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BE COOL BUT DON’T FREEZE

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The world is reckoned to have increased its average temperature by 10 Celsius over the past century. That doesn’t sound very much does it?

If you place an individual into a room at 20C and a minute later at 210C they’d probably say – so what, didn’t notice any difference. But in global impact terms it’s a lot. A study released recently by the UK Met Office, Britain’s national weather service, found that if the temperature rise figure increases from 10C to 20C, one billion people could face heat stress, a potentially fatal combination of heat and humidity. Global target is 1.50C, but 20C is starting to look likely.

Affecting

The 1oC increase alone is already affecting the Arctic region. Unlike Antarctica, the Arctic is not solid ground; it’s just a massive block of ice, now melting fast, and the level of the oceans is rising from the extra water. The Small Island Developing States (SIDS) around the world will be susceptible to permanent flooding; people losing their livelihoods and their homes. In the recent Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, the world was treated to an unusual video speech by the Foreign minister of Tuvalo. What was special about it? He was standing up to his knees in the ocean; and wearing a rather smart suit! Many viewers probably reflected only on whether he was getting a new suit afterwards. The people of those countries are worried. Most of the rest of the world are aware of the effect of continuing emissions of greenhouse gases but relatively few show any sustained anxiety about it. Or even alter their behaviour.

There are many anomalies within the almost 200 countries’ membership of COP. Far more assistance is needed for the vulnerability, mitigation and adaptation measures in genuinely developing countries. And then you have the ‘developed’ members of the developing group, like India and China, with fossil-fuelled economies blasting out the greenhouse gases, and managing to secure a last minute change from ‘phase out of unabated coal power …’ to merely ‘phase down …’ A big difference; politics wins.  

Reality

The reality is that countries are putting themselves first, with their top politicians leading the way. Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement of 2015 just to keep his industrial voters happy. Fortunately his successor, Joe Biden, has reversed that highly self-centred approach, and renewed the US commitment to climate control strategies.
There’s a great deal of hypocrisy. Leading campaigners using dedicated aircraft, driving to work alone in a bulky SUV guzzling fuel, instead of riding a bike to the office, whizzing down the high street like Boris Johnson ahead of his hair. Imagine that eh?

And one of the great ironies is that a significant contribution to warmer temperature comes from the very mechanism invented to reduce it – refrigeration; millions of hotels with room refrigerators – always on, but rarely used. And you have places in the world, especially the Middle East, where wealthy countries have built up tourism and other industries that wouldn’t exist without the massive air-conditioning and hideous global cost that’s devoted to them. Where you spend barely a minute of the day and night without air-conditioning. Makes you weep (and freeze).

One of the great difficulties, of course, is that most individuals take the view – oh, my contribution is tiny and won’t make any difference. So why bother to just heat enough water for a cup of tea or, when at work, keep the doors and windows tightly closed when using air-conditioning? Especially in government offices where you’re light years removed from paying the bill. I have never used an air-conditioner in Eswatini; have you? It’s rather like voting – what difference is my one vote going to make? I’m not going to bother. The mindset of most of the world’s population has to change. How do you achieve that? Not easy.

Devoted

You have to get everyone worried and devoted to the cause. Time and again in Eswatini we see homes, bridges and crops ruined by flooding that rises from excess rain. The cyclones usually start out in the Indian Ocean but by the time they reach us they’re the next category down – tropical storm; even Domoina in 1984.  If we ever get the full cyclone we’re in big trouble. And, to get going, a cyclone only needs a 280C surface water temperature in the Indian Ocean. With global warming it’s getting that every year. That’s dangerous for Eswatini.
Resolution of the problem is not straightforward. You need political and economic commitment at the big end; and individuals determined to protect their world at the small end. And you won’t get the latter until you remove rampant corruption and poverty. Only then will people be genuinely proud of the country they stand up in. And only then will they care, and commit to protecting the world for their children and beyond.

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