October 2021, Volume 27, Number 4
The sixth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in August 2021 concluded that human activities have emitted sufficient greenhouse gases to raise average global temperatures by 1.1C or 2F above 1850 levels. The IPCC expects global temperatures to rise by 1.5C or 2.7F above pre-industrial levels by 2040.
The 2021 IPCC report was the first to link extreme weather events to climate change, citing heat waves and wildfires in the western US and Canada and in southern Europe and flash floods in western Europe. The IPCC expects a billion people to face severe heat waves, floods and droughts every five years. If global temperatures surpass a tipping point, the glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland could melt, raising water levels and threatening coastal cities.
Avoiding further warming means reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Most industrial countries have enacted laws to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but China, which currently emits 30 percent of global greenhouse gases, is building more coal-fired power plants. China in September 2021 pledged to stop building coal-fired plants outside the country.
Some 195 governments will discuss the IPCC report in COP 26 in Glasgow in November 2021. Environmentalists hope that governments take actions to reduce deforestation and the use of fossil fuels; conservatives want to allow market prices rather than government regulation to deal with climate change. The first 86 country plans submitted to the COP 26 suggest that methane and carbon dioxide emissions will not fall enough to prevent global temperatures rising more than 2.7F.
The US had 22 weather and climate events that each caused $1 billion or more in damages in 2020, for total damages of $100 billion. During the first nine months of 2021, there were 18 billion-dollar events that led to $105 billion in damages, including $64 billion in damages from Hurricane Ida in southeast Louisiana August 29-September 1.
The summer of 2021 saw flash floods in July 2021 in Belgium and Germany that killed over 200 people. The so-called 100-year flood was the result of receiving a month’s worth of rain in a day, 70 liters or 18 gallons of water per square meter of land. Floods in China’s Henan Province in July 2021 killed dozens and left over 250,000 people homeless.
There were earlier and larger wildfires triggered by lightning strikes in northeastern Siberia that, combined with temperatures of 100F, are thawing once permanently frozen ground. Some 60,000 square miles, the size of Florida, burned in 2020. In 2021, over 60,000 square miles burned as of July 2021, releasing greenhouse gases that could change the earth’s atmosphere. Yakutsk, a city of 315,000 that is 280 miles south of the Arctic Circle and considered to be the coldest city in the world, was covered in smoke for much of summer 2021. Yakutsk and two-thirds of the Russian land mass is permafrost.
Global Witness conducted an undercover investigation in Papa New Guinea that included executives of palm oil firms explaining how they used local police to keep tribal villagers away from palm oil plantations. Indonesia and Malaysia produce three-fourths of the world’s palm oil, and some firms based in these countries have expanded to PNG.
Many multinationals have No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation policies (NDPE) to screen suppliers of palm oil, but Global Witness says that buyers do not always monitor and enforce supplier adherence to responsible sourcing standards. PNG had 360,000 acres of palm oil plantations in 2016, and hopes to have a million acres by 2030.
Several academics predicted in summer 2021 that the islands that are most resilient to the adverse effects of climate change are richer and can adapt. New Zealand tops the list because it places high on the Global Adaptation Initiative, which ranks places by their self-sufficiency in food and energy and their ability to cut themselves off from a disintegrating world.
Other islands on the list include Tasmania, Ireland, Iceland, Britain, the US and Canada. Researchers who study societal collapse or de-complexification predict that the loss of fossil fuels would make most people farmers dependent on animal power.
Arctic Ocean ice reached a low of 1.8 million square miles in September 2021, the 12th lowest area since satellites began measuring the Arctic’s ice area in 1979 and a quarter less than the average for 1980 to 2010. The Arctic Ocean ice that remains in September is becoming thinner.
However, Antarctica was colder during its winter in 2021. The average temperature at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station between April and September 2021 was minus-78F (minus-61C), the coldest since 1957, which increased sea ice around Antarctica. The record Antarctica low detected by satellites is minus 144F (minus 98C).