First, Americans, let’s congratulate ourselves for having used the power of our vote to create an opportunity for meaningful progress on climate going forward.
Joe Biden’s victory in the recent presidential race ushers in a new era of domestic progress and global cooperation. It allows us to begin to repair some of the damage that was done by Donald Trump’s presidency during the past four years—damage inflicted both to our own efforts to address the climate crisis and to our reputation on the world stage.
But make no mistake. As a climate scientist, I know all too well that we are running out of time to avert climate catastrophe.
In fact, we’ve already run out of time. It’s too late to protect everyone.
From “zombie storms” in superheated oceans to wildfires so widespread and intense that they’re creating “smoke waves” that blanket the country, befoul the air and endanger public health, to an unprecedented Atlantic hurricane season that can be tied to a bathtub-warm tropical Atlantic, the past year alone has provided ample evidence that climate change is now an ongoing, rolling threat from one place to another.
The carbon we either do or don’t choose to emit could shape not only the climate threats we must contend with in the decades ahead, but those that loom over the next 10,000 years. At this point it’s a matter now of limiting, rather than preventing, the damage.
The sobering reality is that even if every country meets their currently stated commitments under the Paris Agreement (and many, including the United States and the European Union, are falling at least a bit short at this point), that gets us less than halfway to where we need to be—i.e., on a path to limiting average global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, or about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. We need to keep warming below that level if we want to avoid some of the worst—and in some cases irreversible—impacts. Better yet, we should aim for the more stringent 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.6 degrees Fahrenheit) that many are now calling for. While the Paris Agreement is a good starting point, we need to go well beyond existing Paris commitments now to achieve the reductions that are necessary: more than 7.5 percent per year globally for the next decade. [Continue reading…]