Decarbonization happening 'too slowly to offer real protection from warming': author
The United States – and indeed much of planet Earth – has gotten a taste of the severity of climate change in summer 2022. Searing heat, devastating floods, and freak severe storms have battered millions of people. Scores have lost their lives.
"The season is now only half over, and the worst months for California fires, which typically provide the most harrowing images of the summer, still lie ahead. But the calendar has already been stuffed with climate disruption, so much so that one disaster often seemed layered over the last, with newspaper front pages almost identical across the Northern Hemisphere," Wells said. "In July, Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans began compiling them on Twitter, running out of steam when he got past 100. Climate segments of newscasts cut quickly from one part of the world to another, telling almost identical stories, day after day."
According to Wells, media coverage of extreme weather "has mixed horror with a reluctant acceptance," in part because people have become somewhat numb to the apocalyptic forecasts by scientists. This "adaptation," Wells explained, is split between shock and fear. Yet, he stressed, the emergencies are still in their infancy.
"Each summer now is also a prelude. This year on Planet Earth, more than 100 million Americans were under extreme heat advisories that seemed almost unexceptional given the punishing temperatures across Europe, where multiple distinct heat waves have each set records, and in China, where residents found protective shade in underground fallout shelters and demand for air-conditioning threatened the electricity grid nationwide," wrote Wells. "One year after temperatures so extreme that climate scientists worried about the calibrations of their models, a heat dome settled over the Pacific Northwest again, with Seattle recording six straight days above 90 degrees for the first time and Portland, Oregon, experiencing seven above 95, also for the first time."
Other regions have not been spared nature's wrath. Europe and Asia have baked as temperatures reached levels not anticipated until 2050. Power grids are straining to keep pace with surging demand.
In the continental United States, Wells continued, "some neighborhoods were flooded last week by seven feet of water and firefighters had to rescue children from their homes. In St. Louis, which got two months’ worth of rain in the space of six hours, families swam to safety out their front doors. The same weather system delivered another deluge, considerably more deadly, to eastern Kentucky. Both were considered once-in-a-thousand-year events; overnight into Wednesday, another thousand-year storm hit Illinois."
Dozens have been confirmed dead in Kentucky that figure is expected to grow.
“I wish I could tell you why we keep getting hit here in Kentucky,” said Democratic Governor Andy Beshear. “I wish I could tell you why areas where people may not have much continue to get hit and lose everything. I can’t give you the why, but I know what we do in response to it. And the answer is everything we can.”
Unlike cataclysms in the recent past – when there would be gaps of months or years between them – "the intervals between such events are now shorter than ever," Wells noted while pointing out that the transition away from fossil fuels is occurring "too slowly to offer real protection from warming."
The effects, meanwhile, are felt disproportionately.
"Climate vulnerability is greatest in the poorest parts of the world, where residents are least responsible for the perturbation of the climate and least equipped to protect themselves from the ravages of warming," Wells stressed.
Humanity is now living on a planet that is hotter than at any time since we evolved roughly 200,000 years ago.
'We have only in the last decade passed beyond the range of temperatures that encloses all of human history and begun a new kind of experiment, testing our global capacity not just to lessen the impacts of perennial disasters but of disruptions of a much larger scale," Wells added.
Homo sapiens are, after all, clever creatures, and we have the capacity to fix what we have broken. The question remains if we will.
Wells thusly finished his essay with cautious optimism.
"We may tell ourselves that adaptation is what we will do to fill in the gap between the pace of transition that is necessary and the pace that is possible," he concluded. "But adaptation, though critical, is not a cure-all — at least as we’re doing it so far."
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