Why record northern hemisphere heat indicates something worse is to come – 07/10/2021 – world

I just enjoyed my first weekend with my wife and our 20 month old granddaughter Hazel so maybe that softened me up a bit.

Or maybe it was the week off I took from work that affected the emotional distance I tend to maintain as a BBC reporter.

Anyway, I admit that I had a bad omen when Hazel left and saw news on TV about the heatwave that caused deaths in North America.

Not because new temperature records have been set in the northwestern United States and Canada, it does happen from time to time. What is really worrying is that the old records have been crushed.

Canada’s previous highest temperature record of 45 ° C was set in 1937, when parched soil failed to lower temperatures, which is also happening this year.

Normally records like this are broken by a fraction of a degree, but this year the old record has been erased on three consecutive days.

The final temperature in the town of Lytton was 4.6 ° C above the old record. Emissions from human activities have undoubtedly contributed to the increase, raising the global average temperature by about 1.2 ° C since the end of the 19th century.

Climate scientists get nervous when accused of alarmism – but many have been genuinely alarmed for some time.

“The extreme nature of the recording, as well as others, is a real cause for concern,” said senior scientist Professor Brian Hoskins. “What climate models project into the future is what we’ll get if we’re lucky. The behavior of models can be very conservative.”

In other words, in some places global warming is likely to be even worse than expected.

Scientists use computer models to try to guess the future behavior of Earth’s climate. But these models take a very broad view of global temperatures – they’re not as accurate when dealing with smaller areas where extreme temperatures can be even greater.

Scientists are now trying to predict some of those crazy weather events that have taken politicians by surprise.

In addition to heat waves, there are other climatic issues, such as torrential rains, which cause devastating flooding locally. No one imagined that harmless natural gas like CO2 could do so much damage.

Britain’s meteorological institute, Met Office, expects its brand new mega-computer to be capable of making projections with much greater accuracy, although some are skeptical of its ability.

Meanwhile, temperatures continue to rise and shift scientific benchmarks. Canada’s extreme peak was accelerated by an increase in global temperature of just 1.2 ° C so far from pre-industrial levels.

But the world is probably heading for 1.5 ° C of warming by the start of the next decade, and temperatures will reach 2 ° C or more unless policies change dramatically. What will the world be like with a 2 ° C rise, which until recently was considered a relatively “safe” level of change?

Baroness Worthington, lead author of the UK Climate Change Act, told me: “Worried scientists are no longer worried; they are terrified.

“They fear there is no climate ‘safe landing’. We are working on the idea of ​​safe carbon budgets (the amount of carbon we can put into the atmosphere without seriously damaging the climate). is there no safe level of carbon? “

“What if the ‘safe’ carbon budget was zero? We cannot mitigate the potential realities of this. “

Politicians strive to avoid the worst of these potential realities, but even former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher remarked in the late 1980s that experimenting with our one planet was foolishness.

In 1989, it came to the attention of the United Nations when it declared that greenhouse gases “are altering the environment of our planet in dangerous and noxious ways.”

Thatcher – who was a chemistry researcher – continued: “The bottom line is that change in the future is likely to be more fundamental and broader than anything we have known so far. It is comparable in its implications to find out how to split the atom., your results may be even more complete. “

“There is no point in discussing who is responsible or who should pay. We will only succeed in solving the problems through a broad effort of international cooperation.”

The speech was extraordinarily visionary. These words were even stronger when spoken by a right-wing world leader, not a loud hippie.

If the world had listened to your warning then, imagine where would we be now?

But Thatcher’s views have been challenged by climate “skeptics” – some of them funded by a decades-long disinformation campaign by fossil fuel companies.

Rich countries have focused on economic growth rather than saving the planet from a hypothetical threat, and emerging economies have reaffirmed their “right” to pollute the air, as have rich countries.

Rich countries restricted the money they offered poor countries for clean technology. And international negotiations have consistently failed to produce the difficult and sweeping changes Thatcher saw as necessary.

Finally, nations are beginning to formulate policies to reduce emissions in the decades to come.

It is not only the heat records that worry them. We recently heard about climate extremes in Antarctica, the Himalayas and the Arctic.

Some scientists warn that parts of the world will become uninhabitable if current trends continue. So what are our leaders doing to protect us?

They speak very well and some no doubt intend to contain climate change. But the impacts of global warming are occurring now, as major nations plan to phase out their emissions only by 2050.

US President Joe Biden has said US CO2 will be halved from 2005 levels this decade. But its proposed investments in clean technologies are meeting resistance from Republicans.

GM and other companies have pledged to sell only zero-emission exhaust vehicles by 2035. But the president has not set a date to electrify the US fleet.

What’s more, his climate envoy John Kerry has been criticized for insisting the American way of life doesn’t need to change, while experts say climate protection requires new technologies as well. than behavioral changes like eating less meat and driving smaller cars.

And there is a policy gap even in a leading country like the UK, where the government is planning a £ 27bn (£ 19bn) road building program.

And while rail use has plummeted during the pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is spending more than £ 100bn (£ 714bn) on the HS2 rail project, which will only be carbon neutral the end of the century.

The tech and business sectors are showing positive signs. The cost of solar and wind power, for example, is plummeting. But they only account for about 14% of total global energy demand, according to renewable energy agency IRENA.

Meanwhile, a ruptured gas pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico ignited the ocean and in London, a green industries investment fund failed to meet minimum funding and was cut.

And in Asia, 600 new coal-fired power plants are planned, although some are recognized as being phased out as investors finally realize that coal is a bad bet in the long run.

Against this backdrop, the world’s billionaires are competing with each other to use vast amounts of energy to send tourists into space – energy that could be used to fight climate change.

Here’s the problem: The political and business worlds are definitely waking up to the climate crisis. But some changes in the natural world seem to be overtaking society’s responses.

It seems Thatcher was right – we have needed drastic action for decades.

Tomorrow I will coolly dissect the intriguing questions of climate policy again, but today, thinking of my granddaughter Hazel, please excuse me for this brief visit from my most emotional side.

In my over 30 years of reporting on climate, I have always had a risky perspective on stories, because Thatcher was right that there is only one planet. And I want Hazel and her own future grandchildren to benefit from it.

I used to use the #Rollthedice Twitter hashtag. Now I have switched to #Playingwithfire

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