The International Writers Magazine: Comment
No Climate for Old Men
The Philippines may take a decade to recover from the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan. Tornadoes whip through Illinois killing people and wiping homes off the map in the ironically named Flatville. What has this got to do with the price of eggs?
Well if we accept that climate change is real and all these events are connected… which they are, of course, with literarily millions of people living in the wrong places – we should probably get used to the bad news. The climate is getting drier in Africa just as the population is soaring. But it is also getting drier in Spain – year on year – as the population rises there and they are gripped by political and economic instability.
If you take a glance at history you’ll see that climate paid a huge part in the rise of nations and fall of others. England rose in part because of famine after some very hard winters in the mini-ice age around 1590-1610 plus. To feed its people it needed to import and to do that it needed ships and to be able to trade and discover new sources of food. Standing in the way of that was the emerging giant of Spain. The Elizabethan age of discovery and battles was no accident – stimulated by need and the weather.
We trudge towards an uncertain future now where we live in a world populated by eight billion people and still growing. All the marginal lands will be swallowed up to accommodate people and homes at the expensive of growing food. The marginal lands are often in flood plains, or like in the Philippines in an area that gets around 20 major typhoons a year. Quite rightly an enormous aid effort is underway to help nearly 3,000,000 people who now have absolutely nothing. More widely 12 percent of the total Philppino population were affected. But the real question is, should they rebuild on land that will be always in the path of typhoons? Worse, each year they get stronger. If they do rebuild, let it not be flimsy shanty towns but something that can withstand 200kmh winds - if that is possible. Aid money could go towards design solutions for island homes- it's just as important as water or food. Remember “The art of living is always to make a good thing out of a bad thing.” — E.F. Schumacher
At the same time we are destroying whole forests to support a bio-fuel industry (The Amazon was depleted by some 28% last year according to UN sources). We even grow food to support this industry, diverting corn and other produce away from human consumption to make fuel for cars or heating.
I live by a beach in an area – the East Coast of the UK, that has potential to flood and indeed flooded twice in the last century. (The same flood swamped the Dutch coast killing 2000 in 1953) Today with populations higher it would produce much larger death tolls and destruction. Nothing compared to what happened with Katrina or Haiyan, perhaps, but given that London is in the floodzone as well – it too could be swamped. In fact if you stop to think about it, pretty much all the world’s greatest cities are incredibly vulnerable to rising water levels – increased storm and wind activity. LA, New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong for example – all of them with fantastic overheated property prices. London is vulnerable to a storm surge coming up the Thames and overwhelming the Thames Barrier (very possible)and it is leading the world with a home price tsunami at the moment. Prices have gone berserk, driven in part by the Government encouraging property investment and in part because you can’t trust your money with the banks. Just this week we discover the Chairman of the Co-op Bank smokes crystal meth for gods sake. (It’s bad enough that oaf of a Mayor in Toronto smokes crack, but when the guy running the ‘ethical’ bank snorts coke and is also a Reverend – you have to assume the world really is coming to the end).
The thing is, people assume investing in property is as safe as, well... houses. But I can see that many people have finally managed to shift homes that are basically rubbish in dire areas with many difficult local issues. They are laughing, but coming the next downturn or worse, another Labour Government, the buyers could be regretting paying £450,000 + for a one bed flat in Tooting. Add the fact that we’re going to run out of gas to heat our homes this winter and knowing just how energy inefficient most of our UK homes are – it’s going to be a wake up call as what constitutes a good neighbourhood (One where they don’t burn down your house to warm their toes for example).
We can’t all move to Spain (because of political instability) or Greece (ditto) to stay warm. Although we can try to stay sane thinking about it at least.
The fact is, in the many areas of the world under pressure from huge birth numbers, they know that disaster is coming. Bangladesh is under annual threat of massive flooding for example, but it doesn’t stop people having children. Science, as we know, is moving rapidly towards giving us all enough to eat with nutrition free food and we shall all starve with full stomachs no doubt. (See the brilliant Wind- Up Girl by Paulo Bacigalupi for the real future of mankind). But climate changes politics and extreme weather could produce extreme politics. The rise of inequality in land, homes, food, freedoms, in South America begets political landslides for the left – whose solutions – such as forcing retailers and manufactures to sell below cost (way below cost in Venezuela for example) is only going to bankrupt a country. Here in the UK, the socialists say – vote for us and we will freeze energy prices, we will take the land away from builders who won’t build. Misremembering of course it was they who imposed huge taxes on green energy that made prices go up in the first place and also made planning laws so difficult no one can get permission to build. Politicians are not the answer to our future problems - yet it is to these same people we will turn to to provide answers. They will only make things worse and the climate will mock them all.
Think on this. Even if we could get China to stop building coal fired power stations or even stop burning coal – the pollution generated today will be driving climate change fifty years from now.
The whirlwind shall be reaped.
My advice? Invest in a tent with very strong pegs. You will need them.
© Sam North November 18th 2013
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