Antarctic Thwaites Glacier, Arctic Sea Ice Year 2020 in Review, Climate Adaptation Summit (CAS) 2021, Global average surface temperature 2020, Global climate crisis, Global Landscapes Forum 2020, US President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Year of Fire 2020
News from the White House made my day on Wednesday, January 27. Acknowledging that climate change is an existential threat, our President Joseph Biden signed an Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.
“It is the policy of my Administration that climate considerations shall be an essential element of United States foreign policy and national security,” said President Biden.
In his Administration’s commitment to addressing the global climate crisis, he also confirmed the appointment of former Secretary of State John Kerry as America’s first Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.
Another first will be the establishment of the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Headed by the Assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor, the Climate Policy Office will coordinate the domestic policy-making process and monitor its implementation nationwide. The National Climate Adviser will also chair the National Climate Task Force that will be comprised of twenty-one members from across federal agencies and departments. With the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative, our youth—who were clamoring for urgent action before the pandemic drove them off the streets—will have the opportunity for training in conservation and climate resilience.
At last, a government-wide approach to addressing the climate crisis!
To achieve a sustainable clean energy economy and meet our commitment of net-zero carbon emissions by no later than 2050, our nation will need millions of construction, manufacturing, engineering, and skilled-trades workers to build new infrastructure.
President Biden noted: “Such jobs will bring opportunity to communities too often left behind—places that have suffered as a result of economic shifts and places that have suffered the most from persistent pollution, including low-income rural and urban communities, communities of color, and Native communities.”
It is my hope that the escalating evidence of Mother Nature’s fury will silence the voice of climate change deniers within the Biden Administration.
After four years of US disengagement from the global climate change leadership community, our newly appointed climate envoy John Kerry had the unenviable task of kiss and make up. On January 25, he participated in the online international Climate Adaptation Summit (CAS) 2021 hosted by the Netherlands on January 25 and 26. Participants included more than 30 world leaders, 50 ministers, 50 international organizations, scientists, and representatives from the private sector, civil society, and youth climate activists. The time has come to accelerate adaptation action for a global climate resilient future in 2030—less than ten years away.
In a video message, Kerry told participants: “We’re proud to be back [in the Paris climate agreement]. We come back, I want you to know, with humility, for the absence of the last four years, and we’ll do everything in our power to make up for it.”
The USA has a lot of making up to do for lost time. Time is running out to limit temperature rise to 34.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius). An analysis by NASA shows that Earth’s global average surface temperature in 2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record.
“The last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record, typifying the ongoing and dramatic warming trend,” said Director Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.
Rising temperatures are causing loss of sea ice and ice sheets, sea level rise, longer and more intense heat waves, and shifts in plant and animal habitats. Parts of our planet are also warming faster than others, according to Schmidt. The Arctic has warmed more than three times faster over the past 30 years.
In their Arctic Sea Ice Year in Review, released on January 5, 2021, the US National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) observed that the year 2020 was extreme for the Arctic, even compared to the past 20 years. Notable was the extreme heat over Siberia. In June 2020, the temperature in Verkhojansk, Russia, broke the record with 100℉ (38℃). That is hotter than it was here in Los Angeles. At the south pole in Antarctica, the situation is just as alarming. The warmer oceanic water is melting the continental ice sheet from below, as demonstrated in the NASA Goddard video below: “Rising Waters: Out-of-Balance Ice Sheets” (duration 2:45 minutes).
The Year 2020 was also the year of fires. Hosting a series of online discussions on October 21, 2020, about the causes and outlooks of the world’s wildfires, the Global Landscapes Forum brought together experts from Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, and the United States.
“Climate change is the picture of the fire landscape now. We’ve been saying that for a couple of decades, and we knew that around about now we’d start to see the impact of climate change on bushfires,” said Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist at the Climate Change Research Center at Sydney’s University of New South Wales, Australia. “In terms of long-term strategies, we’ve got to just do more than adapt. We need to mitigate. That is the bottom line.”
In Siberia and Russia, climate change is causing winters to become shorter and weather to become drier and windier, notes Anton Beneslavskiy, a forest fire expert and firefighter with Greenpeace Russia. These conditions lead to more intense fires occurring across larger areas.
“We fight fires, we do not sleep, we get post-traumatic stress disorder, and we wait for the rain. So, we just keep [the fire], we do not fight it. We keep it until the rain comes,” said Beneslavskiy.
Leila Salazar-López, executive director of Amazon Watch, who lives in San Francisco, Northern California, described the new normal across large parts of California which were engulfed in toxic smoke in September 2020.
“Our new normal in the Bay area has been constantly checking the AQI [air quality index],” she said. “I have, like, four different apps on my phone looking at what the air quality is like. Usually, you look at what the weather’s like, but now we’re also looking at the AQI, the air. Can I go outside? Can my kids go to the park today?”
When wildfires rage close to my home in Los Angeles County in Southern California, I am also forced to stay indoors. Last year, even my thriving Firestick succulent plants collapsed in the smoke-filled toxic air.
To be continued – Part 2: UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2020 & NOAA National Climate Report 2020.