Aug. 23, 2021

This Week In Climate | August 13th, 2021

This Week In Climate | August 13th, 2021

This Week In Climate 

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IPCC Part One Drops

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the first part of its state-of-the-climate assessment this week, and the message was clear: we must stop burning fossil fuels now to avoid further ecological collapse. 

The report featured plenty of galling statistics that won’t surprise anyone who follows climate news: Arctic summer ice at its lowest point in 1,000 years; glaciers melting at the fastest rate in 2,000 years; the oceans heating faster than they have in 11,000 years. While past IPCC reports have always been based on state-of-the-art climate modeling, this year’s report finally features language establishing culpability for the climate crisis that matches the clarity of its scientific conclusions. 

The second and third parts of the report will be released in early 2022 and will cover impacts, adaptation measures and mitigation. You can read the 39-page summary of part one here, or the full 1,300 page report here.

How the Sausage is Made

While this week’s IPCC report has caught headlines for its daunting assessments, Stephanie Spera from the University of Richmond wrote a very useful breakdown of how the report is written, who gets to write it and what it means for our understanding of the climate crisis. She points out that this year’s report is the first to use the shared socioeconomic pathways (SCPs) method of modeling. 

These scenarios incorporate socioeconomic impacts of climate change, and analyze how those will ultimately influence greenhouse gas emissions. The previous IPCC report from 2013 relied on representative concentration pathways (RCPs), which focus on linear trajectories of greenhouse gas emissions and how each scenario might play out for the climate. The difference may seem wonky, but researchers believe the change makes for a more realistic and dynamic result, painting a clearer picture of the risks we face in the future.

The Show Must Go On

Meanwhile, the Biden Administration formally called on OPEC countries to ramp up oil production this week. On the one hand, the administration laid out the simple and sound logic behind the call for more oil: increase supply to meet the demand of a global (and American) economy badly in need of a rebound. After all, gas prices have climbed 41.8% for Americans since last year. 

But the announcement rings badly out of tune with an IPCC report calling for “drastic action” to reduce emissions in the hopes of avoiding further irreversible impacts of climate change. The administration’s demand points to a trap that many world leaders find themselves in: how many short-term sacrifices should be made to reduce emissions when we have a responsibility to deal with economic suffering today? As the International Energy Agency pointed out in March, a lack of suitable clean energy policies only makes the trap harder to escape.

When They Lose They Win

No matter the price of oil, however, your tax dollars ensure that the winners in the energy market will always be oil producers. That is one conclusion of a report published by Ploy Achakulwisut at the Stockholm Environmental Institute, who took a fascinating close look at how much the United States spends on subsidies for the fossil fuel industry every year. The annual price tag between state and federal governments: $20.5 billion. 

But that doesn’t take into account the economic damage done by the additional 150 million tons of CO2 emissions these subsidies will lead to by 2030. The study finds fault with an old friend of the fossil fuel lobby: the Intangible exploration and Development Costs tax break (IDC). David Roberts did a detailed breakdown of this only-in-Washington tax carve-out that has locked the United States into a fossil fuel economy for decades.

Lighting the Way

While the rest of the world frets about its response to the climate crisis, artists in the Scottish Uist islands have put together a powerful visualization project to shine a light on how climate change will impact life in a forgotten corner of the world. 

Finnish artists Pekka Niittyvirta and Timo Aho have installed gleaming LED lights where sea level is projected to rise on the islands, which have already begun to see encroaching tides from melting polar ice and glaciers. The project echoes an installation the duo put up in Miami showing how the American city is being swallowed by the sea. “Art has the potential to convey scientific data, complex ideas and concepts in a powerful way, when words or graphs may fall short,” Pekka Niittyvirta says.


Music from Blue Dot Sessions under creative commons license. 

Silver Lanyard by Blue Dot Sessions

These Times by Blue Dot Sessions