The remnants of Hurricane Ida hit us hard this week, depositing torrential, flood-inducing rains across a huge swath of the eastern United States. Here in Pennsylvania, torrential downpours, dangerous flash flooding, and tornadoes destroyed homes and vehicles, disrupted and contaminated water supplies, devastated communities, and resulted in tragic and avoidable deaths. Unfortunately, Ida is just the latest and most extreme manifestation of climate change we’ve experienced in the Keystone State this summer.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been warning the world about the threat of global warming since its first report in 1990. And the IPCC’s sixth version of the report, released in August, warns of increasingly damaging and deadly floods, heat waves, and droughts unless we begin “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
While the latest IPCC report presents dire consequences of inaction, it offers hope, too. We can prevent climate change from getting much worse if we take remediating actions now.
In the Middle East and north Africa, global warming is not a distant threat, but an already painful reality. Rising temperatures are exacerbating water shortages. In Iraq, temperatures are estimated to be rising as much as seven times faster than the global average. Countries in this region are not only uniquely affected by global temperature rises: their centrality to global oil and gas markets makes their economies particularly vulnerable to the transition away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner energy sources. It’s essential the voices of Iraq and similar countries are heard at the Cop26 climate change conference in Glasgow this November.
To stand a chance of limiting the worst effects of climate change, the world needs to fundamentally change the way it produces and consumes energy, burning less coal, oil and natural gas. The International Energy Agency’s recent global roadmap to net zero by 2050 shows the world’s demand for oil will need to decline from more than 90m barrels a day to less than 25m by 2050. This would result in a 75% plunge in net revenues for oil-producing economies, many of which are dominated by a public sector that relies on oil exports and the revenues they produce.
An energy transition that fails to engage with fossil fuel-producing countries and their needs could have profound implications for regional and international security and the stability of global energy markets. If oil revenues start to decline before producer countries have successfully diversified their economies, livelihoods will be lost and poverty rates will increase. In a region with one of the youngest and fastest-growing populations in the world, economic hardship and increasing unemployment risk creating broader unrest and instability.
“When will these big storms stop?”
That’s what my 11-year-old wanted to know, as we dumped from the fridge food spoiled after three days without electricity.
Then we called her cousin to make sure their home survived the fires raging through their west coast community.
We also helped a neighbor toss out moldy memories lost when her basement flooded for a third time this summer.
This year the climate crisis hit home, worse than ever before. But it’s far from new. I wrote my senior thesis about climate change back in 1998.
People need trees. A world without ilex, cinnamon and rosewood trees, a world devoid of magnolias, hornbeams and maples would be much the poorer. We rely on trees, of course, to absorb and store carbon dioxide. They provide us with food, fuel, medicine and construction materials. They shelter us from storms; they reduce soil erosion. Without them, other plants and animals would be lost for ever – in the UK, native oaks feed and shelter about 2,300 other species. We are only beginning to fully comprehend their social nature and the “wood wide web” which connects plants together through roots, fungi and bacteria. We need them, too, because their grace and beauty lift our spirits and restore our calm.
There are almost 58,500 tree species in the world, a richness few of us can truly comprehend. But a shocking new international study has warned that between a third and half of those are at risk of extinction in the wild – posing a risk of wider ecosystem collapse. The comprehensive report by Botanic Gardens Conservation International, which was five years in the making, found that twice as many tree species are threatened as mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles combined.More than 440 have fewer than 50 individuals left in natural environments. Worse, even abundant trees that survive will in many cases do so in greatly reduced numbers. In Brazil, where around one in five tree species are at risk, deforestation in the Amazon has hit the highest annual level in a decade.
Bernie Sanders is the reason that we might be able to pass a $3.5 trillion Congressional package this autumn that the Times tonight correctly called “the most significant expansion of the nation’s safety net since the war on poverty in the 1960s, devising legislation that would touch virtually every American’s life, from conception to aged infirmity.”
It was Bernie’s run for president in 2016 that uncovered an unsuspected, at least by Washington elites, reservoir of progressive sentiment across the country. And now, as chairman of the Senate Budget committee, it’s Bernie that must somehow drag the bill across the finish line, without a single Democratic Senator to spare, and with all the nation’s biggest corporations trying to stop him.
So Sanders has embarked on a nationwide speaking tour to build support, mostly in the crucial states of the Midwest. But for many years he has crisscrossed his own state of Vermont on Labor Day, ending up on the Green in Middlebury for a rally, and this year was no exception. I was there with him earlier this evening, to give a short speech of my own backing his plans and to listen as he explained to a crowd that spread out on the prototypical New England common exactly why the next few weeks were so important. (And also to interview him very briefly for the short pep talk recorded above).
Major packaging producers and environmental charities have called for the G7 summit to agree to a global treaty on plastic to tackle the waste crisis.
Nestlé, one of the largest creators of plastic waste, has joined the supermarkets Aldi, Iceland and the Co-op as signatories in an open letter that supports a binding worldwide treaty to tackle plastic pollution.
The letter, also supported by the TV presenter Chris Packham and activist groups Surfers Against Sewage and A Plastic Planet, says that only a global approach will start to tackle the problem.
“Some 300m tonnes of plastic waste [are] produced every year,” the letter said. “Less than 10% of all plastic has ever been recycled. The rest piles up in landfill, is incinerated, or ends up littering our natural environment for centuries.”
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