Hotter Hotspots, Drier Dryspots, Wetter Wetspots, and Stronger Storms

Background (Nino neutral) global warming (relative to 1880-1920) is now at least 1.2°C (2.2°F) as a result of accelerated warming since 2015.

What else is new? Hotspots are getting hotter. The major hotspot in April stretched from Iraq to India and Pakistan, and toward the northeast through Russia (Fig. 1). Temperature exceeded 45°C (113°F) in late April in at least nine Indian cities, on its way to 50°C (122°F) in Pakistan in May, where a laborer says “It’s like fire burning all around” and a meteorologist describing growing heatwaves since 2015 says “The intensity is increasing, and the duration is increasing, and the frequency is increasing.” Halfway around the world, Canada and north-central United States were cooler than their long-term average, but people in British Columbia and northwest United States remember being under their own record-breaking hotspot last summer.

Rising temperature is the least of it. Dry places get drier and wet places wetter. Notably affected subtropical dry regions include the U.S. Southwest, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. Tropical regions now subject to greater deluges include much of Central America, Southeast Asia and Africa. Moreover, throughout the world, wet times become wetter, dry times become drier, and storms tend to be stronger.

The next El Nino will bring record global temperature of at least +1.4°C, possibly 1.5°C. The basis for confident prediction is, again, the present planetary energy imbalance.

It’s important that young people understand causes of the spectacular, continuing failure of governments to adopt effective long-term energy and climate policies. We must all be aware that demands for effective policies will yield only superficial change as long as the role of special interests in government remains unaddressed.

One fundamental fact is that fossil fuels are a convenient, condensed source of energy that has helped raise living standards throughout much of the world. Fossil fuels will continue to provide a large fraction of global energy (now about 80%) and release CO2 to the air as long as the price of fossil fuels does not include their costs to society, i.e., as long as we allow the atmosphere to be a free dumping grounds for the waste products of fossil fuel mining and burning.

A second fundamental fact is that the United States is most responsible for climate change caused by fossil fuel emissions as measured by total national emissions, but even more so on a per capita basis. [Note that India and Pakistan (Pakistan is included in the “rest of Asia Pacific bar below) as of today are negligible contributors to global warming, but they suffer grave impacts.]

Cumulative 1751-2020 fossil fuel carbon emissions (tons C/person; 2020 populations).  Horizontal lines are multiples of the global mean. The order of individual nations from left to right is based on cumulative (historic) national emissions.

There is no indication that incumbent governments are even considering the fundamental actions that are needed to slow and reverse climate change. Instead, they set goals for their future emissions and hope that the collective outcome will be good. When data suggest otherwise, they revise hopes for future emissions downward, all the while knowing – if they have any common sense and technical understanding – that their claims for the expected future emissions are (to put it plainly) hogwash because they have not taken the fundamental actions required to achieve those goals.

The United States has a lead role in creating the problem and the potential for a lead role in solving it. Almost 15 years ago the carbon fee and dividend idea (let’s abbreviate it F&D) became popular and Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) adopted F&D as its goal. Barack Obama – who promised to give priority to a “planet in peril” in his campaign – overtook the Democrat’s establishment candidate (Hilary Clinton) in large part because he was supported by young people. Obama was elected President in 2008, facing immediately a global financial crisis and opportunity.

Economists agreed that a gradually rising carbon fee (increasing $10 per ton of CO2 each year, reaching the equivalent of 90 cents per gallon of gasoline in 10 years) would by itself reduce U.S. fossil fuel emissions 30% in 10 years. With the funds distributed uniformly to the public, most people (especially low-income people) would gain financially. In 15 years, emissions and fossil fuel use would be reduced by about half.

Obama was aware of F&D but made no effort to include it in his financial rescue package. Instead, climate policy was addressed in a separate bill in Congress. Senator Kerry agreed on the superior merits of F&D, but concluded “I can’t get one vote for that.” Instead, every relevant lobbyist in Washington who did not have a broken arm got to write a piece of the bill, which was several thousand pages long – but even it failed to pass because fossil fuel special interests opposed it.

Congress is permitted to accept bribes under the rubric of “campaign” funds.  This problem grew when the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations – with their vast resources – are free to participate in this vulgar, legalized corruption. Public frustration with the Washington swamp of special interests contributed to the rise of the extremes in both American political parties.  As power oscillates from one party to the other and neither party delivers, frustrations grow higher.  This two-party oscillation is unstable and could result in the collapse of our democracy, if we do not solve the underlying problem.

It’s wonderful to see young people supporting carbon F&D, and I hope that effort continues and is successful. However, after nearly 15 years of failing to get Congress to adopt a cost-free action to address climate change – an action based on conservative economic principles and yielding a progressive result by reducing wealth disparity – it should be clear that we have a fundamental problem with our democracy: special interests have undue sway in our government. The public knows this – they refer derisively to the “Washington swamp” of special interests.

Young people, indeed, all people, need to understand that they cannot solve the energy and climate problem without addressing the special interest problem in Washington. It’s not only possible to address that age-old problem, doing so is the fastest way to make progress toward restoring a propitious climate.