Here are a couple of items of climate news from the last few days you might not want to miss.
One is a call by two climate scientists. They want us to spend a little more time contemplating what life on Earth could be like by mid-century: the 5 percent possibility that global warming will be catastrophic by 2050.
Imagine you are about to board a plane and find out there is a 1-in-20 chance it will crash, UC San Diego climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan told the KPBS program Midday by way of analogy.
By catastrophe, the authors mean changes “so large and rapid that you have very little time to adapt,” Ramanathan said. “We cannot dismiss the chance that we will enter into a whole different world as early as 2050,” co-author Yangyang Xu of Texas A&M University said.
Americans are more accustomed to hearing about the 50-50 chance that climate change will be dangerous by mid-century.
But the authors say given the imminence of dangerous warming, the focus must broaden to include extreme climate change. Their new synthesis appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a body of distinguished scholars.
Scientists don’t usually speak in such plain language. But some have become more plainspoken as the changes in the climate outpace predictions. To keep the risk of catastrophic change below 5 percent, the paper joins others that say carbon dioxide needs to peak immediately and begin going down now or very soon.
That may not be as impossible as it once seemed: Globally, concerted effort slowed the previously steep climb in emissions to 1.3 percent each year between 2012 and 2014. Then it slowed further, to near zero for 2015 and 2016. While that is progress, it does not immediately lower the concentration in the atmosphere, because the new emissions still outweigh the slow fadeout of greenhouse gases.
The second climate development this week was a bill in the California state legislature that would have required 100 percent of electricity come from zero carbon sources by 2046. The requirement was later softened to a goal. The bill faltered in the final, frantic hours of the legislature Friday night.
SB 100, authored by Sen. President Pro Tem Kevin de León, passed the California state senate, then made it out of three assembly committees: Utilities and Energy, Natural Resources and Appropriations, before going back to Utilities and Energy. It failed to win the votes to reemerge, so it never got a floor vote.
Lobbyists and staffers gave several reasons. Some said it got tethered to another bill favored by the governor, on the enlargement of California’s grid regionally. Another cited fatigue with the number of priorities advanced by Sen. de León’s office. There was opposition from investor-owned utilities including San Diego Gas & Electric as well as from labor unions, some of whom had voiced strong support for the clean electricity bill earlier. Assembly speaker Anthony Rendon may not have wanted to expose his members to the vote.
Advocacy groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club said they would be back with the proposed policy next year.
Whatever this bill’s faults or bad fortune, it is this kind of sweeping change the recent paper calls for. Summing up the extent of human action on climate change, Ramanathan said, “we are not doing much so far.”
The paper makes an appeal to present and future engineers, chemists and soil scientists, among others, to develop new ways to pull carbon from the atmosphere and bind it to rock, to trees, and to new fuels that can make electricity. “Major breakthroughs are needed urgently,” it says.
We'll let you know when big things happen.