Hansen’s and the Pope’s pleas are addressed to the UN climate talks in Paris at the end of this year, when UN member states will gather for the 20th time to consider limiting carbon emissions. Unlike in previous years, it seems likely they will take a “bottom-up” approach to the talks, agreeing to voluntary accords (not internationally binding ones) as the United States and China have done.
Climate is a strange story. Even if the UN talks come to nought, there will be macro-trends that shape the safety of Earth—trends like the falling cost of renewable energy, and the American abandonment of coal—that will continue. Our understanding of those big trends changes week-to-week, and it seems useful (if climate change really is a big political deal) to follow those trends beyond the gloom or succor of a big magazine profile. I want to follow the climate in a way that’s not (a) reading a big, scary story, (b) freaking out for a day, (c) forgetting about it and going on with my life.
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Here are the most important, concrete trends in climate news right now:
The atmosphere is filling with greenhouse gases. The Mauna Loa Observatory measured 398.49 CO2 molecules in the atmosphere per million molecules this week. A year ago, it measured 396.12 ppm. Ten years ago, it measured 377.86 ppm. An "unsafe" level is anything above 350 ppm.
“You owe the world $12,000 for burning all those fossil fuels,” if you’re an American born before 1995, but the article goes on to say you might owe something closer to $66,000.
Renewable energy costs are plunging faster than anyone estimated. This week’s headline: The U.S. will likely add 7.7 gigawatts of solar power this year, or enough to power a little less than 5.4 million homes. China already installed that much solar between January and June of this year.
+ A reminder of just how big the plunge in renewable costs has been:
Experts predicted in 2000 that wind-generated power worldwide would reach 30 gigawatts; by 2010, it was 200 gigawatts, and by last year it reached nearly 370, or more than 12 times higher. Installations of solar power would add one new gigawatt per year by 2010, predictions in 2002 stated. It turned out to be 17 times that by 2010 and 48 times that amount last year.
The U.S. really seems like it’s going to get serious about regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The Clean Power Plan, "the most important action any president has taken to address the climate crisis," got its first Congressional hearing, which was mostly Republicans saying how much they dislike the regulation. But any attempt to stop the plan will come from the courts, where the Obama administration won a fairly meaningless victory this week.
The UN’s most-anticipated climate negotiations since 2009 begin in 11 weeks.
Last week, the French President François Hollande connected the upcoming talks to the continent’s ongoing refugee crisis: “If we don’t conclude [with a successful agreement], and there are no substantial measures to ensure the transition [to a climate-affected world], it won’t be hundreds of thousands of refugees in the next 20 years, it will be millions.”