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The Political Status Quo Is No Match for Climate Change

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There are foreboding climate coincidences every few days now — that is what happens when there is so much bad news emerging, so regularly, that the horrors stack one on top of the next.

Sometimes the horrors are natural disasters, one after the other — as when 500 tornadoes in 30 spring days swept through the Midwest, a region already devastated by months of flooding, or when heat waves were compounded by droughts and water shortages and cyclones in India, each successive event a reminder that, by the end of the century, parts of the planet could be hit by six climate-driven natural disasters at once. Sometimes they’re new studies or reports — global emissions reaching new heights, for instance, powered in part by increased energy demand from air-conditioning to counteract all the additional hot days, each study a reminder that even the most alarming reports about climate change have, over the past few decades, almost invariably underestimated the amount of damage already done.

Other times, they are political, as was the case this week, when it was reported that, in Brazil, forest fires ignited intentionally in the Amazon had resulted in 85 percent more wildfire than had burned through the region just last year, on the very same day that, in the United States, the most powerful country in the world lost its one candidate for president who viewed the climate crisis with anything approaching the urgency the world’s scientific community agrees, universally, is necessary.

The Amazon fires are, as Vox’s David Roberts put it, ”some genuinely apocalyptic shit,” blanketing half of the enormous country in smoke and darkening São Paulo, far from the heart of the rain forest basin, at noon. A new fire is started every minute, many of them coordinated by local ranchers to demonstrate support for Jair Bolsanaro, the country’s grotesque far-right president, who campaigned in part on a promise to open the Amazon up to development — a plan Brazilian scientists forecast would add as much additional carbon to the atmosphere as adding a second China, the world’s biggest emitter, to the problem. “Could one man single-handedly ruin the planet?” I wondered about Bolsanaro’s plan last October, a plan which promised to destroy the ecosystem often described as the planet’s lungs, since the Amazon currently produces about a fifth of the world’s oxygen and absorbs as much as a quarter of all carbon stored by all the planet’s forests. Stored until it is released, that is, whenever trees burn or are cut down and decay. And even before this sudden rash of wintertime fires, the Amazon was being deforested, one recent estimate suggested, as fast as five football fields a minute, or a Manhattan every day. If the rainforest as a whole shrunk by only one-fifth, some scientists believe, it could produce a cascading effect known as........

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