Heat, smoke, and Cubans hitting the mark

Good Afternoon!

If you missed me on Tuesday, it’s because I was busy doing nothing, the right of every American on the 4th of July. But now that I’m back, I’d like to invite you to follow me on Threads where I’m @vouchey. So far it’s not really a Twitter replacement, it’s almost like Twitter for your mom, and seems very Facebook-ized. But let’s give it a couple weeks before making a judgment, right?


View of the dam at Canelón Grande reservoir as drought conditions continue on March 13, 2023 in Canelones, Uruguay. (Ernesto Ryan/Getty Images)

Hey, Hey Hot Stuff, Do It Again

Sixty-three degrees Fahrenheit doesn’t sound so bad right? It’s a bit chilly, but a hoodie will take care of things nicely.

The trouble is, that was the global average temperature Wednesday and July is on track to be the world’s warmest July in 120,000 years. Drought or extreme heat is currently underway in  China, India, Iran, Iraq, the U.S.’s Midwest, Panama, Spain (they’ve named it “Heat Wave Yago”), Texas, Uruguay, and the U.K. (for the masochistic, here’s a running list of this year’s heat waves so far) Scientists are now warning that the goal of keeping global warming to just 1.5-degrees Centigrade over pre-Industrial Revolution temperatures, a mark considered to be the “no return” where the world begins to experience massive species die-offs, increased ocean acidification, major changes in regional climate patterns, and unstoppable glacier melt and sea level rise.

And still, scientists say we have yet to hit the hottest part of this year’s El Niño.

But then again, the weather’s nice in my hometown of Chicago today, the mid-70’s and partly cloudy. So there’s nothing to worry about, right?

Smoking Is Cool(ing)

Last week was downright apocryphal in the Midwest. It smelled like campfire outside, the haze kept you from seeing no more than 1,000 feet or so, and the sunlight that made it through your window looked orange on the floor. Smoke from the Canadian fires got everyone from Minneapolis to New York talking about the impact of global warming, and that maybe we should do something about it. But at least in Chicago, the winds shifted, a couple of days of hard rain came down, and the haze cleared. No more problems!

Except there’s more than 500 fires still burning in Canada, most are in far, remote areas and out of control, so we should expect smoky skies in North America through next October. The fires are so bad because Northern Canada has been warming up, getting less moisture. Much of the forest floor is peat, which when its wet, actually dampens forest fires. But dried out peat means doubly-long burning forest fires, since the trees burn longer, and dry peat can keep smoldering fires going underground.

By late June, scientists estimate the Canadian fires have released 600 million tons of carbon into the air, about 88% of Canada’s total emissions in 2021. The previous wildfire carbon record was 500 million, set in 2014.

But while the carbon is bad, all that smoke is maybe okay? Since the smoke is probably reducing temperatures by 9-degrees Fahrenheit (5 Celcius) in the New York area for the short term. That cooling news comes hot on the heels of a White House report endorsing the study of Solar Radiation Modification (SRM), also known as “geoengineering” to block the sun, so it doesn’t get so hot.

SRM is some real sci-fi stuff, ranging from putting giant reflector parasols into space, to spraying sulfur into the sky, which would then reflect sun into the sky. The sulfur idea has recently gotten some currency, as a correlation is being drawn to the global decrease in allowed shipping sulfur emissions to steadily increasing ocean surface temperatures. Neal Stephenson even wrote a book about it in 2021, so you know it’s going to happen.

Here’s how SRM would work: Some country decides to either launch reflecting mirrors into orbit or spray a whole lot of sulfur into the sky. The mirrors would eventually drop out of orbit, and the sulfur-oxide gradually dissipates, turning into acid rain. But in the meantime, they would reduce solar radiation in a region, say around Texas, or France. The idea is that it would reduce local occurrences of drought and heat waves, which sounds good. But scientists actually have no idea what kind of broader or global effect SRM would have. Like would it just push deadly heat waves somewhere else? Would it create unexpected cold air masses, causing unseasonable rain, and drying out other places instead?

The trouble with altering weather patterns is that you’re actually playing with the Chaos Butterfly and just as we’re discovering all kinds of wacky weather patterns are being set off by climate change, we’re not sure if SRM would calm down those new wacky patterns, or actually create new, worse wacky patterns (where “wacky” = deadly, economically devastating). Scientists are also not sure if SRM would create just local changes, like directly under the area of space mirrors, or in random places across the Earth. You know how the dust blown off the Sahara spawns hurricanes that land in New Orleans? Like that, but done by humans, so much, much worse.

Enjoy The Cubano: One Part Rum, One Part Truth

A couple weeks ago I posted a link to a diatribe Cuba’s lead climate negotiator Pedro Luis Pedroso made where he said that the rich country pledge of US$100 billion a year to help with the green energy transition was a “fraud”, and what was really needed was something more like $6 trillion a year. He’s since taken his post down from Twitter, which is too bad because yesterday Bloomberg’s research arm reported global green energy investments need to reach US$6.9 trillion a year to ensure zeroing out fossil fuel emissions by 2050. That’s considerably more than the US$1 trillion a 2021 U.N. study said was needed.

The funny thing about all this talk about money is that as the smoke and heat ratchets up, it’s just gonna get more expensive. It’s like giant pension payments: at some point the bill will come due.

You made it to the bottom of the newsletter! Here’s my favorite Elvis song never recorded. But I bet he would if he were alive.