Current Climate Extremes Double at 2 Degrees Warming and Quadruple at 3 – Lead IPCC Author

Yves here. We’e staring down the barrel of dire levels of climate change, yet just about no one is willing, much the less able, to move large groups of people into more modest carbon/energy using lifestyles immediately. In a way, this looks to be the ultimate downside of Chapter 7 of Émile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. He depicts what one might think of primitive societies as mechanical, where everyone is an interchangeable part. He calls modern societies organic, as in the farmer is enriched by the work of the opera singer, yet the opera singer depends on many many others to survive. The problem is in an organic society, you have to get pretty much everyone to move together to make far-reaching changes.

By Paul Jay. Originally published at


Even stabilizing at 1.5 degrees in global warming creates an unprecedented extreme climate. To avoid surpassing it we need radical measures now. IPCC co-led author of chapter 11, Xuebin Zhang, joins Paul Jay on

Paul Jay

Hi, welcome to I’m Paul Jay and in a few seconds, I’ll be back to discuss Chapter 11 of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] Report. It’s written in a very scientific and precise language, but when you kind of get what it’s saying, at least for me, it should scare the hell out of you. We will be back in a few seconds so please don’t forget the donate button, the subscribe button, and most importantly get on the email list by going to our website.

So, as I was saying the IPCC Report, the sixth such report, it’s done every seven years, it is a dire warning that humanity is on the road to a rather climactic climate catastrophe. That’s not their words but that’s more or less what they’re saying. Today, we’re going to focus on Chapter 11 in that report. According to Chapter 11, “Climate change has already increased the magnitude and frequency−”, I’m quoting here from the executive summary, “−of extreme hot events and decrease the magnitude and frequency of extreme cold events and in some regions intensified extreme precipitation events.” So, we’re saying it’s already happened.

“As the climate moves away from its past and current States, we will experience extreme events that are unprecedented, either in magnitude, frequency, timing, or location. The frequency of these unprecedented extreme events will increase with increasing global warming. Additionally, the combined occurrence of multiple unprecedented extremes may result in large and unprecedented impacts. This will be the case even if global warming is stabilized at 1.5°.” Let’s repeat, these extremes that we’re already experiencing are going to get worse as they get closer to 1.5°. Even if we are successful at stabilizing 1.5°, these extremes are still going to exist. As we’ll discuss later and we’ve discussed in other interviews, the odds of stabilizing at 1.5° are looking slimmer and slimmer.

All right, back to quoting from the report. “Relative to present-day conditions, changes in the intensity of extremes would be at least double at 2.0° centigrade−” Now get this, “The extremes will double at 2.0° centigrade.” A lot of scientists think we’re already on the way to 2.0°, even though people are calling for measures to stop that. Certainly, if the status quo of climate policy doesn’t change drastically, we’re more than likely to see 2.0°. These extremes will double, but they will quadruple at 3.0° of global warming.

I’m back to quoting from the report again, “−compared to changes at 1.5° of global warming. The number of hot days and hot nights and the length, frequency, and or intensity of warm spells or heat waves will increase over most land areas.” The report has in brackets, “virtually certain” which it does throughout the report, depending on whether they’re virtually certain or medium certain. I think at one point, in the report when they’re not virtually certain, it’s usually just because they don’t think they have enough data yet.

A report in another place says, “New evidence strengthens the conclusion−” from SR 1.5, I guess that’s the last report “−that even relatively small incremental increases in global warming−” that means 0.5° centigrade “−causes statistically significant changes in extremes on the global scale and for large regions, they’re high confidence. In particular, this is the case for temperature extremes. The intensification of heavy precipitation, including that associated with tropical cyclones and the worsening of droughts in some regions.” They have high confidence in all of these predictions. So, even 0.5° can have significant increases in these areas according to the report.

Now, joining us to discuss Chapter 11 of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report is Xuebin Zhang, from Canada. He’s also the coordinating lead author of that chapter and the chapter titled Weather and Climate Extreme Events in a Changing Climate.

Xuebin is a senior research scientist with the Climate Research Division of Environment and Climate Change Canada. He served as a lead author for previous IPCC Reports. He uses observations and climate model simulations to unravel climate responses to human activities, in particular, linking human-induced greenhouse gas changes, in mean and extreme temperature and precipitation. He’s been studying climate for more than 20 years. Thanks very much for joining us.

Xuebin Zhang

Thank you, Paul.

Paul Jay

Before we get into the science of the report and the chapter you focused on, first of all, working on this over the years, seeing more and more data, and getting a clearer picture of how dangerous the situation is. How does this affect you personally? Doesn’t this scare the hell out of you?

Xuebin Zhang

Well, when I started more than 20 years ago, I was not a firm believer in climate change. I was a young scientist looking at data and it did show something somewhere about changing climate, but not always. So, through the years, I saw the evidence was just accumulating with time. More in a way when we look at some places, we see more evidence. I am not necessarily scared, but what I see is that it is here. It is everywhere and has become a problem for us because we do need to think about what we can do and how we can adapt to this situation.

In particular, we will need to think about how our future generations can adapt to this kind of situation. I mean, we certainly want to reduce the emission in order to keep the warming as little as possible. On the other hand, no matter what we do, we simply cannot stop it right away. So, it is coming, and with big sudden intensity. Therefore, we need to do something about it. It’s not about being really scared but I know we need to do something about it just to survive.

Paul Jay

You’re still hopeful we can? Your colleague, from Switzerland who co-led this chapter of the report, has been quoted in the press as saying that she’s not so sure she wants to do another scientific assessment or be involved because it seems like a waste of scientists’ time. The policymakers and governments around the world are doing so little that essentially, what’s the point of another report when they already have enough information that should have given them enough sense of urgency to do far more than they are? Do you have similar feelings?

Xuebin Zhang

Well, if you are a doctor and your people don’t want to take the vaccine, what are going to do? Are you are going to tell them to take it again, and again, or just say, okay, I’m wasting my time, I’m not going to do it. I certainly understand the frustration but as a scientist, we still need to do our job. I mean, we still need to communicate, do our research, and provide the best science to the government policymakers as well as to ordinary citizens.

I mean, it’s similar, the situation that we have compared with the pandemic, it’s probably just many magnitudes bigger. So, simply, people do not take action, does not mean you shouldn’t be doing anything about it. I think that would be the kind of thing I see.

Paul Jay

Yeah. I saw another interview with her where she was saying she was mostly venting her frustration. She wasn’t saying she never would do it again, but it must be extremely frustrating for you. I take your point on the pandemic. Scientists have been predicting this pandemic for years. They’ve been warning governments to get ready for it and next to nothing was done. You’re right, we can get through a pandemic. We don’t get through the climate crisis if there isn’t more serious action taken. Is that true?

Xuebin Zhang

Yes. There’s a big difference between the pandemic and climate change. So, the pandemic is something that scientists told us, it’s coming. We are not really prepared, and nobody is seeing. So, I think that to some kind of degree we can understand that. The real problem with climate change is that we are actually seeing it. We are feeling it. With the pandemic, you get this vaccine. With the vaccine, you can go through it relatively quickly. With climate change, we are kind of like a frog in a small pot that’s being heated, and the water is just slowly increasing. So, when we are feeling very hot, we may not be able to jump out of the pot, we may just be cooked alive. There’s a fundamental difference between the climate crisis and the pandemic. That’s what I am worried about. That’s why I feel the kinds of actions that include the reduction of emissions as well as adaptation, are urgently needed. It’s needed because once we really feel we are in a big crisis or that we need to do something, it may be a little bit too late for us. The momentum of climate change is just so big that we cannot easily stop it.

Paul Jay

Some people think it may already be too late, in terms of, preventing reaching 2.0° centigrade. Do you think so? That given government policy as we see it now, it’s unlikely to fundamentally change within− some people say we have a window up to 2030 to take radically different measures to avoid hitting 1.5° warming above pre-industrial temperatures. Some people think the way we’re going, we are going to hit 1.5° and a lot of scientists along with others think, we are going to hit 2.0°. Do you think there’s still a chance to prevent that?

Xuebin Zhang

Well, the chance for us not to go too much beyond 1.5°, is still there. There still is a relatively small window that we can take action on very quickly. It does require a lot of action to reduce emissions. It’s not just something that is announced by all the governments out loud, at the moment. It’s probably not enough.

Paul Jay

Some governments are still talking about reaching the measures of the Paris Accords, but I’ve seen a lot of the IPCC scientists saying that, even if all the governments actually achieve the Paris Targets, we still hit 2.0°. That the Paris targets are not nearly enough.

Xuebin Zhang

Well, to stop global warming, we really need to have net zero. Essentially, we need to stop increasing our greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In order to make it cooler, later on, if we go beyond the Paris target then there actually needs to be a net reduction of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It’s relatively simple, physical chemistry, you can say that. So, it’s a balance of preservation on the matter.

Paul Jay

Now between the last report, the Fifth IPCC Assessment, and this one, the sixths, what alarms you the most over the last seven years?

Xuebin Zhang

I think what really alarmed me the most is how much we see now, especially the kind of spatial scale that is so small that we can see the changes in climate, as well as in many aspects of weather in climate extremes. This is not completely unexpected, but I mean to a large degree, we were expecting to see these kinds of things seven or eight years ago. In fact, we are actually seeing it. We are actually able to see it and validate what we were expecting several years ago. That sends a strong message to us that this thing that’s happening is here, and we need to do something about it.

Paul Jay

In the report, you model what the world, weather, and climate might look like at 2.0°and at 4.0°. I was kind of alarmed that you spent so much time dealing with 4.0° because a lot of what I’ve read, at least, 4.0° is a planet that’s unlivable for at least half the planet, if not more. Even in the Northern areas where you could say there’s still going to be life, there is going to be droughts, storms, and fires. I mean, 4.0° is a pretty serious territory, but you spent quite a bit of time using the 4.0° and 2.0°. When I asked you about that, you said, well, people can infer from that what 3.0° looks like. I take that, but it also means the possibility of 4.0° is very real. Otherwise, you wouldn’t spend so much time on it.

Xuebin Zhang

Yes, the possibility is there for two reasons. One is that even though we collectively have an understanding that a drastic reduction in emissions needs to be done, we as scientists do not know if that’s relative because it depends on all sorts of things that we simply don’t know could happen. That’s one area so, what if we cannot reduce the emission by as much as we hope we can? That’s one aspect.

The other aspect is that the future projections also become critical by what we call climate sensitivity. That is, how much the earth’s climate will increase by adding an additional amount of carbon dioxide. This is something that we still have a bit of uncertainty about. So, 4.0° will occur if the sensitivity does hit the high end of the range or level that we still feel is feasible. What I mean is that even if we reduce the emissions to a great level there is still an aspect of possibility that temperature can still hit to quite a high level, such as 4.0°.

Paul Jay

Just to dig a bit into the model, you talk with low confidence that there could be a triggering event, I don’t think those are your words but something that significantly speeds this process up. Some people use the word tipping point and the idea that this would continue to be a gradual increase to 1.5° to 2.0°, may not even be true. Something may happen that could actually precipitate effects of hitting 1.5° even within the next 10 years or so, rather than in 2040, which I think was the general thought of what might happen with the way things are going.

Xuebin Zhang

Yes, it’s not a chapter that we spent a lot of time on, with that particular question. There were several authors involved in that part of the assessment. What do we call it? Low likelihood of high impediment. It certainly can happen if a certain kind of condition is met. This is a kind of condition we simply don’t have a fairly good handle on at the moment.

There are many things we can think about that may make huge differences. For example, like, the shut down of thermohaline circulation of the Atlantic, that kind of energy transport belt in the ocean. We can say it in that way. That transports energy from the south to the north. If that changes or suddenly shuts down, recently there has been some kind of evidence that it is slowing down and getting unstable, that is the one kind of factor that can cause problems.

The other kind of thing I imagine, Greenland or the Antarctic ice sheet, if these suddenly collapsed and went into the ocean that would cause a lot of changes. Not only in the sea level but also, in aspect, the entire oceanic circulation. So, there are things that can cause this kind of problem. Remember, this kind of atmospheric oceanic circulation is what we call a chaotic system. The chaotic system can move in its own kind of particular trajectory, but at a certain point, it can also jump into another trajectory. This is what scientists called a butterfly effect many years ago, written by a famous scientist, Edward Lorenz. So, certainly, there’s a possibility, but most of the assessment is not based on that. It is a possibility that we feel we need to take into consideration when decisions and policies are made. This kind of impact is really catastrophic to the climate, probably beyond what we normally can imagine.

Paul Jay

In the report, you’re not saying such a thing is unlikely, you’re saying there’s not enough data to say if it’s likely or unlikely?

Xuebin Zhang

Yes. What the report says is such a kind of event. It is possible but we don’t have enough information to assess the likelihood or the possibility. You can say it in that way.

Paul Jay

Okay, you’re in Canada. So, let’s start with North America at 1.5°− if I understand correctly, we’re now at about 1.1° and we’re trying not to get to 1.5°, supposedly we’re trying. I don’t think, we, meaning the governments of the world, that ain’t me, aren’t trying hard enough. At any rate, what does North America look like at 1.5°? What does it look like at 2.0°?

Xuebin Zhang

Okay, so in general, like in Canada, the temperature has increased above twice the global warming rate. So, 1.5° is about 0.4° degrees higher than where we are now. You can imagine that, at that point, where our temperature may be above 0.8° degrees warmer than what we have now.

Paul Jay

Okay, let me understand what you’re saying correctly. You’re saying Canada is already a little warmer than the global average?

Xuebin Zhang

Our temperature has increased at about twice the rate of the global warming rate.

Paul Jay


Xuebin Zhang

Imagine the increase in the Arctic warms even faster because of the reduction in the snow and the ice. Yes, Canada warms faster than you would think, regarding global warming, because the oceans warm much slower than land. Also, we are in higher latitudes, we warm more.

Paul Jay

So, what does Canada look like at 2.0°?

Xuebin Zhang

At 2.0° we are going to be 1.5° warmer than we are now. You will see a much more drastic reduction in the snow. You will see quite a bit of an increase in heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires. For instance, the forest fires that we are seeing in the west. Then importantly, if you are aware, in the Western part of Canada there is a lot of water supplied by the glaciers or a winter snowpack melt. This kind of melting in winter will begin to occur much earlier. If you look at the water in the streams and rivers out west, that’s a fair bit of snowmelt that you will get much earlier. This means that during the summertime you will get much less water than you want. So, that would be quite a lot of changes and it can cause a lot of problems.

Paul Jay

Well, what’s left? We’re doing Canada and then we’ll do the United States. What does that do to Western Canadian agriculture, especially wheat, which is one of the most important pieces of the Canadian economy?

Xuebin Zhang

There will be a problem with that. When you have a temperature increase, the growing season starts earlier, and then you need to seed earlier. So, what could happen is that when you need water, you may not have enough. Even if you have the temperature, you may not have the water. If you seed it later, then the temperature will increase faster. So, the kind of wheat and barley stop growing when the temperature hits certain levels like 30°. I’m not focused on this area, but I saw impressions about this number, so when the temperature hits this number sooner, this means that the growing season for this kind of crop would be shorter. You would expect some kind of reduction in the following year for this kind of crop unless the cultivar is changed to suit higher temperature conditions.

Paul Jay

The fires we saw in British Columbia this year, I guess that’s just a taste of things to come.

Xuebin Zhang

I would think so. We don’t actually know exactly how fires will change, but what we know is dry weather is very conducive for fire and will increase a lot. So, if you get a lot of dry weather, you probably will expect some kind of increase in fires.

Paul Jay

This isn’t just about 2.0°, which is really extreme, although we’re likely getting there. We’re already seeing this at 1.1° so at 1.5° we’re already going to see a more extreme version of what we’ve seen this year, which means within 10 to 15 years.

Xuebin Zhang

Yes, I will expect that. We will be seeing more and more, and it is the kind of thing I’ve been seeing around the world. My work is not just about Canada. I’ve done work in other parts of the world, and we are actually seeing this. That is why in the assessment, in the summary for policymakers, and in our executive summary, we have a sentence that some who recently observed hot extremes noticed it was extremely unlikely for it to have occurred without human influence. It’s kind of like very extreme heat the way we experienced it in B.C. not so long ago. Similar to the extreme heat that people experienced in Europe last year. These are the kinds of things that if we didn’t have climate change, we didn’t have this kind of global warming, it probably wouldn’t happen as bad as we have experienced it so far. We are really seeing this coming.

Paul Jay

Well, most of our audience is American. Give us a picture of what the United States looks like at 1.5° and then at 2.0°. Let’s start with the same thing, maybe the west, agriculture, cattle, and then so on. Some people have talked about the U.S. at 1.5° and 2.0°, that the Western U.S. starts to look like a dust bowl. Is that an exaggeration?

Xuebin Zhang

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration.

Paul Jay

You don’t think that it’s an exaggeration?

Xuebin Zhang

No, we have a pretty good understanding of what is happening, what’s going on, and what will happen. It’s actually relatively simple physics. It’s going to get very hot, there won’t be much increase in precipitation, and quite likely there actually may be a decrease in precipitation. So, in the west, especially in the southern part of the U.S., you have an increase in temperature which is what we would say is virtually certain. Then you also have a pretty good chance the precipitation will decrease. It doesn’t really take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you are sitting by a stove and you also have less water, that’s what will happen. It becomes hotter and drier. It’s very simple, actually. It’s not about scaring anybody. It is just what’s going to happen.

Paul Jay

One of the things you point out in the chapter is the role of urbanization. I don’t know that people have talked about this that much, that I’ve seen at any rate, but as hot as it’s going to get, it could be much hotter in the cities and at night because urbanization increases the heat effect. What does that mean in terms of the amount of air conditioning, electricity? We already see brownouts often when it gets really hot and there’s not enough power for air conditioning. We can begin to imagine that in the next 10-15 years, in big cities, there will be much more heat and a breakdown of the ability of the power grid to support the air conditioning.

Xuebin Zhang

Well, yes, if power grids are not upgraded to meet the new demand and yes if the air conditioning technology is not hugely improved. Yes, if people continue to expand cities and build cities in the way that we have. With all the concrete we have used, of course, there are other kinds of aspects people can think about. You can think about building cities that are more urban-friendly in a sense. For example, people are talking about green roofs. Those kinds of aspects may reduce the heat coming into the cities or you can think about other kinds of things such as a sponge city that can help the water and precipitation to infiltrate into the soil and reduce the flooding. So, there are things people can do and there are a lot of things that if we don’t do it properly, we would be making the bad situation even worse.

Paul Jay

Yeah, because the more demand on the power grid for air conditioning, the question obviously arises well how are you generating electricity? If there hasn’t been a massive change to sustainable energy, it means there’ll be even more use of fossil fuel to cool the cities down, which of course, exaggerates the problem even more. I mean, all this points to the irrationality of government policy, and I don’t know if there’s any government on the planet that’s exempt from that irrationality, or should I use the word denial? You were comparing this before to the pandemic. You have pandemic denial, vaccine denial, even governments that accept on the face of it, or at least in language, accept the science of the IPCC Reports, the policy that evolves is as if they didn’t even see the report. We go back to your colleague’s frustration. Now, you work for the Canadian government so I don’t know how much you can say specifically, but it’s not like the people, not just in government, but the elites who have the real power, in the financial sector and otherwise, they see these reports, but they seem to continue in this bubble of denial.

Xuebin Zhang

There are two different kinds of aspects to me. Of course, I’m not a policy analyst, so I cannot really say a lot about policy. If you look back on our history, no matter who governs, someone eventually creates policy that can be governed by science and if you don’t follow it, you are going to be hit and you are going to pay the price for it. I think, at a certain point sooner or later we will learn what is the right thing to do and what is not the right thing to do.  So, following the guidance of science, I think, is the only way for us, for humanity to move forward right now. I think, human history is that we are pretty good at doing it, even though sometimes we pay this price to learn before we actually do things right.

Paul Jay

Yeah, but that’s the rub with this climate problem. In terms of human history, we kind of had thousands of years to work stuff out, even as stupid, short-sighted, or whatever. Yeah, humans usually got it eventually, but this is a problem, we don’t have eventually. We don’t have thousands of years. I can’t say it’s now or never. I guess there’ll be some humans left at the end of all this, but in terms of organized human society, it’s now. We’re in the decade that if we don’t make the changes now, the 4.0° level is probably inevitable by the end of the century and maybe even sooner the way things are going. I’m not exaggerating, am I?

Xuebin Zhang

No, you are not exaggerating. Yes, we do have to act now and quick. That’s the only way for everyone to get out of this crisis for the sake of our future generations. That’s the only responsible way for us to be human beings, I think.

Paul Jay

Okay, so if I understand it correctly, you grew up in China. In fact, you did most of your education in China. You did your master’s degree in China before you moved to Canada. I know on this IPCC Report, many Chinese scientists have been involved, you know many of them, and you’ve worked with them. What’s your sense of how serious the Chinese government is about addressing climate? A lot of people think that China may be in a better position to do something because of a planned economy, to some extent, and the ability to push things more quickly than perhaps in the United States. On the other hand, China’s use of coal is increasing, and some people are saying the argument that coal was only a transition doesn’t sound legitimate because there isn’t a fast enough move to solar and wind. Even though China is more advanced in solar and wind, especially solar, than most other countries, but the sense of urgency doesn’t seem to be in China either, when it comes really to what’s being done. What is your sense of what China’s approach is?

Xuebin Zhang

My sense is that they consider climate change as a real problem for them. That’s my sense and they really want to do something about it. They want to get into the carbon-neutral and they want to cut emissions. I certainly see a lot of action being taken there. For example, I visited my hometown not long ago, a few years back, and it was a very poor area when I left. To be honest, at the time people in our area and probably still, didn’t have enough to eat. So, that’s the kind of living condition that we went through. A few years back, when I went there to revisit, I couldn’t recognize anything. There was a high-speed railway transportation system and windmills were everywhere. That was very astonishing for me because I was not expecting that. At that time, I didn’t have friends who work on these kinds of things and they told me that they lose money by installing more windmills. Every windmill installed; they lose money. The government insists that you need to have a certain amount of power generated by wind in order to get other kinds of fundings. So, that is quite a low level of operations by the government. It’s not from the central government, it’s local like here, but more on a community level. So, from that, I do sense that they are very serious about it.

Of course, China has a huge population, and they are still growing currently. They have more kinds of energy issues than other places. So how much can they do and how much can they afford to do? That’s another question, but I do see the urgency. Also, there is a fairly strong pressure from the top, that something needs to be done.

What I feel is that all this kind of high-pressure for reduction of emissions really comes from the top of the government and will translate into action, including new scientific innovation. I’m quite certain that will come even though I cannot predict how fast it would be. In China, there are many people, not only just in the general population, but there are also many smart people who are innovative. I think they will find some solutions. The thing is, there is a huge political will to do something and within the Chinese system there is a political will at a high level, people underneath will just have to act. If people underneath don’t produce, they will be personally liable, and they can lose their positions. So, I think, it’s real. They are serious.

Paul Jay

That’s rather significant. I think the Chinese economy produces 30% of global emissions. If I’m right about that number, I mean, if China and the United States don’t get their act going, it’s not going to matter too much what the rest of the world does. Well, I don’t know if you can comment. What do you make about current American policy? Certainly, the language has changed since Trump. There are some initiatives that seem real but there seems to be so much emphasis on carbon capture, carbon sequestration, and a certain amount of technology, that actually doesn’t seem developed enough to make a difference in nine years by 2030. What’s your take on that?

Xuebin Zhang

Well, this kind of carbon capture is really not the type of subject I work on, but if you look at their recordings in the states. If you look at how they deal with the pandemic. I don’t know how much confidence you have when it comes for them to deal with climate change.

Paul Jay

Yeah, that’s a good point. If you can’t deal with vaccinations on a national basis. How are you going to deal with climate when half−

Xuebin Zhang

That’s the point.

Paul Jay

Yeah, well that’s a rather terrifying point that leads one even more to the conclusion that we are on our way to 2.0° or 3.0°. Alright, well listen, that’s good for today. Thank you. I will come back to you again and we’ll dig into some more of the particulars if we can.

Xuebin Zhang

Sure. Thank you.

Paul Jay

Alright, thanks very much for joining me.

Xuebin Zhang

Thank you.

Paul Jay

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  1. Tom Stone

    Oh, shit.
    The evergreen trees are dying here in Sonoma County and we have more than a Month to go before the rains arrive, if they do.
    And this is just the start.

    1. Ian Ollmann

      The redwoods are looking a bit brown around here too.

      Of course they do traditionally molt in Sept-October time frame, which means that right now the 3rd and 4th year fronds are busy turning brown and getting ready to drop off in the next big wind in a few weeks. A reasonably healthy tree should be expected to have green tops of branches with some brown hanging down below them. Nonetheless, I see a couple of trees next to Hwy 17 that have gone entirely brown, which is never a good sign.

  2. Brooklin Bridge

    “If you look at how they [Western powers] deal with the pandemic. I don’t know how much confidence you have when it comes for them to deal with climate change.”

    Exactly what’s going through my mind. The only issue with extinction is we need to put it off a little longer to maximize the profit potential of the everlasting right now and the pandemic is perfect for that.

  3. Ian Perkins

    Zhang talks of reducing our emissions, and of aiming for net zero, both of which are good ideas and long overdue. But emissions usually means emissions from human activity, such as burning fossil fuels or making cement. Siberian wildfires don’t, I think, count as CO2 emissions, but they’ve contributed an estimated 800 Mt of CO2 to the atmosphere this year, adding to the likelihood and severity of future regional heat and drought, and hence future wildfires. Then we have CO2 and CH4 from melting permafrost, which could give rise to positive feedback, if it hasn’t already, with melting permafrost leading to more GHGs leading to further melting.

    Climate scientists warned us thirty years ago that we needed to stop our CO2 emissions. Various leaders proposed continuing emissions, but limiting them to say 90% of the previous year’s – in other words, making the problem worse, but not quite as quickly. And what has actually happened? Our GHG emissions have increased most years, and now we have sources essentially beyond our control, threatening to become self-sustaining.

    1. jsn

      Yep, and we’ll have good evidence on “tipping points” shortly, as we live through them: Atlantic conveyor, permafrost melt, Siberia and BC forest fires, Amazon bason as a carbon add, Greenland ice sheet etc..

      We’re still more or less on Limits of Growth’s worst case, business as usual, outcome, diagrammed in the 70s.

      Maybe with the appropriate shovel to the head from Nature, we can shake ourselves form our Capitalist torpor and change.

      1. Ian Ollmann

        Nature and the poor will get hit the hardest. The wealthy will buy their way out, until they can’t.

  4. Louis Fyne

    Air temperature will be a side show when compared to the big cluster-f is the acidification of the ocean.

    the only immediate way to make progress is Fission + wind + institutional solar + conservation. not happening though as certain activists are irrationally against fission

    1. fajensen

      All it takes is one of those nuclear dumps getting a flash flood and distributing some of the Good Stuff that pops couldn’t be arsed to clean up and then more than “certain activists” will be *rationally* against fission :p.

      1. Louis Fyne

        During one of the biggest demand werks for electricity (east of the US Rockies) this year, right now, the wind turbines are only generating 2% (200 MW at 11:45 ET) of their max. capacity as a heat dome weather pattern has shut down the winds.

        So right now roughly 50% nat gas, 25% coal, 20% fission are creating electricity for everyone east of the rockies…except those connected to Hydro Canada.

        This is not sustainable unless you want ventilators, and refrigerators and A/C to be turned off.

        1. fajensen

          They are going to be turned off. One can decide to deal with this now by using less energy, or one can let circumstances decide and then deal with the mess of the “unforeseen” later. New Orleans is getting a “Prequel”, I think.

          Extrapolating from the clunky installations at the Holiday Inn in Knoxville, I stayed at, I’d guess that one could save 30% of the HVAC required JUST with better building standards and better HVAC equipment. Here, in the EU, most of the cheap & simple options are already extracted and we are two decades into HVDC overlays, battery storage and Smart Grids.

    2. The Historian

      As a person whose career was in nuclear, I would not consider myself irrational, yet I am pretty much against using fission as an energy source for many reasons. Some things to think about:
      1. It is wasteful. Only about 4-6% of a fuel rod can be used. The rest of the rod becomes unusable garbage.
      2. What do we do with all the spent fuel rods that have to be maintained for thousands of years? Do you want them in your back yard? Because that is where they are going to have to go if we rely heavily on nuclear power.
      3. Where do you build these nuclear plants? Because they rely HEAVILY on clean water for heat transfer and power generation so they need to be by a large source of water. And water is going to be our next shortage. Also, I think Tepco realized some of the dangers of having a nuclear plant close to the sea. What the earthquake didn’t destroy, the tsunami certainly did.

      That said, there is no form of energy production that is without problems and that isn’t wasteful. So no technology is going to save us from ourselves. Our only hope is to stop consuming so much of everything!

      1. saywhat?

        Except much of our consumption is required:
        1) to keep the economy going.
        2) as pitiful compensation (“mess of pottage”) for legally stolen* birthrights such as family farms, businesses, and the commons.

        Our economy not only steals from the general population but degrades them too.

        Besides, Jimmy Carter tried the 55 mph and wear sweaters indoors and was roundly defeated by someone with a more hopeful approach.

        And heck, technology IS saving us by allowing, for examples, work from and entertainment viewing from home.

        So spare us hair-shirts, please; most people think they are already suffering too much from wage slavery. Free them and they should automatically consume less.

        *e.g. government privileges for private credit creation.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Carter’s defeat was at least in part due to that ” hostages in Iran” thing. Though whether entirely or not is a matter of debate.

          Also, the 55mph speed limit on Federal Interstate Highways first came in during the “Energy Crisis” ( an “oil crisis” really) during the Nixon Administration. Along with even-or-odd number days on your license plate entitling you to get gas on “your day”.

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          In some cases, a ” live smarter, not harder” approach to conservation living may be possible.
          If your house is a super-insulated passive-house, for example, making a lot of its own heat and chill, then a lot less fossil energy than otherwise is required to assist the house in keeping itself comfortable. Possibly so much less that renewable would be enough and fossil would not even be needed.

          1. Ian Perkins

            I’d guess that billions around the world don’t have super-insulated passive-houses, including large numbers in developed countries. For many of them, energy is required for comfort, if not survival, and renewable energy isn’t always available.

            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              The WesterModern Industrial World is still rich enough to passivise or semi-passivise and also super-insulate housing for its 1 billion people. That would lower energy use enough to measure.

      2. jsn

        All good points. This is why Yves goes on and on about radical conservation.

        When you look at the disproportionate energy use by income and wealth percentiles, you realize how concentrated and localized the problem really is.

        The problem is that locale is the locale of power, and power believes, so far, it can fix things for itself (and apparently has a “devil takes the hindmost” attitude towards the kids).

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          And toward the powerless non-kids as well, who are already suffering under the global warming climate d’chaos decay already under way.

          1. jsn

            Goes without sayin’, dude!

            Like they should give an f’ for the likes of you and me?

            Who do you think we are? ;)

      3. drumlin woodchuckles

        Somewhere in the middle of his book Storms Of My Grandchildren, NASA atmospheric scientist James Hansen devotes 2 pages to a “layman’s re-examination of nuclear power”.

        He first admits to being a layman in the nuclear affairs field, just like us all, and says he is just doing his best. He then goes on to describe plans which existed and were tried and proven real-world workable for a fully fast near-total fuel-consumption reactor. The heat releasing fissioning nucleii kept de-stabilizing other nucleii which then released heat and further fissionogenic particles to fissionise further nucleii. Hansen claimed this method could radioactivate and consume 97 percent of all possible fissionable material in a fuel rod or fuel-whatever-shaped-object. Leaving the last 3 % behind to be storable in vitrified glass-balls.

        He wrote about how the AEC and the Defense Establishment worked together to also create a half-fast breeder reactor which they slyly misnomered as a “fast breeder reactor” to create plutonium within the rods. The real purpose was to extract the plutonium for bomb making. The so-called ” fast breeder reactor” ( which was really a fake name for what was really a half-fast breeder reactor) was strictly and only invented to make plutonium for bombs. And opposition finally killed it, along with any knowledge of the separate and separately viable Full-fast breeder-consumer reactor.

        But that is what Hansen thinks and writes. Is it true? Could it be true? At the very least, those two pages in Hansen’s book might be worth finding and reading.

        1. fajensen

          Well, If one separates the bulk of the neutron production from the fission process, then one can adjust the isotopes that are created and one can overcome the loss of neutrons to impurities by adding more neutrons. That way most of the fuel and isotopes can actually be “burned” up.

          There is a pilot plant under development in Belgium, MYRRHA.

          I think the “mixing 4 decades of fuel together at once” in a reactor, hoping to “burn” it all will be about as clever and successful as the gunpowder internal combustion engine (which was attempted with some determination, presumably until all the promoters of that technology had blown themselves up).

          Technical and engineering problems is, IMO, what killed the breeder reactors. Most engineering materials does not stand up to a high neutron flux and high temperatures. At some point repairs are needed, except, the radiation puts a crimp on that.

    3. Zamfir

      I used to work nuclear engineering for a while. I quit after Fukushima, as I saw no future anymore. My personal view:

      – Activism is not stopping nuclear power. Activists try to stop many things, and usually fail. If activism was this powerful, we would not be talking about climate change today! For nuclear power, many non-activists are opposed or skeptical. Those people make the difference, not activists.

      – Nuclear safety is the sole determining issue for public opinion, as far as I can tell. Cost and delays are also important, but these are driven by safety. Everything else (waste, proliferation, availability of fuel, etc) is the stuff of activism, but would be shrugged off by the wider public.

      – The publicly demanded standard for safety is very high. Effectively, no large accidents anywhere in the world, in a lifetime. In nuclear safety, that gets translated into things like “large release frequency below 1in10^6 reactor years”, but it just means “none”.

      – The nuclear sector cannot guarantee in advance (or even truly know) that they will meet that high standard, even where they are in fact meeting it. There is no objective safe-o-meter. The only truly reliable measure of safety is the actual record. For aircraft safety, people used to accept several major crashes per year. At that rate, the industry had hard evidence of its safety performance, and it could objectively show improvement. That doesn’t work for nuclear safety – even genuinely safe plants cannot prove that they are as they as safe as demanded.

      I do not see a clear way out of this situation. I would personally support a nuclear plant next door, without hesitation. But I don’t have a convincing argument to change other people’s mind on that.

  5. Tom Pfotzer

    What are we doing at the individual level to adapt?

    Society is a summation of the individual.

    It’s easy to criticize leaders, because that absolves one of responsibility.

    The reason nothing’s happening at the top is because nothing’s happening at the bottom.

    Leaders can’t take a people anywhere the people aren’t already.

    Leadership is a myth.


    I have been to very many meetings of local progressives / greens / “concerned people”.

    After all the virtuous remarks, we all get into our cars, go to the grocery store, stop at the Exxon station to fill up, go home to our extravagantly energy-inefficient homes.

    We get up in the morning and drive a 3000 lb car 30 miles to work, work in an extravagantly energy-inefficient office building, and then drive our heavy car back home.

    Nobody’s making us do this. We do it because “it’s easier”. And it _is_ easier.

    We’re not dealing with climate change because it’s expensive in the short run at the individual level.

    1. Mike

      However, if you’re a full-patch member of the upper-middle class, you can’t just live simply when your entire social circle is consuming like crazy. For example, a few years ago my wife and her relatives planned a trip to Borneo to see the orangutans. Should I have said, “Have fun with the kids on the plane, I’m staying home.”??

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        I have some tangential experience with this problem.

        As background….a long time ago, my Dad said “Tom, whatever you have…has you”. He was speaking about possessions. I later came to realize that one type of possession is our social relationships.

        Those relationships exert more influence on us than we do on them.

        This caused me a great deal of discomfort for a long time. I was getting progressively out of step with “most everyone else”, and the out-of-step reasons were pretty fundamental.

        Finally, the cognitive dissonance hit some kind of threshold, and I decided to do something about it.

        I conducted a referendum on those social relationships. Some got retired, most were modified to some degree. It didn’t happen fast, nor necessarily very well (on my part). But it did happen.

        The one thing I didn’t do, really, is to gradually and gently explain to the other parties what was going on. I just did it. I’m glad I did, as now I am free to go where my judgement takes me. I’d be even gladder if I had done the job well.

        It’s good you raised this point. It’s real. Putting the ka-bosh on something everyone else wants is no fun, for anyone.

        I bet there’s a way to bend the trajectory curve fast enough and still make the ride fun.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      The upper-class operatives who destroyed or aborted any alternatives you had to what you describe may fairly be blamed for passive-default making you do the things you describe by exterminating every other possibility for any other way to do those things.

      It is certain black-hat upper class actors who created the 3-way conspiracy of General Motors, Standard Oil of New Jersey and Firestone Tire and Rubber to create plausibly-deniable front companies to buy up and destroy streetcar and trolley systems all over America, for example. You can’t take the trolley when no trolley exists, and you can’t take the train where no trains go.

      So doing something other than what you describe yourself and the people you know doing is more than a little inconvenient. It will be difficult and painful. And that is where rage, hatred and revenge come in.
      If you-all can figure out how “doing things differently” in your own lives can lay out a way to get revenge on the merchants of fossil by destroying their businesses and lives, you might be more motivated to do it for getting revenge than for “saving the earth”. Especially if you adopt things which could actually destroy the enemy if enough other people took those things up.

      ” With a head full of plans and a heart full of hate, we can make things happen.”

  6. Petter

    I just read that this coming weekend Oslo can break the record for number of “summer days”, that is days over 20 degrees C. Don’t put away your bikini or shorts yet, advises the article. Not only can Oslo break the record this weekend but other parts of the country can reach 25 degrees. Yippee. Oh yes, there are wildfire warnings but hey, enjoy the warm weather /s. Not once does the article not mention climate change, even though it acknowledges that this summer has been unusually warm and dry. The unusual is becoming usual. I’m shaking my head.

  7. Captain Obious

    I must be missing something somewhere, or maybe it’s of no import, but I have to wonder what the impact of the huge amounts of smoke from all the wildfires (California gets all the attention, but Siberia is worse) is on our atmospheric conditions, and whether these effects are permanent and/or cumulative. Months and months of it, and more to come…

    1. Ian Perkins

      In the short term, the smoke can have a cooling effect.
      Dense wildfire smoke can temporarily block sunlight near the ground, causing regional temperatures to drop by several degrees. Wildfire smoke can also have global cooling effects by making clouds in the lower atmosphere more reflective or blocking sunlight in the upper atmosphere, similar to what a volcanic eruption does.
      But that cooling effect is probably dwarfed in the longer term by the vast amounts of carbon dioxide released.
      As a driver of climate change, wildfires release huge quantities of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. In British Columbia, extreme fire years in 2017 and 2018 each produced three times more greenhouse gases than all other sectors of the province combined. While trees can and do regrow after fire, building back carbon takes time, which is precisely what we lack in the fight against climate change.
      And I think the fires in British Columbia are small in comparison to those in Siberia.

  8. Ignacio

    This summer fresh records of high temperatures have been settled in many places. It was a relatively cool summer in Spain until a heat wave in August set a 48°C record and an all time European record in Sicily at nearly 49°C in Syracuse. Unfortunately these won’t last for long.

  9. Kouros

    I read somewhere that the fabled frog being slowly boiled had its brain removed first. I think this is a very important distinction that needs to be made. The fact that someone has high jacked our collective brain and we are all marching like lemurs towards the fabled cliff…

  10. exvermonter

    OK I will try again as for some reason my first comment was not deemed suitable for the readership. It is fairly obvious that ending industrial activity will end aerosol masking, other wise known as global dimming..take a look at what happened to global temperatures just after 9/11 when the aerosol masking from air travel suddenly ended. Just do some searches of the literature on global dimming…The problem simply is that global dimming or aerosol masking has been slowing global warming…end it and the warming will not slow down it will increase its velocity. So as I said before it is time to stop the bargaining and move on to another stage of grief.

  11. John

    I do not think it is possible that the developed world, and especially the United States, is capable of the radical action needed to ameliorate must less avert the climate catastrophe that is hurtling toward us until it smacks them in the face and perhaps not even then. I grieve for my grandchildren who will inherit the negligence of previous generations.

    1. JD

      Grandchildren? I’m 53 and am inheriting it currently. I am guilty of believing up until a few years ago that I would escape relatively unscathed. Not anymore. It will most likely be lung damage from chronic, long-term smog and smoke inhalation. But it might also be fire or flooding directly. Or lastly, Jackpot and subsequent initial violence and lack of resources/resilience in old age. These are all rapidly becoming more probable than gentle, peaceful, natural causes. It is no longer a burden for future generations only. The future is now.

    2. fajensen

      I think only the developed world will be able to pull it off, the rest are goners. The USA is a special case, being a mixture of 3’rd and 1’st world, where the 1’st world portion are quite happy with the rest getting a sticky end.

  12. Sound of the Suburbs

    Why will globalisation be an environmental disaster?

    Western companies couldn’t wait to off-shore to low cost China, where they could make higher profits.
    Maximising profit is all about reducing costs.
    China had coal fired power stations to provide cheap energy.
    China had lax regulations reducing environmental and health and safety costs.
    China had a low cost of living so employers could pay low wages.
    China had low taxes and a minimal welfare state.
    China had all the advantages in an open globalised world.

    Environmentally friendly measures cost money and reduce profit.
    The goal is to maximise profit.

    Why do firms move to Mexico and export into the US?
    Companies prefer Mexico with its cheap labour, lax health and safety standards, and lack of environmental regulations.
    They can expose workers to hazardous chemicals and just pump toxic waste straight out into the environment, without incurring the costs associated in dealing with them in an environmentally friendly way.
    Every avenue must be explored to reduce costs.
    The lower the costs, the higher the profit.

    The more environmentally friendly you are, the less internationally competitive you will be.
    “ ….. today, authorities in Inner Mongolia approved restarting production at 38 open-pit coal mines to boost China’s supplies ….”
    “Meanwhile, Chinese banks are financing a blizzard of new coal plants across South East Asia as part of the Belt and Road”
    Coal is one of the cheapest forms of energy.
    It will help them keep costs down.

    “Show me the incentive and I’ll show you the outcome” Warren Buffet’s partner Charlie Munger

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