Column in Waco Tribune-Herald, Jan. 11, 2024: Eight Important Issues of 2023
CLIMATE ISSUES OF 2023
With the corporate
media finally focused on the climate crisis, and dozens of news stories written
daily, myriad climate articles were published in 2023. My discussion of the eight most important topics
of the year follows.
Hottest Year. 2023 surpassed 2016 to become the
year with the highest global mean land surface temperature—the hottest of the
last 125,000 years. And disturbingly,
for the first time, the world passed the 2.0C (above preindustrial) redline for
global mean temperature increase, as defined in the Paris Agreement. The Copernicus Climate Change Service reported
that the mean temperature increase was 2.07C on Nov. 17, and 2.06C on Nov.
18. The bizarre extremes of 2023 were
highlighted by a temperature of 110F in Argentina—in early spring. As Zeke Hausfather colorfully described
September: “This month was — in my professional opinion as a climate scientist
— absolutely gobsmackingly bananas.”
Record U.S. Billion-Dollar Disasters. Although increasing atmospheric CO2 and
surface temperature are the fundamental mechanisms of the climate crisis, total
planetary damage results from the increased severity of all extreme weather
events. And the year 2023 set a new U.S.
record, with 25 total extreme events costing $1 billion dollars or more. The disaster damage was $79.8 billion total,
with 482 deaths. The 2023 events
were: Southern/Midwestern drought and
heatwave (including Waco), category 3 Hurricane Idalia involving the East Coast,
firestorm on Maui Island, Northeastern flooding, Northeastern winter storm,
California flooding, and 19 severe storms (including tornado outbreaks and hail)
involving the Central, Eastern and Southern U.S. The pervasive nature of these disasters was
emphasized by the fact that ¾ of Americans experienced extreme weather in 2023.
Scorched Waco. Locally, the dramatic heatwave of 2022 was outmatched in 2023,
the 3rd hottest year on record—with 66 days at 100F or higher, and 2
days at 110F. And although the term
“climate change” is still feared and avoided in much of Waco, the scientific
standard of climate causality, worldweatherattribution.org, reported that the
deadly heatwave of North America “would have been extremely rare or even
impossible without human-caused warming.”
And the 2022 drought in McLennan County also deepened. While late August
of 2022 exhibited 90% level 3 and 10% level 4 drought, August 2023 worsened to
60% level 3 and 40% level 4 drought.
Further, Professor William Baule of Texas A&M University confirmed
that the 2023 drought defeated the historic 2011 drought as the worst in Waco
history. The drought and heat wave impacted corn, hay, wheat, cattle, and sheep
in the county. Currently, after about 13
inches of rainfall in September through December, Lake Waco is 99% full, and
water use restrictions have been lifted.
However, the Dec. 28 drought monitor map warns that the entire county
remains abnormally dry (D0), and the Southwest corner exhibits moderate drought
(D1), still damaging 5,800 acres of corn.
Youth Legal Victory
in Montana. In Held v. State of Montana,
16 young people filed a lawsuit, based on the Montana constitution that
protects “the right to a clean and healthful environment,” challenging Montana
law that prevented state agencies from considering the effects of greenhouse
gas (GHG) emissions in environmental reviews. The success of the suit provides
hope for legal strategies in combating the climate crisis. In fact, the 2023 UN Climate Litigation
Report found that over 2,000 climate lawsuits are pending worldwide, filed
predominantly against governments and fossil fuel companies.
Standardized EV Charging. EV sales have
skyrocketed from 4% of global new car purchases in 2020 to 14% in 2022. However, the presence of several charging
plug types has made charger availability less abundant. In 2023, the Tesla plug
was renamed the North American Charging Standard (NACS), and essentially all
car makes, except Stellantis and Mazda, announced they will phase in the
ability to charge with the Tesla plug.
This will ultimately provide all drivers with access to the superior
Tesla charging network, which is enormous, functions almost flawlessly, and is
impeccably maintained. And although
“range anxiety” is greatly exaggerated, the adoption of the NACS should greatly
reduce this hindrance to EV adoption.
After 28 years of international
negotiation, the climate diplomats finally included the term “fossil fuel,” the
burning of which is the cause of the climate crisis. The final COP28 declaration calls for
“transition away from fossil fuels,” rather than the scientifically mandated
“phase out of fossil fuels.” Climate activists, scientists, and severely
impacted nations were dissatisfied as the document provides loopholes for the
fossil fuel industry, allowing indefinite burning of fossil fuels, while
relying on carbon capture technology which is unproven at the necessary
scale. The final document does call for
development of triple the current renewable energy capacity by 2030, and double
the rate of energy efficiency improvement by 2030. The “loss and damage” fund, established at
COP27, provides grants for developing nations as compensation for their climate
disasters, will be administered by the World Bank, and was seeded with $770
million at COP28.
City Council Action. Waco in 2023 has felt the scourge of
the climate crisis, with heatwaves, drought, water shortage, and crop
damage. In addition, the FEMA National
Risk Index ranks McLennan County at moderate to high risk (relative to all U.S.
counties) of cold waves, lightning, riverine flooding, tornadoes, and
wildfires. These local effects, plus
awareness of the suffering of our fellow humans across the globe, provide ample
impetus for climate action. The City of
Waco has taken small steps: purchasing
renewable electricity; installing solar panels on the 25th Street
fire station; adding around 15 EVs to the fleet; and applying for grants for a
solar farm at landfill site, for local EV charging stations, and for solar
panel installations for disadvantaged Wacoans.
But clearly the Council does not consider climate change an emergency nor
accept the scientific mandate to take consistent, robust action. When the Council is presented with repeated
opportunities to act on our existential threat, such as adding an LED
requirement to a building code, the Council does not act—and in fact completely
ignores the opportunities.
Individual Action in 2024. The worst climate
news of 2023 is that the world is on course for 2.7C of warming in 2100—which
would ravage our planet. To avert this calamity, we need climate action at
every level, including the individual. In review, powerful individual actions
are: purchase an EV (federal/state
incentives available at whitehouse.gov/cleanenergy); purchase renewable electricity for home;
install home solar panels (federal tax
credits available); convert all home
appliances to electric (federal tax credits available); decrease or eliminate
meat/dairy consumption; buy quality fashion rather than fast fashion; divest
from fossil fuels; fly less; demand climate action of all government officials;
and VOTE for candidates committed to combating the climate crisis.
Alan D. Northcutt, M.D.
Jan 1, 2024
Alan D. Northcutt is a retired Waco physician and Director
of the grassroots climate action and education group, Waco Friends of the
Climate. For free “Climate Crisis is
Here” yard signs, email email@example.com.