2022’s climate carnage so far
2022’s climate carnage so far)

It has been a fantastic few years for the Australian fossil fuel industry. 

Woodside Petroleum, now Australia’s largest oil and gas company, posted a more than 400 percent increase in net profit over the last year. Mining magnate Gina Rinehart’s net worth increased from $21.2 billion to $34.02 billion in the two years to August 2022, while Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest had an even more impressive increase, from $7.99 billion to $30.72 billion. Woodside’s Scarborough gas project, which will emit an estimated 1.37 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, recently secured its final approval from the Western Australian Labor government. And the Albanese government has been vocal about its commitment to Australia remaining the third largest fossil fuel exporter in the world.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world overheats, chokes, burns, floods and freezes, sometimes all at once. And, as ever, it is the most impoverished and vulnerable who suffer the most.

Pakistan has been hit most severely by continuous natural disasters. More than 1,200 people have been killed in floods that have swept away infrastructure and destroyed 1 million homes. Around US$10 billion worth of damage has been done, according to government estimates. Rainfall has quadrupled in some parts of Pakistan since 1959, according to experts. In January, the central city of Nawabshah experienced record high temperatures of 49.5 degrees, while in the same month Murree, on the outskirts of Islamabad, was hit by unprecedented snowstorms, resulting in 23 deaths. 

In Europe, record-breaking heatwaves and wildfires have likewise wreaked havoc. In the UK, London hit a record-breaking 40.2 degrees this summer, and heatwaves caused an estimated 948 deaths across England and Wales. The resulting wildfires caused the UK fire service to have its busiest day since World War II. 

China’s third biggest city, Chongqing, with a population of nearly 18 million, recorded temperatures of 43 degrees, at least 10 degrees above its seasonal average. This heat, and its corresponding drought, have caused the Yangtze River (the third largest river in the world) to dry up almost completely.

Wildfires in France caused 40,000 people to be evacuated. Across the Iberian peninsula, nearly 240,000 hectares of land were burnt by wildfires, as Spanish cities were blanketed with smoke for days. In the US, an estimated 2.4 million hectares of land were destroyed by fire, an area roughly the size of the country of Haiti. Algeria had 10,000 hectares of UNESCO-heritage listed biosphere in the El Kala Natural Park obliterated. 

In Iraq and Syria, dust storms caused by desertification and drought that began in April have caused the deaths of at least four people and hospitalised thousands more. These storms are predicted to grow more intense and frequent as the region becomes ever drier and hotter. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification estimates that around 12 million hectares of productive land are lost to desertification every year. 

Australia is no exception to these global trends. Residents of Lismore who had their houses destroyed by floods will be lucky to receive $25,000 from the government to rebuild their lives from scratch, while many fire victims still live in tents or temporary housing, more than two years after the devastating Black Summer bushfires. The Australian government is much more generous to its friends in the fossil fuel industry, spending $10.3 billion subsidising the fossil fuel industry in the 2020-21 financial year. 

Despite climate change affecting the entire planet on which all human beings depend, we are not “all in this together”. “Eco-cities” for the super-rich, such as the Eko Atlantic project on the coast of Nigeria, are designed to help the wealthy escape the effects of climate destruction

With one planned skyscraper appropriately named “The Audacity”, the city boasts “Expansive marinas offering inspirational views from every direction”. Meanwhile, ordinary Nigerians received warnings about what to expect during the 43-degree days the country experienced in July: “increased respiration rate, heat stroke, fatigue, loss of concentration and dehydration ... worsen[ing] spread and fatality of infectious diseases such as Lassa fever, yellow fever, measles, chicken pox, monkeypox, cholera and Covid-19”.

Whether it’s eco-cities or the proliferation of doomsday bunkers, the rich who create the climate crisis, and the politicians who oversee it, are insulating themselves from its effects in comfort and security. Their expectation is that workers and the poor will continue to put up with snowballing environmental devastation and the terrible human toll it is exacting and will continue to exact. It is imperative that we prove them wrong.

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