Climate Chaos brings misery, hunger and pollution to millions

Feature story - 15 August, 2002
Eastern Europe under water, continent wide smog clouds in Asia, both floods and droughts in India and China, heat waves in Canada, the US and Australia. Is this a taste of a warmer world where our insatiable desire for fossil fuels causes the climate to wreak havoc across the globe?

The flooded Spolana chemical plant shortly after the explosion of chlorine gas

The first half of 2002 was the warmest in 143 years, and, globally, the period from January to June was the second warmest on record. While no single weather event or disaster can be directly linked to global warming, a warmer world will see more floods, droughts and heat waves. The current floods in Eastern Europe and Germany have cost almost 100 lives and caused untold misery and economic loss. It seems it is no longer only us 'radical greenies' who are saying climate change could cost the planet and it's inhabitants dearly if left unchecked.

"Warmer weather fuels natural disasters," said Pier Vellinga, a climatologist at Amsterdam University. "Few places in the world will be spared from climatic disruptions. We can say with reasonable confidence that human-induced climate change is now affecting the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events."

Soon it will only be those corporations and governments, where the only green issue on their minds is the number of dollars on their bank balance, who deny that the world needs to act now to prevent global warming.

Surely the inhabitants of Prague in the Czech Republic cannot be overjoyed at the looming prospect of more floods this century. Not only has the flooding forced thousands from their homes, the waters have inundated a severely polluted factory site, cancer causing dioxin and deadly mercury could be washed downstream, spreading these deadly poisons far and wide.

In Germany authorities fear further pollution if the chemical plants at Bitterfeld, which lies on the swollen river Mulde's path, is flooded.

On the other side of the globe, UN environment chief Klaus Topfer announced that a massive cloud of pollution more than three kilometres deep is covering part of Asia. The brown haze is caused by dramatic increases in the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, industries and power stations, emissions from millions of inefficient cookers, as well as forest fires and the burning of agricultural waste. The haze, which is disrupting the climate, damaging agriculture, affecting monsoon rainfall and contributing to death rates from respiratory illness, is expected to intensify as Asia's population increases.

Currently our ship, the Arctic Sunrise, is in Thailand to promote clean renewable energy, such as wind and solar, and show that dirty energy, such as coal and nuclear power has no future if we want to leave an inhabitable planet to future generations.

Recent events should serve as a wake up call to governments attending the upcoming Earth Summit in South Africa. They can continue to listen to the vested interests of multinational oil companies like Exxon who claim that we should 'study' the prospect of catastrophic climate change for another 20 years. An outcome of bickering, inaction and delay would amount to little more than fiddling while the planet burns.

Alternatively governments could take the brave and visionary step of listening to the people rather than vested corporate interests and take the first step towards a cleaner, greener future for the planet.

If they do not take any real action at the Summit, the events of 2002 could become sickeningly familiar in years to come…