The story so far ….
A few weeks back I outlined how lack of foresight and turning a blind eye to facts means the Australian government is harming the people it represents and the country it governs.
In this post I continue the sorry story with some facts about how our government, and most other governments in the world, are harming the poor and vulnerable in the world.
All of this based on the greater detail I provide in a new climate change series of pages.
Damaging the world, especially the poor
Climate change is already doing enormous harm, which will only get worse. Here’s a few hotspots.
Because of climate change, Bangladesh has extra water coming at it from two directions. Increased snow melt in the Himalayas has worsened the flooding in the low-lying largest river delta on Earth, while sea levels have risen in the Bay of Bengal faster than elsewhere, pushing the larger cyclonic storm surges further up the delta. The land is very low-lying, so roughly every five years more than half the country is inundated. If these changes continue as predicted, 30 to 50 million people could be displaced. And those who stay have to organise to battle to survive.
Perversely, at the same time, drought is increasing in parts of the country away from the rivers.
North Africa and the Middle East
In the past few decades, parts of North Africa have suffered from severe drought, famine and malnutrition. Yet as climate change bites, there will be reduced rainfall across large areas of Africa, making the problems even worse. This will be devastating for poor, often subsistence rural communities.
Farming in Nepal is often carried out on steep land which is prone to the fast runoff of rainfall, and consequent erosion. As climate change is taking effect, summer rains are coming later and over a shorter period, so more runs off the steep slopes. This increases soil erosion and reduces the water available at the crucial stage for the crops, making farming more difficult.
In many Pacific Islands, much, if not all, of their land is low-lying and close to the sea. As the sea level slowly rises, salt water percolates into wells that are the main source of fresh water, and storms push waves further inland.
Sometimes the waves wash over an entire small island, making them less viable to live on. On larger islands flooding and storm damage is increasing. For example, in the Solomon Islands, several villages have been washed away.
In a curious twist, sometimes the waves deposit sediment on the larger islands, meaning they are growing in size even as the ocean levels are rising. But experts are still concerned that as sea levels rise further, the larger islands will begin to be eroded away as is happening to the smaller islands.
An Aussie embarrassment
Australia is part of the Pacific region and has had strong links with many Pacific Island nations. Many islanders work (especially playing professional Rugby!) in Australia at some time in their lives. Australia is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, and its population and economy are larger than all the other members combined.
At the recent 2019 forum, Pacific Island leaders pressed the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to act decisively to ameliorate climate change impacts on their countries, but the PM refused, based on (1) his own government is divided on climate change, (2) he wasn’t willing to harm the Australian economy, even if that placed our Pacific neighbours at serious risk, (3) Australia’s contribution to greenhouse gases is dwarfed by China’s, and (4) Australia offered half a billion dollars in aid to assist in combatting the effects of climate change.
Several Pacific leaders felt Australia was insensitive and patronising, and Australia’s reputation in the Pacific has clearly been damaged.
The world’s natural systems and species numbers have already been degraded by human activity. Now, as droughts increase, land and oceans heat up and ice melts, habitats experience further change.
- In Africa, some species are expected to be halved in number by the end of the century.
- In the Americas, climate change could cause the loss of 10% of indigenous species by 2050 (on top of the 30% loss since European colonisation).
- The polar bear is especially at risk. Polar bears live and hunt on the Arctic sea ice, which has lost 40% of its summer area in 40 years. Unless something is done immediately, summers could be sea ice free within a few decades.
- Australia has had the largest rate of species extinction in the world over the past 200 years (since European colonisation). Now almost half of our threatened species are at vulnerable due to climate change.
- And in the Pacific, massive degradation of up to 90% of coral reefs is expected.
This potential loss of habitat and species has implications for humanity too. The natural world provides many vital benefits to the human race (for example, crop pollination, water purification, flood protection and carbon sequestration). Globally, these services are worth an estimated $US 125-140 trillion per year, more than one and a half times the global GDP. Climate change puts much of this at risk.
It is breath-taking how foolish this all is. If a similar diagnosis was given for our own health, we would take immediate action. But the rich, generally middle-aged, generally white, almost always men who hold the power in government and the economy seem unable to lift their eyes from profit and votes to take decisive action.
Hopes and threats
There is hope. As I’ll outline in my next post, the cost of decisive action is not nearly as much as you might think, and definitely affordable.
But the threats come from those with most to lose if we take action, and they are active in creating misinformation and outright dishonesty about climate change, as I’ll show in the following post, which examines whether climate change is a conspiracy.
Don’t miss them!
Photo: The Ministry of the Australian Government, from the website of the Prime Minister – with prophetic modification by unkleE.