Heat maps of the Eastern Hemisphere show that countries such as China and Pakistan may soon be unliveable. This data shows that, if climate change proceeds as it does with a temperature increase of 1°C, billions of lives will be in danger. An increase of as little as 1.5° C, the predicted rise in global temperatures if carbon emissions do not drop globally, would be devastating to human health. If temperatures rise by as little as 2°C, China and Pakistan and other Eastern countries could experience hours in the day in which the heat becomes lethal.
Moreover, the predicted models of climate change which have produced these data do not account for anomalous weather such as the heatwave of 2021 in Oregon that killed over 700 people, or the London heatwave last year where temperatures in the city reached over 40°C. The dangers of the climate crisis are not simply what we can predict but also what cannot be predicted. As such, change must be enacted immediately. Furthermore, climate change is not simply caused by human activity. It is a direct result of the growth of capitalism, a growth which became exponential in the last half century. This coincided with the period when the scientific community came to understand the effects of the industrialisation on our planet’s ecosystem. As Matthew Huber wrote:
‘It was a case of “bad timing“ when scientists came to a consensus about the severity of climate change, precisely the same moment when political power shifted towards a free-market audio of the regulation and austerity in the 1980s.’
Capitalism and capitalist greed come together in industries like agriculture and energy that produce the highest levels of carbon emissions. Decarbonisation is unlikely to occur with the backing of these industries unless it suddenly becomes profitable to do so.
A larger part of the problem of climate change is that consumption of the planet’s resources outstrips their capacity for rejuvenation. This results in the degradation of habitats, the extinction of plants and animals, and the destruction of ecosystems such as the Australian Great Barrier Reef and The Amazon Rainforest.
Through this process we increase global warming which leads to further damage to the Earth – the melting of ice in the Arctic being one such effect. This continuing knock on effect stops sunlight from being reflected off the planet which causes greater heat levels. Heat that leads to heatwaves – heatwaves that are becoming increasingly more dangerous.
Take the heatwave in Europe in 2003 as an example. At temperatures only 10° higher than average, flash floods occurred due to melting glaciers in Switzerland and forest fires that spread across Portugal (in 2003 the average temperature was only 0.64° above post-industrial average – in September of this year it was 1.4°). Katherine Hayhoe, an American climatologist points out in her book, Saving Us,
“High Temperature extremes are already more common…A person born in 1960 will experience only four major heatwaves in their lifetime. A person born in 2020…will experience 18 such events.”
It is due to these escalating dangers that the Paris Climate Agreement of COP21 set targets which only two countries are currently meeting, neither of which is our own United Kingdom, despite Sunak’s claim that we are world leaders on climate change. Most countries have failed to enact any legislation that can effectively combat climate change. China, despite being in the most immediate danger, remains the highest emitter world-wide.
Currently Chinese summer temperatures reach between 25° and 33° Celsius with Pakistan a few degrees higher at 36°. Neither country should be optimistic of their chances to survive higher temperatures with the already occurring heatwaves increasing each year in their level of danger. The United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction, reported in 2022 that:
“We found that the number of deaths caused by heatwaves in China has increased rapidly since 1979, from 3,679 persons per year in the 1980s to 15,500 persons per year in the 2010s.”
Despite the apathetic response of most world governments there is still cause for hope. Whilst Greta Thunberg became the sensation of the Western World, Howey Ou became a hero to the East. Much like her Nordic counterpart, Howey is a climate striker whose background as a student gives her as much ridicule from popular right-wing tabloids as Thunberg. However, the young activist remains optimistic and inspiring of others stating, ‘I’m still alive and have a passion for change’.
Furthermore, more recently, organisations such as the NGO, Friends of Nature, a Chinese environmental group, won a court case that saw the end of the development of a damn in the Yunnan province. The creation of this dam would have damaged the nearby rainforest and endangered the species living there.
It is encouraging to know that these small victories occur. However, if total disaster is to be avoided we must hope that they grow in scale before life in China becomes not challenging but impossible.