🌎 The coolest year of the rest of your life
...unless we have something to say about it
I’m Quinn Emmett, and this is science for people who give a shit.
Every week, I help 23,000+ humans understand and unfuck the rapidly changing world around us. It feels great, and we’d love for you to join us.
THE COOLEST YEAR OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
…unless we have something to say about it. 👊
You’ve read the headlines, maybe even normalized them. It’s the hottest year on record, the hottest September on record, after the hottest summer on record. So fun.
Some of the reasons for these records are obvious, some less so, some increasingly less so.
Some questions you’re asking:
Are things heating up a bit faster than we thought? Yes.
Could it be worse? Yes.
Will it get worse? Unfortunately also yes.
Is it up to us how much worse? Also yes.
Do we have the tech we need to reduce emissions to Real Zero? Yes.
Are we still working through the policy issues regarding how to pay for Real Zero, build it, and then connect it all together? Double yes.
Are vested interests like wealthy white people standing in the way of wind farms? This will surprise you, but yes.
Are major banks investing more than they ever have in fossil fuel infrastructure? Yes, goddammit.
Are there a complex variety of systems impacted every day by global heating, from farming to migration to public health? Yes.
Does every single tenth of a degree matter?
Does every single ton of emissions — carbon or methane or otherwise — matter?
Also also also yes.
Like I said in the intro, it’s always helpful — for those of us who are alarmed 24/7 and recently on Prozac to deal with it, for those of us who’ve become jaded towards it, and for new readers alike — to revisit the “why” behind some of the big headlines, so that’s what I’m going to do today.
Nothing groundbreaking here, folks. Just a state of the union as we barrel into fall (which is shorter than it used to be). 🍂 🎃
Why the hell this year has been so damn hot.
To be frank, because we’re still pumping out carbon and methane emissions.
That’s not great, but also not surprising, because while we’ve built a huge amount of clean energy, electric cars, and electrified appliances in just the past few years, we have so much left to build, and we have to build most of it this decade. The reasons are myriad and listed below.
The point is, we’re still broadly reliant on fossil fuels to provide power. Which sucks. 2.5 trillion tons of CO2 later, we’re still making it hotter.
I added part of their conversation below for additional context:
Here are some other reasons why it’s still getting hotter
Global North/West countries are decarbonizing, slowly but surely, but the Global South is just coming online — and fast. Further, rich countries aren’t doing a lot to help Global South countries do it in a clean way. Which is self-defeating.
Africa and India’s populations are growing faster than you can possibly imagine, and they need to build infrastructure just as fast as we did, if not much faster. Aluminum and steel for infrastructure are in high demand, and processing both (currently) produces huge emissions. Coal remains the most viable option. That’s bad.
(This was my original commentary on El Niño — the relative surge of warm surface water along the equator in the Pacific — which is here, finally.)
It’s real, it’s weird, and it may get much stronger later this year — or not?
We’re really not sure.
(I’m not messing with you — David DeWitt, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, was asked if this winter will be more extreme and he said, “My answer would be — maybe.“)
Either way, regional weather will probably look more extreme and quite a bit different from the last near-decade of La Niña years.
Think more extreme rainfall in California (where 90% of homeowners don’t have flood insurance) and east Africa (or not), drought and wildfires in Australia and Indonesia (or not), and more snow on the east coast.
Deforestation continues worldwide, reducing the volume and effectiveness of our second most valuable carbon sink. Less carbon into forests, more carbon into the air, it keeps getting hotter.
From Our World in Data:
Earth’s oceans have had it up to here with this shit.
Having absorbed the vast majority of our CO2, they’re heating — fast — and seemingly can’t take it (carbon) anymore. The Atlantic was terrifyingly hot at times this summer, cooking corals and other food ecosystems.
Less carbon absorbed into the ocean means more going into the atmosphere.
Great news: We have the technology to more aggressively hunt down methane leaks.
Bad news: There are apparently a “mind-boggling” volume of methane leaks.
Reminder or if you’re new here or been green-washed by natural gas: methane has about 80x the warming power of CO2 over the first couple decades after it gets into the atmosphere.
Great news: it dissipates much faster, and also, we can just stop leaking it?
Meat continues to be a nightmare on all fronts — from deforestation to land-use to water use to monocrops to cow methane.
Meat-forward businesses like McDonald’s have little incentive to pivot from incredibly popular business models to something that’s not killing everyone in six different ways.
Btw - I don’t usually focus too specifically on animal rights, though I fundamentally believe in them (you can read more about my thoughts in “Why I Don’t Eat Animals”), and if you do, too, well, I’ll just leave this here:
Our World in Data
We’re all trying to find the guy who did this
Which brings is back to business in general, which has spent the past five years promoting “net zero” plans while being almost entirely reliant on carbon offsets which — being as generous as I possibly can here — are not real, and real talk, have intentionally throttled real decarbonization efforts massively.
I cannot possibly describe to you how angry carbon offsets make me. They are a crime. They have slowed efforts to reach Real Zero in every conceivable way. And instead of just being a waste of money and maybe an enormous bubble, are probably also genuinely making the problem worse.
Countries aren’t doing enough either
Keeping in mind most countries simply don’t have the transmission lines and batteries necessary to operate entirely on clean energy yet, and especially when it’s dark out and/or the wind isn’t blowing, it’s still been eight years since Paris and most countries are well behind where they planned to be.
Great news (really!): It could be worse!
Truly! We’ll get to reasons why it’s not worse in a moment, but let’s hang out with the data for a moment.
Global averages, in this case, of surface temps are important, especially over time. But they’re misleading if you don’t dive any deeper, or I guess, more widely, because of course some places are heating much faster than others, and it doesn’t say much about impact.
But let’s address global averages anyway, by way again of Zeke Hausfather.
In Zeke’s latest issue, he describes through a variety of charts and scientific data how abnormally hot it has been. Here are a few of those.
So. Not ideal.
Numbers are one thing. Impacts are another.
I’m blowing my way through Patrick O’Brian’s 20 Aubrey-Maturin novels, where the main characters frequently find themselves sailing through frigid uncharted waters north of Antarctica, terrified of icebergs the size of cathedrals.
Which is just one very small reason why it’s so crushing to read about sea-ice levels in Antarctica, which are at an all-time low, and probably because “it's seen record temperature increases of 3.2°C (37.76°F) since the 1950s, over three times more than the global average.“
Breadbaskets and other Hot Spots
As I’ve spent the past few years leveling up in a million disciplines at once, some educational resources have come out of nowhere. Like Tradle, where you guess which country exports the displayed allocation of products.
Like Wordle etc, Tradle is a delightful daily challenge but — like watching Octonauts with your kids — it’s impossible to not learn a tremendous amount about global trade along the way, and in particular, food.
For example, in yesterday’s game, the country’s export total was $10.8 billion, and the largest export was soybeans, at 27.8% (soybean meal and soybean oil made up another 13.64% of the total, among other foods).
My first thought: $10.1 billion isn’t a very big export total, so the potential countries was narrowed down quite a bit.
All the soy products were interesting, but some other exports were a bigger clue: bovine meat. So I narrowed it further to somewhere in South America.
My first guest was Uruguay. Incorrect.
My second was Paraguay. Nailed it.
How does this tie in to today’s essay? Well, there’s bad news for the upcoming soybean crop: winter just ended in South America, and it was 110 degrees.
Exports matter for a variety of reasons, including the income derived from selling them, and for the buyer, you know, they get food they might not otherwise be able to grow.
As we not-so-gently unwind a few decades of globalization, more countries are keeping more domestically-produced food at home, all in the name of food security — from war, El Niño, and climate impacts.
Which is a real pros and cons situation if your particular domestic production gets scorched or flooded or both, or food you previously imported becomes much more expensive.
Across the world:
East Africa: drought, famine, war across Ethiopia, Keyna, and Somalia
West Africa: Lagos and hundreds of other smaller cities are growing as sea level rise does the same, while there’s still a hell of a lot of rural Nigeria out there and flooding is a real risk
North India: drought has threatened not only crops but also (like in the US west) hydropower, forcing more fossil fuel use
Mexico: speaking of exports — Mexican-produced beer (30% of world supply) is down because of drought, and cartels are controlling the remaining water supply
Europe: on the whole far wealthier than every country above and adding heat pumps like crazy, but still poorly prepared for the heat, from a lack of air conditioning to a reliance on rivers and Russian gas
China: despite their absolute monopoly on the precious metals and manufacturing needed to build clean energy, China’s relative lack of arable land — and whiplash between heat waves and floods — is making food security a real risk
For centuries, we built cities along major freshwater rivers because as any CIV VI rookie can tell you, it’s step one for a functioning society of humans who can’t survive without water.
But these thoroughfares also allowed us to ship a variety of goods back and forth, spurring trade and new economies of scale and Mark Twain.
Now those same routes are being challenged, as everywhere from the mighty Mississippi to the Rhine and even the incredibly vital Panama Canal are drying up.
Storms and Heat Domes
In a pretty quick turnaround, we’re now able to attribute certain extreme weather to climate change, like hurricanes from Florida to Libya, and heat domes from Texas to China. There have always been storms, wildfires, and heat domes, but nothing like these, nor as often.
Why it’s not worse
We have built so much more clean energy and clean transportation (mostly two-wheelers) than anyone thought we would at this point, more or less decoupling economic growth from emissions.
Heat pumps are now being installed more than gas furnaces and 25 US states want to quadruple the pace.
But it’s mostly not worse because we spent the last 10+ years scaling solar and, to an extent, wind, and reducing the cost of solar and batteries 90% or more (however much we’ve struggled with a glut of parts and realignment of the world order around required resources and production as of late).
We’ve already set so many of the pieces in place. We have virtually all of the tech we need to get to Real Zero. We “just” have to do the work.
Must go faster
Mitigation and adaptation means eliminating a few trillion dollars in fossil fuel subsidies and spending about $4.5 trillion annually on climate spending; it means drastically reducing meat consumption and food waste; banning carbon offsets and deforestation; decarbonizing CO2 and methane to real zero; and minimizing as much suffering for humans and ecosystems as we can along the way.
In the words of our friends at Project Drawdown, we have to hit the emergency brakes.
It means focusing the public less on emissions and more on pollution — something they can actually relate to, that they can taste and breathe and that remains a tangible example of the power structures dedicated to killing them.
It means land back and water rights returned to Indigenous peoples. It means the US building an interconnected grid like Europe’s, one that’s robust and two-way and packed with microgrids and long-duration batteries.
It means supporting Brazil’s efforts to stop deforestation. It means taking over utilities if we have to, but definitely making sure they can’t use your fees for lobbying against clean energy, which is insane. It means figuring out how the hell we tap into the new world’s biggest lithium deposit without trashing the environment around it.
It means doing all of this while protecting the people most exposed to the heat — farmworkers, the poor, redlined city dwellers, and kids in classrooms.
Along the way, for a while, it’s going to keep getting hotter. But at some point, when we do enough, that’ll stop, and maybe someday after that we can even start to bring it back down again.
Last week’s most popular Action Step was getting progressives under 40 elected at every level of government by donating to or volunteering with Run For Something.
Donate to Climate CREW to help build resilience hubs and prepare your community for extreme heat.
Volunteer to build a resilience hub in your community so your community can better respond to extreme heat.
Get educated about community planning for extreme heat by reading this piece from Vox.
Be heard about the health and safety of workers and urge your representatives to support the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness, Injury, and Fatality Prevention Act.
Invest in deforestation-free funds so your money isn’t contributing to the planet getting hotter.
Support Our Work
INI is 100% independent and mostly reader-supported.
This newsletter is free, but to support our work, get my popular “Not Important” book, music, and tool recommendations, connect with other Shit Givers, and attend exclusive monthly live events, please consider becoming a paid Member.