Not Doomed Yet: The Climate’s Best Month All Year

… at least on the diplomatic and renewable-energy fronts

In the evening twilight, Diane Cowan, a marine biologist who has been studying lobster behavior and ecology for 30 years, ties up her skiff on the shoreline of Friendship Long Island, Maine.
Diane Cowan, a marine biologist, ties up her skiff on the shoreline of Friendship Long Island, Maine. (Robert Buckley / AP)

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:

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Well, a lot has happened in climate news since the last time I sent one of these.

The Paris Agreement became international law. In Montreal, the global aviation industry agreed to start restricting its carbon emissions in 2020. In Kigali, the nations of the world adopted a new climate treaty to slowly phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a synthetic coolant with mega-greenhousing powers. (The background on that one is pretty fascinating.) And in Ottawa, Canada announced a carbon price: $7 per ton in 2018, rising to $37 per ton in 2022. (In loonies, the math makes more sense: CAN$10 rising to CAN$50.)

Brad Plumer will catch you up. His spot-on conclusion is that this makes the past month one of the most productive for international climate policy in a long time. Even though the atmospheric math implied by the Paris Agreement as it stands today will still not avert the worst, this set of trust-building treaties takes us away from a model of “solving” climate change in one fell swoop and closer to a position of managing it, at many scales and across many sovereignties, for the years and decades to come.

I’ve also written quite a bit. I wrote about how global warming makes it more likely we’ll see another Trump-like far-right authoritarian. If you’re a subscriber to this newsletter, I think this is an essay you’ll really enjoy.

I also watched the Obama administration defend its signature climate policy at U.S. federal court and summarized some of the legal issues involved.

I wrote some other stuff, too—I’ve tucked it in further down the newsletter.

* * *

For the week beginning October 16, 2016, the Mauna Loa observatory measured atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels at 401.65 parts per million. One year ago, it measured levels of 398.49 ppm. This week in 2006, it recorded 378.94 parts per million of carbon. More on the significance of this measurement below.

The first six months of 2016 saw the lowest U.S. carbon emissions since 1991.

In U.S. politics, well. Uh. We’re trying to fix it.

In energy news, I enjoyed this essay from Ted Nordhaus, the director of research at the Breakthrough Institute, about how global energy projections have long overstated the potential of renewables to power a whole grid.

And this month in the Earth system …

And finally, yes, read Kim Stanley Robinson on Elon Musk and Mars. (He’s skeptical of Mars shots, but he thinks we’ll go back to the moon soon.)

Thanks as always for reading. You can subscribe to this newsletter at Tinyletter. And if you think of someone who might enjoy it, please pass it along to them.