More than 100,000 Americans have died from a pandemic that remains uncontained and — given the recent upsurge in economic reopenings and public gatherings — seems poised to worsen in the coming weeks. Our nation’s unemployment rate remains higher than at any time since the Great Depression, and experts warn a second wave of layoffs may soon wash through America’s white-collar workplaces. All across the country, police forces are revealing themselves to be unbound by law or civilian control. The conscientious among us are still trapped inside our homes for most of our waking hours.
But at least this whole catastrophe has helped to arrest humanity’s descent into climate dystopia, right?
Alas, on closer inspection, that silver lining is actually aluminum foil.
It’s true that the global economic shutdown triggered by the coronavirus crisis is producing a significant reduction in carbon emissions. By some estimates, humanity will toss 8 percent less CO2 into the air this year than it did in 2019. But barring the emergence of a cataclysm even greater than COVID-19, that reduction isn’t going to be sustained next year. And by itself, it’s a drop in the bucket.
In fact, shuttering the global economy was insufficient to prevent May 2020 from going down as the hottest month on record, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service. Global surface temperatures last month were 0.63 degrees Celsius higher than the average May temperature recorded between 1981 and 2010. This historic result was driven largely by a heat wave in Siberia, which brought temperatures in the infamously frigid region to 10 degrees Celsius above the post-1980 average. What’s more, the 12-month period that ended in May saw average global temperatures clocking in at 1.3 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial norm. Climate advocates had hoped to prevent warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees above that benchmark. It is now abundantly clear that this will be impossible, absent negative emissions.
Meanwhile, the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere also hit a record level of 417 parts per million (ppm) last month, up from 414.8 ppm the previous May.