Even if you care about climate change, it can sometimes feel very far, far out in both space and time. But Sunday night, as I was writing my first copy of this newsletter, it came roaring through my kitchen.
I was with my family in our 100 year old cottage in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City. It had been raining for fourteen hours, and our roof started leaking. Then, around midnight, a wall of water flooded the house.
Many of my neighbors fared worse. One woman died and dozens had to be rescued as a slow-moving storm system unleashed widespread flooding in New York and New England.
We know that man-made climate change is making extreme weather like this even more severe. Warmer temperatures allow the air to hold more moisture, which leads to heavy rains and floods.
On Monday, New York’s governor said such disasters caused by climate change are the “new normal.” In general, the United States is nowhere near prepared for the risk of catastrophic flooding, especially in areas far from rivers and coasts.
On the other side of the country, much of the Southwest is baking under a heat dome. Major cities have been choking on smoke from the Canadian wildfires for a month now. off the coast of Florida, ambient temperatures up In the mid-nineties of the last century.
This is not just about millions of Americans, of course, but billions of people around the world. Over the weekend, Delhi recorded its wettest July day in 40 years, a Beijing resident They flocked to the underground air raid shelters To escape from heat and floods I carried cars In Spain.
Scientists say the planet is entering a multi-year period of exceptional warmth. Greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from burning fossil fuels, have already warmed the Earth by 1.2 degrees Celsius (or 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels. Now a powerful El Niño system in the Pacific Ocean is sending a torrent of heat into the atmosphere. The hottest days in modern history occurred this month. All this sets the stage for more devastating heat waves, floods, droughts, wildfires and hurricanes.
Yesterday, when I spoke with climatologists for a story about the storm that swept through my house, they all sounded the alarm about what would happen in the months ahead.
One meteorologist told me, “We’re going to see things happen this year around Earth that we haven’t seen in recent history.” “It would be amazing.”
Abnormal as the “new normal”
Each of these anomalies creates new risks to human health and biodiversity. But as the disasters pile up and the headlines fade together, there is another very dangerous danger: apathy.
With temperature records being broken and extreme weather becoming commonplace, the abnormal can start to look normal. This is a very human reaction to adversity. We are good at adapting, and we can learn to tolerate even the most uncomfortable situations.
But in this case, indifference will be the greatest disaster of them all. Getting used to the signs of a planet on fire would do more than blind us to the damage we’ve already done. It will also delay decisive action at a critical juncture.
Because no matter how bad things get, there are still real reasons for optimism.
After decades of inaction, a massive effort to tackle climate change is finally under way. Wind turbines and solar panels are rapidly displacing fossil fuels. Sales of electric cars, heat pumps, and induction hobs have skyrocketed. Across government, businesses, and civil society, there is a concerted, coordinated push to reduce emissions, protect nature, and help humans adapt to a hotter planet.
The great project to decarbonise the global economy can be considered the largest collective action in human history. On the agenda is nothing less than a complete reshaping of the world’s energy and transportation systems, not to mention sweeping reforms of the building blocks of modern life. And all of this must happen with great urgency as the planet warms.
This may sound daunting, and it is. Progress is not happening fast enough, and many obstacles remain. But it’s also the opportunity of a lifetime. If we succeed, we will create a world with better air quality, more green spaces, healthier ecosystems and less waste.
It’s an exciting moment, one that requires us to respect two seemingly contradictory realities at the same time.
Yes, the fragile ecosystem that sustains human life has a problem.
Also, yes, we have many tools to get ourselves out of this mess.
Your part of the story
It is this tension–between hope and despair, between urgency and inertia, between remaking the world and the stubborn status quo–that will drive this newsletter in the months and years ahead.
I won’t do it alone. Manuela Andreone, my beta assistant on this newsletter, is based in Brazil and brings us an essential international perspective and an insatiable curiosity about climate and the environment. You’ll also hear from the new Times weather team as well as other reporters from across the newsroom.
My colleague Somini Sengupta sponsored this newsletter, where she shares her powerful insights with us twice a week. From now on, we’ll be hitting your inbox on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and responding with additional quick analytics as news breaks.
And we want to hear from you. You can email the Climate Forward team and tell us what concerns you, what gives you hope, and where we should look for the next big story.
In the meantime, I’ll be in the Hudson Valley, trying to clean up a little bit of the mess caused by climate change. see you soon.
A push to wean China off coal
President Joe Biden is trying to repair relations with China after months of rising tensions, and climate is among the top issues on the agenda. Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen discuss climate issues on recent visits to Beijing. Climate envoy John Kerry is due to arrive on Sunday.
The diplomatic push reflects an inescapable truth: The United States and China are the world’s industrial superpowers. Any chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change will require both of them moving in the same direction.
The United States and China together make up about 40 percent of the world’s population emissionssaid my colleague Lisa Friedman, who follows Kerry to Beijing. “They are also the two largest investors in clean energy.”
China has more solar energy rest of the world combined It is the largest manufacturer and user of wind turbines – one of the main reasons why clean energy prices have become affordable for all countries in recent years.
But fossil fuels still make up the majority energy sources in China. consume More than half of coal in the world, new coal plants continue to be approved at a rapid pace. The Chinese government’s goal is to continue to develop the economy while avoiding problems such as power outages that the country has faced for a while heatwave last year that disrupted many supply chains.
It appears that China’s investment in renewable energy as well Adequate To enable it to reach its carbon footprint by 2030, it has pledged. But there are concerns about how emissions will rise before they start to fall.
US officials are urging China to accelerate this energy transition and phase out coal. And after the Biden administration has secured hundreds of billions of dollars to accelerate America’s transition to clean energy, they may finally have some leverage.
“What many analysts are saying is that the United States has just made a big move on climate change,” Lisa said. Now, it’s China’s turn.
– Manuela Andreone
Other climate news
Judson Jones He has nearly two decades of experience covering natural disasters and the Earth’s changing climate, at CNN and now at The Times. He will join us most weeks.
Unfortunately, the deluge is not over in the Northeast, which is expecting heavy rain on Thursday and Friday. It may not bring the same extreme levels of rain we saw earlier in the week. But any additional water that falls on the saturated ground will have nowhere to go, creating renewed fears of flash floods.
In the southwestern United States, there is a different problem. the monsoon monsoon, which usually brings rain and cold weather to the southwestern desert, is delayed this year. And the “heat dome” that David mentioned will strengthen over the weekend, potentially sending temperatures to record levels in places like Las Vegas.
In the Southeast, temperatures may not rise as much. But high levels of humidity, exacerbated by the significantly warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic, will only make them feel even more miserable and dangerous along the coast.
These warm waters will be incredibly unnerving as we approach the peak of hurricane season in September, but more on that later. In the meantime, you can sign up here for severe weather alerts.