The Arctic is sweltering and emissions are climbing again, but the technologies we need to avert catastrophe exist, we just need to deploy them
I've been distracted today. That kind of gnawing sense that your attention should be elsewhere, that something big is going on that should not be ignored.
The spark for this diversion was a Tweet (isn't it always) from the European Commission's Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space confirming that data from the Sentinel 3 satellite had shown that "on 19 June Land Surface Temperature (LST) reached 45C at several locations in the Arctic Circle".
If you like your climate information carefully caveated this is a satellite reading of land surface temperatures, not the kind of air temperature readings that we instinctively understand. Then again, air temperature records have been toppling across large swathes of the Arctic too in recent days, with one reading in Siberia apparently hitting a barely conceivable 38C.
#ImageOfTheDay #ArcticHeatWave #ClimateAction #EUSpace— 🇪🇺 DG DEFIS #UnitedAgainstCoronavirus (@defis_eu) June 23, 2020
Many air 🌡️ records have recently been broken in #Siberia
On 19 June Land Surface Temperature (LST) reached 45°C at several locations in the #Arctic Circle
Data retrieved by #Sentinel3 🇪🇺🛰️
Check the 2019-2020 comparison ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/aFggpPmJiY
This is genuinely terrifying on multiple levels. If the European heatwaves of successive summers have given the climate crisis a visceral edge, this is something different again. A sense of a world gone awry, even before you start to think through the potential implications for wild fire risks and permafrost methane leakage.
What to do with this information if denialism and defeatism is not your thing? If you want to resist the temptation to declare it all "over" for the only climate human civilisation has ever known?
It is the same dynamic I have been writing about for years. The need to recognise the scale of the crisis while appreciating that there is no "over". There is always a way to curb the scale of the risk, to minimise the environmental impacts, to avoid the tipping points that hide between here and the horizon.
So to that end, consider this. This week an electric plane took to the skies above England. Its developer, ZeroAvia, is confident it can be kitted out with a hydrogen fuel cell that could enable commercial scale zero emission flight within a decade. A major EU-backed study concurs, sketching out how zero emission flight - once regarded as the red line emission reduction efforts could never hope to cross - could be delivered at scale and at reasonable cost well before a child starting school today graduates.
This truly historic, Wright Brother emulating, milestone came on the same day as Siemens Gamesa secured a massive order for its massive offshore wind turbines. It was followed today by the news Amazon has launched a new $2bn climate technology venture fund. Meanwhile, the UK's largest businesses have once again unequivocally called for the government to deliver a green recovery and net zero emission economy.
None of this will cool the sweltering Arctic, not yet at least. Climate impacts are going to worsen in the coming years and decades. We all need to prepare for that. But the quiet miracles that are occurring with ever greater frequency across the world's fast-expanding clean tech industries provide something else of critical importance. They provide focus.
A version of this article originally appeared in the BusinessGreen Overnight Briefing newsletter, which is available to all BusinessGreen subscribers.