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The Morning Dispatch: Getting Hot Out There
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The Morning Dispatch: Getting Hot Out There

Plus: The collapse of Boris Johnson's popularity across the pond.

Happy Wednesday! We’re glad Hong Kong has found a logical and humane way of curbing the spread of COVID-19: Slaughtering thousands of innocent hamsters. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • A January 2021 report from Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko was declassified Tuesday, revealing that Sopko warned the Defense Department months before President Joe Biden announced the United States’ final withdrawal from Afghanistan that the Afghan air force was at risk of collapsing without continued U.S. support.

  • The January 6 Select Committee announced Tuesday it had issued subpoenas to Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell, and Boris Epshteyn for their roles in “publicly prompt[ing] unsupported claims about the 2020 election and participat[ing] in attempts to disrupt or delay the certification of election results.” The committee has also subpoenaed and obtained phone records from Eric Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle, according to CNN.

  • At least 26 people are dead after a magnitude 5.3 earthquake struck western Afghanistan on Monday, according to a spokesman for the Badghis province where the tremors occurred. Five women and four children were reportedly among the casualties.

  • Crude oil prices hit their highest level since 2014 on Tuesday amid geopolitical concerns in Eastern Europe and the Middle East and Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) data indicating the Omicron wave hasn’t dampened demand as much as expected.

  • After keeping silent throughout the country’s violent unrest this month, Kazakhstan’s autocratic former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, released a video message on Tuesday standing behind current President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and denying reports of internal dissension. “There is no conflict or confrontation in the elite,” he said.

  • Reps. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island and Jerry McNerney of California both announced Tuesday they will not seek reelection this year, becoming the 27th and 28th House Democrats to do so this cycle.

2021 the Sixth Warmest Year on Record

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.)

It feels strange to be writing this days after two separate D.C. snowstorms, but 2021 was one of the warmest years on record—the sixth warmest, according to an annual National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report released late last week, and tied for sixth, according to similarly timed NASA data. Only 2016, 2020, 2019, 2015, and 2017 came in hotter.

All told, the global temperature last year was 1.51°F (0.84°C) higher than the 20th-century average that serves as one benchmark for these kinds of calculations, and even warmer—1.96°F (1.09°C)—in the Northern Hemisphere alone. This near-record heat came despite a naturally occurring La Niña episode across the Pacific Ocean early in the year that rendered February 2021 the coldest February since 2014. (Compared to a benchmark used internationally—the “pre-industrial baseline”—temperatures were 2.17°F (1.21°C) higher in 2021.)

Without that weather pattern—whereby heat is redistributed from the atmosphere to the ocean—2021 would have likely ended up even higher in the rankings, which is part of why climate researchers are so alarmed. “You don’t expect every year to be a new record because there is variability in the system, there’s chaos, there’s weather,” Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies who heads up the agency’s climate modeling, told The Dispatch. “So we mostly focus on the long-term trends.”

Those don’t paint any prettier a picture. Last year was the 45th year in a row warmer than that 20th-century average, and ten of the eleven hottest years on record have come since 2010. “The long-term trend is very, very clear,” Schmidt told The Associated Press. “It’s because of us. And it’s not going to go away until we stop increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

According to The Global Carbon Project, worldwide CO2 emissions nearly bounced back to 2019’s record high last year after a more than 5 percent drop in 2020, when, for at least a few months, much of the global population was locked down. But the rate of this year-over-year emissions growth has been slowing: It averaged 3 percent per year globally from 2000 to 2009, but just 0.9 percent per year from 2010 to 2019.

What’s starting to reverse the trend? Heightened adoption of cleaner and more efficient technologies in more developed economies. According to a 2018 European Union report, annual CO2 emissions fell 16.5 percent in the EU from 2005 to 2017, and 14.5 percent in the United States—despite the latter’s population increasing by nearly 30 million people over that span. But those improvements, have, for now, been drowned out by the continued industrialization of the developing world: India’s CO2 emissions more than doubled and China’s were up 73.7 percent during that period. In 2019, China—which still relies heavily on coal—accounted for about 30 percent of the world’s emissions, compared to 15 percent for the United States, 7 percent for India, and 5 percent for Russia. 

The Paris Climate Accords—from which former President Donald Trump officially withdrew the United States in November 2020 and President Joe Biden rejoined three months later—set a baseline goal of keeping the global average temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and a more aggressive goal of keeping it below 1.5°C. The agreement allows each of its more than 190 signatories to set its own, non-binding “nationally determined contributions” towards emissions reduction—and concedes that it will take longer for developing countries to do so. The United States is currently not on pace to reach Biden’s target of cutting CO2 emissions 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030; China’s updated “contribution” allows it to continue increasing CO2 emissions until the end of the decade.

In addition to countries continuing to shift toward cleaner energy sources that already exist—nuclear, natural gas, solar, wind, etc.—there are coming technologies that could prove game changers for carbon reduction once viable (and scalable), including fusion energy and a more widespread adoption of carbon capture. But those developments are likely more than a decade away—at least—and it will take additional decades for their impact to be felt in global temperatures.

In the meantime, we should expect more years like 2021, where, according to a recent report from Berkeley Earth—a nonprofit founded in 2010 by scientists who found merit in the arguments of global warming skeptics—25 different countries, including China and Nigeria, experienced their own record-high temperature averages. Although 2021 overall was the sixth warmest year on record, it included the hottest ever summer on land, excluding ocean temperatures. Back in July, we wrote to you about a series of heat waves sweeping across the American Southwest and Pacific Northwest; it reached 118°F in parts of Oregon and 121°F in British Columbia. As we noted at the time, a number of variables aligned to cause those extreme temperatures, but those numbers wouldn’t be feasible without this underlying warming.

“In a world where temperatures were still where they were back in the 1850s, [that heat wave] would’ve been an almost impossible event to happen, it would’ve been a one-in-150,000-year event, to have temperatures that hot in that region,” Dr. Zeke Hausfather—a climate scientist who contributed to that Berkeley Earth report—told The Dispatch. “Today, with 1.2 degrees global warming, 1.5, 1.6 degrees warming in that region so far, it’s still a rare event—our best estimate now is that it was something like a one-in-1,000-year event, so still very much a black swan—but it’s 150 times more likely than it would have been without the impact of climate change.”

“If it gets a bit warmer, those odds start to change pretty dramatically,” Hausfather continued. “So what was potentially a one-in-a-1,000-year event today would be a one-in-five or one-in-10-year event if we get to two degrees warming above pre-industrial by the end of the century.”

The White House has been more or less quiet on the NOAA/NASA reports since they were released last week, perhaps because the bulk of Biden’s domestic climate agenda is wrapped up in the Build Back Better Act, which Sen. Joe Manchin put on ice late last year. BBB contained about half a trillion dollars in climate spending—much of it coming in the form of hefty tax credits and subsidies to incentivize clean energy adoption—and the Biden administration routinely claimed its passage would “set the United States on course to meet” the president’s 2030 emissions target.

Climate change has long been considered a Democratic-only issue—perhaps for good reason, given how skeptical many on the right have long been of the notion that CO2 emissions are warming the earth at all. But as Audrey reported last year, an increasing number of Republican lawmakers have come around to pursuing market-oriented legislative solutions aimed at spurring innovation and curbing emissions. 

“Our members have been working for years to develop thoughtful, targeted legislation to reduce global emissions by ensuring we can develop and build new technology at home that is clean, affordable, and exportable,” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said last April, touting bills like the Forestry Education and Workforce Act, the Trillion Trees Act, and the Growing Climate Solutions Act.

“[The NASA] report and the failure of BBB really highlights the importance of going at climate in a bipartisan way, and that this can’t just be a one-party issue,” said Quill Robinson, a vice president at the conservative American Conservation Coalition. “Our case has always been, if you want a voice in the conversation, you have to have a seat at the table.”

Are Boris Johnson’s Days Numbered?

How quickly can a major political party’s fortunes change? Barely a year after sweeping Donald Trump out of the White House, maintaining control of the House, and taking back the Senate majority, Democrats are entering 2022 in a mess, with President Biden badly underwater in approval polling, his legislative agenda stalled out in Congress, and Republicans barreling toward a likely triumph in the 2022 midterms.

Across the pond, a similar situation is playing out in reverse. Just over two years ago, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party handed Labour its worst defeat in nearly a century, breaking through the political deadlock surrounding the biggest issue of the day—Brexit—and making significant inroads among the working-class voters who had long been Labour’s backbone.

But of course Brexit wasn’t going to remain front of mind for voters for long, no matter how things looked in December 2019. Mere months later, the COVID pandemic hit, and Johnson—like most other world leaders—struggled to mount a coherent, effective response. He did enjoy a brief, towering spike in his approval ratings in March and April 2020—a clear example of the rally ‘round the flag effect—but, aside from a short-lived boost in early 2021, support for the former London mayor has continued to decline as the pandemic has dragged on. Lately, it’s entered free fall, with a YouGov-UK poll this week pegging his approval at a term-low 22 percent, with a whopping 73 percent of respondents disapproving of his performance. He’s now less popular than Theresa May, his Conservative predecessor who resigned in 2019. 

In one sense, you can almost feel sympathy for Johnson. As both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have learned in recent years, it isn’t easy to run a popular show during a global pandemic. Indeed, there’s something to Johnson’s approval rating being inversely proportional to the severity of the pandemic in England at any given time—sagging through the winter surge of 2020, recovering as vaccination took off and cases fell last Spring, then plummeting again as first Delta and then Omicron burst onto the scene.

But while much of the course of the pandemic has been out of individual leaders’ hands, there’s one cardinal rule by which (nearly) every official who wants to stay in office has had to abide over the last two years: If you’re imposing restrictions on the public, you’d better make sure you’re honoring those restrictions yourself.

It’s been Johnson’s failure to abide by this rule that has landed him in real trouble in recent weeks. Since November, the British press has been thick with accusations that Johnson and his staff disregarded social distancing guidelines a number of times in 2020, when restrictions were at their peak. Last month, The Guardian published a photograph from May 2020 of Johnson and his staff relaxing in the Downing Street garden, during what was reportedly a “bring your own booze” party to which more than 100 staffers were invited. Johnson’s staff also reportedly held multiple Christmas parties that year—again, at a time when his government was cautioning the public against visiting with friends and family. Johnson cautiously neglected to deny the reports when they first surfaced, but maintained the parties did not violate COVID-19 protocols.

Days later, video footage leaked of Downing Street staffers laughing about flouting guidelines at one of the parties in a mock press conference. Johnson apologized “unreservedly” for the video, but remained adamant no COVID-19 violations took place and called for an investigation into the allegations, the results of which are expected in a week or two. He apologized again last week—before the House of Commons—as it became clearer he did, in fact, attend the May 2020 party. 

“I know the rage [Britons] feel with me and with the government I lead when they think in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules,” he said. He continues to insist, however, that he did not know the outdoor party—which he considered a “work event”—violated his government’s rules.

These revelations have hurt Johnson’s standing among the public, but they are also symptoms of a larger problem: The longer the pandemic has lingered, the more dissent Johnson has faced within his own party. Last month, Johnson endured a 101-member Parliamentary revolt—more than a quarter of his governing coalition—when he backed a vaccine passport system for large gatherings in the face of rampant Omicron transmission. A handful of Conservative MPs this week have even called for Johnson to resign as prime minister, and a dozen or so are reportedly plotting to launch a no-confidence vote in the coming days. 

Those calls remain a minority position among Tories for now, but Johnson’s support among MPs of his own party is tenuous. If the investigation proves he lied to Parliament about his attendance at or knowledge of the various parties—or if Conservatives sustain major losses in May’s local elections—the prime minister would almost assuredly get the boot.

Worth Your Time

  • In a piece for The Atlantic, Andrea Stanley details the dwindling empathy supply since the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines. “In 2020, dying of COVID-19 was widely seen as an unqualified tragedy. It was the beginning of the pandemic, when it felt as if the entire world was in a state of collective grief,” she writes. “Now the majority of COVID deaths are occurring among the unvaccinated, and many deaths are likely preventable. The compassion extended to the virus’s victims is no longer universal. Sometimes, in place of condolences, loved ones receive scorn. Vitriol doesn’t come just from familiar names, but also from strangers. Websites, message boards, and social-media accounts have cropped up as forums to insult the unvaccinated dead. They scour social-media pages for ‘covidiots’ and screenshot their photos and posts, turning them into memes. One Reddit page even gives out ‘awards’ to those who refused the vaccine and then died.”

  • Progressive comedy writer Jeff Maurer wanted Democrats’ voting reform bills to pass, but concedes in his latest I Might Be Wrong newsletter the stakes are not nearly as high as party leaders have made them out to be, and worries that Democratic rhetoric over the past week has made them look like “sanctimonious losers” who are “cosplaying” the civil rights movement. “The message we chose to go with was basically: ‘This is exactly the same as Jim Crow and nothing less than the future of democracy is at stake.’ To call this argument ‘overwrought’ would be a massive understatement,” he writes. “Personally, I think Republican voter suppression tactics are sh—y, but not very effective. As I’ve mentioned before, the evidence that low turnout helps Republicans is increasingly thin. I also think that voter ID laws are less effective than they used to be; most folks are wise to this gambit, and people who try to measure these laws’ effects typically find nothing or close to nothing. … We matched their base-driven hyperventilating with some of our own.” (Warning: Colorful language used throughout this piece.)

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In this week’s Sweep, Sarah touches on the Biden administration’s voting reform cynicism and the brewing feud between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis before turning to a recent Gallup poll on party identification and the Republican National Committee’s hardline negotiations with the Commission on Presidential Debates.

  • In Tuesday’s Uphill, Haley focuses on how companies are scrambling to rejigger their supply chains to comply with the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. “The government is expected to issue guidance on the burden of proof to obtain exemptions in the coming months, but one thing is certain,” she writes. “Congress did not intend it to be an easy bar to meet.

  • David’s latest French Press focuses on Ukraine, and why you should care if Russia invades. Part of the case is built on democratic idealism and concern for Ukrainian human rights, he writes. But there are also pragmatic reasons it would be bad for America if Ukraine falls. “Russia’s desire to dominate the nations along its border extends when Russia’s border extends,” David argues. “[And] the reintroduction of Great Power territorial aggression would once again destabilize the world order.”

Let Us Know

What do you see as the most efficient means of hitting Biden’s 2030 emissions goal, if you believe it’s worth hitting? What is the United States’ role in addressing climate change in a world where China is far and away the largest polluter?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).