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Michael Jansen: World an unbearable hothouse
August 13, 2018
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This summer friends in normally cool, wet and green Ireland have had to cope with Mediterranean temperatures, a lack of water, and bans on watering gardens with hosepipes.

In July, weather stations across the Emerald Island reported the country was in a state of “absolute drought.” Rain did not fall for more than two weeks and temperatures rose to 30 degrees Celsius. For a generally soggy island, this was a new experience. Rivers, lakes and reservoirs were depleted and not expected to recover for months.

In neighbouring Britain the heat wave and drought began in June and continues until today. Crops are failing, wildfires are sparked by tinder-dry vegetation. Hospitals have difficulty coping with the influx of people suffering from dehydration and heat-stroke. The drying of vegetation has, however, uncovered unknown archaeological sites.

Across the English Channel, Europe, from north to south, has had to cope with record-breaking high temperatures, drought and wildfires.

France had to shut down a reactor in a nuclear power plant as the water drawn from a nearby river was too hot to cool the reactor.

In Belgium, where “frites,” fried potatoes, are the national dish, the cost of potatoes has risen ten-fold because the crop has shrunk and potatoes are smaller.

In Germany the period from April through July has been the hottest on record. Fresh-water fish have died due to the heating of streams and lakes and crops are failing. At the end of July temperatures reached 41 degrees in the west of the country.

On August 4th, the temperature soared to 46 degrees in Portugal where 100 people have died and 500 fires have devastated the landscape. In Greece, which is used to long hot summers, wildfires near Athens killed 92 people on July 23rd.

In Sweden, where wildfires raged, farmers had to import food for livestock and a nuclear power plant had to shut down as sea water was too hot to cool the reactor.

In Norway, restrictions were imposed on water consumption due to dependency on hydro-election power plants. On July 30th, an unheard of temperature of 32 degrees was recorded in an area north of the Arctic Circle.

During July, Japan suffered a record-breaking heat wave. The temperature soared to 41 degrees on the 23rd of that month, the highest ever experienced in that country. Extreme heat caused at least 116 deaths and 22,000 were hospitalised by heat stroke. The heat wave was preceded by heavy downpours causing flooding and mudslides.

In South Korea, 42 people died and 3,400 were treated for heatstroke when the country was hit by the highest temperatures in a century.

Farmers in New South Wales in Australia are pleading for governmental help for losses suffered from the worst drought in memory.

Heat waves also struck North America. In Vancouver, western Canada, the temperature reached 34-35 degrees; in southern California, 43.8 degrees; California’s Death Valley, one of the hottest places on the planet, registered 51 degrees. Wildfires raged across the state, consuming forested areas and residential neighbourhoods and killing six people. Southern Oregon has been blanketed in smoke from fires both in that state and in California. In Mexico, 11 provinces registered temperatures of 40-45 degrees from the end of May, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency.

In Syria, years of drought drove farmers off their land and fuelled the uprising that led to seven years of civil war. Iraq’s date palm plantations that used to provide a good income to farmers and export revenues have dried due to drought and a lack of irrigation water from the Tigris river which has been dammed in Turkey.

People who live in the Mediterranean basin and this region do not find most of these high temperatures remarkable but residents of the British isles, central and northern Europe, Japan and North America do not expect to be cooked in summer. Many have not installed air-conditioning in homes, offices, shelters for livestock, and factories. If they do so this would increase demand for electricity and force governments to build more power plants which could swell emissions.

The global heat wave of 2018 should convince climate change deniers in the Trump administration that global warming is not a fabrication and force the US, the world’s second largest polluter after China, to counter this deadly and damaging trend. While China is striving to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, Washington is doing the opposite. It is cancelling emissions regulations and promoting coal mining and the plundering of national parks and Alaskan tundra by oil multinationals. Instead of encouraging the shift to sun, wind and water power, the US is charging tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels and wind farm turbines…

Scientists warn that if global warming is not checked urgently, melting polar ice, warming seas and large bodies of water, shifting currents and drying forests could create a “hothouse” effect which will make human efforts to curb emissions pointless. These and other factors could cause a climate “cascade” which would raise temperatures by a catastrophic 4-5 degrees. This process may not be halted by the Paris climate change agreement - rejected by Donald Trump and his minions - to keep warming at 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. As well as raising temperatures across the globe, the uncontrollable “hot-house” effect could deluge low lying islands and coastal cities - including New York City Trump’s hometown - and devastate coral reefs, forests and farmland.

“In the context of the summer of 2018, this is definitely not a case of crying wolf, raising a false alarm: the wolves are now in sight,” stated Dr Phil Williamson, a climate researcher at the University of East Anglia, in an interview with the Guardian.

He warned that it is not enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists must also work to understand all factors producing climate change in order to counter the process.

Writing in the New York Times, ecology expert Erle Ellis warned, “This planet is in crisis. The safe limits within human societies can be sustained, the earth’s “planetary boundaries,” are being exceeded, a path leading inevitably toward collapse. The experts have spoken . Only if humanity heeds the science, reverses and lives within earth’s natural limits can disaster be avoided.”


___________________________________________
The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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