By Oliver Milman
This story was originally published in The Guardian on July 27, 2020.
It was a balmy June day in 2017 when Donald Trump took to the lectern in the White House Rose Garden to announce the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the only comprehensive global pact to tackle the spiraling crisis.
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Abandoned Climate Efforts<p>The U.S. government in practice abandoned any concern over the climate crisis some time ago, with the Trump administration so far <a href="https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2020/07/trump-is-rushing-to-slash-every-last-obama-era-environmental-rule/" target="_blank">rolling back</a> more than 100 environmental protections, including an Obama-era plan to curb emissions from coal-fired power plants, limits on pollution emitted from cars and trucks and even energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs. In an often chaotic presidency, Trump's position on climate change has been unusually consistent – American fossil fuel production must be bolstered, restrictive climate regulations must be scrapped.</p><p>Unswayed by <a href="https://news.gallup.com/poll/308876/environmental-ratings-global-warming-concern-flat-2020.aspx" target="_blank">growing alarm</a> among Americans over the climate crisis, Trump is taking this same message to the election. "Biden wants to massively re-regulate the energy economy, rejoin the Paris climate accord, which would kill our energy totally, you would have to close 25% of your businesses and kill oil and gas development," the president said this month, without citing evidence, as he announced <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/15/donald-trump-environmental-reviews-pipelines-highways" target="_blank">another rollback</a>, this time of environmental assessments of pipelines, highways and other infrastructure.</p><p><span></span>Despite all this, U.S. emissions have continued to fall, due in large part to the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/29/america-coal-mining-enery-climate-crisis" target="_blank">downfall</a> of a coal industry that Trump has attempted to prop up. The international ramifications have been telling, however – in the absence of any sort of positive cajoling from the U.S., global emissions have remained stubbornly <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/25/climate-heating-greenhouse-gases-hit-new-high-un-reports" target="_blank">high</a> and most countries are lagging behind their own promised actions.</p><p>According to the <a href="https://climateactiontracker.org/" target="_blank">Climate Action Tracker</a>, only Morocco is acting consistently with the Paris agreement's goals, with the global temperature rise set to exceed 3C by the end of the century even if the current pledges are met. Paris was meant to be only the beginning – countries are supposed to continually ratchet up their ambition levels until the more extreme ravages of climate change, such as dire flooding, heatwaves, crop failures and the loss of coral reefs, are avoided.</p><p>"There's been less political will from other countries to take action to a certain extent because the U.S. isn't pushing for it," said Biniaz. "During the first four years of Trump it's easier to say it's likely to be an aberration, a short-term deviation, but if it's eight years it's harder to keep together the coalition of countries that care about this."</p>
‘Another Meteorite Is Coming’<p>Another four years of a Trump administration uninterested in the climate crisis could set back global emissions cuts by a decade, according to <a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/four-more-years-of-donald-trump-could-delay-global-emissions-cuts-by-10-years" target="_blank">one published analysis</a>, making the chances of meeting the goals of Paris near to impossible.</p><p>Hakon Saelen, an environmental economist at the University of Oslo who led the study, said the U.S. withdrawal is a "significant major blow" to the mitigation of the climate crisis. "The world cannot afford any delay if the 2C target is to be reached," he said. "Our model indicates that the chance of reaching it is very low already, but near zero with another Trump term."</p><p>But even with an engaged Biden administration that is somehow able to get Congress to agree <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/14/joe-biden-climate-jobs-plan" target="_blank">to a $2t</a><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/14/joe-biden-climate-jobs-plan" target="_blank">n plan</a> to shift the U.S. on to renewable energy, the challenge is immense. The world has dithered on cutting emissions for so long that only an unprecedented, rapid overhaul of the way we travel, generate energy and eat will keep humanity within the bounds of safety outlined in Paris.</p>The world will have to slash emissions by more than 7% a year this decade to have any hope of meeting the 1.5C target, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/26/united-nations-global-effort-cut-emissions-stop-climate-chaos-2030" target="_blank">according to the United Nations</a>. This annual cut will be achievable this year only through the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered much of the global economy. A more sustainable path to decarbonization will need to be immediately identified and implemented.<p><br>"The warmer it gets the worse it gets and the [Paris] targets are broadly at a level where things will get really bad," said Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the <a href="https://thebreakthrough.org/" target="_blank">Breakthrough Institute</a>. "We don't want people to give up hope, the human race won't become extinct at 2C but that's an unnecessarily high bar. There are still large threats and a lot of good reasons to keep warming below that.</p><p>Stern said American voters will naturally be "supersonic focused" on coronavirus and the economic fallout. "But climate change can't be forgotten this election," he said. "The Covid crisis has shown us countries can do remarkable things in short order when they believe they have to. It shows us we need leaders who also understand what we need to do on climate change, because that is another meteorite heading our way."</p>
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By Shanna Hanbury
With the Amazon rainforest predicted to be at, or very close to, its disastrous rainforest-to-savanna tipping point, deforestation escalating at a frightening pace, and governments often worsening the problem, the need for action to secure the future of the rainforest has never been more urgent.
Reversing the Amazon Tipping Point<p>Over the last five decades, the Amazon rainforest lost almost a fifth of its forest cover, putting the <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/12/the-tipping-point-is-here-it-is-now-top-amazon-scientists-warn/" target="_blank">biome on the edge</a> of a dangerous cliff. <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/01/impending-amazon-tipping-point-puts-biome-and-world-at-risk-scientists-warn/" target="_blank">Studies show</a> that if 3 to 8% more forest cover is lost, then deforestation combined with escalating climate change is likely to cause the Amazon ecosystem to collapse.</p><p>After this point is reached, the lush, biodiverse rainforest will receive too little precipitation to maintain itself and quickly shift from forest into a degraded savanna, causing enormous <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/02/amazon-tipping-point-puts-brazils-agribusiness-energy-sector-at-risk-top-scientists/" target="_blank">economic damage</a> across the South American continent, and releasing vast amounts of forest-stored carbon to the atmosphere, further destabilizing the global climate.</p><p>Amazon researchers are now taking a proactive stance to prevent the Amazon Tipping Point: "Our message to political leaders is that there is no time to waste," Nobre wrote in the SPA's press release.</p><p>Amid escalating forest loss in the Amazon, propelled by the anti-environmentalist agenda of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/04/satellite-data-show-amazon-rainforest-likely-drier-more-fire-prone-this-year/" target="_blank">experts fear</a> that this year's burning season, <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/07/fires-rage-in-the-amazon-despite-official-ban-greenpeace-photos-reveal/" target="_blank">already underway</a>, may exceed the August 2019 wildfires that shocked the world. Most Amazon basin fires are not natural in cause, but <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/09/brazilian-amazon-fires-scientifically-linked-to-2019-deforestation-report/" target="_blank">intentionally set</a>, often by land grabbers invading indigenous territories and other conserved lands, and causing massive deforestation.</p>
Scientists Offer Evidence, and Also Solutions.<p>Creating a workable blueprint for the sustainable future of the Amazon rainforest is no simple task. The solutions mapped out, according to the Amazon Panel's scientists, will seek to not only prevent deforestation and curb global climate change, but to generate a new vision and action plan for the Amazon region and its residents — especially, fulfilling development goals via a sustainable standing-forest economy.</p><p>The SPA, Nobre says, will make a critical break with the purely technical approach of the United Nation's IPCC, which banned policy prescriptions entirely from its reports. In practice, this has meant that while contributing scientists can show the impacts of fossil fuels on the atmosphere, they cannot recommend ending oil subsidies, for example. "We inverted this logic, and the third part of the [SPA] report will be entirely dedicated to searching for policy suggestions," Nobre says. "We need the forest on its feet, the empowerment of the traditional peoples and solutions on how to reach development goals."</p><p>Researchers across many academic fields (ranging from climate science and economics to history and meteorology) are collaborating on the SPA Panel, raising hopes that scientific consensus on the Amazon rainforest can be reached, and that conditions for research cooperation will greatly improve.</p>
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By Inés M. Pousadela
In early 2020, as millions went into lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the environment experienced temporary relief from the impacts of human activity. As skies cleared and birds and animals claimed city spaces, it became apparent that the young people who had mobilized for the climate across the world in 2019 were right: Much environmental damage is the result of human action, and as such, can also be reversed through human initiative.
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Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
Rainforests are an important defense against climate change because they absorb carbon. But many are being destroyed on a massive scale.
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By Tara Lohan
Would you like to take a crack at solving climate change? Or at least creating a road map of how we could do it?
When you build a tool like En-ROADS, who are you hoping uses it?<p>The tools that we build are used by quite a range of people, which is one of the exciting things about them.</p><p>Before En-ROADS we had a tool called C-ROADS, which was used in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. During the negotiations in Copenhagen it allowed people to add up what each country was offering to do in terms of emissions cuts and calculate what that would mean for the global temperature at the end of the century. That was of interest to the U.S. State Department under President Obama and negotiating parties from other countries.</p><p>As a young bunch of scientists, it was fairly thrilling to hand our results to a colleague who took them to [science advisor] John Holdren, who took them to the president.</p><p>Today we find En-ROADS having quite a lot of traction in the upper levels of companies and governments, but one thing we've learned over the years is that those high-level leaders really can't move further or faster than the civil society is ready to.</p><p>So we invest quite a lot in supporting teachers — university and high school — and advocates. We're in the middle of a second round of webinars training around 1,000 people to use En-ROADS so they can teach others.</p><p>These are people all around the world. One is interested in going to her members of Congress with her laptop and using the simulation to advocate for a better future for her kids.</p>
What does En-ROADS do differently from other computer simulations?<p>One thing we talk about is the democratization of this information. En-ROADS isn't breaking new scientific ground that other computer simulations of climate change don't do. In fact, often we're relying on that cutting-edge research of other groups.</p><p>But we have paid attention to making it run fast and making it freely available online, where most of these other tools aren't designed for those purposes. They're doing scientific research for other scientists. Top leaders can often get the input of those academics if they have a question or a scenario, but it's unlikely that a politically active mom who's trying to influence her member of Congress would have access to those kinds of tools. Whereas if she puts in the time to learn, she can use En-ROADS.</p><p>I think more and more, and especially in the last few years, we come across people who have the impression that [the climate crisis is] pretty much hopeless. "It's too late. We've left it too long." And En-ROADS, for those people, is motivating because it shows that the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement to keep temperature increase well below 2 degrees [Celsius] is still physically possible. There's a huge amount of social and political will needed to do it, but it's within reach.</p>
Your organization is guided by a practice you call “multisolving.” What is that?<p>In the early years of working with models like C-ROADS and En-ROADS, we were really focused on tons of greenhouse gases and how to limit those. And clearly that's the core of the problem. But what we found in Copenhagen was that, despite our group and a few others who were doing this analysis actually being heard, and being on the front page of top newspapers, it didn't lead to more ambitious pledges from countries.</p><p>There was a soul-searching moment for me and for Climate Interactive in realizing that just being good scientists within this narrow bound of counting tons of carbon isn't getting us onto the path we need to be on.</p><p>That got me interested in this question of what else would be different in a world that has gotten off of fossil fuels. This was around 2009-2010. I hired the best researcher I knew, and she went away and came back and handed me this report.</p><p>It said that the benefits of being off fossil fuels, when monetized — when you took all the lives saved, all the healthcare costs saved, all the jobs created — the savings were of the same order of magnitude as the cost.</p><p>I thought she had made a mistake. Because I had worked my whole career trying to convince people that it's going to be <em>hard</em>, it's going to be <em>expensive</em>, but we <em>need</em> to get off fossil fuels. And she was saying that if you just widened your scope and looked not just on the carbon side, but you looked at the lives and health and community well-being, we were going to reap all these benefits.</p><p>I felt like I had been spending my life on a problem that was framed in a way where we would never be able to solve it. But by expanding our view, the things we were missing — basically political will, political power and budgetary power — seemed like maybe they could be aligned.</p><p>After that, for a long time we talked about the "co-benefits," and that that was kind of the word at the time. And many people still use it. We ended up dissatisfied with that word because it sounds like climate change is the main benefit, and then there are these other nice co-benefits.</p><p>That's still putting CO2 at the center of the world.</p><p>To a parent who's been in the emergency room all night with a child with asthma, is protecting the climate 100 years from now the main benefit of closing the neighborhood coal-fired power plant? Or is ending asthma the main benefit and climate is a nice co-benefit?</p><p>So we made up the word "<a href="https://www.climateinteractive.org/programs/multisolving/" target="_blank">multisolving</a>" to talk about how all these problems matter.</p>
What does this look like in action?<p>We learned that by and large our systems are not set up to allow people to take advantage of these synergies. And just to give you one example, if a country is going to go on a low-carbon transportation plan, those are going to be costs that are felt by the ministry of transportation. But the savings are largely going to be felt by the ministry of health. There'll be less hospitalization, fewer premature deaths, less cardiovascular and respiratory illness, less premature birth. But the way current governments are set up, no transportation minister is going to get much political appreciation or an incentive by saving money for the health ministry.</p><p>So for the last few years we've been working more and more on how to bring people together, to build the relationships that are needed to take advantage of these synergies because — until people can shift their systems around in a way where they can act together across these different silos and boundaries and jurisdictions — this will all just stay theoretical.</p><p>One place we have been doing this is in Atlanta with a group called Partnership for Southern Equity. We're creating a community network, the <a href="https://sites.google.com/view/justgrowth/just-growth-circle?authuser=0" target="_blank">Just Growth Circle</a>, that can be mobilized to have influence, decision-by-decision, on the kind of pattern of growth and development that will eventually change a whole city.</p>
That kind of deep-relationship building isn’t something that can be done quickly. How do you balance that kind of work to establish these interconnections with the urgency of the climate crisis?<p>Wendell Berry said, "To be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial." But we're in the kind of emergency that calls for patience. Time is very short and yet to make the kind of changes we need to make requires trust and relationships that can't be rushed and can only be cultivated. All you can do is create the conditions for them.</p><p>If you have urgency — if you need to bring things to scale, if you're looking for transformation and not incremental change — then actually this very slow and patient work of building trust and relationships is the way that you get to a very fast and transformative change.</p>
Has anything shifted in your thinking in the last few months during this global pandemic?<p>There's been a lot of talk about opportunities for transformation within the pandemic, especially about the need for low-carbon solutions. The other side is the social safety net. A lot of what we need to do to help people through the pandemic is also what the smart people behind the Green New Deal have said from the beginning needs to be part of the plan.</p><p>When they talked about universal healthcare, childcare, gender equity programs and the job training side of it, lots of people responded that they were way outside their lane. "What does this have to do with carbon?" But the pandemic is showing us that if you want a society to be able to pivot rapidly, you need a social safety net to support people.</p><p>If you want to pivot to green infrastructure, if you want low carbon infrastructure, you're changing a whole workforce in a generation. The social safety net is the lubrication that allows that to happen with less friction.</p><p>The social safety net we need to build to get through the pandemic could be built to also carry us through the transition to a climate-safe economy. It's not the technical side of this transition, but it is the taking care of each other through the transition. That may sound selfless, but it's also highly practical because the transition isn't going to happen if we can't move a whole society very quickly.</p>
Storing large amounts of energy is key to using more renewable energy because the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine.