By Hebe Larkin
One day I woke up and the sky was blood red.
It was 2009, I was nine years old, and I thought the world was going to end. The sun was glowing dimly through the haze, people were suddenly wearing face-masks and we would find layers of dust on everything for weeks afterwards. It wasn’t quite the end of the world, but the aftermath of a huge dust-storm that had blown across Sydney. It was so unusual that you can even find a Wikipedia page about it.
Today, my nine-year old fears of apocalypse have retuned. As bushfires rage in Australia, the obscured sun, the choking air, the face masks, have become the new normal. When I flew back home to Sydney this December, the day after the hottest-ever day on record, where the average temperature topped 41.9C, the pilot gave us the weather forecast. Of course, he said, you can see the smoke haze above the city. We descended from blue sky above the haze, into the layer of smoke.
This bushfire season has been extraordinarily bad, but follows a trajectory that climate scientists have warned government about since the 1980s. Human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels, has been linked with climate change and rising temperatures. In Australia, 9 out of 10 of the country’s warmest years have occurred since 2005. These higher temperatures create the perfect condition for bushfires, in the following ways:
Already during this bushfire season:
And this won’t be the end of it – the bushfire season still has its course to run.
Understandably, in a country where two-thirds of people believe the climate emergency to be the world’s greatest threat, the response from citizens has raged alongside the bushfires that ignited their anger. Protestors have marched on conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s house to demand action, while he was abroad on a family holiday.
But government response has been slow, even non-existent. At the recent climate summit in Madrid, Australia was singled out as being one of the worst-performing countries on its Paris climate targets. At its current rate, it won’t meet its target of 26-8% below 2005 levels. Indeed, the deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, while agreeing that Australia needed to take more action on climate change, viewed it as a discussion for the future. He then went on to support the coal industry.
If Australia is to have any hope of mitigating the risk of unprecedented bushfires and heat waves, it needs federal policy put in place to reduce emissions across all sectors. Otherwise, the red skies of 2009 will become the new normal.
By Bianca Pasca
Following our event on ‘Race Empire and Climate change’ which explained how the global north’s responsibility for and failure to respond sufficiently to the climate crisis constitutes a form of neo-colonialism, this week’s “What you need to know about…” post will focus on the impact of climate change on indigenous communities who are not mere victims but potential leaders in the fight against the climate crisis.
This article will explain:
2) How even climate change mitigation strategies harm indigenous communities
Biofuels- biofuels are less damaging than fossil fuels because they are carbon neutral, the CO2 released when they are burnt as fuel is balanced by the CO2 absorbed the tress before they are processed into fuel.
3) Why listening to indigenous communities can help tackle the climate crisis
Marginalisation of indigenous communities is of course a threat to their survival as their interests are not represented on the world stage. Yet it’s also detrimental to our collective efforts to tackle climate change as we could learn much from understanding the special relationship indigenous people have with the natural environment. Eg:
· Flooding - In Bangladesh, villagers are creating floating vegetable gardens to protect their livelihoods from flooding
· Tropical storms- in Vietnam, communities are helping to plant dense mangroves along the coast to diffuse tropical-storm waves.
· Droughts- In Guyana indigenous communities are relocating form the savannah to forest areas during floods and are planting their staple crop, cassava on moist flood plains where other crops are unable to survive.
Unfortunately, the example set by indigenous communities falls into oblivion because their traditional knowledge is largely oral and remains outside of academic forums, thereby remaining marginalized in literature such as the IPCC reports.
Human rights-Indigenous communities are also leading the way in making governments accountable for climate change by making a link between inaction and violation of human rights. For example, indigenous Australians from the Torres Strait islands are filing a complaint to the UN that identifies the Australian government’s failure to mitigate the impact of climate change as a violation of their human rights.
The UN’s ruling is non-binding but may succeed in pressuring the Australian government into action, proving that platforming indigenous people and the protection of their rights and interests is fundamentally linked to the fight against climate change.
A summary of Asad Rehman's, (Director of charity War on Want) talk on 'Race, Empire and Climate Change' which explains how climate change perpetuates the injustices f colonialism.
By Mathilda Alexander
Coinciding with the start of COP25 and in time for the impending general election, Asad Rehman’s talk on Monday 2nd December 2019 shed light on how global inequality caused by colonialism is being amplified by climate change, and how the UK needs to act in accordance.
Rehman began by outlining the aims and work of War on Want, the radical anti-poverty human rights climate justice organisation for which he is executive director. Unlike other charities, War on Want was one of the first who dared say no to Neoliberalism, and refuses to make political compromises that tacitly accept the capitalist system responsible for global inequality. War on Want has been committed to supporting movements in the global South since its inception and aims to provide justice, not charity, by identifying and tackling the root causes of inequality.
Climate change is at the heart of any consideration of global injustice, as a cause and consequence of colonialism. The urgent need to change the story we tell about climate was threaded throughout Rehman’s talk-current narratives fail to acknowledge the urgency of the crisis for the world’s most vulnerable. The endurance of the polar pear perched on an ice berg as the rallying image for climate action is painfully revealing of our blindness to the human costs of climate change on the global south as we speak.
In the words of Asad Rehman, “stop using the fucking polar bear and move on!”.
We may feel shocked by so violent a reaction to the cute and fluffy polar bear image, but far more shocking is the neo-colonial mentality behind the halfhearted commitments to climate action attitudes by the global north. Current pledges from the Paris Climate Agreement are leading us towards warming between 3-4 degrees. Whilst this will be problematic for the global north, it will be catastrophic for the world’s poorest. Just one degree of warming is already causing heatwaves that killed 1200 people in Pakistan and led to India’s fifth largest city, Chennai, with a population of 8.7 million people, running out of water.
It’s easy to argue for political compromise when it’s not your life being compromised on the front lines of the crisis. For Rehman, climate inequality can only be explained in the context of colonialism, the doctrine of discovery and enlightenment thinking which sanctioned the sacrifice of human life in the pursuit of profit. The global North has been built and financed by the historic exploitation of the global South’s resources and people, with Britain estimated to have stolen $45 Trillion from India, making the global South dependent on the global North. If we don’t acknowledge our own debt, we risk a climate apartheid, where the wealthy pay to escape, and the rest of the world suffer.
So, what should we do? Rehman argued we must start telling a story of solidarity that unites people in empathy with the global south and combats the elitism of the environmental movement. The working class are right to shun a movement that emphasises individual consumer responsibility; we should instead work towards a profound transformation that challenges neoliberalism.
This means leaving behind the assumption that we can continue to prioritise profit by simply “greening” our economy. Transitioning to renewable energy at current rates of consumption requires the extraction of resources which exploits the global south. Huge mining projects all over Latin America are already causing huge environmental, exacerbating water shortages in Chile. To sacrifice the most vulnerable in order to remain politically and economically dominant would be to continue the legacy of colonialism which are so quick to denounce vocally.
OCS Media Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.