Pandemic. Megafire. Megaflood. It’s becoming clearer by the day, sometimes by the hour, that we live in an age of apocalypse. Twenty million are dead of Covid, and counting. “Climate change” — I mean global warming — is already making parts of places like California uninhabitable.
Apocalypse, as religious scholars will tell you, means “an unveiling.” Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a religious post. But it is going to be one about what’s being unveiled, revealed, to us, by this age of apocalypse. That’s something elemental, profound, and worrying — about us. On the deepest level. Who are we? Who are we here to be? What is the point of us, the human species?
Something has gone badly wrong, after all. But what?
As I think about it, what this age of apocalypse is beginning to reveal is that our relationships are broken — the deepest kinds of ones. Our relationships with nature, and with each other.
The easiest broken relationship to see is the one we have with nature. We are the worst thing to happen to planet earth since the meteor which wiped out the dinosaurs. Our effect is exactly the same — mass extinction, huge climatic shifts — only slower.
Why is our relationship with nature so broken? How would you describe our relationship with nature? It’s a master-slave relationship. We exploit, dominate, abuse, and ruin. Meanwhile, nature has no rights, self-determination, or inherent worth. The problem, though, is that nature wasn’t meant to be our slave, and reducing it to a position of slavery is ushering in an age of climate apocalypse.We don’t really have one. Nature is something to exploit, abuse, and discard. It’s a resource for capitalism to plunder and despoil and for us, as individuals, to consume.
Think for a moment about how profoundly wrong that is. I have a dog, like you might have a dog. My dog is a character. He has a personality all his own. His emotional life is easily as complex as mine, if not more. He is a far better person than I am — more caring, intimate, less capable of deception and folly. He is innocent in ways I am not.
Nature is like that. It is, above all, innocent. It has done nothing to be annihilated by us. And yet we justify it with the way that we see nature. Have you ever watched the show “Naked and Afraid”? In it, people are sent into the jungle, or the desert, and they try to survive. Yet what’s remarkable about the show is that they never, ever comment on how beautiful the night sky is, or how present life seems to be, or how awareness seems to permeate all things. No — the show is an exercise in paranoia and violence, not peace and gratitude.
I don’t mean that in what you might call, derisively, as David Brooks would, a “hippy-dippy” way. It’s true that nature can be brutal. But nothing in nature is as brutal as us. By and large, nature takes what it needs to survive. A tree grows its roots into the soil, and takes what water it needs to reach towards the sky. The animals drink from the lake — but they don’t try to take the whole ocean.
Only we do that. We’re gaining some kind of small awareness, these days, of how wrong colonisation and slavery were. Whose land was it? It wasn’t ours. But the native peoples, most of them, would have told you, and would still tell you: it wasn’t theirs, either. It was for life. All life.
My dog, a city dog, finds himself in the suburbs. And he’s baffled by human property rights. Totally baffled. Dad, why is that the neighbour’s yard? Who made this arbitrary line? How come that tree “belongs” to us — and this one, to them? Who made these crazy rules?!
The answer is: we did. We carved the world up into property, and then kept on carving it. Empires became nations. Slaves became peasants. But who does the world really belong to?
Nobody and everybody is the answer. The world belongs to all of us, and all of us really means all of us. Not just human beings. And so when I say our relationship with nature is broken, I mean it in not just intellectual ways, but pragmatic ones, too.
Why can’t we save the world’s ecologies? Take the example of the Amazon. It’s a net carbon emitter now, having been clearcut into oblivion. That happened because it was privatised and sold off. Capitalism and human property rights again.
We have to really learn to coexist. We can’t do that under the black spell of capitalism and property rights. It begins with the assumption that everything “belongs” to us, the human species, and the only question is which human gets it. Bezos? Zuck? You? Me? Capitalism’s assumption is that everything in the world is a commodity which belongs to human beings, for them to consume.
But we can’t survive as a civilisation that way. We have already consumed too much — several planet’s worth. At this rate of consumption, global warming will proceed even more apocalyptically. This? Megafire and megaflood? California and Canada on fire? This is one degree of warming, barely that. At two degrees, entire regions of the planet become uninhabitable. At three, the water turns to poison and the soil to dust. You don’t want to know what happens at four, which is that it automatically hits five, thanks to self-reinforcing feedback — it’s enough to know that most life as we know it can’t survive.
And so our civilisation’s systems collapse, as they’ve already begun collapsing. Air, water, food, medicine — all these things are becoming harder and harder to get. Tried to buy furniture or electronics recently? Not easy, is it? But this is just the beginning. Collapse of an incredible kind — history’s worst — happens in mere decades on the course we’re on. By the end of the century — that’s one human lifetime from now — the planet is unlivable for most life as we know it.
Do we want to be that being? The walking apes who destroyed the planet? The ones who were as destructive as the giant meteor which wiped out the dinosaurs? In geological time, we’re the same thing. A meteor happened overnight — we’ve been around for 300,000 years. Big deal — same difference. The earth will survive us. But we will have been a stain, a black memory, a fatal mistake of evolution.
We need to rethink our relationship with nature. And it needs to happen now. Let me give you another example.
Ever since I got Snowy, I find it difficult to eat meat. I’m not a saint, and I was a rank ignoramus before. Now? I see a little creature just like Snowy, full of character, emotion, personality, life, when I eat meat. I still hunger for it, on some physical level. But morally, emotionally, mentally? I’m repulsed by this act of taking a life needlessly. I feel a terrible sense of shame and guilt.
Who’s innocent? If we think about it, the only forms of life on planet earth which are pure, in the sense that they are genuinely nonviolent, are plants and some forms of bacteria. Plants take in sunlight — something inert. Some bacteria can feed on minerals. These are the only two beings on planet earth who do not need to consume living things in order to survive.
The rest of us? We’re trapped in a kind of living nightmare. We have to kill in order to live. We have to literally take life in order to have it. We have to eat something, consume it in the most naked way, in order to breathe.
This is a horrific place to be, if you think about it. It’s no wonder that it’s easier for us to pretend that we’re not doing terrible violence as we walk the well-lit aisles of some cheery grocery store. And yet that cheery grocery store is full of a false happiness precisely because it is the front for a vast machinery of death. How many animals does it take to feed us? Trillions.
This relationship, too, has to change. We have to consume far, far less, if we want to go on surviving as a civilisation now. That change probably has to begin with what we literally eat. The way that we eat, too, is symbolic of how we consume in general. Mindlessly. Thoughtlessly. Selfishly. Stupidly.
The ancients had a far, far more mature relationship with nature than we do. They consumed what they needed, and drew the line there. They used all of what they took, in gratitude. They had a profound sense of justice towards nature.
Why? Because they understood they were at nature’s mercy. We don’t. We think we’re above nature. Still think that way, though? Or has that conviction been shaken, by the last year or so, of mega fire and mega flood?
Nature’s trying to wipe us out. Wouldn’t you, if you were her? I would. We’re the worst thing to happen to the rest of life on this planet.
Why do we think we’re above nature — so far above it, that we can take as much as we want, exploit it, abuse it, kill it off?
This mistake goes back. Way back. To the Enlightenment, or monotheistic religion, or both, take your pick. I have religious cousins — very religious ones. Their entire lives are lived to please a deity, not to coexist with anyone or anything else. When they see Snowy, they have a strange reaction — they think he’s dirty and unclean. Not just physically, but existentially.
They don’t even care that this is offensive to me, because, well, I adore the little guy. For them, it’s salvation that matters. Why do they think Snowy’s existentially unclean? Because their monotheistic religion teaches them — as all of them do — that animals don’t have souls. So where do animals go, in this scheme of things? Well, either to hell, or nowhere, because they never existed at all.
It’s patently ridiculous to tell me that my best friend doesn’t exist. That he doesn’t have a soul. Of course he exists — he’s sitting right next to me. Of course he has a soul — it’s a bigger soul than most people I know, full of laughter and grace and courage. Think of how brave the little guy has to be to live with us. He’s ten inches tall.
Soul? I don’t know anyone braver — or more loving — than our dogs, my friends. And yet they tell me that the animals are going to hell.
Are you kidding me? How can you believe that? I’m sorry if you’re religious, but I have to draw a line somewhere. An ideology which says: “all the countless trillions of creatures on this planet except you are not really worthy” is basically fascism. I’m sorry, and there, I finally said it.
Monotheistic religion began this strange way of thinking. The ancients didn’t think this way. For them, not only did animals have souls, but all of nature did. Greeks were just of many ancient cultures to deify nature. The Egyptians did too. Most ancient cultures had such an intimate relationship with nature that “becoming” an animal, in a vision, with the help of a hallucinogen, was considered something divine, something elevated — not something subhuman and degraded, like we do. That’s telling. Of how broken our relationship with nature really is.
The Enlightenment continued the mistake monotheistic religion had made, of subjugating nature, of degrading it. The Enlightenment picked up where monotheistic religion had left off. Animals couldn’t “reason” and employ “logic.” And therefore they were inferior. Enlightenment thinkers loved to build hierarchies, and in them, human beings — “white” ones, because they’d just invented the idea of “race” — were on top, the most “rational” of all. Below them came other “races”, “yellow”, “red”, “black”, and so on.
But there are no yellow or red people, for Pete’s sake. Enlightenment thinkers at this point were literally making things up. What a stupid, stupid tragedy that we still believe them.
But their hierarchies didn’t stop there. Below the inferior “races” came the “animals.” In descending order of reason, too. And since then, that’s the way we’ve come to see the world.
The more “rational” a being is, the more they deserve dominion, power, and control.
Only now, that entire worldview is being revealed as a lie — in a kind of grand, morbid, ironic joke. What was “rationality,” to Enlightenment thinkers? It was self-advantage, basically. Being able to amass and acquire and outwit. It wasn’t just putting cause to effect, but the idea that all that could be employed in profit. Hence, capitalism was the great outcome of Enlightenment thinking.
But if rationality is the maximisation of one’s own advantage — then the ugly endgame is before us now. What kind of world does that form of “rationality” lead to? A world where Bezos or Zuck could vaccinate the entire planet — but don’t. A world where billionaires own the entire American working and middle class, keeping them in perpetual debt. A world where the human “race” goes on consuming as much as it can, as fast it can — even if destroys its own civilization.
“Rationality” of this form — consumption maximization — turns out to be the most irrational thing of all. Short-sighted, narrow-minded, foolish. The ancients knew it. They weren’t dumb, they just weren’t interested in this way of thinking. They saw where it would lead, which is to human beings acting like locusts, like viruses, like dishonourable and mindless things. Even locusts and viruses have limits to their appetites. Do we? The ancients did not want to go down this road. They saw where it would lead. Nearly every ancient contains a stark prohibition against “rationality” as selfishness and consumption maximisation, as materialism and invididualism — most have complex norms against this mindset. Just think of complex forms of egalitarianism like gift economies or moral codes like Ubuntu.
We are at the end of this way of thinking. And that’s a good thing. Because the price has been steep. Regarding nature as something inferior, stupid, worthless — meat to be consumed — has had a terrible price for us, too. We’ve grown alienated from nature. Our own nature.
What are we? Above all, we’re social beings. We’re not the lone-wolf apex predators that American pseudo-science makes us out to be. We can try to be that, which is what American culture wants everyone to be, but we’re not happy that way. We’re not happy, fulfilled, or ennobled as idiots who carry guns to Starbucks and consume everything in sight with abandon. We just end up like Americans — lonely, dumb, angry, and self-destructive.
We need to become very different kinds of people now. Full of gratitude and love and respect for all of life. All of it. From the tiniest creature to the greatest. Rationality can’t be the measure of a creature, because it’s only made fools of us. It’s only led us to self-destruction and ruin, the idea that a person, a nation — or a species — should only be in it for themselves, their own gain, profit, advantage. We need to rethink our relationship with nature from that perspective. It needs to become one of investment, not consumption, which means giving back, nurturing, nourishing, protecting, guiding, coexisting — not abusing, violating, and dominating.
Can we be that thing, that being? I don’t know. Nobody knows. The ancients and the primitives wanted to be those beings. But modern societies came along — and killed them off. With efficiency, with productivity. By instilling this insatiable appetite for mindless consumption, TikTok style. Maybe, in the end, that’s what we’re destined to be, by our primate brains.
This century tests all that. Who we really are, can be, want to be, in this world. The truth and essence of us.
So far, though, I have to wonder — are we even trying to be any different from the violent, stupid, selfish, self-destructive, walking apes capitalism and patriarchy and empire, all those old systems of domination, violence, and violation, want us to be?
The article on the Economic Cost of Climate Change being six times higher than previously thought, published by UCL though alarming cannot be closer to the drastic reality of today. Here it is.
Economic cost of climate change could be six times higher than previously thought
6 September 2021
Economic models of climate change may have substantially underestimated the costs of continued warming, according to a new study involving UCL researchers.
Published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the international team of scientists found that the economic damage could be six times higher by the end of this century than previously estimated.
Projections like this help governments around the world calculate the relative costs and benefits of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. However, prior analysis has shown that the models used may ignore important risks and therefore underestimate the costs.
Currently, most models focus on short-term damage, assuming that climate change has no lasting effect on economic growth, despite growing evidence to the contrary. Extreme events like droughts, fires, heatwaves and storms are likely to cause long-term economic harm because of their impact on health, savings and labour productivity.
The study authors first updated one of the three climate-economy models used to set the price of carbon for national policy decisions, then used it to explore the impact of year-to-year climate variations and the rates of economic recovery after climate events.
The study shows that by 2100, global GDP could be 37% lower than it would be without the impacts of warming, when taking the effects of climate change on economic growth into account. Without accounting for lasting damages – excluded from most estimates – GDP would be around 6% lower, meaning the impacts on growth may increase the economic costs of climate change by a factor of six.
Yet, there is still considerable uncertainty about how much climate damages continue to affect long-term growth and how far societies can adapt to reduce these damages; depending on how much growth is affected, the economic costs of warming this century could be up to 51% of global GDP.
Study co-author Dr Chris Brierley (UCL Geography) said: “We don’t yet know exactly how much effect climate change will have on long-term economic growth – but it’s unlikely to be zero, as most economic models have assumed.
“Climate change makes detrimental events like the recent heatwave in North America and the floods in Europe much more likely. If we stop assuming that economies recover from such events within months, the costs of warming look much higher than usually stated. We still need a better understanding of how climate alters economic growth, but even in the presence of small long-term effects, cutting emissions becomes much more urgent.”
The researchers also updated the model to take advances in climate science over the past decade into account, as well as the effect of climate change on the variability of annual average temperatures – both of which increased the projected cost of climate change.
The authors calculated the effect of these changes on the ‘social cost of carbon’ (SCCO2), a crucial indicator of the level of urgency for taking climate action that calculates the economic cost of greenhouse gas emissions to society. Expressed in US dollars per tonne of carbon dioxide, estimates currently vary greatly between $10 to $1,000. However, when taking more robust climate science and updated models into account, this new study suggests that the economic damage could in fact be over $3,000 per tonne of CO2.
“Burning CO2 has a cost to society, even if it is not directly to our wallets. Each person’s emissions could quite well result in a cost to humanity of over $1,300 per year, rising to over $15,000 once the impacts of climate change on economic growth are included,” Dr Brierley said.
While the findings show large uncertainties, the central values were found to be much higher than policymakers currently assume; the US government, for example, currently uses a social cost of carbon of around $51 per tonne to judge the costs and benefits of projects linked with greenhouse gas emissions, whilst the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which covers power, manufacturing and aviation, recently exceeded €61 for the first time.
Study co-author Paul Waidelich (ETH Zürich) said: “The findings confirm that it is cheaper to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than it is to deal with climate change impacts, and the economic damages from continued warming would greatly outweigh most costs that could be involved in preventing emissions now. The risk of costs being even higher than previously assumed reaffirms the urgency for fast and strong mitigation. It shows that choosing to not reduce greenhouse gas emissions is an extremely risky economic strategy.”
Former UCL MSc student and study lead author, Jarmo Kikstra (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Imperial College London), said: “It is very difficult to calculate the overall costs of climate change, but increased scientific evidence has improved economic estimates. Climate science on this has improved a lot over the past decade, and the improvements we made with the science do not change the order of magnitude of cost-benefit estimates.
“However, we are much more uncertain when it comes to how the economy will respond to future climate impacts. We reveal that if we look more closely at the lasting impact the climate can have on economies, we find that the costs might increase many times, depending on how much climate action we take.”
Arabian Business‘ post on the GCC of all countries of the MENA region are taking action for a sustainable future because of how humanity having reached a ‘code red’ climate emergency. Here it is.
How humanity has reached a ‘code red’ climate emergency
The good news is that there is still a sliver of hope to help communities respond to this threat through well-informed, solid and sustained actions.
The recently published report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes unprecedented environmental changes as “irreversible for centuries to millennia”.
However, the good news is that there is still a sliver of hope to help communities respond to this threat through well-informed, solid and sustained actions.
Like the rest of the world, countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have started experiencing climate change first-hand with sparse rainfall, arid terrain, and high temperatures. Thus, its governments moved to adapt their climate change policies.
For example, Saudi Arabia launched the Saudi Green Initiative which aims to increase the kingdom’s reliance on clean energy, and combat climate change. Bloomberg Green reported earlier this year that Saudi Arabia is building a $5 billion solar and wind-powered plant to be among the world’s biggest green hydrogen makers when it opens in the planned megacity of Neom in 2025.
Meanwhile, the UAE has been undertaking many steps to control the effects of climate since the late 2000s with the establishment of Masdar in Abu Dhabi, which is currently hosting the International Renewable Energy Agency headquarters. Dubai also inaugurated the third phase of its largest solar park in the world last year, which targets a capacity of 5GW by 2030 to supply homes with clean energy and offset CO2 emissions.
Global funders of science – including philanthropy, the private sector and government agencies – have a vital role in delivering climate pledges. As we have seen with the fight against Covid-19, by focusing investments on supporting much-needed research and technology development, we can improve climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, and influence policy and identify behavioural interventions that support them. This prompts us to examine the role of privately-led science funding in the GCC in supporting climate change combat.
Research indicates that climate change directly impacts nutrition and public health. In the GCC, for example, MIT professor Elfatih Eltahir published a paper in Nature Climate Change, alongside Jeremy Pal of Loyola Marymount University, demonstrating that waves of heat and humidity in the region are likely to lead to temperature levels that are intolerable to humans. This research sounds a warning for the impact of increased urbanisation rates on livability in the GCC in the face of climate change.
The GCC can respond positively to climate change’s direct and indirect effects on communities, whether air pollution, nutrition, disease or even habitability.
With exceptions like Professor Eltahir’s study, there is little research and empirical evidence on the effects of adverse climate events on human health in the GCC region. Such research is urgently needed: Only by examining the most up-to-date and robust scientific evidence and analysis, can we understand how to tackle these challenges most effectively.
To this end, Community Jameel has partnered with AEON Collective, a leading Saudi-based sustainable development research and advocacy group, to bring together a consortium of world-leading international and local researchers in the areas of climate, food and water, and public health to inform policy recommendations in climate and health in the GCC.
This includes scientists from two research centres Community Jameel has founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): the Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS), which catalyses research and innovation at MIT to find solutions to urgent global water and food systems challenges; and the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), whose co-founders – Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee – received the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics for their experimental approach to tackling global poverty, and where the J-PAL King Climate Action Initiative is generating evidence on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of technological and policy innovations at the intersection of climate and poverty.
In order to bridge the gap between academia, policymakers and the private sector in the GCC, the consortium will draw on the expertise of researchers at J-WAFS and J-PAL, as well as local and other international institutions, to identify solutions, provide technical guidance, and improve our understanding of the complexity behind the policy changes required to implement science-based solutions in the region.
By strengthening the region’s climate resilience, the GCC can respond positively to climate change’s direct and indirect effects on communities, whether air pollution, nutrition, disease or even habitability. There is also an opportunity to capitalise on the strategic opportunities presented by the shift to a lower-carbon and resource-constrained economy.
We hope that this collaborative effort will galvanise further funding of research in – and for – the GCC and the specific challenges posed by climate change to the health of all of us living in this region.
Before a critical Opec conference, Iraq’s finance minister, one of the founding members of the global oil cartel Opec, issued an unusual plea to fellow oil producers to shift away from fossil fuel reliance and toward renewable energy.
Ali Allawi, Iraq’s deputy prime minister, urged oil producers to seek “an economic rejuvenation based on ecologically sound policies and technology,” such as solar electricity and even nuclear reactors, to lessen their reliance on fossil fuel exports.ADVERTISING
“To stand a chance of minimizing the worst consequences of climate change, the world has to radically transform the way it produces and uses energy, burning less coal, oil, and natural gas,” he wrote alongside Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency. Livelihoods would be lost, and poverty rates will rise if oil earnings begin to fall before producer countries have properly diversified their economies.”
Ministers from the 13 Opec member states will meet virtually on Wednesday to discuss possible output cuts as oil prices fluctuate. Opec had agreed to raise output as nations recovered from the Covid-19 epidemic, but sluggish markets have led some to propose that the rise be halted.
Last month, US President Joe Biden made a contentious appeal for Opec to raise oil output, even more, keep oil prices from increasing and help the US economy recover. But, unfortunately, his appeal was turned down.
Fuel Step Up
In an unprecedented step for the fossil fuel companies, the Opec summit may also address the climate problem ahead of the crucial UN climate negotiations, known as Cop26, set for Glasgow in November.
According to Allawi and Birol, current oil price instability, fueled by the pandemic, is merely the beginning of troubles for producers. The climate issue will not only need a shift away from oil, but it will also have a particularly negative impact on the Middle East and North Africa, where increasing temperatures are already causing severe problems.
According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) recent global roadmap to net-zero by 2050, global oil demand is expected to fall from more than 90 million barrels per day to fewer than 25 million barrels per day by 2050, resulting in a potential 85 percent drop in revenues for oil-producing economies.
According to Allawi and Birol, economic hardship and rising unemployment risk causing greater discontent and instability in a region with one of the world’s youngest and fastest-growing populations.
Investing in renewables, particularly solar electricity, is an alternative to dependent on increasingly volatile oil prices. They added, “The energy industry might play a role here by utilizing the region’s tremendous potential for generating and supplying clean energy.”
Iraq is a founding member of the cartel, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Nigeria, and several other African oil-producing countries. In addition, Russia and a few minor producers are included in the Opec+ alliance.
Most have been antagonistic to demands for action on climate change, while some have dismissed climate science, and Saudi Arabia, in particular, has often obstructed UN climate discussions.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) cautioned in May that if the world remains below 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, as laid forth in the Paris Agreement – to which all Opec members are signatories – all new oil drilling must end this year.
When asked about the findings, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, said at an Opec meeting in June, “I would have to voice my perspective that I feel it is a sequel to [the] La La Land movie…” But, “What makes you think I should take it seriously?”
Saudi officials have toyed with climate action in the past, claiming, for example, that the nation might eventually power itself with solar energy. However, no one has urged that oil shipments be halted.
Some oil producers, on the other hand, have chosen a more dovish attitude. For example, Oman, no longer an Opec member, looks at hydrogen as a future low-carbon fuel. The UAE also focuses on hydrogen and renewable energy and has just opened a new nuclear power plant. Other nations in the area with significant renewable energy programs include Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan.
“More than at any other time in history, significant adjustments to the economic model in resource-rich nations are unavoidable,” Birol, one of the world’s leading energy economists, told the Guardian. Countries in the region have made energy transition initiatives. There are encouraging attempts [among oil producers], but attaining net-zero emissions would need far bolder steps and much larger international coordination, as it has for many other nations across the world.”
Algeria suffers from devastating wildfires but faces big challenges in addressing them by António Bento-Gonçalves, University of Minho shed the light on the central area of North Africa whereas, wildfires sweep every summer, the Atlas of its millennium forestry ground cover. Life despite that carries on regardless.
In effect, there are many localities in rural areas, that were waiting for their share of development projects, which have been promised in the wake of the policy of aid and support for grey areas. “We are a grey area, and yet we are forgotten!”, exclaims a local resident.
All this was prior to the sudden fires wreaking havoc. “It is a great disaster, people have suffered great damage to their property, some have lost everything,” continues our interlocutor, who insists on the fact that despite the exodus that had experienced the rural areas, the inhabitants have remained faithful to their tradition in this land. “Some have certainly left, but others, and there are many, have returned,” said the native of this locality, an official of the local authority.
Read more on a BBC‘s Viewpoint: Algerian blame games expose deep political crisis.
Anyway, let us read the ‘Conversation’.
Algeria suffers from devastating wildfires, but faces big challenges in addressing them
Dozens of forest fires have raged through forest areas across northern Algeria. So far at least 90 people have reportedly died as a consequence. Natural hazard expert, António Bento-Gonçalves, provides insights into wildfires in Algeria and what must be done to manage them better.
How often do wildfire incidents take place in Algeria and which areas are most affected?
In recent years major fires, with devastating consequences, have occurred in various parts of the world. This year the Mediterranean region was affected by heatwaves between July and August which caused major fire incidents in several countries including Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.
In Algeria, forests and scrubland occupy a total area of around 4 million hectares. This makes a huge part of the country susceptible to fire. For instance, between 1876 and 2005 (the longest complete data series) it’s estimated that almost 40,000 hectares burned each year, representing approximately 1% of all existing woodlands of the country.
Over a period of 25 years, from 1985 to 2010, Algeria recorded 42,555 fires that burned a total area of 910,640 hectares.
The municipalities (known as “wilayas”) most affected are in the North – the most forested parts of the country – and in the West. These areas are more populated, hilly (with steep slopes) and a pronounced Mediterranean climate – a very dry and hot season in summer, but sufficiently wet in winter to allow for rapid vegetation growth.
What causes them?
Wild fires spread the fastest in places that are hard to reach and in the right conditions. Large parts of Algeria tick these boxes. With very limited access and steep slopes, detection and effective first intervention by firefighters is very difficult. In addition there’s usually very dry undergrowth and forests are composed of flammable species.
Added to this, Algeria’s forested areas are subject to multiple human pressures which create conditions that are favourable to the spread of fires. These include the the use of fast-growing but more flammable forest species or the frequent use of fire for pasture regeneration. In addition, having long periods of hot and dry weather increase fire risk.
Forest fires in Algeria were historically caused by people. However, recent official information on the causes of fires is characterised by high rate of fires of “unknown origin”, representing between 40% to 70% of all fires. Essentially, we know they’ll be caused by people, but there’s no specific data on what activity that caused them or motivations behind them.
Why do we not know? This is related to difficulties in monitoring by the General Directorate of Forests. Between 1980 and 2000, when the causes of fires of unknown origin were higher, this was due to instability. Algeria had a civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002 and prevented government agencies, including the Directorate of Forests, from working properly. This made it difficult to have a good understanding of what caused the fires.
How are they managed and are there prevention measures in place?
Generally, policies put in place to combat forest fires are organised around several points: information and education of the population, development and maintenance of rural and forest areas, surveillance of wooded areas, and improvement of the means of fire fighting.
However, not knowing exactly what type of human activity causes the fires limits what can be done to prevent them. Instead, policies tend to be more reactionary – they focus on dealing with fires when they break out.
In recent years, public authorities strengthened the resources of the General Directorate of Forests for the prevention and fight against forest fires. In particular, by acquiring first intervention equipment, such as forest fire trucks, preparing more aircraft for firefighting, and a radio network for rapid communication in the event of fire outbreak.
In addition, more collaborative work is being done in the region to improve intervention and surveillance.
What else can be done to better prepare and manage wildfires in Algeria?
Policies to prevent and protect against forest fires have been implemented gradually since the 1980s, but the country faces many challenges in effectively rolling them out.
Algeria is a huge country – with a size exceeding 2.38 million km2, it’s the biggest country in Africa. With a massive territory to manage, all actions – to prevent, to detect and to fire fight – aren’t enough. Operations are also very complex due to the very uneven, hard to access, terrain.
There’s also a high population density around and inside the forest massifs. This means its hard to control the actions that people take which are a fire hazard.
Added to this, forestry officials lack authority and resources to perform their duties.
To effectively combat fires, there must be political, social and economic stability in the country. And the causes of the fires must be clearly known. Without this, it’s impossible to win the battle against forest fires.
There is, however, hope. New technologies, such as Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems, could improve data acquisition and thus the prevention of fires.
Other actions that must be taken include; the strengthening of education and awareness-raising and improvements in the equipment used to monitor, detect and fight forest fires.
Finally, policymakers must focus on strengthening cooperation and mutual assistance between all the Mediterranean countries. Fire knows no borders and no single country is capable of having all the necessary resources.
Originally posted on MENA Solidarity Network: By Anzar Atrar and David Karvala At 4 am on Saturday 21 August, Spanish authorities took Mohamed Abdellah —along with around 30 other Algerians— from the migrant custody centre in Barcelona and deported him. This was bad news for all of them, of course. But Abdellah, an Algerian anti-corruption…
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