- Roger Harrabin
- Environment Analyst, BBC
We had just enjoyed our first weekend with our 20-month-old granddaughter Hazel, so maybe he was distracted.
Or maybe it was that being disconnected from the news for a week rusted the BBC’s armor of emotional detachment from the climate issue.
Either way, I confess I had a chilling feeling when Hazel left and I found the deadly “heat dome” of North America on TV.
It was not due to new record temperatures being set in the northwestern United States and Canada. That happens from time to time.
And it wasn’t because the recordsthey were surpassed in a spectacular way.
The highest temperature record of all time in Canada was 45º C, occurred in 1937 during the phenomenon known asdparagraph bowl. In that year, the parched soil did not manage to mitigate the temperatures.
Typically, highs like these are usually exceeded by a fraction of a centigrade. But this year, the previous record was smashed for three consecutive days.
The last temperature recorded in the city of Lytton, 1st of July, it was 4.6º C higher than the previous record. Emissions from human activities unquestionably contributed to the increase, increasing the global average temperature by approximately 1,2 ° C since the end of the 19th century.
And a study conducted last week by an international team of researchers concluded that without climate change it would have been “practically impossible” the heat wave which embraced western Canada and the United States.
The group, which is part of the World Weather Attribution network, described it as an event that would occur once every 1,000 years and would be 150 times less likely if I do not exist human influence about the weather.
Climate scientists fear they will be accused of being alarmists, although many have long been concerned.
“The real cause for concern is the extreme nature of the record,” says veteran scientist Brian Hoskins. “What the climate models project into the future is what we would get if we are lucky. The behavior of the models may be too conservative.”
In other words, in some places it is likely to be even worse than anticipated.
Scientists use computer models to try to guess the future behavior of the Earth’s climate. But they tend to look generally at global temperatures and not precisely at specific records in particular locations.
Scientists are now struggling to predict some of these weather events that are taking policy makers by surprise.
It is not only the heat waves, but also the torrential rains that cause devastating floods locally. Drains were built when no one thought that a harmless natural gas like CO2 it could wreak havoc.
The UK’s National Weather Service hopes that a shiny new megacomputer will be capable of making projections on a much more defined scale, although some are skeptical of its ability to do so.
Meanwhile, temperatures keep rising and shifting scientific goals. What’s more, Canada’s high was driven by a global temperature rise of just 1.2 ° C from pre-industrial levels.
The planet is probably heading for a increase of 1,5° C in temperature by the beginning of the next decade, and temperatures will rise to 2 ° C or more unless policies radically change.
What will things be like with a 2 ° C rise, which until recently was considered a relatively “safe” level of change?
Bryony Katherine Worthington, a British environmental activist and life member of the House of Lords, told me: “Scientists are no longer worried, they are terrified.”
“They are concerned that there will not be a ‘safe landing.’ We are working on the idea of a safe carbon budget (the amount of carbon that we can emit into the atmosphere without seriously altering the climate). But what if there is no carbon budget safe?
“What if the ‘safe’ carbon budget is zero? We can’t sugarcoat the possible scenarios.”
Politicians are working to avoid the worst of those possible scenarios, but even former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher commented in the late 1980s that doing such an experiment with carbon budgets on our only planet was insane. .
In 1989, he came to the attention of the UN with his warning that greenhouse gases were “changing our planet’s environment in harmful and dangerous ways.”
Thatcher, a former chemical researcher, said: “The change in the future is likely to be more fundamental and more generalized than anything we have known so far. The implications are comparable to the discovery of atom splitting. In fact, their results could be even more far-reaching“.
“There is no use arguing about who is responsible or who should pay. We will only be able to solve the problems through a huge international cooperative effort.”
This was extraordinarily prescient, and his words were all the more devastating when uttered by an imposing right-wing world leader who could not be dismissed as an uncomfortable hippy.
If the world had heeded his warning back then, can you imagine where we would be now?
But Thatcher’s stance was challenged by “climate skeptics,” some of them funded by a decades-long disinformation campaign driven by fossil fuel companies.
Rich nations became obsessed with economic growth Instead of saving the planet from a hypothetical threat, developing economies asserted their “right” to pollute the air just as rich nations had.
Rich countries saved the cash they offered to poor nations to get clean technology. And international negotiations consistently failed to produce the difficult and radical changes Thatcher deemed necessary.
Finally, many leading nations are beginning to design policies to reduce emissions in the coming decades.
It is not just the “heat dome” that they are concerned about. We have recently learned of the climatic extremes in the Antarctica, the Himalayas and el Arctic.
Some scientists warn that there will be areas of the world that will become uninhabitable if current trends continue. So what are our leaders doing to keep us safe?
Leaders are talking about it, and no doubt some really do intend to curb climate change. But we have already begun to see the consequences of global warming, as well as the main nations they are planning phase out emissions by 2050.
US President Joe Biden says emissions of CO2 will be cut in half this decade compared to 2005 levels. But Republicans oppose their proposed clean-tech investments.
General Motors and other companies have promised to sell only vehicles from zero emissions psee 2035. But Biden has not set a date to electrify America’s car fleet.
Additionally, his climate envoy John Kerry has come under fire for insisting that American lifestyles need not change, while experts say protecting the climate requires new technology and behavior changes like eating less meat and driving smaller cars.
And there are even gaps in the policies of leading nations like the United Kingdom, where the government plans a highway construction program £27.000 millions (about US $ 37.4 billion).
And even as rail use has plummeted during the pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is committing more than £ 100bn to the HS2 rail project, which no one will know for sure if it will be carbon neutral until the end of the year. century.
The worlds of technology and business are showing some positive signs. The cost of solar and wind power, for example, is plummeting. But these still only supply about 14% of the world’s total energy demand, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Meanwhile, a fractured gas pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico on July 2 set the ocean ablaze. And in London, an investment trust for green industries failed to obtain its minimal funding and was scrapped.
In Asia, 600 new coal-fired power plants are planned, although it is true that some investors are pulling out as they finally realize that coal is a bad long-term bet.
In this context, the world’s billionaires are racing to use large amounts of energy to get tourists into space; that’s the kind of initiative that could deal with climate change.
Here’s the catch: politics and business are waking up in the face of the climate crisis. But the changes on our planet seem to go faster than the responses of our society.
It seems Thatcher was right: we’ve needed dramatic action for decades.
Tomorrow I will take another cold look at intriguing questions of politics. But today, with Hazel on my mind, please excuse me for this brief visit to my more emotional side.
In my more than 30 years covering climate issues, I have always taken a risk perspective in my stories, because Thatcher was right in saying that there is only one planet. And I want Hazel and her future grandchildren to enjoy it.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.