The link between extreme weather and extreme inequality

 

In Focus Image

There are often moments as an environment journalist when individual stories or facts pull you up short: the bravery of young climate activists prepared to put themselves in harm’s way for our collective futures, for instance, or a new study calmly detailing how another ecosystem is vanishing before our eyes.

But, over the last few weeks, it has been a series of apparently unconnected headlines that have kept me awake at night.

 

The first of these headlines related to one of a series of devastating heatwaves. These extreme spells have caused large parts of northern India and Pakistan to become all but unliveable, feeling – as one resident told our reporters – “like living in hell”.

 

For many in the northern hemisphere the conditions being experienced in parts of south Asia are difficult to imagine – daytime temperatures topping out above 50C with little respite at night as the heat and humidity remain stifling even after the sun goes down. (If anyone wants to get a sense of what it might be like to live through such terrifying conditions, read the searing opening to Kim Stanley Robinson’s excellent book The Ministry for the Future).

 

To make matters worse, air conditioning – often a matter of life and death in such conditions – is a remote luxury for many of those at the sharp end of this heatwave, and even those lucky enough to have it are being hit by power outages. Add to this the impact on crops and food supplies and the resident’s reference to “hell” feels chillingly real.

 

Dirty money

 

Meanwhile, just a few weeks before temperatures started to spike in India and Pakistan, an entirely different slew of headlines appeared on business pages around the world – this time focusing on the profits of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies.

 

Shell and BP set for £40bn in profits,” cried the newspapers, as BP’s chief financial officer Murray Auchincloss told investors it was “possible that we’re getting more cash than we know what to do with.”

 

At the same time, in the UK and much of Europe, there has been growing concern over the so-called cost of living crisis. It is, in essence, a story about huge numbers of people being driven into grinding poverty – in large part by rising fuel prices.

And finally, this week we hear that we are nearing the point at which, for the first time, the world breaches the 1.5C global heating limit set by international governments, a chilling reminder that the climate crisis is here and accelerating us towards a cliff edge.

 

Joining the dots

 

Are these stories of extreme weather and extreme inequality related? I think they are. And, taken together, surely this is a straighforward case of the lights on the dashboard flashing pretty urgently.

 

A colleague on the Guardian’s environment team has been arguing for a while that soon most journalism will be climate or environment journalism – at least to a large degree. I am starting to come round to that point of view. As the climate crisis escalates it will have an impact on most aspects of our lives wherever we are living, from security to the cost of living, from where and how we live and move around, to our diets and even our jobs.

 

The challenge for journalists now, it seems, is not just to report on individual aspects of the climate crisis but to spot the patterns and join the dots – and hopefully hold those responsible to account.

 

Harjeet Singh is a climate justice campaigner who works for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has lived through the heatwave in New Delhi. When I spoke to him this week he told me that fossil fuel corporations

 

“knew that the extraction and use of coal, oil and gas damages the environment and causes climate disasters, such as heatwaves and supercharged storms … The result is that poor people in developing countries are on the frontline of the climate crisis and already losing lives, homes and income”.

He emphasised the importance of looking at the bigger picture:

“it is a mistake to see these events in isolation – we have to make the links between cause and effect.”

Matthew Taylor

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Preceding

  1. Dangerous climate change is already with us
  2. Climate talks with a familiar outcome
  3. Almaty ablaze
  4. How will the other half live? For 3.5 billion, in constant peril
  5. Good reason to speak to climate deniers
  6. IPCC Climate Change Report Upstaged by Ukraine
  7. Down to earth for April 2022 – Composted reads Climate heroes What’s at stake
  8. Climate and cocoa: why an anti-modern slavery movement is talking about the environment
  9. Climate change has some nasty surprises in store

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Additional reading

  1. Going for sustainable development
  2. Us and climate change – We can do much more than we think
  3. The Climate Crisis and the Need for Utopian Thinking
  4. How to look back at Cop26
  5. The Climate Crisis: It’s Not Just Consumers’ Faults
  6. Four ways to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises simultaneously

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Related

  1. To save the planet, stop “investing” and start organizing
  2. In 2021; 38 lakh people affected in India due to natural disasters
  3. Baking a billion people (or two)
  4. The Ecology of War
  5. The Climate Game
  6. Humans rapidly destroy planet
  7. Climate change is real: World set to face 1.5 disasters a day by 2030
  8. ‘Hottest summer ever’: Many Indian states under ‘severe’ heatwave
  9. Heat Wave in India & Pakistan Hits 1 Billion: Coal to Generate Electricity for AC’s in Short Supply
  10. India may lose 15% GDP in next 28 years due to climate change
  11. Report: Climate Change Has Displaced 21million People Every Year Since 2008
  12. Climate Action Now
  13. Scorching weather forces India to face climate change head on
  14. So is it Climate Change or Global Warming?
  15. Extreme heat kills at least 25 in India’s Maharashtra state
  16. India’s banks unprepared for climate breaking points
  17. Extreme heat wave in India and Pakistan affects water
  18. CO2 reached 420 ppm in the atmosphere
  19. Today in climate change (6 May 2022)
  20. Bangladeshi children leaving school to work due to climate crisis
  21. ‘Our house is truly on fire’: Earth now in danger of hitting 1.5°C warming limit by 2026
  22. Dehydrated birds falling from sky in India amid record heatwave
  23. ‘Must be credible’: Energy giants challenged over climate action
  24. Pakistan city hits nearly 50C as blistering heatwave grips nation
  25. Climate-driven drought has risen 29% in 20 years
  26. Climate limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius close to being broken
  27. Water crisis, power cuts worsen misery in Pakistan’s hottest city
  28. Quantifying climate risk goes mainstream
  29. Climate change will put more than nine million Indians at risk of starvation by 2030.
  30. Three Gorges Dam of China, Danger for earth
  31. Can Brazil and Argentina satiate India’s food oil hunger?
  32. How can leaders drive climate action? Case study #11: Church of England

Published by Guestspeaker

A joint effort of several authors who do find that nobody can keep standing at the side and that “Everyone" must care about what is going on in today’s world. We are a bunch of people who do not mind that somebody has a totally different idea but is willing to share the ideas with others and to be Active and willing to let others understand how "today’s decisions will influence the future”. Therefore we would love to see many others to "Act today".

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