Climate Change in Our Face
By: Chandu Visweswariah
[Author’s note: this blog is adapted from CURE100’s August newsletter’s “opening banter.”]
Sitting here in New York, it’s easy to think of climate change as a “faraway” phenomenon. Hurricane Sandy filled our subway stations with water in 2012, and there was much talk of building sea walls and reducing emissions. We did neither and Sandy slowly faded in our memories.
Fast forward to 2022 and we had crazy wildfires in Australia and California. Floods in Pakistan displaced 30 million people. And what many people don’t realize is that a European heat wave claimed 61,000 lives. That’s as many deaths as twenty 9/11-magnitude events! All of that somehow seemed faraway, too.
This summer, however, it feels as though we have signs of climate change all around us and literally in our face. The planet experienced its hottest June ever recorded, and early July hit a record for the highest global average temperature ever, as reported in the New York Times.
Over 50 million Americans are impacted by the ongoing heat wave, and parts of Arizona have recorded 110F highs every single day for several weeks now. Heat waves are also ongoing in Japan, Beijing and parts of Europe, while Spain and New Delhi are reeling from floods.
Out-of-control wildfires in Canada are burning about 25 million acres, an area nearly 5 times the size of New Jersey and bigger than most countries! The fires constitute about 10 years worth of wildfires occurring at once. Consequently, air quality over the Northeast and Midwest has been unacceptable and Broadway experienced shut-downs because the performers could not breathe. This has never occurred before in our memory!
While we are experiencing summer heat waves in the Northern hemisphere, South America is experiencing a record-smashing winter heat wave due to a heat dome centered over Paraguay (see Washington Post article).
Ocean temperatures are faring worse and in many ways more consequentially! A mass coral bleaching event occurred off the coast of Florida when the ocean temperature was above 100 F on July 24.
Ocean warming is not just in Florida, but worldwide. As reported by the BBC, average ocean temperatures are at their highest ever.
An interactive atlas published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I caught our eye. It allows one to set different warming levels and visualize the change in the number of hot days, or flash floods or ocean temperatures across the globe. For example, the image below shows us that with just 2 degrees C of warming, we can expect about 40 more days per year above 35 C (95 F) in much of the world. Get ready for day-time heat curfews!
All of this when the present El Niño cycle is just getting started… what strange times we live in!
Everything the scientists predicted is happening, and everything the denialists said is proving to be wrong. But this doesn’t embolden the former to speak up more forcefully (and make statements less diffidently than in IPCC reports) and doesn’t prevent the latter from continuing to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt. Recently, I gave a pair of presentations at IBM Research on the topic of climate, and was appalled at the lack of interest on the part of the engineering, technical and scientific community! The level of apathy is stunning!
At a time when the ravages of climate change are obvious to all, we believe that fighting for climate stability is not a political or partisan issue. At the Federal level, the push for a clean energy future started last year with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant piece of climate legislation ever. However, political football continues, this time in the form of 17 different climate poison pills snuck into appropriations bills. The proposed amendments range from asking the Department of Defense to terminate all Electric Vehicle contracts to forbidding Federal Agencies from working towards net zero to preventing the Federal Government from building EV charging stations. Fortunately, most of these poison pills are expected to fail, but this shows that we need to be ever-vigilant. And God help us if any part of Project 2025, a proposal from the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, becomes reality.
In the face of all this overwhelming evidence and unequivocal agreement among 99% of scientists, a recent Fox opinion piece by Justin Haskins claims that the heat wave we are experiencing is no worse than historical ones, and accuses scientists of cherry picking data and being “alarmist.”
Good people, we need to wake up! Climate impacts will worsen into the future — not just extreme weather, but also sea-level rise, species loss, crop loss, massive migrations, and utter chaos in our oceans. We need to snap out of our hypnotic state and take immediate action. We must call out the denialists, solution denialists and gradualists in our midst! And we must dump fossil fuels now and decarbonize rapidly. Net zero by 2070 is not good enough… 2050 is not good enough… and rapidly it is becoming clear that 2040 is not good enough either.
Hope is not a passive emotion. Join us at CURE100 to speed up and scale the available solutions to solve the climate crisis. Remember, all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.