Climate emergency – in the global North and South

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By EBERVAL GADELHA FIGUEIREDO JR.*

The New Climate Regime does not distinguish between nations, and shockwaves from extreme weather events cross geopolitical borders with implacable indifference

Climate change represents one of the most urgent and complex challenges for the XNUMXst century. As the techno-socio-economic metabolism of human collectives continues to release significant quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, global climate patterns are changing in ways that generate profound impacts not only on ecosystems, but also on economies and societies, in a geoanthropic dialectical spiral on a planetary scale.

It is clear that planetary problems require planetary solutions. The New Climate Regime does not distinguish between nations, and the shockwaves of extreme weather events cross geopolitical borders with implacable indifference. In Serresian terms, the impacts of climate change do not follow the regulated, rational and contractual logic, characteristic of war, but rather the modus operandi irrational and anomic of pure and simple violence, complete denial of the Law. Gaia is not a signatory to the Geneva Convention.

All of this should be extremely obvious, especially for those who still live immersed in a modernist paradigm of sharp separation between nature and culture/society. Apparently, however, this is not the case. In fact, projections about the future effects of climate change are often permeated by something that can be called First World hubris, an illusion that the so-called “First World” would be more protected from the effects of climate change, in virtue of its technical prowess and material wealth, but also because these effects would supposedly be less acute in regions of the Global North, something that is clearly nothing more than wishful thinking.

This trend derives from arrogance and overconfidence on the part of developed countries in relation to their capabilities and privileges, and can be observed in projections about the future effects of climate change. Analyzes tend to exaggerate the impacts on less industrialized nations in the Global South, while underestimating or ignoring their implications on developed countries, whose populations, since the middle of the last century, have become unaccustomed to experiencing great difficulties and existential risks.

I am not suggesting here that the effects of climate change will not be felt in countries in the Global South. In fact, many of them have been facing serious problems of this exact nature. Particularly dramatic examples of this are small island nations such as Grenada, Comoros, Palau, among many others, which will soon likely be submerged as sea levels rise across the planet (SADAT, 2012).

Populations whose economies are based on primary sector activities, such as agriculture, find themselves in a similarly precarious situation as climate change destabilizes the natural cycles that govern their agricultural calendars. These are true cases of poetic injustice, since these people, as a rule, are those least responsible for the current crisis scenario.

The Guatemalan west, for example, a sparsely urbanized region inhabited by a profusion of mountainous indigenous ethnicities who speak Mayan languages, is very susceptible to climate fluctuations, due to its location in the so-called Central American Dry Corridor (PALENCIA, 2014). Bhutan, one of the only countries in the world whose carbon sequestration rate is greater than the emission rate, has been suffering from terrible floods caused by the melting of snow in the mountains near glacial lakes (WIGNARAJA, 2022).

However, most of the problems faced by developing countries in the context of the climate crisis, in addition to not necessarily being apocalyptic in severity or scale, tend to largely derive from socioeconomic and infrastructural factors, and not purely physical-environmental factors. This observation is not a insight new and avant-garde. It is something that has been talked about for almost two decades (DERVIS, 2007). In any case, the hubris The first world crisis discussed here consists of overestimating the gross magnitude of the nature factor when it comes to the consequences of the crisis in the Global South. To better understand this phenomenon, it is necessary to examine climate projections for the future.

Over the last few years, several models have been made in an attempt to predict the climate future of our planet, many of them quite pessimistic (or too optimistic, depending on where you live). A common theme is the supposed greater intensity of the effects of the climate crisis in intertropical regions (where 85% of the poorest global population lives (SHULMEISTER, 2020)). There is a prediction for the year 2500, for example, according to which the Amazon will be a barren and torrid landscape, while the Midwest of the United States will be a hot and humid forest, precisely like the Amazon of yesteryear ( ROBITZSKI, 2021).

Desert is a controversial anarchist and eco-pessimist text, whose anonymous author admittedly lives somewhere on the European continent (ANÔNIMO, 2011: 51). The residence of the author of Desert It seems like useless, inconsequential information, but that's not the case, especially given your predictions for the New Climate Regime. Here, once again, the tropics are doomed to collapse, while the repercussions of the crisis in temperate areas will be less natural than social, in the form of tensions caused by an influx of climate refugees from failed intertropical countries (ANONYMOUS , 2011: 56).

Desert reproduces a series of antiquated notions of climate determinism. For the author, non-European civilizations often collapse after destroying the fragile ecosystems around them, while Europe's oceanic climate provided the West with a greater margin for environmental error and, therefore, a more robust civilization, the only one to survive in the world. New Climate Regime (ANONYMOUS, 2011: 56). All of this would make a lot of sense, if it weren't for the fact that our anonymous anarchist is a great guessworker, whose notions of climatology are shallow and folkloric. Civilizations such as those in the Andes and the Valley of Mexico, for example, emerged in highlands with subtropical climates similar to the European one.

Their political-ideological convictions seem to matter little, whether they are eco-pessimist anarchists rooting for the collapse of industrial civilization, or benevolent technocrats who think that the vocation of the Global North in the New Climate Regime will be to be magnanimous hosts for the poor masses of climate refugees from brown complexion. The fact is that the First World ecological imaginary is really based on a modernist dichotomy between humanity and nature. Instead of making them conclude that non-human nature is indifferent to the International Division of Labor, however, this dichotomous imaginary makes them see themselves as properly social beings, while the billions of inhabitants of the tropics are nothing more than games of the elements.

Furthermore, First World anxieties about immigration, further fueled by the impacts of the climate crisis, often spill over into arguments about accepting or rejecting certain Malthusian delusions endemic to the First World. For them, Gaia's favorites live north of the Tropic of Cancer. But we know that Gaia doesn't play favorites.

To see the impartiality of the Earth System, just follow the news. The news coming out of Europe and North America is not very good. In Arizona, a heat wave caused hospitalizations in numbers comparable to the time of the COVID-19 pandemic (SALAHIEH & STUDLEY, 2023). Two years earlier, in British Columbia, another heat wave was estimated to have spontaneously cooked around a billion sea creatures (SHIVARAM, 2021). In Europe, heat and drought exposed the beds of rivers such as the Rhine, the Po (which now lives up to its name) and the Danube (LIMB, 2022). Still in Europe, we have a notorious case of dramatic irony, with rising temperatures also increasing the risk of contamination by “tropical” pathogens, such as the dengue virus (OLSEN, 2023). All this funeral news makes life here in the tropics sound much more bearable.

Once again, my aim here is not to suggest that Brazil and the rest of the intertropical world will continue unscathed. For now, however, it really seems that we are being spared these cinematic consequences of the climate crisis that have been affecting the Northern Hemisphere. This occurs because different regions of the planet respond differently to the greenhouse effect. Estimates for the period 2080-2100 suggest an increase of around 1.6°C in the average temperature in the tropics, or, if the rate of emissions until then is higher, around 3.3°C. For the same period, the temperature increase in polar regions could be about twice as high.

In other words, the increase in temperature in the tropics, in absolute terms, will be less, not more severe, than in the polar and temperate zones. In this scenario, areas at higher latitudes warm more quickly, as excess heat at the equator and in the tropics creates a temperature and pressure gradient that stimulates the transport of heat to higher latitudes through atmospheric circulation (SHULMEISTER, 2020).

Even though the tropics are already hotter, the predicted temperature increase is not enough to make these regions uninhabitable, contradicting the sadistic catastrophism of the Global North, which, in turn, will have to face both absolute and relatively more intense temperature increases. . No matter how much we face increases in temperature and changes in rainfall, the habitability of São Luís, Belém and Manaus will be less compromised than that of New York, Vancouver and San Francisco.

This is how the hubris first worldist. Its consequences are potentially serious and could lead to the minimization of actions necessary to mitigate the impacts of climate change. By relying too much on technological solutions, on the ability to adapt, and also on the sheer luck of societies in the Global North, the importance of collaborative measures and profound transformations in the economic system at a planetary level is ignored.

This attitude perpetuates inequality, by failing to recognize that nations considered “most affected” often simply have fewer resources to face climate challenges. This is a socioeconomic contingency, and not the consequences of some geoclimatic determinism that favors temperate areas at the expense of the tropics. This perspective seriously distorts the understanding of global reality.

Indeed, this tendency to overestimate the gross effects of climate change on the Global South reflects a notion that the First World is immune to the most serious consequences, revealing a bias of privilege and advantage, ignoring the complex realities of not only developing nations, but also from developed nations themselves. All countries, in their own way, are subject to the effects of climate change, regardless of their level of economic development. When we talk about the greater vulnerability of poor populations in the Global South, what we mean is not that they are condemned due to physical geography, but that their capacity to respond is compromised by factors of human geography, that is, a combination of inadequate infrastructure, widespread poverty and limited access to essential resources.

In the New Climate Regime, there will be no beneficiaries of hubris first worldist. The belief in a supposed infinite capacity for adaptation and control could be the Achilles Heel of the First World in this rapidly changing climate scenario. Excessively optimistic projections for the Global North could give rise to a future not only of social and economic instability, but also of environmental instability. strictly speaking.

Complacency regarding carbon emissions and insufficient actions to contain the climate crisis could result in an unimaginable price to be paid. Let us hope that the current environmental calamities in the Global North provoke an awakening to the brutal and indiscriminate retaliation of the forces of nature. As extreme weather events increase in frequency and intensity, developed nations will discover that their position of advantage (a historical contingency, not an inevitability, it is always worth remembering) does not insulate them from the most direct consequences of climate change. Just like the Stoics' Fortune, Gaia will prove to be a capricious and merciless goddess.

The World Turned Upside Down is the title of an English folk song from the 1640s. Its lyrics were originally a protest against the English Parliament's decision to ban traditional Christmas festivities, which would be too reminiscent of Catholicism and therefore inappropriate for such a solemn occasion as Christ's birthday. In light of the New Climate Regime, however, the song's title may take on a very different alternative meaning.

So, the next time someone announces the “inevitable” collapse of human civilization in the tropics and the resulting migration crisis in the First World, my response will just be to sing:

They count it sin, when poor people come in.
Hospitality it selfe is drown'd.
Yet let's be content, and the times lament, you see the world turned upside down.

*Eberval Gadelha Figueiredo Jr. holds a degree in Law from USP.

References


ANONYMOUS. Desert. Online: 2001. Available at: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/anonymous-desert.pdf.

DERVIS, Kemal. Devastating For the World's Poor: Climate Change Threatens The Development Gains Already Achieved. In: Green Our World! Vol. XLIV, No. 2. Online: 2007. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/devastating-worlds-poor-climate-change-threatens-development-gains-already-achieved. Acesso em 08/08/2023.

LIMB, Lottie. Euronews: In pictures: Europe's mighty rivers are drying up in the climate-driven draft. 2022. Available at: https://www.euronews.com/green/2022/08/11/in-pictures-europes-mighty-rivers-are-drying-up-in-the-climate-driven-drought.

OLSEN, Jan M. APNews: Climate change leads to growing risk of mosquito-borne viral diseases, EU agency says. 2023. Available at: https://apnews.com/article/climate-change-europe-mosquito-fever-ecdc-b1f0e0471ae645344c2ed3f9425d7a97.

PALENCIA, Gustavo. ScientificAmerican: Drought Leaves up to 2.8 Million Hungry in Central America. 2014. Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/drought-leaves-up-to-2-8-million-hungry-in-central-america/.

ROBITZSKI, Dan. Futurism: The climate projection for 500 years from now is unbelievably bad. 2021. Available at: https://futurism.com/the-byte/climate-projection-500-years.

SADAT, Nemat. Small Islands, Rising Seas. In: UN Chronicle, vol. 46, 4, Apr. 2012, pp. 10-15. Online. Available in: https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/small-islands-rising-seas.

SALAHIEH, Nouran. STUDLEY, Laura. CNN: Extreme heat in Arizona increased hospitalizations to pandemic levels at one medical center. 2023. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2023/07/17/weather/southwest-us-arizona-record-heat/index.html.

SHIVARAM, Deepa. NPR: Heat Wave Killed an Estimated 1 Billion Sea Creatures, And Scientists Fear Even Worse. 2021. Available at: https://www.npr.org/2021/07/09/1014564664/billion-sea-creatures-mussels-dead-canada-british-columbia-vancouver.

SHULMEISTER, James. Eco-Business: Will the tropics eventually become uninhabitable?. 2020. Available at: https://www.eco-business.com/opinion/will-the-tropics-eventually-become-uninhabitable/.

WIGNARAJA, Kanni. World Economic Forum: Why we need climate action to prevent glacial lake outburst floods in Bhutan. 2022. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/11/cop27-climate-change-action-avert-glacial-melting-in-bhutan.


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