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CNN has a team of journalists covering the climate crisis full time, and they have published five separate stories in recent days that represent the past, present and future of the crisis.
More succinctly, these stories reflect that Earth has warmed nearly 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, a threshold scientists have suggested is when the worst impacts of climate change will begin to occur.
They reflect that there are already disastrous effects from climate change. The world is not curbing emissions fast enough to change the trend.
New analysis from the nonpartisan Rhodium Group shows the US is (still) headed in the wrong direction on greenhouse gas emissions, which were around 6% higher in 2021 than 2020.
And the stories reflect the political reality in Washington that bolder action is hard to come by. Democrats could potentially go around Republicans to enact President Joe Biden’s climate change agenda, but they might have to sacrifice the social spending on things like universal pre-K.
Biden’s plan is to use tax dollars to incentivize companies to reduce emissions, since it’s clear they aren’t going to make the necessary cuts without government help. The Democrats have earmarked $555 billion for the effort.
The US spent $750 billion in five years on climate disasters. One CNN graphic by CNN’s John Keefe and Priya Krishnakumar maps the costliest climate disasters in the US over the past year – 20 cost $1 billion or more. The disasters occurred across the country and range from Hurricane Ida, which cost $75 billion in 2021, to winter weather, wildfires and flooding.
“2021 was, in essence, watching the climate projections of the past come true,” Rachel Licker, a senior climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told CNN’s Rachel Ramirez.
Not all weather related to climate change will be warm. CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray writes about the cold in the Northeast this week: “It’s the kind of cold capable of delivering frostbite in minutes, turn boiling water into frozen mist in a nanosecond, and even cold enough to freeze your eyelashes.”
But it’ll feel even colder than that. With wind chill, it will feel like minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit on summit peaks in Vermont.
Cold in a time of warming. I enjoyed this passage from Gray’s report on the difference between today’s cold and the warming climate:
As meteorologists, we always hear “Oh, so where’s your global warming now?”
Honestly, it’s becoming less common the more people become educated on climate change, but there’s always someone who will troll us on social media and bring it up.
So before the tweets begin, here’s your answer.
“Even in a warming climate, there will still be some cold extremes, or periods of intense and even record-breaking cold at times,” explained CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller. “Look no further than last year, when a massive cold-air outbreak in the central and southern portions of the US caused power outages for millions and resulted in the costliest winter storm in US history.”
While the cold spell will be significant, it will be fairly short-lived and confined to one or two regions of the country.
“Compare that to last month, which saw several weeks worth of record-shattering warmth over more than half of the country, which helped to spawn deadly severe weather which was unprecedented in December,” said Miller.
He also adds, “But cold extremes are becoming far fewer, especially compared to hot extremes, which are outpacing them by two or three to one over the recent decade.”
Two futures. Experts told CNN’s Ramirez that bold action to cut emissions could actually lead the Earth to cool in the second half of this century. But she writes the course right now, according to the watchdog Climate Action Tracker, is for the world to blow past 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, up to 2.4 degrees of warming or more.
Surely, if climate disasters get worse and more frequent, countries will snap to attention. Right?
People don’t always act. Think back to the warnings early in the Covid-19 pandemic that hundreds of thousands of Americans could die. That seemed nuts at the time. But here we are, 838,000 and counting Covid-19 deaths later, sustaining more than 1,000 daily deaths per day and hurtling toward 1 million total US deaths from the disease.
People can be given access to vaccines and shown the proof that they lead to much less severe Covid-19. Millions still won’t get the shots.
If climate change is anything like Covid-19, all the warnings scientists can shout won’t change every mind.
Companies and governments can talk about their efforts to cut emissions, but it’s clear the most drastic actions will take government requirements. That’s assuming Democrats can find a way to pass their bill – which has already been pared down dramatically to remove penalties for emitting companies and to satisfy Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who represents a state steeped in high-emitting coal.