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:
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.
- Do read my colleague Vann Newkirk II’s story on how the oldest incorporated black town in the country—Princeville, North Carolina—had to respond to Hurricane Matthew, and how the consequences of extreme weather provide an excuse for political disenfranchisement.
- Mitt Romney’s former domestic policy director argues that the Kigali agreement on HFCs (mentioned above) waters the Paris Agreement down, because nations like India can count their ability to avoid HFCs toward their Paris commitments.
- Bill McKibben urges the climate movement to elect Hillary Clinton “and then give her hell.”
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.
- The International Energy Agency announced that last year the capacity of renewables to generate electricity surpassed the capacity of coal plants. This does not mean (as widely reported) that renewables now actually generate more energy worldwide than coal does—only that the fleet can now generate more energy.
- More than half of all new capacity added worldwide in 2015 was renewable, according to the IEA: “The world installed more than half a million solar panels a day and two wind turbines every hour.”
- The United States opened its first new nuclear-power reactor in 20 years. The Tennessee Valley Authority now generates half of its energy from zero-carbon sources.
- “The solar bid in Abu Dhabi is not just the cheapest solar power contract ever signed—it’s the cheapest contract for electricity ever signed, anywhere on planet earth, using any technology.”
And this month in the Earth system …
- Well, the atmospheric carbon minimum for 2016 came and went, and global carbon levels never fell below 400 parts per million. This makes it all but certain that, as I wrote at the time, November 11, 2015, was almost certainly the last day that carbon levels sat below the critical 400-ppm threshold (as measured by Mauna Loa).
- September 2016 was the warmest September on record, according to NASA’s temperature model, slightly breaking September 2014’s record. NOAA’s temperature model disagreed (again, slightly!) and found this year was a little cooler than September 2014. The two models differ in how they estimate temperatures across large swaths of the planet where there are few sensors, like the Siberian forest.
- The U.S. Geological Survey has ruled that Oklahoma’s earthquake last month, the third-largest ever recorded in the state, was caused by wastewater disposal from a fracking operation.
- The American Southwest periodically goes through “mega-droughts,” periods of increased dryness that can last decades. The first study to predict the likelihood of mega-droughts in the 21st century finds that Arizona and New Mexico face a more-than-90-percent chance of going bone-dry if the global climate warms by more than 2 degrees Celsius. As I wrote, you rarely see climate studies that are this certain (and this scary).
- It is possible for stable-seeming glaciers sitting on flat land to transform, in mere seconds, into 150 mile-per-hour ice avalanches. Did you know this could happen? I did not. It happened twice in Tibet this summer.
- “By the time the material reaches the bottom of the bay, it will be a coarse loam no longer recognizable as human remains.”
- The international body on conservation now calls for a third of the Earth’s oceans to be fully protected.
- The island of Greenland is rising out of the molten mantle far more rapidly than previously thought, meaning that it is losing far more ice mass than previously thought. Its glaciers are melting about 8 percent faster than last estimated. As it melts, it will expose things buried in the ice—including a top-secret radioactive U.S. military project that even the Danish government never knew about.
- Since 1984, human-caused climate change has led to 16,000 additional square miles of North American forest burning.
- “I implore every meteorology student to watch this timelapse.” Notice especially how the clouds fall in altitude right as they begin to precipitate.
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.