Twenty years ago, in his groundbreaking book The End of Nature, Bill McKibben was one of the first to sound the alarm about the potential dangers of global warming. His warnings were largely ignored and now, in his new book, the oddly titled Eaarth, he says we need to acknowledge that we’ve waited too long, and that massive change is not only unavoidable but already under way.
Recent weather events would seem to support McKibben’s contentions. Extreme flooding in Pakistan, record-breaking heat waves in Russia, deadly mudslides in China, uncontrollable forest fires in B.C. – the list goes on. In the U.S., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that, so far, 2010 is the hottest year since records began in 1880. Seventeen nations have reached new temperature highs, another record. Pakistan hit (129F) 54C, a new record for all of Asia. The current flooding there is the worst in that country’s history, with two million people homeless, 20 million affected, more than a million acres of croplands flooded, and signs of an incipient cholera epidemic. Six million people are without assistance in severely affected areas. The UN has rated the floods in Pakistan as the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history, with 13.8 million people affected and 1,600 dead.
Meanwhile, Russia is locked in the worst heat wave and drought in its documented history, with unprecedented high temperatures in Moscow and hundreds of wildfires burning out of control. Moscow had never hit 100F (38C) before this year; this summer such temperatures have been commonplace in Russia’s capital. The combination of extreme heat and thick smoke and smog from the fires doubled the city’s death rate at the peak of the heat wave last week, which reached 700 deaths per day at one stage due to heat-related causes. The drought and fires have destroyed a quarter of Russia’s crops, prompting the government to ban grain exports for the rest of this year in hopes of keeping domestic food prices under control. Since Russia is one of the biggest grain exporters, this move contributed to a spike in the price of wheat on the global market.
Flooding and mudslides in China have killed more than 1,100 people this year and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage across 28 provinces and regions. And back in Canada, the forest fire season in B.C. is the worst in 12 years, having already charred more than 300,000 hectares of forest, an area larger than Metro Vancouver. Only 2 days ago, an ice chunk the size of Bermuda (50 square kilometres) broke off Ellesmere Island, rudely disrupting our Prime Minister’s intentions of never having to even mention the words climate change on his current Arctic tour.
Taking a cue from the subtitle of this here blog, just what on earth is going on? What can we say about the connection between these events and climate change? Is there one?
To find out, I spoke with Dr Vladimir Ryabanin, a scientist with the World Climate Research Programme of the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva. Most scientists say that no single weather event can be attributed to climate change but, at the same time, these kinds of extreme weather events are precisely consistent with the scenarios that climate forecasters have long predicted if we did nothing to reign in carbon emissions (which we haven’t). So can we expect more frequent and more devastating storms in the future? Have a listen to what the good doctor Ryabanin has to say by clicking the audio player below. To download right click here and select ‘Save As’ or ‘Save Target As.’
Final word to Bill McKibben from his recent article in the Guardian. “This is no longer an environmental battle. As this summer demonstrates, if you’re concerned about development, climate change is issue No 1 (how much development is going to go on in Pakistan, now that its bridges are all gone?). If you’re concerned about war and peace, climate change is issue No 1 (when Russia stops sending grain to Egypt and Nigeria, and when wheat prices start to rise, what do you think comes next?). If you’re concerned about the future, then climate change is issue No 1 – because this summer is a tiny taste of what the future is all about. So far we’ve barely raised the earth’s temperature a degree, and that’s caused all that we’ve seen so far. But climatologists assure us there’s four or five degrees more by the century’s end unless we work with incredible speed to end the fossil fuel era.”
Well, he turned me down for a personal interview (WTF?!) but I still managed to catch most of Al Gore’s speech at the 2010 Millenium Summit in Montreal. This presentation was not recorded or broadcast publicly so it is an earthgauge exclusive. You heard it here first! In his speech, the former VP discusses the inextricable link between the climate crisis and the ongoing fight against extreme poverty. Apologies for the poor sound quality and the gap at the 5:45 mark but it was a covert operation after all, which was disrupted on two occasions by event staff.
Or so says Peter Maass who is an award-winning investigative journalist and author of the new book by the same name, Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil. Maass is a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine and he has also written for The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, Outside and Slate. His first book, about the war in Bosnia in the early 1990s, was entitled Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War.
Crude World examines how oil has wreaked devastation around the world while enriching the few. He spent 8 years traveling the globe to discover the true costs of oil production both to the planet and to the countless millions living in poverty in rich oil producing regions.
Click the audio player above to hear my interview with Peter Maass or to download the interview, right click here and select ‘Save As’ or ‘Save Target As’. Don’t forget all earthgauge interviews are available as podcasts on iTunes.
Here’s the promo blurb for the book: Every unhappy oil-producing nation is unhappy in its own way, but all are touched by oil’s power to worsen existing problems and create new ones. Crude World explores the troubled world oil has created—from Saudi Arabia to Iraq, Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela and beyond. The book features warlords in the oil-rich Niger Delta, petro-billionaires in Moscow, Americans in Baghdad, the gesticulations as well as the politics of Hugo Chavez, and officials in Riyadh who avoid uncomfortable questions about Saudi reserves. A journey into the violent twilight of oil, Crude World answers the questions of what we do for oil and what oil does to us.
I also recommend checking out Maass’ latest article for Foreign Policy journal, which examines the connection between oil, war and American military spending. A key question the story asks is this one—“To what extent is oil linked to the wars we fight and the more than half-trillion dollars we spend on our military every year?” The quick answer is, it’s strongly linked, and it costs a lot.