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Climate

Earth Spent 12 Months Above the 1.5C Warming Limit

On the Paris Agreement, monarch butterflies, and a slumbering polar bear

Earth Spent 12 Months Above the 1.5C Warming Limit
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Forest fires are under control in Chile’s Viña del Mar, but continue to burn in other parts of the country • Los Angeles recorded at least 475 mudslides due to the atmospheric river • It’s 75 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny in Naples, Florida, where a 9-acre beachfront retreat just hit the housing market for a record-breaking $295 million.

THE TOP FIVE

1. World exceeds 1.5C in warming for a full year

Temperatures on Earth have been more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels for a year, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). New data shows that from February 2023 through January 2024, the average global temperature was 1.52 degrees Celsius higher than the 1850-1900 baseline. Last month was also the warmest January ever recorded, C3S confirmed. In 2015, 196 nations adopted the legally binding Paris Agreement with the long-term goal of limiting the global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally below 1.5 degrees. A one-year breach doesn’t mean the target is bust, because it “refers to long-term warming – the IPCC uses 20 to 30 years – not annual temperatures that include the short-term influence of natural fluctuations in the climate, such as El Niño,” explainedCarbon Brief. However, some experts, including the new chief of the World Meteorological Organization, believe the rate of warming is speeding up.

C3S

2. New EPA air pollution rules could save thousands of lives

In case you missed it: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rolled out new air pollution rules yesterday, cracking down on dangerous particulate matter. Previously, the EPA’s annual standard for concentrations of particulate matter was 12 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). Based on epidemiological research showing that this standard did not adequately protect public health, the agency has now lowered the standard to 9 µg/m3. The rules are expected to prevent 4,500 premature deaths per year by 2032. The EPA also updated its Air Quality Index in conjunction with the new rules, which could mean that even as the air gets cleaner, you might get more air quality alerts, reported Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo.

3. Monarch butterfly numbers drop sharply

Heat, drought, and pesticides and herbicides are taking a toll on the monarch butterfly population. Numbers of the iconic orange butterflies in Mexico, where they spend the winter, fell by 59% this year to their second lowest level ever recorded, The Associated Press reported. Extreme weather, logging, and chemical treatments are all hurting the insects’ natural habitat and killing the milkweed plant on which they lay their eggs. “It has a lot to do with climate change,” said Gloria Tavera, director of Mexico’s Commission for National Protected Areas. The monarchs’ migration path is the longest of any insect species known to science: They winter in Mexico and then head north to Canada. No single butterfly survives the entire trek; instead their offspring finish it for them, before turning around and heading back to Mexico to start the process over again.

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  • 4. Orsted had a no good, very bad year

    Danish energy developer Orsted said yesterday that it had lost a ton of money on its experiment trying to build wind farms in the United States, and planned to take on way less risk going forward. The figures are pretty grim, as Heatmap’s Matthew Zeitlin reported: Orsted had 9.6 billion Danish kroner worth of fees (about $1.4 billion) related to one New Jersey project, Ocean Wind 1, and had booked $4 billion of losses, most of which were due to Ocean Wind 1’s cancellation. Overall, it reported a loss of almost $3 billion in 2023. Orsted also said it was pulling out of Norway, Spain, and Portugal. In a call with analysts, the company’s chief executive Mads Nipper said that Orsted will spend far less money on projects before making the final approval to go forward with construction.

    5. Study suggests thinking about future generations moves people to support climate policy

    Convincing people to change their habits and beliefs is very hard, but when it comes to the climate crisis, widespread behavioral shifts are essential. A new “global megastudy” of more than 59,000 participants across 63 countries attempted to figure out which “interventions” can be most effective at shifting beliefs and getting people to support climate policy. The results, published in Science Advances, show that the act of writing a letter to future generations was “one of the top interventions tested.” Participants had to pen a note to a hypothetical child who will be turning 30 in the year 2055, detailing what they’re doing now to help keep the planet healthy. This exercise was the most effective intervention at nudging people toward supporting climate mitigation policies.

    THE KICKER

    Nima Sarikhani / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    “Ice Bed,” by Nima Sarikhani, is the winner of the 2023 Wildlife Photographer of the Year 59 People's Choice Award. The picture shows a male polar bear drifting off to sleep on a small iceberg off the Svalbard archipelago. “I hope that this photograph also inspires hope,” Sarikhani said. “There is still time to fix the mess we have caused.” The competition is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London.

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    Jessica  Hullinger profile image

    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

    Technology

    The Little Weather Balloon Company Taking on Google DeepMind

    AI has already changed weather forecasting forever.

    A WindBorne Systems balloon.
    Heatmap Illustration/WindBorne Systems, Getty Images

    It’s been a wild few years in the typically tedious world of weather predictions. For decades, forecasts have been improving at a slow and steady pace — the standard metric is that every decade of development leads to a one-day improvement in lead time. So today, our four-day forecasts are about as accurate as a one-day forecast was 30 years ago. Whoop-de-do.

    Now thanks to advances in (you guessed it) artificial intelligence, things are moving much more rapidly. AI-based weather models from tech giants such as Google DeepMind, Huawei, and Nvidia are now consistently beating the standard physics-based models for the first time. And it’s not just the big names getting into the game — earlier this year, the 27-person team at Palo Alto-based startup Windborne one-upped DeepMind to become the world’s most accurate weather forecaster.

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    Climate

    AM Briefing: ‘Catastrophic Urban Flooding’

    On severe rainfall across the globe, Musk’s payday, and La Niña

    It’s Not Just Florida That’s Flooded Right Now
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: Mexico recorded its hottest June day ever, with temperatures reaching 125.4 degrees Fahrenheit • Southern China is bracing for heavy rain that could last through next week • It is warm and sunny in Italy’s Puglia region, where the 50th G7 summit will wrap up tomorrow.

    THE TOP FIVE

    1. An update on extreme flooding in Florida – and across the globe

    Much of south Florida remains under water as a tropical storm system dumps buckets of rain on the region. The deluge began Tuesday and will continue today with “considerable to locally catastrophic urban flooding,” but should diminish over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service. In Hallandale Beach, near Fort Lauderdale, about 20 inches of rain had fallen by Thursday with more on the way. Seven million people in the state were under flood watches or warnings.

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    Electric Vehicles

    Tesla Is Doomed to Be Interesting

    We’ll never know what a Tesla without Elon Musk could have looked like.

    Elon Musk getting erased.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Elon Musk got his money.

    At a meeting on Thursday, Tesla shareholders voted to re-approve an enormous pay package for Musk, the CEO, worth $45 billion or more depending on Tesla’s fluctuating stock price. The deal had been struck down in January by a judge in Delaware, where the EV company is (for now) incorporated. Musk spent much of the intervening months campaigning on his social network, X, for the gigantic package to be reinstated.

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