In the last week, there has been some more news that should focus our policy attention on climate change. Some news is promising: Texas legislators coming together to invest in anti-drought projects and the news (out of the UK, of course - why can't the US media report on important issues?) that President Obama is considering hosting an international climate summit. But...some news is depressing, if not downright scary: post-apocalyptic style air pollution in China and a national climate report that suggests we might have already run out of time to prevent climate change.
And all four things are getting less attention than they should from American media. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that Texas legislators are taking an interest in the consequences of a severe drought in their state: lack of water. This issue is likely to become a more widespread problem around the world due not only to climate change, but to population increase.
1. Beijing pollution beyond critical
The most distressing incident of the past week has to be the absolute crisis of air pollution in Beijing and other cities in China. "Off the charts" is how many scientists have described the level of particulate in the air. On a day when Beijing registered an air quality index of over 750, New York City's level was 19. Anything over 50 is considered hazardous. Until now, 500 was considered about as high as things could plausibly go. But, one doesn't need to see the data to know there is a problem. Just watch the coverage from Al Jazeera. That's not dense fog; it's air pollution. The entire city looks like the proverbial smoke-filled room, and it is just as dangerous to human health - only on a much larger scale. Beijing is dealing with ever-increasing traffic (from fossil fueled vehicles) and intense factory production fueled by coal.
2. National climate report circulated for public comment.
This report is, well, depressing. One interesting thing about the nonsense spouted by climate change deniers is the ironic charge that scientists are not being cautious enough. In fact, the empirical evidence is showing that scientists have been, as should be expected, very cautious in the conclusions and projections they have made about climate change. However, the change appears to be arriving quicker and more serious than even some worst case scenarios assumed. The evidence is beginning to suggest that we may have already passed a tipping point with the climate. It may be more important to start planning for adaptation rather than mitigation (although we should absolutely not give up on mitigation). Entire report available in: http://ncadac.globalchange.gov/.
Okay...well, now the good news. There are some policymakers trying to do something about the impacts of climate change, or at least the weather (it's unclear whether many of the Texas legislators would agree that their water problems are related to climate change).
3. Texas facing water crisis due to drought
Texas has been suffering from a drought since 2010. It's outdated water infrastructure is about to have its reckoning as "[e]ighteen public water systems were projected to run out of water in 180 days or fewer as of Tuesday, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which monitors and assists those systems." (NY Times, 1-13-13). This issue, which not only impacts regular people but is costing business as well, is bringing together all sides of the political debate to invest in a water infrastructure bank (to the tune of $2 billion) to manage this problem. Hopefully, it is a sign of recognition that serious action has to be taken to deal with the consequences of environmental crises.
4. Guardian (UK) reports that Obama is "seriously considering" hosting climate summit.
The news is not as good as it could - or, frankly, should - be. The president is considering hosting the summit. A summit itself at this point is fair cause for cynacism, but at least it does offer the potential for action. The president did say right after being reelected that addressing climate change was one of his priorities for his second term, but the lack of attention to the issue in the first term is making environmental advocates put increasing pressure on the White House and Congress. One opportunity for political attention to be directed to climate change is the likely special election in Massachusetts for Senator John Kerry's seat after he is confirmed as Secretary of State. Rep. Ed Markey is the Democratic front-runner (and only declared candidate as of this writing) and he could face former Republican Senator Scott Brown. Markey has a reputation of being a strong advocate of taking action to address climate change. As the race shapes up, this off-year election - which could have national implications - might help shape the public debate on climate change.
Well, that's just one week. Considering the past few years, it seems likely we'll have plenty to discuss each week on climate chaos and the (lack of) policy attention on it.
Whoops...I did forget one other thing! They had to add a new color to Australia's heat maps because of how hot it has gotten there. Apparently, purple is the new red. Fingers crossed that this week is uneventful... unless policymakers finally decide to take this issue seriously.
Originally posted by this author at The Big Idea.