World’s cli­mate catas­tro­phe wors­ens amid pan­demic

Iran Daily - - Cultural Heritage & Environmen­t - By Ishaan Tha­roor*

We may be liv­ing inside the big­gest an­nual car­bon crash in recorded his­tory. The quar­an­tines, shut­downs and trade and travel stop­pages prompted by the spread of the coro­n­avirus led to a his­toric plunge in green­house gas emis­sions.

In some places, the en­vi­ron­men­tal change was pal­pa­ble — smog lifted from cities free of traf­fic con­ges­tion, rivers ran clear of the murk that long clogged their banks.

But the ro­man­tic vi­sion of na­ture “heal­ing” it­self was al­ways an il­lu­sion. As my col­leagues re­ported ear­lier this month, car­bon diox­ide lev­els in the at­mos­phere are the high­est they’ve been in hu­man his­tory, and pos­si­bly higher than in the past three mil­lion years. The specter of man­made cli­mate change looms all the more omi­nously over a planet in the grips of a vi­ral pan­demic.

A look at head­lines in just the past few days paints a stark pic­ture: The gi­ant plumes of Sa­ha­ran dust that wafted over the At­lantic and choked a whole swath of the south­ern United States — where au­thor­i­ties are, as it is, strug­gling to cope with a surge of in­fec­tions of a deadly res­pi­ra­tory dis­ease — was a gen­er­a­tional event, which some sci­en­tists link to deep­en­ing, cli­mate change-in­duced droughts in North Africa.

By Satur­day, swarms of locusts reached the en­vi­rons of the In­dian cap­i­tal New Delhi, mark­ing the lat­est ad­vance of a vast plague, the scale of which ex­perts haven’t seen in decades. Suc­ces­sive in­va­sions of the desert in­sects are ex­pected to hit parts of South Asia through the sum­mer, fol­low­ing mul­ti­ple swarms rav­aging coun­tries in East Africa.

Sci­en­tists sug­gest the mag­ni­tude of the new swarms is a di­rect con­se­quence of warm­ing tem­per­a­tures in the In­dian

Ocean, which cre­ated a pat­tern of tor­ren­tial rain­fall and cy­clones that yielded more fer­tile breed­ing grounds for the locusts. Though much of the In­dian spring har­vest was col­lected be­fore the lo­cust swarms ar­rived, the Horn of Africa re­gion could suf­fer up to $8.5 bil­lion in lost crops and live­stock pro­duc­tion by the end of the year as a re­sult of this lo­cust out­break, ac­cord­ing to World Bank es­ti­mates.

“Na­tions which were al­ready un­der threat of food in­se­cu­rity now face a real dan­ger of star­va­tion,” Rep. Christo­pher H. Smith (R-N.J.) said in a state­ment tout­ing bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion in the House to boost aid to African coun­tries af­fected by the in­fes­ta­tion. “There are now up to 26 mil­lion peo­ple who are at risk of acute food short­ages and wide­spread hunger.”

Ear­lier this month, record warm con­di­tions in Siberia sparked rag­ing wildfires in the peat­lands that ring the Arc­tic. There have been what some sci­en­tists branded “zom­bie” blazes — fires sparked the pre­vi­ous sum­mer that never fully died out as win­ter set in and then were reignited as tem­per­a­tures soared. The Siberian Arc­tic is warm­ing at twice the rate of the rest of the world.

“The Arc­tic is fig­u­ra­tively and lit­er­ally on fire — it’s warm­ing much faster than we thought it would in re­sponse to ris­ing lev­els of car­bon diox­ide and other green­house gases in the at­mos­phere, and this warm­ing is lead­ing to a rapid melt­down and in­crease in wildfires,” cli­mate sci­en­tist and Univer­sity of Michi­gan en­vi­ron­men­tal school dean Jonathan Over­peck told the As­so­ci­ated Press.

The heat and fires have ter­ri­fy­ing con­se­quences in the short term, too. It is be­lieved that a mon­u­men­tal Arc­tic oil spill in No­rilsk, north-cen­tral Rus­sia, took place af­ter melt­ing per­mafrost led to a reser­voir col­laps­ing to­ward the end of last month, trig­ger­ing a leak in the fa­cil­ity that re­minded many of the 1989

Exxon Valdez spill.

Then there’s the Ama­zon rainforest, the prover­bial lungs of the world: Ex­perts fear an even greater spread of fires this year than in 2019, with Brazil­ian au­thor­i­ties amid the pan­demic less able to guard against the il­le­gal blazes of­ten set by log­gers, min­ers and would-be farm­ers.

Brazil isn’t alone in its strug­gles with the more im­me­di­ate, in­vis­i­ble threat of the virus. But cli­mate change doesn’t wait. “You may feel, be­cause of the pan­demic, that you are liv­ing to some de­gree in 1918,” wrote New York mag­a­zine’s David Wal­lace-wells, re­fer­ring to the flu out­break that rat­tled the world a cen­tury ago. “The Arc­tic tem­per­a­tures of the past week sug­gest that at least part of the world is liv­ing, si­mul­ta­ne­ously, in 2098.”

Op­ti­mists say the ex­pe­ri­ence of the pan­demic may fo­cus pol­icy minds more clearly on the need for more de­ci­sive, col­lec­tive ac­tion on other fronts. “I was so wor­ried about the dan­gers of go­ing too far,” Sally Capp, lord mayor of the Aus­tralian city of Melbourne, re­cently told the BBC when dis­cussing her ret­i­cence in the past over push­ing too ag­gres­sive a cli­mate plat­form. “I have be­come much more res­o­lute about my val­ues, pri­or­i­tiz­ing hu­man­ity and pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, so they can play a larger role in driv­ing my agenda.”

On Sun­day, mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions in France showed a surge in sup­port for the left-lean­ing Greens, the lat­est sign that cli­mate-minded pol­i­tics is com­ing to dom­i­nate the agenda in the West’s ma­jor cities. But ex­perts warn that even some of the most well-in­ten­tioned gov­ern­ments are be­hind in meet­ing car­bon­slash­ing goals, while com­mit­ments to cli­mate ac­tion around the world are not be­ing up­held in any mean­ing­fully con­sis­tent or uni­form man­ner.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, of course, is the cli­mate vil­lain of the mo­ment — re­ject­ing in­ter­na­tional pacts, gut­ting na­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions and reg­u­la­tions, and sidelin­ing and cen­sor­ing its own cli­mate re­searchers and sci­en­tists.

“With the pan­demic rag­ing and pub­lic at­ten­tion some­what dis­tracted away from con­tin­u­ing cli­mate-de­struc­tive an­ti­sci­en­tist ma­nip­u­la­tions, pro­tect­ing cli­mate sci­en­tists is a more ur­gent task than ever,” wrote Amer­i­can me­te­o­rol­o­gist Jeff Masters. “The world­wide coro­n­avirus lock­downs are proof that hu­man­ity can act quickly on a global scale to help pass our civ­i­liza­tion’s pop quiz. Col­lec­tively, we can do so again to help us pass our com­ing cli­mate change fi­nal exam.”

* Ishaan Tha­roor is a colum­nist on the For­eign Desk of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

The above ar­ti­cle was taken from wash­ing­ton­


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