When the country is on fire

By Pascale Palmer
August 6, 2010

This week, someone you wouldn’t have expected to say this, said this: “What’s happening with the planet’s climate right now needs to be a wake-up call to all of us, meaning all heads of state, all heads of social organisations, in order to take a more energetic approach to countering the global changes to the climate.”

I don’t want to waste your time on a guessing game, but please read on.

I’ve just done a quick trawl of news reports on climate-related anomalies happening right now and I wanted to share them with you. These are not in any order of priority or scale of importance:

• Drought is withering Russia’s crops. By 30 July, 25 million acres of grain had been lost. Last week fires that had been ignored for days by local officials began to spread out of control. By Monday they had scorched more than 300,000 acres, destroying 1,500 homes in more than a dozen regions. Scores of people have been killed in the fires and peat smoke is covering Moscow, making it hard to breathe in some areas.

• Several beaches along the Costa Blanca in Spain have been closed due to an invasion of stinging jellyfish. Jellyfish populations have boomed recently due to warmer temperatures, over-fishing and organic pollution

• Monsoon rains in Pakistan have caused the worst flooding in three decades, killing more than 1,500 people and displacing up to 3 million

• The US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported that the planet has just had the warmest decade, the warmest 12 months, the warmest six months and the warmest April, May and June on record.

• Canadian research shows that warmer seawater has reduced phytoplankton - the base of the marine food chain - by 40 per cent since 1950.

• Nine nations have set all-time temperature records with Russia at 44C, Niger at 48C, Sudan at 49C, Saudi Arabia and Iraq at 52C, and Pakistan setting an Asian record at 54C.

• The US has set 1480 temperature records in the past two months.

• In Southern Latin America, a cold front of Antarctic air is causing deaths from hypothermia: 18 people have died in Bolivia, eight people have died in Paraguay, eight died in Argentina over the weekend with reports that nine of the country’s provinces are experiencing temperatures below freezing, while Peru is having the coldest weather in three years. And in Paraguay and Peru low temperatures are killing livestock.

So whose quote was it at the top of the blog? The answer is Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Considering his previous position on climate change was pretty much that the whole thing was (according to Greenpeace’s Vladimir Chuprov) “an invention of the West to try to bring Russia to its knees”, this is a pretty dramatic sea change (no pun intended).

Of course Medvedev is calling for global action because Russia’s on fire, but in his defence, he’ll have been briefed on soaring temperatures in neighbouring countries, seen the American data, and his ties to parts of Latin America will have brought those hypothermia deaths into view. And with vast reserves of fossil fuels bolstering both Russia’s economy and political leverage, it must have been with some reluctance that Medvedev ventured into the public arena for this about-face on climate change.

In his lifetime, Lenin said a couple of salient things that are worth repeating. The first is: “A revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation” and the second is “Sometimes - history needs a push”. To my mind, the data coming in from all parts of the globe on climate changes is our revolutionary situation. Now it’s up to we, the people, to give history - or in other words the politicians - a push. We need a climate revolution and we need to act now.


(c) Pascale Palmer is CAFOD's Advocacy Media Officer. www.cafod.org.uk

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