Opinion: Using Bad Climate News and Good Climate News


Summersville Lake, West Virgina. Photo: Amy Vernon-Jones.

Love, Justice and Climate Change

Russ Vernon-Jones

Reading or hearing news about the climate can pose an ongoing challenge for us.  Sometimes the bad news seems overwhelming. Often it’s hard to remember the good news. I actually think that both bad news and good news can be useful to us. The bad news can help keep us focused and it affirms every decision we’ve made to put our energy into climate action. The good news reminds us that literally millions of people around the world are with us in taking on this existential crisis.

A “Red Alert”
Let’s start with a bad news update and then move to some good news. The UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued a “red alert” about global warming late last month. They noted that in 2023 humanity experienced record-breaking heat, ice melt, and greenhouse gas emissions. The average global temperature rise reached 1.45°C, nearly surpassing the 1.5° target set in Paris in 2015.

The WMO reported that extreme weather events are having an “alarming” impact on food insecurity. In 2023 some 333 million people were “acutely food insecure”, compared to 149 million people before the COVID-19 pandemic. Carbon Brief reported that scientists are “stunned” by the rapid rate of climate breakdown, which is occurring significantly faster than they expected.

Friederike Otto, a London climate scientist, said, “If we do not stop burning fossil fuels, the climate will continue to warm, making life more dangerous, more unpredictable, and more expensive for billions of people on earth.”

I suspect you can easily agree with me that having our lives be more dangerous, unpredictable and expensive is the exact opposite of what we want.  For me this “red alert” is both discouraging and frightening. I find what works best for me is to notice these feelings, feel them, and tell someone about them. But not to let them deter me from connecting with others and finding the courage and love we need to keep going for a livable climate. 

High Heat
The same week that the WMO report came out, the temperature in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil reached 107°F, with a heat index of 144°F. (The heat index measures what a temperature feels like by taking the humidity into account.) In Africa extreme high heat created widespread health risks, fainting workers in the Ivory Coast, damaged crops in Ghana, and closed schools in Sudan.

Yes, we are in a climate emergency. We can choose to be motivated by the emergency nature of our situation, letting it energize us rather than deplete us. We have comrades everywhere and important work to do.

Good News
There is good news too. It doesn’t take away the bad news, but it can cheer us and sustain us in our ongoing efforts.

In 2023 the world installed more than a gigawatt of new solar energy generation a day. That’s as much new solar power each day as would be provided by a new nuclear power plant. The total amount of renewable energy capacity added in 2023 was almost 50% higher than the year before.

The UN Climate Adaptation Fund is financing multiple projects that enable indigenous peoples to use their traditional knowledge to address the impacts of climate change over larger areas of their homelands. These include a forest restoration project in Ecuador and Columbia, sustainable irrigation in Morocco, and farming and watershed practices in Indonesia.

Decarbonizing Industrial Production
One of the most difficult sectors of the economy to decarbonize is industrial production, which is responsible for roughly 25% of all emissions in the U.S. The Biden-Harris administration just announced $6 billion for 33 projects across the country to decarbonize energy-intensive industries such as those producing steel, aluminum and cement. Each of these projects will provide a commercial-scale demonstration of a new low-carbon or no-carbon technology. Each one is a potential pathway to decarbonizing an entire industry. Their potential impact is immense and, According to Climate podcaster David Roberts, “a very big deal.”

India recently became the most populous country in the world, with a rapidly rising demand for energy. Anyone wanting to install rooftop solar in India until recently faced endless hurdles.  Now the government has streamlined the process and just put $9 billion into supporting faster adaptation of rooftop solar.

Batteries on the Grid
When President Biden took office in 2021, there was virtually no battery storage on the electric grid in the U.S.  Batteries were not expected to make much difference in the short term. Unexpectedly, the amount of battery storage on the grid now is the equivalent of 16 Hoover Dams. Sometimes things move much too slowly, but sometimes they move faster in a good direction than was expected.

Finally, a “growing number” of climate analysts believe that global greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector may have peaked in 2023 and are starting to decline. According to the prestigious International Energy Agency, the steady rise of wind and solar power is  “on track to outpace the world’s growing demand for energy – meaning renewables will start to displace fossil fuels on a global scale.”

Here’s to all of us learning to use both bad news and good news to energize and renew us and our collective climate action.

Russ Vernon-Jones was principal of Fort River School 1990-2008 and is currently a member of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now-Western Massachusetts. He blogs regularly on climate justice at www.russvernonjones.org.

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