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Observations of an Expat: Climate people

By Tom Arms

Climate change affects every single one of the7.8 billion people living on planet Earth and each one of them is an individual with homes, jobs, families, friends, dreams and aspirations.

Already these are being shattered by floods, fires, droughts, desertification and storms. Millions have already been affected. Below is a sample of specific cases that herald future problems for the rest of the world.

Cecile Rvanavaluna used to work in her local rice paddy every day. Now Madagascar’s rice fields—which take up a third of the East African Island’s agricultural land– are dust. Madagascar has been suffering a drought for a record 40 years. It is, according to the UN, the victim of the first climate-induced famine.

Cecile and her family are being kept just above starvation levels by handouts from the World Food Programme. Other Malagasy’s are less fortunate. At least 30,000 are said to be dying from starvation. Many are reduced to eating cactus leaves which would otherwise be fed to livestock. With so many in a weakened state, the disease is rampant.

Shakeeh Bano and her family can’t sleep inside their one-storey home for at least a third of the year. They have to move to the roof in an attempt to find respite from day after day of temperatures topping 50 degrees centigrade. Her three grandchildren regularly suffer from heat exhaustion, rashes and diarrhoea.

Kuwait at the head of the Persian Gulf is dependent on the fossil fuels which feed the growing climate crisis. It has also recorded temperatures as high as 68 degrees centigrade reflected off the desert sands. Most days the thermometer reaches at least 50 degrees. Between 11 Am and 4 pm, the streets of Kuwait City are empty as the occupants seek a break in air-conditioned homes which only push up the outdoor temperature. Unbearable temperatures have become a fact of life in recent years throughout the Middle East and South Asia. In fact, the Middle East is heating up at twice the rate as the rest of the globe.

Grandpa Joe dropped in for dinner at Tina Stege’s house on the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. This would not have been unusual but for the fact that Joe Stege was buried in a seaside plot thirty years ago. Rising sea levels meant that his coffin was lifted from his grave and deposited on Tina’s front porch 200 yards up the beach. The Marshall Islands are one of many low-lying island nations that could literally disappear as polar ice caps melt and sea levels rise.

Meteorologists have warned that a quarter of million Australian homes could be lost to the sea over the next ten years. But that is only part of the problem down under. Australia is already the world’s driest continent and in the past ten years, it has suffered a drought. Lack of rain and soaring temperatures have, according to experts, made the continental nation one of the three most fire-prone areas in the world. In 2019-20 New South Wales suffered its worst bush fires in history. Three billion animals were either displaced or burned to death.

Canada’s British Columbia is usually associated with one of the world’s most pleasantly temperate climates. But over the past decade, the numbers have been steadily rising. This summer Patrick Lytton received a text picture from his wife of the thermometer outside their home in the town of Lytton. It showed 53 degrees centigrade. Moments later the town burst into flames. Mrs Lytton and her pregnant daughter and her children were forced to flee with nothing more than the clothes are on their backs.

Further down the West coast, the combination of a prolonged drought and high temperatures is responsible for a record number of wildfires. In 2019 118,000 acres was destroyed by fire. In 2020 the figure exceeded two million acres. The smoke and flames could be seen from the International Space Station. As the flames spread, firefighters draped in foil the world’s largest tree, the giant Sequoia known as General Sherman, to protect it from nearby fires.

Severe weather is also one of the consequences of rising world temperatures, especially in the Caribbean region and the US east coast. Hurricanes heading for that region start off the West coast of Africa where the higher temperatures draw up evaporated water from the Atlantic. The higher the temperature the more water that rises into the air, develops into hurricanes and starts being pushed northwest by the trade winds.

Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, Louisiana and Texas have all been hit in recent years by devastating hurricanes. Climate change storms are said to be responsible for floods that killed 242 people across several European countries in July and August. There was also severe flooding this summer in Turkey, China, India, Afghanistan, New Zealand and the US.

The world leaders gathered in Glasgow are said to be discussing ways to head off the consequences of climate change. They are already with us.

Tom Arms is the foreign editor of LDV. His book “America: Made in Britain” is now available.

World Review

Cop 26 finished its first week with a superabundance of world leaders making a plethora of pledges about climate change. Deforestation is to end (except maybe in Indonesia). More money is to be made available for green technology in developing countries. Eighteen countries (most of them small) have agreed to move away from coal-generated energy. Now the leaders have flown home in their gas guzzling carbon emitting private jets and left it to officials to hammer out the devilish details and attempt to wring out concessions from the biggest polluters, mainly China and India who together are responsible for over a third of the planet’s carbon emissions. On the latter point they will have a tough job. India refuses to commit to climate change targets until 2070 which most climatologists reckon is much too little much too late. China, for its part, is continuing to build and export electricity stations powered by its massive coal reserves. Meanwhile, the Global Carbon Project reported that global carbon emissions are climbing back to pre-pandemic levels, with India rising by 12.6% and China by 4% between 2020 and 2021. The climate watchdogs predict that 2022 could see record levels of carbon emissions as air travel returns to pre-pandemic levels.

Europeans heaved a temporary sigh of relief this week when at the 11th hour French President Emmanuel Macron called off a trade war with Britain. The catalyst was a dispute over fishing rights. But the real cause was anger over treaty commitments. All of this means that the respite is likely to be temporary, especially as Britain appears to be on the verge of imposing Article 16 over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Sir Peter Ricketts, former British Ambassador to France, writing in the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche said: “the relationship between France and the United Kingdom is at its lowest point in my entire career as a diplomat.” The British claim that the French threats are posturing aimed at winning votes in the April presidential elections. That is doubtless a major factor. Pro-European Macron is eager to prove to French euro-sceptics that withdrawal from Europe comes with a heavy price. But Sir Peter reckons that that is only part of the story. He maintains Boris Johnson’s anti-European position and “failure to meet its commitments “allows him to divert the attention of public opinion from the internal problems in the UK.”

It was a bad week for US President Joe Biden and America’s Democrats. First, the president was caught napping (or did he just rest his eyelids?) at COP 26 in Glasgow. Then the Democrats lost the Virginia governorship to Republican Glenn Yongkin and barely won the governorship in the Democratic stronghold of New Jersey. This is a bad sign for the election chances of Biden’s Democrats in the mid-term congressional and senate elections a year from now. Virginia was seen as a referendum on the Biden Administration. It is a divided state. In the heavily populated Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC the electorate is overwhelmingly liberal Democrats. But outside of the Washington suburbs, born-again conservative Republicans rule the roost. In 2020, Joe Biden surprised the pundits by winning the state with a clear ten-point lead. But over the past six months, his national approval ratings have dropped by more than ten points. Rising inflation, the continuing pandemic, a deadlocked legislative agenda, and the debacle of Afghanistan, have all combined to put Biden and the Democrats on the political back foot. But if “a week is a long time in politics” as the late British Prime Minister Harold Wilson said, then a year is an eternity.

Taiwan’s Pratas Island on the northern edge of the South China Sea covers 590 acres of which 190 are a lagoon and a big chunk of the rest is an airport. There are no permanent inhabitants, just 500 Taiwanese marines to protect the island from a Chinese attack. According to National Security Bureau Director-General, Chen Ming-ton, those marines will have their job cut out for them within six years as the Chinese intend to invade and annex the island. Pratas Island is a likely target. Its diminutive size means it can only be lightly defended. On top of that, it is 250 miles away from Taiwan. But as Beijing piles on the pressure, others are lining up behind the US to offer support to Taipei. The latest is the European Parliament which this week sent their first official delegation to Taipei. Raphael Glucksman, the French MEP leading the delegation, told Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen: “You are not alone. Europe is standing with you.” Beijing responded by saying that the visit and comments sent “the wrong signals.”

Russia—in the form of gas and oil monopoly Gazprom—continues to pile on the pressure as world energy supplies dwindle and prices rocket. Last week it was tiny impoverished Moldova. This week it is the turn of big rich Germany. For the past week Gazprom has not delivered gas supplies to northern Germany and only half of the normal supplies have reached Austria and southern Germany. Most experts believe that the non-deliveries are related to the EU dragging its feet on final approval of the Nordstream Two gas pipe line which will pump supplies directly to Germany from Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has gone on television to dismiss these claims as “unjustified blather.” He said that Gazprom was honouring all of its contractual obligations. This is probably true. The problem is that roughly half of Russian gas Germany buys circumvents long-term fixed contracts by going through the spot markets. In the past, this helped to keep down energy prices as spot market prices were traditionally lower than fixed Gazprom contracts. But the energy crunch has changed that. In the past few months prices have risen by 18 percent and expected to rocket as winter descends.

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