Weather, the great equalizer

This is the original English manuscript of the Article published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung 17th October 2021

Weather and Climate has suddenly come ‘front and center’ to our lives, and demands our attention because its vagaries have suddenly hit the global north.  One of the greatest unspoken fallacies of our time is that climate change is a recent phenomenon that ‘we’ suddenly need to be concerned about today, with regards to our emissions and carbon footprint. The truth of this matter is that greenhouse gases the atmosphere accumulate, and what we are witnessing now is the cumulative effect of what has been emitted in the 200 years or so since the industrial revolution.

It goes without saying that mankind are all in trouble now and must all work together to solve the challenges brought to us by climate change. However, the search for solutions to this problem must come from a position of honesty, if we are to have any chances of success. Therefore, the first thing we must deconstruct is the false corporate term “we” in reference to responsibility for the origins and drivers of climate change.

People in the tropics (also referred to as the ‘Global South’) do not experience the extreme seasonal variations typical of the temperate zones, but the inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ) where they live has always been subject to extreme weather, including droughts and floods. In Kenya, and much of Africa, rural indigenous communities developed resilience mechanisms, including “reserving” key resources like springs and highland grazing areas exclusively for use during times of crisis. In most communities, this wasn’t only a material consideration but a social and occasionally spiritual one. This is because the use of these resources was subject to decisions by designated elders, and some of these ‘reserved’ areas were also used for cultural rituals and spiritual purposes. Nature, therefore was part of a continuum that included people, their cultural structures, spiritual standing, and physiological needs.

People in the temperate ‘global North’, on the contrary, have always seen themselves as ‘external’ to nature, and used the latter as a resource to be consumed and exploited. The rate of consumption was only limited by the physical capability of the consumer. When the industrial revolution came, mechanical engineering exponentially increased their capability to consume. In addition to that, it gave rise to capitalism, whereby consumption was now driven by the profit motive, in addition to the initial individual need. The earth (and it’s environment) suddenly had to cope with a society that had the desire, and capability to consume far beyond its physiological needs, and initial geographical boundaries. The pressure was on, and students of history will easily recognize how this drove colonialism, war, environmental destruction, resulting in the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves today. The instability, unpredictability and occasional violence of atmospheric conditions which we pretend to understand and describe in a deliberately vague term; Climate change.

“Climate change” is a terminology that appears to denote something current, fluid and urgent. When used within the context of describing extreme weather events, it evokes images of an event that is happening right now, driven by actions being undertaken by everyone right now. Those are the reasons why it is such a useful term, because it feeds the crisis narrative. Scientists can make millions of dollars in grants and base their entire careers on it without doing anything tangible. Politicians and political parties can ride on this crisis to power or positions of power within coalition governments. World powers can easily use it at global forums as a pretext to try and curtail the industrial ambitions of their rivals. At the back end of the ethical spectrum It has even been used as an excuse by adults to put a teenage girl on the frontline of the geo-political battles we should be protecting children from.

One of the most absurd facets of the chimera we know as climate change is the rise of monetization of the environment. The rise, and acceptance of the bizarre notion of “carbon” offsets, credits, and trading in the same. In a previous paragraph above, we see how capitalism and its associated consumption patterns is a major root of the environmental miasma in which we find ourselves today. For us to imagine that capitalism, brokerage and profiteering can be used to mitigate the same damage it has caused over all these years is the height of hypocrisy, cognitive dissonance or both on a global scale. At a basic level, the money that changes hands in these has zero impact on emission. It simply means that those who pollute pay for it. The cost of his payment gets passed on to consumers, so the polluters don’t lose, and with most emissions coming from essential consumer goods, what we end up with is a simple extortion scam, paid for by the consumers, who then suffer its atmospheric consequences through extreme weather.

The most harmful part of this hypocrisy has been the fallacy of ‘carbon sequestration’ by annexing and colonizing lands and seascapes in the tropics. Allied to that is the accelerated creation of new ‘protected areas’ driven by the fatally flawed premise that wealthy people and biodiversity will somehow survive the vagaries of a destabilized atmosphere within islands of land fenced off from the rest of the world.

That vague term ‘climate change’ has allowed us to conjure up an entire economy of ‘greenwashing’ trade in intangible ‘carbon’. It has engendered scientific publications, academic and political careers, not to mention the relentless search for ‘alternatives’ that will somehow excuse us from changing our consumption patterns. The prejudices that are such an integral part of human nature have found a comfortable home in the miasma that is climate “science”, with industrialized nations pointing at livestock in the global south, and ignoring cars, industries and fossil fueled power stations in their own countries. Pointing at population growth in the global south, while ignoring the existing density and incomparable carbon footprint in the north. The people who drive this are “scientists”, ironically funded by the corporations that do most damage, so we must not let ‘science’ become the unquestioned cult it seeks to be. We must scrutinize it in the same manner we examine everything else around us and apply logic to it.

Extreme weather, in its unpredictability and power, is actually a reminder to us, that our international borders, protected areas, international conferences, harebrained financial schemes and ‘scientific research’ means nothing if we don’t reduce emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We must get our act together because for once, we face a challenge that completely ignores wealth, race, religion, fences and all the other divisions we place amongst ourselves. Weather, the great equalizer.