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The case for global warming realism, rather than panic

It’s getting harder and harder to communicate the two essential realities of human-caused climate change: that our failure to slow and eventually stop it is contributing to devastating human suffering all over the world, and that it’s not too late to act.

The big picture: Experts have long told climate communicators —including scientists, journalists and politicians — that disaster porn immobilizes people, leaving them cowering in a corner. You've got to give them a sense of hope, the research shows.

Yes, but: Climate news right now continues to be a steady, terrible drumbeat of doom.

Why it matters: Climate change is not an existential cliff that we'll suddenly fall off of, with no turning back. It's more like a hill we're sliding down at ever-increasing speed.

  • We can choose to alter course at any time by hitting the brakes and slashing emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, emanating from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
  • But the longer we wait, the faster we'll be traveling, and the more effort it will take to slow down and achieve the cuts that are needed. And we've already waited a long time to start pumping the brakes.

Between the lines: Optimism has its place in climate change discourse.

  • Many of the technologies needed to dramatically reduce emissions, such as renewable energy resources like wind and solar power, are seeing increasingly wide adoption. In most cases now in the U.S., they even have a cost advantage over fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.
  • Electric vehicles are gaining traction, and money is flowing into next-generation technologies like carbon removal mechanisms.
  • A social movement is pushing for climate action in the U.S. and abroad. And corporations are seeking ways to reduce their emissions in response to pressure from customers and regulators.

But the fact is that we're still on course for at least 3°C (5.4°F) of warming compared to the preindustrial era, based on the latest emissions reduction pledges. And if climate models that project even more warming for the same amount of emissions are correct, it could be closer to 4°C (7.2°F).

  • Almost unimaginable consequences would stem from that level of warming, particularly in the developing world.
  • The planet has only warmed by about 1.2°C (2.16°F) since the preindustrial era, and even that has left us with a summer straight out of "The Day After Tomorrow."

My thought bubble: Being a climate reporter today is like being a chronicler of human-caused disasters, along with a bearer of grim policy news as leaders fail to stem the tide of ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

  • My job is to inform, not to inspire, and that means being blunt about the fact that climate change is ravaging the Earth right now.
  • But I also know that too much doom risks leaving people with a sense of fatalism, obscuring the equally true and equally relevant fact that the damage does not have to keep getting worse at this pace. Choices made today will determine what the planet will be like in just a few decades.

What's next: The doom, for now, is going to keep coming.

  • The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is set to release a new compendium on Aug. 9 — a policy-neutral, authoritative report that's expected to highlight how difficult it will be to adhere to the Paris climate agreement's temperature targets, while also depicting in more granular details the consequences of failing to do so.
  • The report is expected to detail the differences between a world that warms by only 1.5°C -- an increasingly unrealistic target — versus a world that warms by 2°C or more.
  • Expect alarming headlines to accompany that report, and a renewed push for action.

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

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Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

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Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

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Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

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"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

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What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

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