The 2020 election may be our last best chance to reverse catastrophic climate change

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No, it wasn’t just your imagination. July Was the Hottest Month Ever Recorded, UN Says:

July 2019 may have been the single hottest month in recorded history, preliminary data from the World Meteorological Organization shows.

Global average temperatures from July 1 to July 29, 2019, met and possibly even surpassed the previous record for the hottest month ever, which was set in July 2016, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a news conference yesterday (Aug. 1).

“This is even more significant because the previous hottest month, July 2016, occurred during one of the strongest El Niños ever,” Guterres said, referring to the semiannual climate cycle that shifts the Pacific Ocean’s warmest water toward South America, affecting weather patterns around the world. July 2019, meanwhile, did not coincide with a strong El Niño — temperatures were just really, really hot, due to climate change, he added.

The month was characterized by relentless heat waves around the world. On July 25, numerous European countries — including Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands — experienced new national heat records with temperatures in excess of 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). The city of Paris also recorded its hottest day ever at 108.6 F (42.6 C), while widespread droughts in India left millions of people without water.

Chennai, India — the country’s sixth largest city with a population of 11 million people — is nearly out of water. Chennai, India, is running out of water. Other cities will be soon. “Climate refugees” will soon be on the move because they have no choice but to find water.

The scorching July follows the hottest June ever recorded and puts 2019 on track to be among the top five hottest years in history, Guterres said.

“We are on track for the period from 2015 to 2019 to be the five hottest years on record,” he said. “If we do not take action on climate change now, these extreme weather events are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Speaking of icebergs …

The ice sheets of Greenland alone lost a staggering 217 billion tons (197 billion metric tons) of ice last month — enough to raise global average sea levels by 0.02 inches (0.5 millimeters), according to The Washington Post.

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Large rivers of melting water form on an ice sheet in Western Greenland and drain into moulin holes that empty into the ocean from underneath the ice. – Caspar Haarløv, Into the Ice via AP.

Buzzfeed News adds: According to NASA, Greenland’s glaciers are undergoing a “major melting event,” with billions of tons of meltwater draining into the Atlantic Ocean — enough to cover the entire state of Florida with nearly five inches of water. Over half of the Greenland ice sheet has softened as a direct result of this heat, which has caused an immediate rise in sea water.

Meanwhile, unprecedented wildfires scorched so much of the Arctic that the smoke was visible from space, releasing about 100 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from June 1 to July 21 — roughly the amount of CO2 that Belgium releases in a year, CNN reported.

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Smoke over the site of a forest fire in Rybnovsky District, Ryazan Region, Central European Russia. Credit: Alexander Ryumintass Via Getty Images.

ThinkProgress adds: There have been more than 100 wildfires burning across the Arctic since June, often ignited by sources like lightning. Russia, Alaska, and Greenland have all been impacted by the blazes, and while wildfires are common this time of year, the current intensity and sheer number have experts concerned. Some of the fires also appear to be burning in peat soils — as opposed to forests — which burn for longer and can release significant amounts of carbon, speeding up global warming in the process.

The frequency and intensity of severe weather, natural disasters and record-smashing heat waves are all likely to increase year after year until the world’s most developed nations take significant measures to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, a group of scientists reported last month in the journal Nature Climate Change.

During the last Democratic Presidential Primary Debate, the moderator prefaced a question about climate change with “The United Nations says the world needs to cut all carbon emissions by 2050 or risk facing disastrous consequences.” Businessman Andrew Yang raised eyebrows when he said in response to this question:

YANG: The important number in Vice President Biden’s remarks just now is that he United States was only 15 percent of global emissions. We like to act as if we’re 100 percent, but the truth is even if we were to curb our emissions dramatically, the earth is still going to get warmer.

And we can see it around it us this summer. The last four years have been the four warmest years in recorded history. This is going to be a tough truth, but we are too late. We are 10 years too late. We need to do everything we can to start moving the climate in the right direction, but we also need to start moving our people to higher ground.

Mr. Yang was not being alarmist. He appears to be right on the climate science. Rolling Stone recently reported, Greenland Is Melting Away Before Our Eyes (excerpt):

Ice core records show melt days like these have happened only a handful of times in the past 1,000 years. But, with the advent of human-caused climate change, the chances of these full-scale melt events happening are sharply increasing.

Even just a few decades ago, an event like this would have been unthinkable. Now, island-wide meltdown days like this are becoming increasingly routine. The ongoing melt event is the second time in seven years that virtually the entire ice sheet simultaneously experienced at least some melt. The last was in July 2012, where 97 percent of the ice sheet simultaneously melted.

In the 1980s, wintertime snows in Greenland roughly balanced summertime melt from the ice sheet, and the conventional wisdom among scientists was that it might take thousands of years for the ice to completely melt under pressure from global warming.

That’s all changed now.

With a decade or two of hindsight, scientists now believe Greenland passed an important tipping point around 2003, and since then its melt rate has more than quadrupled.

This week alone, Greenland will lose about 50 billion tons of ice, enough for a permanent rise in global sea levels by about 0.1mm. So far in July, the Greenland ice sheet has lost 160 billion tons of ice — enough to cover Florida in about six feet of water. According to IPCC estimates, that’s roughly the level of melt a typical summer will have in 2050 under the worst-case warming scenario if we don’t take meaningful action to address climate change. Under that same scenario, this week’s brutal, deadly heat wave would be normal weather in the 2070s.

Xavier Fettweis, a polar scientist at the University of Liège in Belgium who tracks meltwater on the Greenland ice sheet, told Rolling Stone in an email that the recent acceleration of these melt events means the IPCC scenarios “clearly underestimate what we currently observe over the Greenland ice sheet” and should revisit their projections for the future.

“This melt event is a good alarm signal that we urgently need change our way of
living,” said Fettweis. “It is more and more likely that the IPCC projections are too optimistic in the Arctic.” Altogether, the Greenland ice sheet contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by about 24 feet.

“Start moving our people to higher ground” then would appear to be good common-sense advice from Andrew Yang.

As daunting as this is, the latest science on Greenland also points to a window of hope: Greenland’s meltdown is not yet irreversible. That self-sustaining process of melt-begetting-more-melt would kick in at around 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius of global warming. That means whether or not Greenland’s ice sheet melts completely is almost entirely in human control: A full-scale mobilization — including rapidly transforming the basis of the global economy toward a future where fossil fuels are no longer used — would probably be enough to keep most of the remaining ice frozen, where it belongs.

In October 2018, the nations of the world unanimously approved a landmark report from scientists warning that we must make rapid reductions in global carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 in order to have any plausible chance of averting catastrophic climate change.

That report — published by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — led to headlines like “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN” by The Guardian, and “The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say” from the Washington Post.

Joe Romm at ThinkProgress argues, We don’t have 12 years to save the climate. We have 14 months. The November 2020 presidential election is the make or break event to save the planet and humankind:

Scientific reality makes clear that the only plausible way to preserve a livable climate — and hence modern civilization — starts with aggressive national and global cuts in carbon pollution by 2030.

But political reality makes clear that such cuts can’t happen instantly — and that global action requires leadership from the United States. After all, the U.S. is the richest country in the world and the biggest cumulative source of heat-trapping emissions over the past century.

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That means November 3, 2020 — the U.S. presidential election — is the deadline for Americans who do not want to destroy the health and well-being of current generations, their children, and future generations. If Trump is reelected, the prospects for the necessary national and global cuts in carbon pollution by 2030 will be gone.

* * *

If the world is to have any plausible chance of saving the climate, we need the strongest possible action by 2030, and that means we need to elect a president in 2020 who understands the urgency, and who understands that deadlines matter in the face of irreversible catastrophe.

The New York Times recently reported, “In conversations with 10 G.O.P. analysts, consultants and activists, all said they were acutely aware of the rising influence of young voters, who in their lifetimes haven’t seen a single month of colder-than-average temperatures globally, and who call climate change a top priority.” Climate Could Be an Electoral Time Bomb, Republican Strategists Fear:

“We’re definitely sending a message to younger voters that we don’t care about things that are very important to them,” said Douglas Heye, a former communications director at the Republican National Committee. “This spells certain doom in the long term if there isn’t a plan to admit reality and have legislative prescriptions for it.”

President Trump has set the tone for Republicans by deriding climate change, using White House resources to undermine science and avoiding even uttering the phrase. Outside of a handful of states such as Florida, where addressing climate change has become more bipartisan, analysts said Republican politicians were unlikely to buck Mr. Trump or even to talk about climate change on the campaign trail at all, except perhaps to criticize Democrats for supporting the Green New Deal.

That, several strategists warned, means the party stands to lose voters to Democrats in 2020 and beyond — a prospect they said was particularly worrisome in swing districts that Republicans must win to recapture a majority in the House of Representatives.

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A new Harvard University survey of voters under the age of 30 found that 73 percent of respondents disapproved of Mr. Trump’s approach to climate change (about the same proportion as those who object to his handling of race relations). Half the respondents identified as Republican or independent.

“Americans believe climate change is real, and that number goes up every single month,” Frank Luntz, a veteran Republican strategist, told a Congressional panel recently. He also circulated a memo to congressional Republicans in June warning that climate change was “a G.O.P. vulnerability and a G.O.P. opportunity.”

The Party of Trump is not listening to climate change being an opportunity for the GOP. Climate change is hardly a top-tier topic even among moderate Republicans. So it is up to America’s youth to vote these climate change denier Republicans out of office:

Younger generations are also now outvoting their elders. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, voters under the age of 53 cast 62.5 million votes in the 2018 midterm elections. Those 53 and older, by contrast, were responsible for 60.1 million votes.

Vote like your life and the lives of your children depend upon it, because it does.