One of the lead authors behind the latest National Climate Assessment for the United States has come away from the project with an unexpected reaction: hope.
“Our report, which was released [last] Tuesday, contains more dire warnings. There are plenty of new reasons for despair,” writes Kate Marvel, a former NASA scientist now working at Project Drawdown, in a post for the New York Times. “Thanks to recent scientific advances, we can now link climate change to specific extreme weather disasters, and we have a better understanding of how the feedback loops in the climate system can make warming even worse.”
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But “to me, the most surprising new finding in the Fifth National Climate Assessment is this: There has been genuine progress, too,” Marvel adds. “While the report stresses the urgency of limiting warming to prevent terrible risks, it has a new message, too: We can do this. We now know how to make the dramatic emissions cuts we’d need to limit warming, and it’s very possible to do this in a way that’s sustainable, healthy, and fair.”
Those findings show that “the conversation has moved on, and the role of scientists has changed,” she writes. “We’re not just warning of danger anymore. We’re showing the way to safety.”
Marvel echoes headlines elsewhere that signal the urgency of the climate crisis and the awful impacts her country will face if average global warming reaches 2.0°C—when reports this week show the Earth is still on course for 3.0°.
“But our findings also offered a glimmer of hope,” she writes. “If emissions fall dramatically, as the report suggested they could, we may never reach 2°C at all. For the first time in my career, I felt something strange: optimism. And that simple realization was enough to convince me that releasing yet another climate report was worthwhile.”
Marvel points to wind energy costs falling by 70% in the last decade, solar by 90%, and renewables now accounting for 80% of new electrical generating capacity in the U.S. But there’s something else going on, as well.
“State, local, and tribal governments all around the country have begun to take action,” she writes. “Some politicians now actually campaign on climate change, instead of ignoring or lying about it. Congress passed federal climate legislation—something I’d long regarded as impossible—in 2022,” just as the National Climate Assessment team was completing its first draft.
That means those earlier National Climate Assessments produced by Marvel and a “small army of scientists, engineers, policy-makers, and others” had their effect.
“They did matter, after all,” she says. “These first responders have helped move us toward our climate goals. Our warnings did their job.”