“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.
Portland, Ore. The writer is minister emerita of the First Unitarian Church of Portland.
“On Monday, when President Biden approved ConocoPhillips’s $8 billion plan to extract 600 million barrels of oil from federal lands in Alaska, the announcement landed simultaneously with the thud of betrayal and the air of inevitability. On the campaign trail, Biden had promised “no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period.” But for all the talk about the renewables boom and the green transition, and all the money pouring into them as well, there has been little concerted effort, in the United States at least, to really draw down our profligate use of the stuff that is actually poisoning the climate: fossil fuels.
The green transition is indeedrapidlyunderway — more rapidly than many advocates believed possible just a few years ago. But on its own, even infinite clean energy doesn’t change anything about emissions trajectories or global warming. For that, it has to replace the dirty kind. And as Mark Paul and Lina Moe write in a new report for the Climate and Community Project, renewable subsidies can get you only so far, no matter how generous they are; at some point, if you are serious about any of our stated climate goals, you have to move on to a program of drawdown. In their report, Paul and Moe call this a “supply side” approach to decarbonization. You may recognize the principle from the old activist slogan “Keep it in the ground.”
American emissions have been declining steadily since 2005, primarily because of natural gas replacing coal for electricity generation. But the decline has been relatively slow and pockmarked by concessions to the fossil fuel industry and climate hypocrisy. Last year, as the U.S. climate envoy John Kerry lectured the nations of sub-Saharan Africa about the risks of fossil fuel development, the United States approved more oil and gas expansion than any other nation in the world, according to Oil Change International. It is already the world’s largest producer of oil and gas and the third-largest consumer of coal. This year, it will also become the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas.”
“Some people mistakenly believe water vapor is the main driver of Earth’s current warming. But increased water vapor doesn’t cause global warming. Instead, it’s a consequence of it. Increased water vapor in the atmosphere amplifies the warming caused by other greenhouse gases.
It works like this: As greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane increase, Earth’s temperature rises in response. This increases evaporation from both water and land areas. Because warmer air holds more moisture, its concentration of water vapor increases. Specifically, this happens because water vapor does not condense and precipitate out of the atmosphere as easily at higher temperatures. The water vapor then absorbs heat radiated from Earth and prevents it from escaping out to space. This further warms the atmosphere, resulting in even more water vapor in the atmosphere. This is what scientists call a “positive feedback loop.” Scientists estimate this effect more than doubles the warming that would happen due to increasing carbon dioxide alone.”
Fountain and Fremson traveled to Yakima, Wash. to see how collaboration solved a water crisis.
“YAKIMA, Wash. — The water managers of the Yakima River basin in arid Central Washington know what it’s like to fight over water, just like their counterparts along the Colorado River are fighting now. They know what it’s like to be desperate, while drought, climate change, population growth and agriculture shrink water supplies to crisis levels.
They understand the acrimony among the seven Colorado Basin states, unable to agree on a plan for deep cuts in water use that the federal government has demanded to stave off disaster.
But a decade ago, the water managers of the Yakima Basin tried something different. Tired of spending more time in courtrooms than at conference tables, and faced with studies showing the situation would only get worse, they hashed out a plan to manage the Yakima River and its tributaries for the next 30 years to ensure a stable supply of water.
The circumstances aren’t completely parallel, but some experts on Western water point to the Yakima plan as a model for the kind of cooperative effort that needs to happen on the Colorado right now.”
“In the desert near Agua Dulce, north of Los Angeles, hikers along the Pacific Crest Trail who reached mile marker 502 encountered a cistern of water that smelled bad and tasted worse, with a dead rat floating inside. They got out their filters and refilled their bottles anyway. “Will update if I get sick,” one wrote on a message board to those coming up behind.
The message was just one sign of how global warming is affecting life along the trail, where, during a hot season nearly devoid of rain, water tanks and caches were more important than ever, the last line of defense against dehydration. At least some hikers willing to take their chances.
Thru-hikers on the P.C.T. spend up to five months walking from Mexico to Canada, through a landscape that ranges from high desert scrub to giant sequoias, basalt craters and alpine meadows. The route changes slightly each year, meaning that the trail’s official length, 2,650 miles, is really only an estimate.”
David Lindsay: I never got to the PCT. Here is a good comment from someone who did.
The first time I backpacked in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains was 40 years ago. The last time was a year ago when I still lived there and it was depressing. There were a lot of standing dead trees killed by bark beetles, a lot of dead and dying seedlings. There were giant trees knocked down by a freak wind storm, winds of more than 150mph. After that I hiked through an area burned by the Donnell Fire. By far the most trees you saw there were blackened skeletons. The streams ran anemically due to minimal snowpack. After these new hotter fires the forests don’t seem to be recovering. Same with places like the Amazon, the forest becomes savanna. This kind of devastation is being observed in so many ecosystems, from corals to kelp and mangrove forests, etc etc. Everything we need to survive is starting to crash around us and we just keep on walking into this future with our eyes open.
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.
“Summer is still more than a month and a half away, but enormous wildfires have already consumed landscapes and darkened skies in Arizona, New Mexico and Nebraska. Whipping winds threw flames across the terrain around Boulder, Colo., in December and March.
In Boulder, worries about wildfire used to be focused around August and late summer, when lightning strikes can ignite the timbers. “Now the focus is every month,” said John Potter, a deputy director at the city’s Open Space and Mountain Parks department.”
“Over the next 50 years, climate change will drive thousands of viruses to jump from one species of mammal to another, according to a study published in Nature on Thursday. The shuffling of viruses among animals may increase the risk that one will jump into humans and cause a new pandemic, the researchers said.
Scientists have long warned that a warming planet may increase the burden of diseases. Malaria, for example, is expected to spread as the mosquitoes that carry it expand their range into warming regions. But climate change might also usher in entirely new diseases, by allowing pathogens to move into new host species.
“We know that species are moving, and when they do, they’re going to have these chances to share viruses,” said Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University and a co-author of the new study.”
“Experts and psychologists are racing to understand how the torments of a volatile, unpredictable planet shape our minds and mental health. In February, a major new study highlighted the mental health effects of climate change for the first time, saying that anxiety and stress from a changing climate were likely to increase in coming years.
In addition to those who have lost their homes to floods and megafires, millions have endured record-breaking heat waves. The crisis also hits home in subtle, personal ways — withered gardens, receding lakeshores and quiet walks without the birdsong that once accompanied them.
To understand what the effects of climate change feel like in America today, we heard from hundreds of people. In cities already confronting the long-term effects of climate change, and in drought-scarred ranches and rangeland, many are trying to cope with the strains of an increasingly precarious future.”
“A landmark United Nations report has concluded that the risk of devastating wildfires around the world will surge in coming decades as climate change further intensifies what the report described as a “global wildfire crisis.”
The scientific assessment is the first by the organization’s environmental authority to evaluate wildfire risks worldwide. It was inspired by a string of deadly blazes around the globe in recent years, burning the American West, vast stretches of Australia and even the Arctic.
The images from those fires — cities glowing under orange skies, smoke billowing around tourist havens and heritage sites, woodland animals badly injured and killed — have become grim icons of this era of unsettled relations between humankind and nature.
“The heating of the planet is turning landscapes into tinderboxes,” said the report, which was published on Wednesday by the United Nations Environment Program.”