Most of my writing on climate change has shown some level of despondence. So far. But now I’m beginning to see a gleam on the horizon. Despite what has happened this summer. The ungainly ships of state are beginning to turn around. Here are some examples.
The United Kingdom
The UK’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak has been walking back some of his government’s promises on climate. For example, he has been pushing back several green targets from 2030 to 2035, including a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars; relaxing the phaseout of new gas boilers; and cessation of drilling for oil in the North Sea. His reason is that he doesn’t want to unduly burden citizens with the costs associated with these changes.
At the end of what is generally the hottest month of the year in the northern hemisphere, I suppose it’s time to do a climate check for August 2023. Here’s list of some of what has happened, in no particular order.
Hurricane Hilary turned from a Category 4 Pacific hurricane into a tropical storm as it threatened Southern California for the first time in 84 years. There was at least one fatality and almost 3,000 people were displaced by it.
Typhoon Doksuri struck northern China, causing the most rain to fall in Beijing since records were first kept in 1883. It also caused a severe risk to one of Xi Jinping’s pet projects: Xiong’an New Area.
Hurricane, then Tropical Storm Idalia devastated sections of northern Florida. Hundreds of thousands of people were without power and rescuers pulled dozens of people from flooded homes.
Franklin will go down as the first major hurricane 2023 season: a category three with winds of 115 mph 120 mph. This one is not a threat to land.
NOAA forecasters predict an “above normal” hurricane season as a result of record warm sea-surface temperatures.
NOAA forecasters predict excessive heat across the south-central US.
Climate change continues with an annual temperature increase of 0.14F (0.078C)
The 10 warmest years in the historical record have all occurred since 2010.
Heat domes seem now to be an annual phenomenon in the US and Europe as the jet stream reconfigures itself.
Canadian wildfire emissions are 6 times higher than average this year. A forest fire in Greece is the largest ever recorded by the European Union.
The temperature trend is up everywhere. Global warming continues apace, with little substantive prospect of a change in its rate. Governments and industry worldwide may be described as inactive at best, regressing at worst, with little prospect for change in the near future. They all are kicking the can down the road; maintaining their promises for 2030 or 2050 but failing to make significant progress toward their announced goals. The UK seems to be the leader in that trend, with Rishi Sunak waffling on, or even negating previous decisions on drilling for oil in the North Sea.
I suppose that I should apologize for being impatient but I’ve been putting up with this foot-dragging for more than a half century now. I’m tired of it. If you’re with me, keep yelling at the climate perpetrators to make real, positive changes. Otherwise it will steadily continue to get worse.
Heat is altering the future on this planet. If you haven’t yet personally experienced the effects of global warming, you surely must have heard about them. July, like June, has produced record-breaking temperatures world wide. If that’s not bad enough, the future will clearly get worse every year, according to almost all scientists who study the phenomena.
Unless we, collectively, do something about it. The sooner we act, the quicker this trend will slow down. By acting I mean stopping putting carbon into the atmosphere. Stopping, not reducing. Every additional atom of carbon dioxide or methane in the atmosphere makes thing a bit worse. Regardless of its source.
For example, Phoenix, Arizona, has had 31 straight days in June-July with the temperature at or exceeding 110F (43.3C). For reference on the human impact of this temperature, NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has a handy chart showing the relationship between temperature, humidity and human survival. Note that 110F with only 36% humidity makes sunstroke, heat cramps or heat exhaustion likely and heatstroke possible with prolonged exposure and.or physical activity. Even at 10% humidity those problems are possible. But for 31 straight days? Next year it might 40 straight days.
Of course Phoenix is a desert city and its humidity tends to be low in summer but the point is that the annual number of really hot days is increasing faster than seems possible just a few years ago. Kim Stanley Robinson’s prophetic book “The Ministry of the Future” begins with a story about a (fictional) city in India that suffers a devastating heat wave that kills most of its population. Review that NOAA chart for your own location.
All of this is because we continue to pump more carbon into the atmosphere, day after day. That has to stop if we are to survive long term. If we are to stop the boiling.
My blog in May, written by Lucy Reed, focused on what you personally can do to relieve climate stress. I’m focusing here on the broader picture of what must be done to stop climate change. There are three main objects of needed effort: government; polluting industry and us.
I remember, in the early 1970s, wondering about the impact of widespread telecommuting on CBDs (Central Business Districts). How might the CBDs be transformed by that? What would the CBD’s roles be then?
But my first priority in 1973 was to discover whether telecommuting worked at all in the real world; never mind the chances of millions of home-based telecommuters suddenly popping into existence.
I recall drafting a paper on the optimum size of cities being around 500K-800K population. My reasoning was that this mid-size could preserve most of the key characteristics of big cities without all the nasty side effects like traffic congestion, air pollution, etc. Those key characteristics included a large enough tax base (based on property) to provide basic services including transit plus art and entertainment centers and other facilities that tend to make a place unique. The paper remained as a draft and I never got it published.
Reports of growing climate disasters keep arriving. If you continue to read them the result may be an increase in your stress levels. Here are some comments from Lucy Reed of GigMine on possible options for de-stressing while also doing something positive to change the future.
Five Ways to Cope with Climate Anxiety While Making a Difference
Paying attention to climate issues can be stressful, especially when spending hours per week trying to stay informed. Sometimes, it can be easier to check out and not pay attention to prevent an overload of anxiety. Statistics show that 60% of young people feel worried about the environment. Thankfully, there are ways to make an impact while taking care of your mental and physical health. Today, JALA International shares five ways to cope with climate anxiety while making a difference.
A major activity these days involves the struggle over hybrid work; deciding the split between working at home and in the office. Many teleworkers want to do it at home full time. Most employers are more concerned with getting them back into the office at least some of the time. The big question is: how much of each works best.
The answer, of course, is: it depends.
Here’s an intro to the topic, courtesy of ChatGPT. When I asked the AI about the overall personal requirements for successful tele/remote-working, here’s what I got, in about 40 seconds.
As a consequence of Covid, telework acceptance is undergoing a damped oscillation on a global scale. Of course it has been doing this at organization scales since the mid 1970s but now it is visible everywhere. Here is the process.
If you are unfamiliar with the term, oscillation refers to a process in which something starts to vary by changing radically in, say, a positive direction, going to a maximum value, then changing course to the opposite direction, reaching a minimum value, then repeating the cycles forever.
A damped oscillation is a process in which each additional cycle past the first one is progressively smaller in size, slowly fading away until it reaches equilibrium. Typical examples are echoes, the sound from a struck tuning fork or piano string, and the like. But more complex processes, like organizational behavior, can also show damped oscillatory behavior. Newly introduced teleworking is one such process. Here’s how it typically works.
The Covid example
Imagine an organization going along, minding its own business, when suddenly a disaster strikes. A disaster like Covid. Immediately everyone understands that, because of the infection dangers, it is very important to isolate the employees from one another wherever possible. If the organization is primarily information focused and technologically prepared, all employees are sent home to work. Thus begins the first transition.
When I started my research into telework my goal was to reduce the time and energy spent in the daily commute to work in a world where commute distances and times were steadily increasing. As global warming accelerates it is time to look at the bigger picture: energy tradeoffs in a distributed world.
At the heart of this concept are distributed networks as initially developed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense (now called DARPA). Their core idea was that, to avoid being shut down by attacks on key facilities, distribute and interconnect the facilities so that removal of one or more won’t affect the operation of the whole network. The system just works its way around the damage point. The Internet grew from that start.
Here’s a brief look at four types of network-related tradeoffs in the world’s growing dominance of electricity.
Since I last checked on the post-Covid impact on central offices, the trend appears to be stabilizing. It appears that, nation-wide, chronic central city office vacancies are running about 50%. And there’s the rub. The situation may be fine for telecommuters and their employers but it’s bad news for the commercial real estate business and for the impacted cities themselves. A fix for central cities clearly is needed.
This situation is a result not of fear of covid but of the attraction of telecommuting. Well-paid, that is valuable, information workers prefer to work from home at least half-time. And they are insisting on it. Their employers have discovered that their bottom line actually does improve rather than suffer when their staff telecommutes at least part time.
In addition to the productivity jump, part of this improvement is the result of reduced facility costs. Downtown office space is expensive so the best strategy is to use as little of it as is necessary. Sometimes a wait is required before renewing/dropping the lease for space but the reduction is clearly happening.
Now that we’ve arrived at a new year it’s time to consider what might be coming up with respect to telework and climate change. The short answer is that the future of telework looks rosy while the future of the climate continues to be grim. Further, although telework is looking good some of its disruptive side effects are definitely appearing. While global warming continues pretty much unabated, reductions in the rate of increase appear on the horizon.
Here are some details.
A major side effect of the Covid pandemic was the almost instant rush of office workers from downtowns to home offices. Now that Covid is essentially over in the United States and Europe, if not in China, many tradition-minded executives demanded that their employees return full-time to their central urban offices. That usually didn’t work. Those millions of workers who have experienced working from home for more than two years are resisting going back to the old ways full time.