Up In the Air

words by willow defebaugh

Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.

In more ways than one, our future has never been so up in the air.


Carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has reached an all-time high, according to data that reaches back 800,000 years. Meanwhile, in what would otherwise be a humorous juxtaposition were the implications not so grave, the Trump administration has begun referring to natural gas as “freedom gas,” and “molecules of U.S. freedom.”


In addition to rolling back federal protections set forth by the Obama administration and pulling us out of the 2015 Climate Accord, Trump is now coming for climate science in his most direct attack to date. For the National Climate Assessment’s next report, Trump officials have ordered scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey to cease projecting the outcome of our climate crisis beyond the year 2040, instead of the end of the century—which will create a misleading analysis, as the most dramatic effects of our current emissions won’t be felt until 2050.


This comes at a time when the U.S. is in the midst of its rainiest 12 months to date, thanks to changing weather patterns that some farmers are calling an unspoken agricultural crisis. On average, farmers in the states that produce the majority of the country’s harvest would have planted 90% of their corn and 66% of their soy by now; instead, due to the ongoing rains, only 59% of their corn has been planted, and 29% of their soy. With little news coverage on the subject, farmers have taken to Twitter to speak out with the hashtag “#NoPlant19.”


Outside of the government, it feels like more people and organizations are committed to solutions than ever. Climate change is consistently polling as a priority for Democrats, and candidates for 2020 are responding. Last week, nearly all major U.S. airlines and most small air carriers voluntarily pledged to follow a climate crisis plan that is entirely independent of the Paris Agreement. The program will cap plane emissions at 2020 levels, with airlines having the option to use sustainable fuels or purchase offsets as they approach that limit.


Elsewhere, in New Jersey, a concrete manufacturing plant called Solidia is implementing new technologies to actually sequester carbon dioxide into stone (more on this in Atmos Volume 01). In Baltimore, the city has plans to turn one of its neighborhoods into an urban eco-village lined with $250,000 solar-powered homes that will produce as much energy as they consume. And across the country, Washington has become the first state to make the composting of humans legal.


Others are exploring more drastic measures. While the idea of “geo-engineering” has long been a taboo subject treated more as science fiction than science, it is gaining traction. Having lost his faith in cutting carbon emissions, former British government chief scientist David King is founding a Center for Climate Repair at Cambridge University. One of the center’s main areas of focus will be new methods to prevent solar radiation from reaching the lower atmosphere, including spraying aerosols of sulphate into the stratosphere and pumping salt particles into polar clouds to make them brighter.


“Time is no longer on our side,” King said. “What we do over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years.”

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