during the 1930s called East River Park.”

“. . . . In the debate over what is officially called John V. Lindsay East River Park, I sensed there might be some useful lessons about how we got here and how we might try to think differently. The park saga is not a conflict between bad versus good actors, but a confluence of different interests, different areas of expertise, different notions of community. It is a parable of progress.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Great story, thank you Michel Kimmelman. It’s complicated, and hard to fathom what is best. It seems at first glance that the Dutch solution, the Big U, was always the best of the various options, with the longest timeline and deepest bow to ecology. Sorry DiBlasio killed it.
Sooner or later, more Americans will come to see that including nature, and allowing nature to thrive and do its thing, will be an essential part of any successful long term fight against rising seas and the disruptions of climate change.

Roy Scranton | I’ve Said Goodbye to ‘Normal.’ You Should, Too. – The New York Times

“. . .  I put on my mask. I want our normal lives back.

But what does normal even mean anymore?

It’s easy to forget that 2020 gave us not just the pandemic, but also the West Coast’s worst fire season, as well as the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record. And, while we were otherwise distracted, 2020 also offered up near-record lows in Arctic sea icepossible evidence of significant methane release from Arctic permafrost and the Arctic Ocean, huge wildfires in both the Amazon and the Arcticshattered heat records (2020 rivaled 2016 for the hottest year on record)bleached coral reefs, the collapse of the last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic, and increasing odds that the global climate system has passed the point where feedback dynamics take over and the window of possibility for preventing catastrophe closes.

President Biden has recommitted the United States to the Paris Agreement, which is great except that it doesn’t really mean much, since that agreement’s commitments are voluntary. And it might not even matter whether signatories meet their commitments, since their pledges weren’t rigorous enough to keep global warming “well below” two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels to begin with. According to Climate Action Tracker, a collaborative analysis from independent science nonprofits, only Morocco and Gambia have made commitments compatible with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and the commitments made by several major emitters, including China, Russia, Japan and the United States, are “highly insufficient” or “critically insufficient.” “

Opinion | There Is Only One Existential Threat. Let’s Talk About It. – By Farhad Manjoo – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

“If you’re a supporter of that radical extremist group Keep America Habitable for Human Beings, you might have been encouraged by the 2020 presidential race.

In 2016, climate change — the scientific fact of the earth’s encroaching uninhabitability — was mostly ignored, including in the debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. This year, the changing climate and what to do about it got airtime in both presidential debates and the vice-presidential debate. Climate change was also one of the top issues during the Democratic primary race. Several candidates published detailed climate plans; Joe Biden’s proposal is the most ambitious response to climate change ever proposed by a major-party nominee for president.

And yet I keep getting discouraged by how far there is to go. Voters, the candidates and especially the political media have not given it enough attention this year, considering the stakes at hand. Worse, when politicians do address climate change, the discussion in mainstream media is often uninformed, following a script favorable to oil companies.

These problems were on stark display in the ridiculous dust-up over Biden’s statement during the debate last week that the United States needs to transition away from oil. When asked about climate change, Biden told a series of truths. He noted, correctly, that it’s an “existential threat to humanity,” that “we don’t have much time” to address it, that doing so could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and that it would involve eliminating our reliance on the cause of the problem, fossil fuels.”