As 2021 heads for the exit, wildfires in Boulder, Colorado, have burned at least 500 homes and forced more than 30,000 people to evacuate. There are record-setting high temperatures in Alaska, with Kodiak Island hitting 67 degrees F last weekend, even though it only gets six hours of sunlight this time of year.
So yes, global warming is real, kids. The science is both well-established and supported by the data (here's a brief overview of the basics from the EPA, which can once again say science is real, thanks a lot, Biden). When people ask whether extreme weather events like the deadly tornadoes earlier this month are related to climate change, the answer really should be that pretty much everything is related to climate change. While the causes of any particular storm are complex, the overall fact is that climate change is making things freaky, because when the earth gets hotter, complex systems like weather are going to be affected across the planet.
As we noted in our 2019 New Year's Eve roundup, we seem to have finally woken up and noticed that yes, this is a big problem. And while it would have been way easier if we had started phasing out fossil fuels in the 1980s or '90s when the science was already clear, the consensus view is, as the UN's International Panel on Climate Change said earlier this year, that humanity can still make the changes to worldwide energy use necessary to avoid the very worst effects of uncontrolled climate change — but we have to act fast.
Not sure whether this is a motivator for you, but it may help to think of 2021's freaky weather as a baseline. We'll have to work really hard to keep things as good as this year.
A loving homage to/theft of original Trans Am photoshoop by The Onion
For 'Climate Day,' Shirtless Joe Biden Washes Electric Car In White House Driveway
The climate year started off with a big exhale of relief when America inaugurated a president who recognized the reality of climate change, and vowed to follow the science. Joe Biden started his administration by rescinding some of Donald Trump's worst policies, and by signing a bunch of executive orders aimed at changing US climate policy. America rejoined the Paris Climate agreement. Biden said that climate policy would be a "whole of government" effort, not just something to be shunted off to the EPA or the Energy Department, and his Cabinet appointments reflected that emphasis: Deb Haaland at Interior, Pete Buttigieg at Transportation, Jennifer Granholm at Energy, and two new positions whose entire portfolio involved climate. For domestic climate matters, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy became Biden's National Climate Advisor, and for international relations, John Kerry was named Special Presidential Envoy for Climate — a diplomatic position that for the first time ever placed an official on the National Security Council whose whole job was including climate in discussions of security and foreign relations.
Biden also pledged that environmental justice would be a central part of his climate policy, and that 40 percent of spending on climate programs would go to frontline communities that have been effected by climate, or polluted by toxic waste and the environmental damage done by fossil fuels. That "Justice40" initiative may not be the most noticed part of Biden energy/climate policy, but environmental justice has been in every single plan and policy proposal, just quietly humming along on battery power. Buttigieg, no slouch on policy, is keenly aware that transportation policy is wrapped up with issues of social justice, even if idiots on Fox scoff "So now roads are racist?"
In February, America got a crash course in "Electric Grid" when extreme cold temperatures nearly caused an actual crash of the statewide electric grid in Texas, mostly due to the combination of a sudden surge in demand for electricity as people cranked up their heat and many power plants failing because they weren't weatherproofed. (Trivia fun: The grid didn't actually crash; instead, grid operators triggered blackouts to prevent the whole grid from going down, which would have taken months to fix, instead of weeks.) Two hundred ten people died because of the winter storm and the blackouts.
Most of the plants that crashed were powered by natural gas, but Texas and national Republican politicians wasted no time in lying that the power outages were due to failures of wind and solar power, which make up an increasingly large part of the state's energy portfolio because, yay, renewable energy is more affordable than fossil fuels.
The big takeaways from the freeze should have been that it's a bad idea to have a power grid that's largely isolated from the rest of the country in order to escape federal regulation, and that emphasizing profitability over stability is a hell of a good way to get grid crashes and to drive power companies into bankruptcy. We also got another Trivia Question reminder that the state agency that regulates oil and gas is called the "Texas Railroad Commission," even though it literally hasn't regulated railroads in Texas for decades.
Also too, the Texas Legislature took action to make everything better by punishing producers of green energy, so everything should be just fine.
Floods And Tornadoes, Too!
Storm Damage at John Schneider's home. The General Lee in the tree is mounted there on purpose, but usually sans tree. (John Schneider, Facebook)
In September, Hurricane Ida hit the Gulf Coast, knocking out power for weeks in New Orleans. The levees held; the power grid, not so much. The storm trashed the Louisiana home and studio of "Dukes of Hazzard" actor John Schneider, wrecking one of several replica 1969 Dodge Chargers (not real classics!) used in the show.
Even though it was downgraded to a tropical storm because its wind speeds had decreased, the remnants of Ida illustrated one of the really destructive elements of hurricanes in the age of climate crisis: Because warmer air and water result in more powerful storms that hold more water vapor, hurricanes will generally cause far more rain and flooding than in the past. Even by the time the storm reached the Northeast US, it was still causing record rainfall and flooding in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Ninety-one people died across nine states, and in New York, many of the deaths involved people drowning in "affordable" basement apartments — another reminder that many of the worst effects of the climate crisis are being felt by the poor.
In December, tornadoes ripped through four states, hitting Kentucky the hardest and killing more than 90 people in all. No, we will not let you be dickish about people dying, even when Kentucky's congressional delegation, especially Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, has constantly blocked climate legislation and even tried to block disaster aid for other parts of the country.
Unlike the increasing strength of hurricanes and the frequency and damage done by wildfires, the exact connection between climate change and tornadoes isn't yet known, apart from the general fact that a warmer planet, with a less stable jet stream, seems likely to create the potential for more unseasonable, powerful storms that can cause tornadoes. And even if a particular storm can't be attributed to climate, the overall increase in extreme weather events worldwide certainly can. At least we can remain certain that, whatever the weather emergency, anything Alex Jones says about it will be wrong.
Don't Just Tread Water, Do Something
Even Republicans know the climate emergency is real, as we saw in the publicity around a new "conservative climate caucus" in the House of Representatives last summer. Unfortunately, since the climate caulkers are also absolutely committed only to "free market" initiatives on climate, none of the members seems willing to take the large-scale action needed to move the US off fossil fuels. They really like nuclear power, and are excited about carbon capture technology, which really may help some but won't do a lick of good if it's only an excuse to keep burning fossil fuels. As we've said before, direct removal of CO2 from the air — by technology other than trees, yes — is both really promising and fraught with potential problems, and we urge you to read or listen to this nifty Mother Jones discussion of just how complicated it is.
Considering the very real costs to the US and world economies that will be caused by climate change — both the physical damage and the economic turbulence that could result from a slapdash transition away from fossil fuels — you might think that Republicans would be on board with preventing the coming climate-related havoc. But the party as a whole is addicted to trolling, and opposing any efforts to take climate seriously has become a matter of GOP orthodoxy, to the point that even when Republicans take useful actions, they won't say the word "climate change," lest their tongues catch fire.
See for instance Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (if you can see him at all), who earlier this month announced a great big package of spending to make Florida infrastructure more resilient against "flooding and sea level rise," without a single mention of why Florida needs to do anything about higher water levels. He even took care to insist that "global warming" shouldn't be mentioned in connection with the infrastructure spending, because when people "start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things," you see. Instead, DeSantis insisted this was just normal non-leftwing government spending that's necessary because "OK, we’re a flood-prone state, we do have storms."
Maybe all that speculation that DeSantis is hiding out with COVID-19 or getting plastic surgery is wrong, and he's simply getting physical therapy after tying himself into a pretzel like that.
Coming Up: Infrastructure! Grid! Electric Cars! Let's Get Green!
In our next 2021 roundup, we'll look at the Year In Infrastructure Week, and how that's going to help us get off the fossil fuel teat.
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