This is ‘Not Doomed Yet,’ The Atlantic’s newsletter about global warming. It lives here in the science section; you can also get it in your inbox:
Occasionally, the climate-friendlier future seems to peek in to our world. This week, it happened in the United Kingdom, whose coal-fired power plants generated no electricity for several multi-hour spans. As far as anyone can tell, it was the first time this happened since 1882, the year that the country constructed its first coal plant.
There were a complex set of causes. The U.K. just uses less power during the summer, so many coal plants go offline for maintenance. May, June, and July are also the best months for solar power in the northern latitudes, as electricity generation can start before people wake up and continue well through the evening. So this is a natural month for the milestone—yet it is a milestone nonetheless.
In the American context, you can check something like this on the website of California’s grid operator, which posts solar and wind output graphs every day. On Monday, renewable energy generated 30 percent of the state’s power.
It’s been a busy month for climate news, so let’s dive in.
The atmosphere is filling with greenhouse gases. For the week beginning May 8, 2016, the Mauna Loa Observatory measured atmospheric carbon levels at 407.84 parts per million. Atmospheric CO₂ levels will soon peak for the year, as leafed-out vegetation in the Northern Hemisphere begins absorbing carbon.
Carbon-dioxide levels were measured at 403.83 ppm during the same week last year. Ten years ago, they were measured at 385.12 ppm.
Renewable energy continues to cheapen, as oil prices appear to climb after a long.
During Monday trading, oil prices hit a seven-month high, almost reaching $50 per barrel. The price of oil is now much less volatile than it was at the beginning of the year. Goldman Sachs has a chart of all the oil price shocks earlier this year, which is fairly interesting if you are fairly interested in these sorts of things.
American carbon emissions are at their lowest level since 1993, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have teamed up with prominent environmental nonprofits to make it easy for large corporations to buy renewable energy; they aim to add 60 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity to the grid by 2025.
And there were many small successes across the activist front:
The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign has shut down 100,000 megawatts of coal power since 2010. For context, the total capacity of U.S. electrical plants is about 1,100,000 megawatts.The Sierra Club says the campaign has already prevented “100,792 asthma attacks, 9,420 heart attacks and 6,097 premature deaths” every year.
The Lummi Nation has blocked the creation of a deep-water coal port in far northwestern Washington. “Legal experts said far from outlandish, the decision followed federal obligation to protect tribal treaty rights and the habitat that makes those reserved rights meaningful,” writes The Seattle Times.
The Obama administration is trying to implement the first major greenhouse-gas limiting regulations.
The Clean Power Plan case will now not be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. until September. The full judge panel of the D.C. Circuit will hear the case then, instead of the three judges who were scheduled to do so next month. In February, the Supreme Court ruled that the Obama administration could not begin enforcing the regulations until it heard its case.
The EPA released the final version of regulations governing methane emissions from new fracking installations last week. It also began the process of regulating pre-existing fracking, which Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jointly pledged to start doing in March.
China is planning a cap-and-trade program to regulate carbon emissions.
China appears to have cancelled the construction of about 200 coal plants. “The total of 105 gigawatts of power those plants would have been able to produce is considerably more than the electricity-generating capacity of Britain from all sources,” reports The New York Times.
This week in the Earth system
April was the most abnormally warm month ever measured, its temperature two degrees Fahrenheit above the historical average. It is the 12th straight month to set a new heat record. 2016 is almost assured to be the warmest month on record.
The Arctic has been particularly badly hit by this warmth. Through the first quarter of the year, its temperature often hovered four degrees Celsius above average.
The Pacific Ocean has nearly returned to neutral levels, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. The monster El Niño is really most sincerely dead.
Yet warm rains never reached southern California: “Although experts anticipated that February would be the wettest month of the year for Southern California, because of El Niño's influence, it was actually the driest in 30 years.” Still, less of California is now under exceptional drought conditions than has been true for the past two years.
Five islands in the South Pacific have been entirely lost to sea-level rise, and an additional six have been severely eroded, according to a team of civil engineers and scientists from Australia. The team calls their report the “first scientific evidence” that climate-linked rising seas are destroying land. The Solomon Islands’ respect for native land titles is providing a safety net for families forced away from the coast), according to the researchers. Many have moved back into inland villages that missionaries encouraged them to abandon in the early 1900s.
A photo essay on Siberia’s winter and springtime ice roads contains the best job description in recent memory: “Ruslan Dorochenkov is a 28-year-old truck driver who works on the ice roads in winter, then hunts for mammoth tusks in the summer.”
A biologist and global-development lawyer implores the International Olympic Committee to reschedule the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games this summer. “Although Zika virus was discovered nearly 70 years ago, the viral strain that recently entered Brazil is clearly new, different, and vastly more dangerous than ‘old’ Zika,” he writes.
German researchers conclude that a midcentury climate exodus is all but certain: “On the hottest of days, temperatures in North Africa and the Middle East can reach highs of around 109 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the findings. But that figure could soar to 114 degrees by 2050, and 122 degrees by 2100.”
This summer, a cruise ship will make the first-ever tourist trip through the Northwest passage: “The Crystal Serenity will travel from Anchorage, Alaska, all the way to the east coast of the United States through the 19,000 islands of northern Canada.”
What Earth would look like without water or ice: a zoomable Life graphic from 1960.
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