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We Breached 1.5 Degrees Celsius of Warming — Sort Of

What today’s news from Copernicus does and doesn’t mean.

Mexico.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Somewhat fittingly, Heatmap’s first year in existence coincided with the planet’s first 12-month period with an average temperature more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to a new report from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. This might not come as a surprise if you’ve been reading us for any amount of time. But still, the number is striking — it’s the target we’ve long heard about, the threshold that the Paris Agreement is trying to keep us under.

It might be easy, then, to look at this report with a bit of despair. I am here to tell you otherwise. Some things to keep in mind:

  • For starters, this report does not mean we’ve missed the Paris Agreement’s target; Copernicus’ report covers average temperatures over one year, while the Paris Agreement’s targets operate on 20- or 30-year timescales.

  • El Niño was also a factor. The warm ocean phenomenon tends to bring higher global temperatures, so it’s possible the average could dip back down in a La Niña year (which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says is probably on its way soon).

  • This threshold is not a point of no return. As I wrote in my very first piece for Heatmap, humanity operates on stunningly compressed time scales compared to the rest of our planet. It didn’t take us very long to reach this point; similarly, the speed of our efforts to decarbonize will affect the speed at which we will return to more livable temperatures.

If anything, think of today’s number news as a call to action. The last year was a preview of what life could be like above 1.5 degrees C; the next few years will likely also be incredibly hot compared to pre-industrial levels, and we must do our best to mitigate the pain and loss to come.

We’ll be covering those efforts at Heatmap, as we always do, but if you’d like an idea of the various paths available to us for decarbonization, this Carbon Brief interactive is a good place to start.

Neel Dhanesha

Neel is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Prior to Heatmap, he was a science and climate reporter at Vox, an editorial fellow at Audubon magazine, and an assistant producer at Radiolab, where he helped produce The Other Latif, a series about one detainee's journey to Guantanamo Bay. He is a graduate of the Literary Reportage program at NYU, which helped him turn incoherent scribbles into readable stories, and he grew up (mostly) in Bangalore. He tweets sporadically at @neel_dhan. Read More

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Sparks

Coal’s Slowdown Is Slowing Down

Rising electricity demand puts reliability back on the table.

Pollution.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The United States has been able to drive its greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest level since the early 1990s largely by reducing the amount of energy on the grid generated by coal to a vast extent. In 2005, by far the predominant source of U.S. electricity, making up some 2.2 million gigawatt-hours of the country’s 4.3 million GWh total energy consumption, according to the International Energy Agency. In 2022, by contrast, coal generation was down to 900,000 GWh out of 4.5 million GWh generated. As a result, “U.S. emissions are 15.8% lower than 2005 levels, while power emissions are 40% lower than 2005 levels,” according to BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

But the steady retirement of coal plants may be slowing down. Only 2.3 GW of coal generating capacity are set to be shut down so far in 2024, according to the Energy Information Administration. While in 2025, that number is expect to jump up to 10.9 GW, the combined 13.2 GW of retired capacity pales in comparison of the more than 22 GW retired in the past two years, according to EIA figures. Over the past decade, coal retirements have averaged about 10 GW a year, with actual retirements often outpacing forecasts.

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Sparks

Trump Thinks EV Charging Will Cost $3 Trillion — Which Is Incorrect

Nor will charging infrastructure ”bankrupt” the U.S.

Electric car charging.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Shortly after being fined $350 million (more than $450 million, including interest) over fraudulent business practices and then booed at Sneaker Con, former President Donald Trump traveled to Waterford, Michigan, where he said some incorrect things about electric vehicles.

Even by Trump’s recent standards, Saturday’s Waterford rally was a bit kooky. During his nearly hour-and-a-half-long speech, the former president claimed that his opponents are calling him a whale (“I don’t know if they meant a whale from the standpoint of being a little heavy, or a whale because I got a lot of money”) and, improbably, claimed not to have known what the word “indictment” meant.

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This Chicken Named Potato Will Teach Your Kids About Climate Change

A chicken from the future, to be clear.

Future Chicken.
Heatmap Illustration/CBC, Getty Images

If I told you there was a chicken named Potato who was going to teach our kids about climate change, would you think I was kidding? Either way, I’m here to inform you that Future Chicken, an “ECOtainment platform” co-created by Catherine Winder and Annabel Slaight, launched last year, including original content like a TV show that airs on CBC and YouTube, games, and a podcast, all aimed at warding off climate doom and instead highlighting climate solutions.

Winder and Slaight have, to put it mildly, impressive resumes, with Slaight having been an executive producer of The Big Comfy Couch and Winder a force behind multiple Angry Birds movies. The show’s premise is fun, and was actually thought up by kids. The main character is a chicken (named Potato) from the year 2050, a time when climate change has seemingly been solved. She travels back and forth between the future and the present, sometimes talking about the solutions of her time.

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