This is ‘Not Doomed Yet,’ The Atlantic’s new weekly newsletter about global warming. It lives here in the science section; you can also get it in your inbox:
The atmosphere is filling with greenhouse gases. For the week after September 20, 2015, the Mauna Loa Observatory measured a weekly average of 397.33 CO₂ molecules per million. A year ago, it measured 395.26 ppm. In late September 2005, it measured 376.03 ppm.
For the 10,000 years before the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric carbon was stable at 280 ppm.
Renewable energy costs are plunging faster than anyone anticipated. News this week that, between April and June 2015, more of the U.K.’s electricity mix came from renewable sources—wind, solar, and bioenergy—than it did from coal. Renewables generated a full quarter of the country’s electricity mix for those three months. Last year, during the same quarter, they generated only 16 percent.
Natural gas still leads the country’s electricity mix, generating 30 percent of its power.
The U.S. greenhouse-gas regulations start ambling down the long road to implementation. No major news. Not much minor news, either.
China is planning a cap-and-trade program to limit carbon emissions. On Friday, I wrote something short about why the program is a big deal, which also gets into what a cap-and-trade program is. But the best story was Christopher Buckley’s, in the Times, about the challenges China will face in implementation. The news is mixed:
China has previously committed to peaking its emissions in 2030. (That promise basically constituted its landmark November 2014 agreement with the U.S.). Buckley reports that, between the country’s economic slowdown and “weakening dependence on heavy industry for growth,” it could now reduce emissions as soon as 2025.
Some readers of this newsletter will know—will be hilariously familiar with—the geographer James C. Scott’s idea of legibility. The concept is simple: Countries generally want to understand what their citizens are doing, so they will change food systems, standardize units and surnames, and otherwise invest considerable resources to make that task easier. Countries, in other words, want to increase the “legibility” of what happens inside their own borders. In his books, Scott cites example after example of this with unceasing, seemingly unedited vim: situations in which a growing empire took over a region and converted its hunt-and-gather economic system into one based around sedentary agriculture, because it’s easier to tax an annual wheat crop than daily fruit collection.
China’s problem in implementing cap-and-trade is a legibility problem, says Buckley, without quite saying it. An emissions-trading system requires sane carbon limits, ratcheting down over time, which create the scarcity a market requires. That in itself requires knowing how much carbon is being burned in the first place. But as Yang Fuqiang, a senior advisor in Beijing to the Natural Resources Defense Council, says: “Now we’re not even sure just how much energy we consume, so how can you go ahead with trading?”