Heat and drought cook the world
Panamint Valley, Death Valley National Park. —Counter Punch/Jeffrey St Clair
We humans have a dilemma of our own making. Or rather the making of our economic-political system, also known as capitalism. We’ve burned too much oil, coal and gas, it’s overheated the planet, but we can’t seem to stop. A factor aggravating the situation is the war in Ukraine, writes Eve Ottenberg
THE coal mine canary is dead. He died of heat prostration. With him went many humans, poorly protected from climatic collapse. In India this spring, in the American southwest, mid-west and south in late spring, in Xinjiang, China also in spring and in large parts of Africa at this time. That’s before summer even really starts cooking. Last summer, the American Northwest baked at 116 degrees Fahrenheit for days, and in places like the town of Lytton in British Columbia, the mercury reached 122 degrees, before the town spontaneously burned and burns. This once-only-in-a-millennium roasting now happens every year, across large swaths of the planet, thanks to human-induced climate change. Summers in Reno, Nevada these days are an average of 10.9 degrees hotter than they were in 1970, while countries like Iraq occasionally feature 120 degree heat. And most Iraqis don’t have air conditioning.
So it was hard to feel sorry for Europeans unhappy with temperatures between 104 and 109 degrees in mid-June. It was comfortable compared to what homeless people endure in India and the greater Middle East. Because many Europeans have air conditioning. Bad luck for those who sleep, and often exhale, on hot concrete under the highways of the subcontinent.
And yet, European calefaction has broken records, as every new heatwave seems to do at this early stage of climate collapse. Catalonia, Spain, reached 109 degrees, one of its hottest temperatures on record, while temperatures of 104 degrees in France were, according to the Washington Post on June 2, “the first the country has reached such a high temperature in recorded history”.
Extreme heat means drought, and drought means no food. So many places are watching starvation gallop across their withered farmlands. In Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, people are currently starving. Their number is 23 million, according to Oxfam, which on June 28 castigated the G7 countries for having done too little in the face of this disaster, “for leaving millions to starve and bake the planet”. Worldwide, ‘323 million people are on the brink of starvation…. Nearly a billion people, 950 million of them, are expected to go hungry in 2022,’ criticized Oxfam in the United States and its European parasites.
Given that Western nations, after all, burned most of the oil, coal and gas that caused these droughts, Oxfam is right – these countries should have the good grace to shell out enough money to feed the people who they starved. But no. The radicals of the G7 do not think so. This African drought, the worst in 40 years, is, according to the United States and its vassals, largely someone else’s problem.
We humans therefore have a dilemma of our own making. Or rather the making of our economic-political system, also known as capitalism. We’ve burned too much oil, coal and gas, it’s overheated the planet, but we can’t stop. One of the factors aggravating the situation is the war in Ukraine. If the West – the main culprit of the climate breakdown until China more recently stepped in – had a large, solid and renewable infrastructure in place, or perhaps even partially in place, this war would have been a chance to start changing it. But instead of proceeding carefully and methodically, our rulers lost their minds. Or rather, they shot themselves in the head by sanctioning Russian energy, instead of the hard work of negotiation, then started running like the proverbial headless chickens in a mad rush to find more oil, coal and gas. Concerns about the burning of fossil fuels turning parts of the planet into hells have been thrown out the window. The race to pump more oil and find more gas began, even, at the behest of the so-called Greens in Germany – an extremely bloodthirsty group, who knew? — to burn more coal. It’s a race to the grave.
Leading the charge to the cemetery is the US Republican Party – although of late Joe Biden has not been left behind in this suicidal stampede either. But if the Republican Party’s science deniers take over half or all of Congress, expect them to throw wholesome climate talk into a ditch. If they take over the White House in two years – that is, if we all survive a possible atomic apocalypse, thanks to Joe “Russian roulette” Biden and his neoconservatives – well, these so-called waves of “phenomenal” heat we’ve won” It doesn’t get so weird anymore, as Republican idiots implement policies to turn the planet into what some have rightly called a greenhouse gas chamber. Unfortunately, these heat attacks have already become the norm in spring, summer and autumn, what if they start to occur in winter?
The planet is burning and the arsonists are in charge, as environmentalist Naomi Klein once joked. Some of the most dedicated arsonists sit on the Supreme Court. Evidence? The recent neutralization by the Koch Court of the Environmental Protection Agency created by former President Nixon. With this foolish decision, the so-called jurists could just as well have proclaimed: “We don’t believe our senses or the best scientists in the world. We believe in corporate propaganda. The work of the arsonists is there for all who have their eyes open. But the Supremes are partisan ideologues, blind to truth and to truth’s sister, justice, and they’re far too busy throwing precedents and auctioning off mega fossil fuel corporations to consider that the Agency Environmental Protection was founded to, uh, protect the environment. As to why the environment is crying out for this protection, the so-called court lawyers are too stupid to listen.
For example, currently 90% of the American West is dying of drought. Lake Mead dried into a muddy shadow of its former self. The rain and snowpack have disappeared and may not return. As of June 15, Phoenix had experienced temperatures above 110 degrees for consecutive days. “And, even more disturbingly,” Earther reported on June 15, “it broke an overnight heat record of 90 degrees Fahrenheit.” It was the first time it had been so hot at night so early in the season. So even when the sun isn’t shining, it’s heat stroke time in Phoenix.
Meanwhile, on the same day, according to the Washington Post, 165,000 residents of Odessa, Texas were without water during a scorching hot water after a pipe burst. Temperatures hovered around 100 degrees. How to stay cool and hydrated – life and death matter in such heat – without running water is a bit of a challenge.
As if that weren’t enough, the next day the Post ran a headline: “Extreme heat and humidity kills thousands of cattle in Kansas.” Cows, you see, can’t slouch in front of the air conditioner until the heat wave passes. “At least 2,000 cattle have died as of June 14. This count was based on the number of requests received by the agency to help dispose of carcasses.” Cattle farming destroys the climate and therefore needs to be reduced, but that was not the method most environmentalists had in mind.
These now common heat spasms mean the planetary thermostat is out of whack. There may not be much we can do about it – it’s already been done. But we’re sure the shoot can stop making things worse. Everyone knows how we do that. We are going to gangbusters wind and solar installation. Like China does. For that we need politicians who don’t wrap themselves in a pretzel like Biden did – war on Russia, oopsies no oil, we need to find more oil no matter what, because now it’s is a titanic political liability with skyrocketing prices at the pump; instead of keeping a cool head and instituting a renewable energy development program – and no, tariffs on solar technology from China is not good policy – that will allow us to reduce the burning of fossil fuels. And we certainly don’t need politicians like Donald Trump, whose flamboyant approach to the land means an early grave for much of our species. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene summed up the Republican approach to this disaster when she said climate change is good for us, making her the Dr. Kevorkian of homo sapiens. If people like this end up running the world’s second biggest carbon polluter, it means deadly hot times ahead as farmers stare at dead crops and millions wonder when they’ll eat their next meal.
CounterPunch.org, July 8. Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist.