Archive for March, 2016

Temperatures rob the Arctic of its winter

I can’t pretend it was a scientific study of weather patterns, but during the month of February this year I decided to look at temperature readings of major cities around the world and found to my great dismay what scientists had predicted: January and February 2016 were breaking all temperature records, including an unheard-of spike in temperature of 10 °C at the North Pole in December 2015. I don’t think anyone, having read those weather reports this February, would expect to find it to be a rare occurrence for any northern city to have below-freezing temperatures, but that is what turned out to be the case. From Moscow to Toronto and Tokyo to Zurich, temperatures were consistently higher than all previous records.
We cannot, as some sceptics might, blame the 2015 El Niño for our climate woes, as none of the 20th-century El Niño events caused such anomalies. That is why the Paris Agreement, in opposing any legal requirement to keep global temperatures below a rise of 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and refusing to address the dramatic increase in greenhouse-gas emissions, is not enough to hang the future of our planet on.
The inclusion of aspirational ‘commitments’ for putting a stop to temperature rise as an essential component of the Agreement has led the Least Developed Countries to suspect the motives of the Developed Countries. Nepalese social activist Shail Shrestha, having attended his first climate summit, bemoans the injustice of a UN conference that has the countries who have contributed the least to climate chaos having to ask for grants as well as be beholden to wealthy countries in order to mitigate climate impacts they had nothing to do with in the first place. “Indeed,” he adds, “cultural transfer from the South to the North would lead both in a more sustainable direction. In traditional societies, energy efficiency is highly valued, and conservation is considered more important than comfort and ease.”
Climate Progress reported, “The three unlucky nations that suffered their most expensive weather-related natural disasters ever are Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and Fiji:

  • “Vietnam has suffered $6.7 billion in damage from its 2016 drought, which has hit farmers especially hard in the crucial southern Mekong Delta. This cost is approximately 4% of Vietnam’s GDP, and beats the $785 million cost (2009 USD) of Typhoon Ketsana of September 28, 2009 for most expensive disaster in their history.”
  • “Zimbabwe has suffered $1.6 billion in damage from its 2016 drought [with more than a quarter of the population facing food shortages]. This is approximately 12% of their GDP, and beats the $200 million cost (2003 USD) of a February 2003 flood for most expensive disaster in their history.”
  • “Fiji suffered $470 million in damage from Category 5 Cyclone Winston’s impact in February [peak strength 185 mph winds]. This is approximately 10% of their GDP. The previous costliest disaster in Fiji was Tropical Cyclone Kina in January 1993, at $182 million (2016 USD) in damage.”
    Given that this month looks to be headed toward the hottest March on record by far — and given that it would surprise no one if this were the hottest spring on record by far — much more such extreme weather disasters are yet to come.

It’s worth remembering, though, that however bad it gets this year, if we don’t continue to sharply reverse global emissions trends, then our current extreme weather will simply be the norm by mid-century — and it will be considered mild by century’s end.”
Canadian writer Naomi Klein, the author of This Changes Everything, recently said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “[only] pretends to care” about climate-change mitigation. I agree, for how can he support a green economy with the transportation of tar-sand oil and gas to foreign markets? He believes the pathway to a low-carbon future for Canada lies in selling more fossil fuels to pay for renewable energy. “To get there,” he claims, “we need to make smart strategic investments in clean growth and new infrastructure, but we must also continue to generate wealth from our abundant natural resources to fund this transition to a low-carbon economy.”
From the standpoint of climate/social justice, this strategy of the Liberal prime minister is sheer madness, and it tells us how deeply enmeshed this government is with a fossil-fuel industry that is actually shedding jobs and never saved its money for a rainy day. Continuing to subsidize and encourage the growth of fossil-fuel markets at the immediate expense of our ecological balance and then declare that that same growth and investment will at a later date give Canada the opportunity to shut down this same growth is highly suspect. It is akin to saying that the government should encourage the smoking industry because the taxes raised will help fund cancer research.
Meanwhile, the Town of Collingwood has passed in the last 17 years two climate resolutions and it will be the subject of another article to see if the Town’s ink is worth anything.