World - The Future Is Being Rewritten by Historic Green Investment—And Growing Climate Devastation
Last fall, Miami-Dade County committed to eliminating its entire carbon footprint within three decades. It was an ambitious target, but also a symbolic one: a private utility company, Florida Power and Light, provides the region’s electricity and operates free of county oversight. “
We had no control,” says Jim Murley, the county’s chief resilience officer. But then something seemingly miraculous happened: in June, the utility said it would cut emissions on its own—and even faster than county officials had promised. “We were just stunned,” says Murley.
For years, activists, politicians, and academics have tried to transition the global economy away from fossil fuels, with only mixed results. Overnight, it’s as if everything has changed, and for the first time in a long time, there’s a glimmer of hope. The price of renewable energy has fallen sharply, making it a more cost-effective choice in most cases. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has codified the strategic risks of reliance on fossil fuels. And at last, government has stepped in decisively. The Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S. will spend hundreds of billions of dollars to push the country closer to decarbonizing. The European Union’s REPowerEU initiative will do the same across the Atlantic. Together, they will spur trillions in private investment.
The newfound sense of hope is tempered, though, with a growing sense of despair about the damage already baked in. In August, unprecedented flooding left a third of Pakistan underwater in what U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described from the ground as the worst “climate carnage” he had ever seen. In Europe, drought has left crops dead and riverbeds dry; officials implemented water restrictions in France, Germany, and Spain. Cities across California faced record-high temperatures in September, hitting 115°F in several places and leaving the state to beg residents to cut their electricity use to avoid rolling blackouts. Those who follow the science, even just loosely, know that it will get worse.
With climate change, as with anything else, it’s hard to draw a bright line between one era and the next. But the historic investment in greening the economy and the acceleration of climate-linked devastation suggest a very different future is at hand. “Life has changed,” Gina McCarthy told me on Sept. 8 before stepping down as President Biden’s top climate adviser. “Everybody’s trying to get their head around an entirely different paradigm.”
This new world will be defined by extremes. Finally, countries are building a global green economy, offering an optimistic vision of a better future. But the tragic human costs of climate change, long warned about by scientists, are upon us and getting worse. We still have a chance to shape these two developments: our best hope is that progress will minimize despair.