Climate change’s impact intensifies as U.S. prepares to take action

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For residents of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, the United States’ recent success in clinching a major piece of climate change legislation may feel like too little, too late.

Over the past 40 years, as the world’s largest historical emitter of greenhouses gases repeatedly failed to take significant action on the climate, the region surrounding Svalbard has warmed at least four times faster than the global average, according to significant new research published Thursday.

The study suggests that warming in the Arctic is happening at a much faster rate than many scientists had expected. And while U.S. lawmakers this summer hashed out the details of a massive bill to speed their nation’s shift toward cleaner energy — the culmination of months of deliberations — the new findings were just the latest visceral reminder that the planet’s changing climate isn’t waiting around for human action.

Recent studies on subjects including tree mortality in North America and evidence of weakening ice-shelves in Antarctica, combined with a stream of extreme weather events that include last month’s European heat wave and torrential floods of late in Kentucky and South Korea, are providing steady evidence of global warming’s intensifying impact on the planet.

The Arctic is where some of the shifts are most severe.

Svalbard, a cluster of Arctic islands famed for populations of polar bears, experienced its hottest June on record. A record 40 billion tons of ice from the archipelago had melted into the ocean by the end of July. Melting permafrost and unstable mountain slopes are threatening homes.

And that’s just a sampling from a region that has warmed at an astounding rate — roughly 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1979.

“It’s a really vulnerable environment in the Arctic, and seeing these numbers, it’s worrying,” said Antti Lipponen, a scientist with the Finnish Meteorological Institute who contributed to Thursday’s peer-reviewed study published in Communications Earth & Environment.

President Biden on Aug. 8 said that the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 would be “game-changing for ordinary folks.” (Video: The Washington Post)

The study provides sobering context for this week’s expected passage by the House of Representatives of the Inflation Reduction Act. Experts say it is a landmark piece of legislation that will drive down U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases by incentivizing the purchase of electric vehicles and energy-efficient appliances, and a quickening pace of renewable-energy installations. Recent estimates suggest that the bill could lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by as much as a billion tons per year by the end of 2030.

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But that’s still tiny compared with the more than 2 trillion tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide gas that humanity has emitted since the year 1850 — a figure that does not include any other warming gases, such as methane, which also is playing a major role in the world’s temperature increases.

The Inflation Reduction Act will mark…

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