29 Apr

A Foreign Perspective, News and Analyses

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Global lockdowns have lowered emissions but longer-term changes needed, say scientists

A ski resort in Granada, Spain, which was forced to use artificial snow cannons due to a lack of snow this winter.

A ski resort in Granada, Spain, which was forced to use artificial snow cannons due to a lack of snow this winter. Photograph: Carlos L Vives/Alamy

This year is on course to be the world’s hottest since measurements began, according to meteorologists, who estimate there is a 50% to 75% chance that 2020 will break the record set four years ago.

Although the coronavirus lockdown has temporarily cleared the skies, it has done nothing to cool the climate, which needs deeper, longer-term measures, the scientists say.

Heat records have been broken from the Antarctic to Greenland since January, which has surprised many scientists because this is not an El Niño year, the phenomenon usually associated with high temperatures.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calculates there is a 75% chance that 2020 will be the hottest year since measurements began.

The US agency said trends were closely tracking the current record of 2016, when temperatures soared early in the year due to an unusually intense El Niño and then came down.

The US agency said there was a 99.9% likelihood that 2020 will be one of the top five years for temperatures on record.

A separate calculation by Gavin Schmidt, the director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, found a 60% chance this year will set a record.

The Met Office is more cautious, estimating a 50% likelihood that 2020 will set a new record, though the UK institution says this year will extend the run of warm years since 2015, which is the hottest period on record.

Abnormal weather is increasingly the norm as temperature records fall year after year, and month after month.

This January was the hottest on record, leaving many Arctic nations without snow in their capital cities. In February, a research base in the Antarctic registered a temperature of more than 20C (68F) for the first time on the southern continent. At the other end of the world Qaanaaq, in Greenland, set an April record of 6C on Sunday.

In the first quarter, the heating was most pronounced in eastern Europe and Asia, where temperatures were 3C above average. In recent weeks, large parts of the US have sweltered. Last Friday, downtown Los Angeles hit an April high of 34C, according to the National Weather Service. Western Australia has also experienced record heat.

In the UK, the trend is less pronounced. The daily maximum UK temperature for April so far is 3.1C above average, with records set in Cornwall, Dyfed and Gwynedd.

Karsten Haustein, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford, said global warming was nudging closer to 1.2C above pre-industrial levels. He said his online tracker showed a relatively conservative level of 1.14C of warming due to gaps in the data, but that this could rise to 1.17C or higher once the latest figures were incorporated.

Although the pandemic has at least temporarily reduced the amount of new emissions, he said the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere remains a huge concern.

“The climate crisis continues unabated,” Haustein said. “The emissions will go down this year, but the concentrations keep on rising. We are very unlikely to be able to notice any slowdown in the built-up of atmospheric GHG levels. But we have the unique chance now to reconsider our choices and use the corona crisis as a catalyst for more sustainable means of transport and energy production (via incentives, taxes, carbon prices etc).”

This was echoed by Grahame Madge, a climate spokesman for the Met Office: “A reliance and trust in science to inform action from governments and society to solve a global emergency are exactly the measures needed to seed in plans to solve the next crisis facing mankind: climate change.”

As the death toll rises, the president seems incapable of empathy. Maybe the disinfectant knocked it out of him

The McGlynn: The fact that anyone in a position of authority can recommend injecting, or ingesting bleach as a treatment for a serious disease, even though he has no medical qualifications, is seriously irresponsible.

That such a claim was made by the most powerful man on the planet, and head of state of a great nation, beggars belief. The man has clearly lost all sense of reality and responsibility.

‘While the world’s scientists desperately search for a vaccine, they may be missing an extraordinary case of immunity that stares us in the face every day.’

Donald Trump kindly obliged when a reporter asked last month if our commander-in-bleach saw America as being at war against the coronavirus.

“I do. I actually do,” he admitted, as the official death toll reached just 145 Americans. “I view it as a, in a sense, a wartime president. I mean that’s what we’re fighting. I mean, it’s – it’s a very tough situation. You’re – you have to do things.”

Doing things is one of the great burdens of being a wartime president. Explaining things is another. Sometimes you’re even asked to feel things. And we’re not talking about models, OK? Not even pandemic models.

One of those weird feeling questions was lobbed Trump’s way on Tuesday, like a meatball dangling in the air of the East Room, waiting to be crushed in front of the cameras.

“You’ve spoken about your friend who passed away,” begged the hungry reporter. “I was wondering if you have spoken to the families of anyone else who has lost a loved one to Covid-19. If there’s any particular stories that have affected you.”

Lots of stories have affected Donald Trump. The story about his inaugural crowds. The story about him losing the popular vote by historic margins. The stories about his corruption and incompetence. The story about Russia conspiring to manipulate American voters to elect him. The story about his impeachment for trying to corrupt November’s election.

But the death of another person affecting him?

“Well, I have – I have many people. I know many stories,” he warmed up. “I’ve spoken to three, maybe, I guess, four families unrelated to me.”

Since he first embraced the notion of being a wartime president, another 58,800 Americans have died from the pandemic. But our wartime leader could only find three, maybe four families to talk to. He is, you know, a busy man.

Perhaps not too busy to tweet about anything he sees on the teevee. But often too busy for lunch, according to his new chief of staff, who says that’s “the biggest concern I have”. Which means the catastrophic death toll and unemployment numbers are less of a concern than a hangry Trump. Good to know where your priorities lie, Mark Meadows. Thank you for your service.

Anyway, about those dead Americans.

“I did – I lost a very good friend,” explained our wartime leader. “I also lost three other friends – two of whom I didn’t know as well, but they were friends and people I did business with, and probably almost everybody in the room did.”

So they were special, then, these friends you didn’t know well, but did business with. Like everybody. Very moving.

“And it’s a – it’s a bad death,” he continued. “It’s not a – it’s – it’s a bad thing. It grips on to some people. Now we found out that young people do extraordinarily well. That’s why I think we can start thinking about schools, but of course, we’re ending the school season.”

Yes, pandemics have a way of gripping on to people and delivering the bad deaths that are totally and completely different from the good deaths. Truly, your friends are lucky to have you, Mr President. It’s just a shame they weren’t young people.

At this point, our wartime president gave up entirely on the premise of talking about the deaths of his friends to go on a springtime stroll through the open fields of his synapses.

He talked about Purdue University in Indiana (“a great state”) and also some place called Harvard. Apparently they want to reopen, which is not, as they say at MIT, rocket science. These places are doing something Trump called “computer learning”, which, he pointed out, is not “tele-learning”. Not at all. That’s the kind of thing you did at Trump University, which criminology students now claim to be a classic case of fraud.

Trump may share the same burden as LBJ, but he plainly lacks his political sense to quit rather than seek re-election

Previous wartime presidents have been racked by the nation’s grief. Barack Obama cleared his schedule to talk and write to the families of soldiers killed in action, and visited with many. George W Bush said it was his “duty” to visit wounded soldiers and endure their parent’s verbal abuse. Trump, of course, lied about Obama’s treatment of gold star families, while also telling one widow that her husband “knew what he signed up for”.

But Obama and Bush never had to deal with the enormous magnitude of death that is Trump’s record. The United States has now lost more lives to the pandemic than it did in Vietnam, when Lyndon Johnson was so anguished by a war he knew was unwinnable. LBJ was hardly the emotive type but even he struggled with how to respond to grieving families.

Donald Trump, however, stands alone. He may share the same burden as Johnson, but he plainly lacks his political sense to quit rather than seek re-election. As the Washington Post calculated, he has spent just four and a half minutes expressing condolences for the deceased in more than 13 hours of briefings.

So our antihero glided blithely past another disastrous marker on his long descent into the depths of presidential failure: one million cases of a pandemic that he said just two months ago, would go down to zero and disappear “like a miracle”.

“At the appropriate time, it will be down to zero, like we said,” he explained on Tuesday, without divulging when it would be appropriate for the virus to disappear with the requisite decorum.

You see, for Trump, 58,000 dead Americans is actually a win. Kind of like a big win-win, really. Remember that the experts said that even more people would die and the experts were wrong. So that’s one win for him. And then they said he shouldn’t impose travel restrictions on flights from China, but he did, so that’s another win for him.

“So I think we’ve done a great job, in the sense that we were early,” he explained. “I think by banning China – by banning China and banning people coming in who would have been very heavily infected, we probably saved hundreds of thousands of lives. So on that, I’m very proud.”

Never mind that 40,000 people entered the country after his so-called ban. Trump thinks that only Chinese citizens were “very heavily infected” and that – in the great ledger of life and death – his two wins outweigh 58,000 lost lives.

While the world’s scientists desperately search for a vaccine against the coronavirus, they may be missing an extraordinary case of immunity that stares us in the face every day. It’s like someone brought the light inside the body, either through the skin or some other way. The disinfectant knocked it out in a minute, by injection inside or almost a cleaning.

Donald Trump has been bleached of all feeling.


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