Cli­mate Change Progress Pro­ceeds in Spite of Trump

Trillions - - In This Issue -

So, un­elected Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump did what so many were afraid of: He pulled out of the Paris cli­mate change agree­ment. Sur­pris­ingly, this could be one of the best things that could have hap­pened to the anti-green­house gas and cli­mate change ac­tivist move­ments around the world.

Un­der the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, sci­ence-based analy­ses were help­ing de­fine rules for green­house gas emis­sions roll­backs in many ar­eas, in­clud­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing, the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try and the use of coal for power gen­er­a­tion. The Ex­ec­u­tive Branch was not only aligned but well-in­formed. Un­der the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion, sci­ence is be­ing set aside, the phrase “cli­mate change” is be­ing abol­ished from pub­lic state­ments and the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency is be­ing led by a bu­reau­crat with no in­ter­est in min­i­miz­ing pol­lu­tion, sav­ing the planet or pre­vent­ing cli­mate-driven dis­as­ters.

The lu­natics have in­deed seized con­trol of the fed­eral nut-house, but they don't con­trol ev­ery­thing.

With the pre­vi­ous kind of lead­er­ship, to a large ex­tent, it ap­pears that much of the lead­er­ship of cli­mate change ac­tions – in the United States at least – was com­ing from the top down, mean­ing from the Pres­i­dency down. So, it was not al­ways clear what would hap­pen when Trump did what most ex­pected him to do any­way, which was to play to his base, ig­nore sci­ence and please the big busi­ness people who put their prof­its ahead of pub­lic health. Now, only days after Trump an­nounced that the U.S. govern­ment was pulling out of the Paris Agree­ment, big things have be­gun to hap­pen.

On June 6, just days after Trump made that pledge, Hawaii made a very dif­fer­ent one. It stepped up and be­came the first state in the coun­try to defy Trump and make its own pledge to meet the tem­per­a­ture-change goals and re­lated emis­sions-cut tar­gets, all in di­rect de­fi­ance of Trump. It did this with two separate bills. One specif­i­cally set the tar­gets for green­house gas emis­sions cuts for the state. The se­cond set up a statewide task force to help the state find ways to re­move car­bon al­ready present in the at­mos­phere and de­velop the means to im­prove soil health.

Hawaii, in part be­cause it has some of the high­est cost elec­tri­cal power in the en­tire coun­try and also be­cause it has ac­cess to so­lar, wind and even ti­dal en­ergy op­tions that many other states might not have in such abun­dance, has long been a leader in these ar­eas. It even re­cently set up a com­plex pro­gram to help Hawai­ian Elec­tric Com­pany work with some­thing that will be­come the “new norm” in the age of re­new­ables: de­vel­op­ing the means to work with many dif­fer­ent en­ergy sup­pli­ers, each of which may have vari­able pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity based on the wind, tides and sun. That plan is a revo­lu­tion­ary one that will likely set a stan­dard for other states and even na­tional gov­ern­ments to learn from in the fu­ture.

In par­al­lel, 1,200 lead­ers from across the United States – a group in­clud­ing gov­er­nors, may­ors and busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives – signed what will prob­a­bly be­come one of the leg­endary land­marks of the United States’ ac­tions to deal with cli­mate change. What they pre­pared is a doc­u­ment en­ti­tled “We Are Still In” in which they re­in­forced the se­ri­ous­ness of global warm­ing as a dan­ger first and then, se­cond, re­minded Amer­i­cans and the world that mov­ing to re­new­able en­ergy may be one of the sin­gle-big­gest eco­nomic job cre­ators ever seen. They then made the strong com­mit­ment to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to meet the goals the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion had set.

The Paris Agree­ment, signed by more than 190 na­tions, had agreed to hold global warm­ing to a max­i­mum in­crease of 2°C, or 3.6°F, when com­pared to av­er­age tem­per­a­tures in pre-in­dus­trial times. Obama had backed that up by com­mit­ting to cut U.S. green­house gas emis­sions by 26%-28% by 2025, com­pared to 2005 emis­sions num­bers. With a com­bi­na­tion of Ex­ec­u­tive Branch back­ing and mar­ket pres­sure be­cause of the low­er­ing costs of both wind and so­lar power com­pared to highly toxic coal-fired plants, plus ag­gres­sive new stan­dards for build­ing en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, ap­pli­ance and auto ef­fi­ciency and state and lo­cal govern­ment reg­u­la­tions, emis­sions in Amer­ica are al­ready com­ing down in a fast track com­pared to 2005. They have al­ready come down by around 12% com­pared to 2005, or 40% of Obama’s tar­get for the coun­try.

There is there­fore good rea­son to be op­ti­mistic about what can and will be done, but there are other cau­tion­ary pieces of in­for­ma­tion to be aware of in the world.

One of the most se­ri­ous of these con­cerns In­dia. In­dia is the third-high­est green­house gas emit­ter in the world, after China (#1) and the United States. A study pub­lished June 7, cov­er­ing the state of cli­mate change in that coun­try, con­cluded that In­dia is two and a half times more likely to suf­fer a ma­jor heat wave now than 50 years ago. Worse still – and a warn­ing to those hang­ing too tightly onto ex­act tem­per­a­ture-rise pre­dic­tions to guide their work – that 2.5X in­crease in heat wave dan­ger took only a 0.5°C, or less than 1°F, rise in tem­per­a­ture to cre­ate that in­creased risk.

With this warn­ing seem­ingly out of line with other pre­dic­tions that claim higher tem­per­a­ture in­creases are needed to raise the haz­ard level much, many might try to push off this new study as not be­ing that re­li­able. Yet just at the end of May, Asia is al­ready reel­ing from coun­tries like Pak­istan’s tem­per­a­ture surge to 53.5°C (128.3°F) and New Delhi’s (In­dia’s cap­i­tal) rise to above 44°C (111°F).

The cal­cu­la­tions in the study showed that, com­pared to 1960s num­bers, In­dia is not just far more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence a heat-re­lated mor­tal­ity event. They also showed that the ab­so­lute num­ber of heat wave days have in­creased by 25% in all of In­dia since 1960. South­ern and west­ern In­dia have been af­fected more than other ar­eas, with 50% more heat and ex­treme heat last­ing three or four days.

The ef­fects are not just be­ing felt in In­dia, of course. In the United States on June 19, tem­per­a­tures in Phoenix, Ari­zona, hit a high of 48.9°C (120°F). Those tem­per­a­tures were so high that one air­line, Amer­i­can Ea­gle, ended up hav­ing to can­cel all flights us­ing the Bom­bardier CRJ short-haul re­gional jet air­craft. The rea­son was that the 120°F num­ber ex­ceeded the max­i­mum op­er­at­ing tem­per­a­ture for the air­craft, which is 118°F.

It is not just planes that will be af­fected by this. Hu­man be­ings are be­ing ex­posed to tem­per­a­tures such as ar­eas of the Mid­dle East are al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, at 65.5°C (150°F) and greater – tem­per­a­tures so high that the body can­not sweat fast enough to cool it­self down. Even be­ing in the shade will not make much dif­fer­ence.

So, it is more than good that the group of 1,200 lead­ers, the state of Hawaii and many more govern­ment and busi­ness groups across the coun­try hope­fully com­ing soon are fi­nally stand­ing up to the id­iocy of our cur­rent Pres­i­dent’s ac­tions in pulling out of the Paris Agree­ment. Our high tem­per­a­tures are on their way too, and, col­lec­tively, the na­tion needs to pull to­gether to do some­thing about them.

Photo by Henry Bur­rows, CC

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