Fires, heat waves, and silver linings

There was a fire on the Gulf of Mexico yesterday after an issue with a natural gas pipeline. This is what it looked like.

This happened just as the Pacific Northwest recorded a once in a millennium heatwave that burnt down, among other things, an entire Canadian town.

It is often hard to find a silver lining from such stories. And, there wouldn’t be if we were residents of that town, for example. But, zooming out, there’s a change in how the scientific community is approaching the analysis of these events.

Not long ago, the burden of proof would have been on a researcher to link these heat waves to climate change. Now, the null hypothesis/starting point has flipped. The consensus view is clear.

Looking at this from a 10-20 year perspective, that shift in global consensus is important as there’s a lag between consensus in the scientific community and the mainstream. Climate isn’t a local problem. It will require more global coordination than we’ve ever managed. And, such coordination can only be made possible once we align on the same set of facts.

That alignment will also make it harder for big oil companies to fund climate denial. Despite the obviously lucrative nature of these studies, fewer scientists will risk trading-off their credibility. This means fewer subsidies, lesser government support, lesser public sympathy and shareholder exuberance – all of this will make it harder and harder to maintain profitability as non-fossil fuel sources of energy become cheaper rapidly.

British Petroleum has already seen that writing on the wall and shared a net zero commitment by 2050. Others will follow and/or become irrelevant if they attempt to continue what they’re doing today.

Fossil fuels have fueled incredible improvements in our lifestyles in the past 100 years. They have also contributed heavily to a crisis that will, in time, threaten our existence on the planet. So, it is time for them to go.

I’m hoping this is going to be one of those transitions where the end happens significantly sooner than we can predict.