Global plastic pollution is becoming increasingly severe. According to a report by the German weekly magazine ‘Focus‘, plastic particles have recently been found in samples collected all over the world, : from the Arctic to rivers and even deep seas.
Even Mount Everest, the top of the world, has been found to contain plastic particles. The United States has long accused developing countries of being the main responsible for plastic pollution. The waste approach has overshadowed the U.S. “major contribution” to the plastic pollution crisis. If we also consider the export of plastic waste and the latest statistics on illegal dumping and littering, the United States is one of the most severe sources of plastic pollution in the global coastal and marine environment, ranking third in the world.
The research report published by Science Advances clearly states that the United States blames Asian countries for the plastic waste pollution problem, although it is the world’s largest producer of plastic waste. The report was written in collaboration with scholars from the American Association for Marine Education, the University of Georgia and the National Geographic Association.
The Comprehensive Assessment Study on Global Plastic Waste Issues, published in 2015, stated that the top five countries producing most of the plastic waste are China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.
The latest report, however, finds that the 2015 study ignored any mismanagement of waste after it had been exported to another country for recycling.
The research report also revised the 2015 claim that China is the world’s largest emitter of marine plastic waste.
The latest research report published by Science Advances calculated the total amount of plastic waste generated by countries around the world in 2016, based on waste generation and characteristic data from 217 countries and regions reported by the World Bank.
Global plastic production in 2016 was 422 million tonnes, with a 26% increase as against 2010. The share of plastics in solid waste rose from 10% to 12% in 2010. In 2016, global plastic waste generation reached 242 million tonnes.
The report clearly states that in 2016 the United States was the country that produced the largest amount of plastic waste (42 million tonnes). It also ranked first in terms of annual per capita production of plastic waste (130 kilograms).
The 28 EU Member States ranking second produce 54.56 kilograms of plastic waste per capita per year, which is only half of the United States’ plastic waste, while India ranks third. In 2016 China ranked fourth in terms of plastic waste production (21.6 million tonnes), equivalent to half the U.S. amount, but its annual plastic waste production per capita was only 15.67 kilograms, equivalent to only 12% of the amount produced by the United States.
Nick Mallos, senior director of the Marine Conservation Organisation’s Garbage-Free Ocean Program, stated: “The plastic waste generated in the United States is the largest amount of any country, but we have been ignoring the problem, outsourcing it to developing countries. And we are making a heavy contribution to the plastic crisis in the oceans”.
In terms of rubbish, illegal dumping, littering and other improperly managed waste products on the coast, the United States ranks third among coastal countries and is the main cause of pollution in the world’s coastal areas.
The study also said that the United States collected 3.91 million tonnes of plastics in 2016, more than half of which was shipped overseas, and exported 1.99 million tonnes of plastic waste to 89 trading partners. “Over 88% of plastic waste is exported to countries that cannot properly manage and dispose of it due to insufficient resources.” Much of this exported plastic waste cannot be reused, which will eventually pollute the local environment.
One of the authors of the research report, oceanography professor Cara Lavender Law, stated: “For several years, many of the plastic products we throw in the rubbish can be exported to countries where it is already difficult to manage their own waste for recycling. Not to mention the large amount of plastics shipped from the United States. Considering the large amount of our plastic waste that is actually non-recyclable because it is of low value, contaminated or difficult to dispose of, it is not surprising that a lot of plastics will end up polluting the environment”.
Relevant data show that 5% of plastic waste generated in the United States is discarded or dumped illegally due to “improper handling and management” or cannot be disposed of properly after being transported to other countries.
The report underlines that it seems that only 5%is “improperly managed” but, considering the total amount of plastic waste, this figure cannot be ignored.
It should also be stated that eight million tonnes of plastics enter the oceans every year, which is equivalent to a plastic load being spilled into the sea every minute.
These plastic products have undertaken a long and destructive journey from the moment they have reached the sea. Winnie Liu, a senior official with The Pew Charitable Trust’s Marine Plastics Prevention Project, said: “Plastics reaching the seas will be carried far away by ocean currents. They are found all over the world, even on the edge of Antarctica and the deepest place on earth. Plastics can be found in the Mariana Trench. As they drift with currents, theywill penetrate the ecosystem and cause immeasurable damage to marine life”.
Despite the severity of this problem, global plastic production continues and is posing increasing threats to the seas. What makes the oceans so vulnerable to plastic pollution? How can we control the plastics entering the ocean? What is wrong with plastics?
In our daily lives we can hardly avoid plastics. From food packaging to toiletries, clothes, furniture, computers and cars, plastics is everywhere. Plastics durability makes it difficult to biodegrade them. In a way, it can be compared to long nuclear decay.
Depending on their type, some plastics can take decades or even millions of years to decompose in landfills. Therefore, unless plastics are incinerated (a process which, in turn, causes pollution), virtually all the plastics we have produced so far still exist in the world and, once entered the ocean, their impact will last for hundreds of years.
Where does waste come from? The world produces over 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, and this amount is still growing. Only 9% of this plastic waste is recycled. The rest is incinerated or discarded. Most of the discarded plastic waste is landfilled. The reason for this is that half of the plastics we produce is disposable plastics, i.e. plastic products such as straws, plastic bags and water bottles that are thrown away after they have been used.
It is precisely because disposable plastics are easy to produce and discard, and lead to a continuous increase in the amount of waste landfilled, that they inevitably increase the amount of plastic waste polluting the environment.
Why is the impact of plastics on the oceans so severe? The vast and deep oceans are like a retention tank for pollutants, which collects toxic material from all over the world. Besides the load dropped from ships, plastic fishing nets and longlines (known as ‘ghost fishing gear’) are also a major source of plastic waste in the oceans, accounting for about 10%. In addition, expanded polystyrene used in aquaculture to make cages is also a source of marine plastic pollution.
The vast majority of marine debris, however, comes from the land. Extreme weather conditions and strong winds sweep waste along the coast, which is quickly picked up by the tide. Oceans are also the final destination of thousands of rivers, carrying large amounts of waste from landfills, and eventually sinking it into the sea.
Once plastic waste enters the ocean, it is broken down into particles with a diameter of less than 5 mm, called microplastics. This happens because of the harsh conditions and endless ocean movements.
This form of plastics will spread ever deeper into the ocean. It will invade more biological habitats and cannot actually be recycled at all. What will happen to us if also thousands of marine animals get caught in plastic waste every year, especially ‘ghost fishing gear’? Furthermore, the harm to marine life from ingesting plastics is less evident: seabirds, sea turtles, fish and whales often mistake plastic waste for food because its colour and shape are similar to their preys. We end up eating them. Once we ingest these toxic particles, our organs will be damaged, thus making us more liable to diseases. Our fertility will also change, with great risks of genetic mutations.
The Only Way to Stop Global Warming
One way exists to stop global warming, but the mutual feedback cycles that are now accelerating global warming might already have achieved enough speed of increasing temperature so as to prevent even that one way from working, and therefore the planet might already be doomed. Since the only way to stop global warming hasn’t yet even been proposed (much less tried), I shall now publicly propose it here, in accord with the adage “Better late than never.”
The way to stop global warming (if it still can be stopped) is to ban purchases of stocks and of bonds — i.e., of all forms of investment securities (corporate shares and even loans being made to the corporation — of enterprises that extract from the ground (land or else underwater) fossil fuels: coal, oil, and/or gas.
For examples: in 2017, the world’s largest fossil-fuels extractors were, in order: 1. Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia billionaires); 2. Chevron (U.S. billionaires); 3. Gazprom (Russia billionaires); 4. ExxonMobil (U.S. billionaires); 5. National Iranian Oil Co. (Iran billionaires); 6. BP (UK billionaires); 7. Shell (Netherlands billionaires); 8. Coal India (India billionaires); 9. PEMEX (Mexico billionaires); 10. Petroleos de Venezuela (Venezuela billionaires); 11. PetroChina/CNPC (China billionaires); and 12. Peabody Energy (U.S. billionaires). (NOTE: U.S. billionaires, allied with Saudi, UK, Netherlands, and India, billionaires, are trying to absorb, into their team, Russia, Iran, Mexico, Venezuela, and China, each of which latter nations had actually nationalized their fossil fuels, so that those nations’ Government, instead of any billionaires, would own those assets, in the name of all of the given nation’s residents. Though Russia ended its side of the Cold War in 1991, the U.S.-and-allied side of the Cold War secretly continued, and continues, today. Consequently, the U.S.-led team failed to achieve total conquest of the Russia-led team, and is now increasingly trying to do that: achieve total global hegemony, so that the entire world will be controlled only by U.S.-and-allied billionaires. This explains a lot of today’s international relations.) All fossil-fuels extractors compete ferociously, as producers of a basic global commodity, but the proposal that is being made here will affect all of them and all countries, even if it is done by only one country.
Why Investing in Fossil-Fuel Extractors Must Be Outlawed
It needs to be outlawed (in some major country, perhaps even just one) in order to save our planet. Here’s how and why doing that in even just a single country might save the planet (this is a bit long and complicated, but avoiding global catastrophe is worth the trouble, so, you might find it worth your while to read this):
These companies exist in order to discover, extract, refine, and market, fossil fuels, in order for these fuels to be burned — but those activities are killing this planet. Buying stock in, and lending money to, these firms doesn’t purchase their products, but it does incentivize all phases of these firms’ operations, including the discovery of yet more fields of oil, gas, and coal, to add yet more to their existing fossil-fuel reserves, all of which are discovered in order to be burned. Unless these companies’ stock-values are driven down to near zero and also no investor will be lending to them, all such operations will continue, and the Earth will therefore surely die from the resulting over-accumulation of global-warming gases, and increasing build-up of heat (the “greenhouse-effect”), from that burning.
To purchase stock in a fossil-fuel extractor — such as ExxonMobil or BP — or to buy their bonds or otherwise lend to them, is to invest in or fund that corporation’s employment of fossil-fuel explorers to discover new sources of oil, gas, or coal, to drill, and ultimately burn. Such newly discovered reserves are excess inventories that must never be burnt if this planet is to avoid becoming uninhabitable. But these firms nonetheless continue to employ people to find additional new places to drill, above and beyond the ones that they already own — which existing inventories are already so enormous as to vastly exceed what can be burnt without destroying the Earth many times over. To buy the stock in such corporations (or else lend to them) is consequently to fund the killing of our planet. It’s to fund an enormous crime, and should be treated as such. To invest in these companies should be treated as a massive crime.
The only people who will suffer from outlawing the purchase of stock in, and lending to, fossil-fuel extractors, are individuals who are already invested in those corporations. Since we’ve already got vastly excessive known reserves of fossil fuels, discovering yet more such reserves is nothing else than the biggest imaginable crime against all future-existing people, who can’t defend themselves against these activities that are being done today. Only our government, today, can possibly protect future people, and it will be to blame if it fails to do so. The single most effective way it can do this, its supreme obligation, is to criminalize the purchase of stock in fossil-fuels extractors, and to bar loans to them. Here’s why (and please follow this closely now):
The IMF says that “To limit the increase in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius — the more conservative of the goals agreed to by governments at the 2015 climate change talks in Paris — more than two-thirds of current known reserves, let alone those yet to be discovered (see Table 1), must remain in the ground (IEA 2012).” Obviously, then, what the oil and gas and coal companies are doing by continuing exploration is utterly idiotic from an economic standpoint — it’s adding yet more to what already are called “unburnable reserves.” Thus, waiting yet longer for a technological breakthrough, such as fossil-fuels corporations have always promised will happen but nobody has ever actually delivered (and such as is exemplified here), is doomed, because if and when such a real breakthrough would occur, we’d already be too late, and the uncontrollably spiralling and accelerating feedback-loops would already be out of control even if they weren’t uncontrollable back then. We’d simply be racing, then, to catch up with — and to get ahead of — an even faster rise in global temperatures than existed at that previous time. Things get exponentialy worse with each and every year of delay. Consequently, something sudden, sharp, and decisive, must happen immediately, and it can happen only by a fundamental change becoming instituted in our laws, not in our technology. The solution, if it comes, will come from government, and not even possibly come from industry (technological breakthroughs). For governments to instead wait, and to hope for a “technological breakthrough,” is simply for our planet to die. It’s to doom this planet. It’s to abandon the government’s obligation to the future (its supreme obligation). The reason why is that what’s difficult to achieve now (preventing the murder of our planet), will soon be impossible to achieve.
On 13 November 2019, the International Energy Agency reported that “the momentum behind clean energy is insufficient to offset the effects of an expanding global economy and growing population,” and “The world urgently needs to put a laser-like focus on bringing down global emissions. This calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is committed to tackling climate change.” Obviously, we are all heading the world straight to catastrophe. Drastic action is needed, and it must happen now — not in some indefinite future. But the IEA was wrong to endorse “calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else,” which is the gradual approach, which is doomed to fail. And it also requires agreement, which might not come, and compromises, which might make the result ineffective.
I have reached out to Carbon Tracker, the organization that encourages investors to disinvest from fossil fuels. Their leader, Mark Campanale, declined my request for them to endorse my proposal. He endorses instead “a new fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty supported by movements calling to leave fossil fuels in the ground.” When I responded that it’s vastly more difficult, for states (individual governments) to mutually pass, into their respective nation’s laws, a treaty amongst themselves (since it requires unanimity amongst all of them instituting into each one of their legal systems exactly that same law), than it is for any state ON ITS OWN to institute a law (such as I propose), he still wasn’t interested. I asked him why he wasn’t. He said “I’ve chosen a different strategy for my organization.” I answered: “All that I am seeking from you is an ENDORSEMENT. I am not asking you to change your ‘strategy’ (even if you really ought to ADD this new strategy to your existing one).” He replied simply by terminating communication with me and saying, without explanation, “We don’t always agree.”
Here is that “treaty supported by movements calling to leave fossil fuels in the ground”. As you can see there, it was posted in 2012, and as of now (nine years later) it has been signed by 8 individuals, no nations (and not even by any organizations). Mark Campanale isn’t among these 8.
Carbon Tracker is secretive of the identities, and size of donations, of its donors, but its website does make clear that it’s a UK organization that has designed itself so as to be as beneficial for tax-write-offs to U.S. billionaire donors as possible, and “Our UK organisation has an Equivalency Determination (‘ED’) which allows it to be recognised by the IRS as a 501(c)3 US Public Charity. We have held the ED since February 2016 and is maintained annually by NGO Source on behalf of our major US donors.” In short: it’s part of the U.S.-led team of billionaires. Perhaps this organization’s actual function is that (since the nations that have nationalized their fossil fuels haven’t yet been able to be taken over as outright colonies or vassal-states controlled by the U.S.-led group) the residents inside those outside countries will be paying the price (in reduced Government-services, etc.) from a gradual transition to a ‘reduced carbon’ world. (Everybody but those billionaires will be paying the price.) This mythical aim, of a ‘reduced-carbon’ ‘transition’, would then be a veiled means of gradually impoverishing the residents in those nations, until, ultimately, those people there will support a coup, which will place U.S.-and-allied billionaires in charge of their Government (such as happened in Ukraine in 2014). This appears to be their policy regarding Venezuela, Iran, and several other countries. If it is additionally influencing the ‘transition to a low-carbon economy’, then it’s actually blocking the needed change in this case (which isn’t, at all, change that’s of the gradual type, but is, instead, necessarily decisive, and sudden, if it is to happen at all). However, Carbon Tracker is hardly unique in being controlled by U.S.-and-allied billionaires, and there are, also, many other ways to employ the gradual approach — an approach which is doomed to fail on this matter. A few other of these delaying-tactics will also be discussed here.
Some environmental organizations recommend instead improving labelling laws and informing consumers on how they can cut their energy-usages (such as here), but even if that works, such changes, in consumers’ behaviors, are no more effective against climate-change than would be their using buckets to lower the ocean-level in order to prevent it from overflowing and flooding the land. What’s actually needed is a huge jolt to the system itself, immediately. Only systemic thinking can solve such a problem.
Making such a change — outlawing the purchase of stock in, and prohibiting loans to, fossil-fuel extractors — would impact enormously the stock-prices of all fossil fuels corporations throughout the world, even if it’s done only in this country. It would quickly force all of the fossil-fuel extractors to eliminate their exploration teams and to increase their dividend payouts, just in order to be able to be “the last man standing” when they do all go out of business — which then would occur fairly soon. Also: it would cause non-fossil-energy stock-prices to soar, and this influx of cash into renewable-energy investing would cause their R&D also to soar, which would increasingly reduce costs of the energy they supply. It would transform the world, fairly quickly, and very systematically. And all of this would happen without taxpayers needing to pay tens or hundreds of trillions of dollars, or for governments to sign onto any new treaties. And if additional nations copy that first one, then the crash in market-values of all fossil-fuels corporations will be even faster, and even steeper.
As regards existing bonds and other debt-obligations from fossil-fuels extractors, each such corporation would need to establish its own policies regarding whether or not, and if so then how, to honor those obligations, since there would no longer be a market for them. Ending the market would not be equivalent to ending the obligations. The law would nullify the obligations, but the corporation’s opting to fulfill those obligations wouldn’t be illegal — it would merely be optional.
This would be a taking from individuals who have been investing in what the overwhelming majority of experts on global warming say are investments in a massive crime against future generations, and we are now in an emergency situation, which is more than merely a national emergency, a global one, so that such governmental action would not be merely advisable but urgently necessary and 100% in accord with the public welfare and also in accord with improving distributive justice.
The only way possible in order to avoid getting into the uncontrollable feedback-cycles (feedback-loops) that would set this planet racing toward becoming another Mars is to quickly bring a virtual end to the burning of fossil fuels. That can happen only if fossil fuels become uneconomic. But common methods proposed for doing that, such as by imposing carbon taxes, would hit consumers directly (by adding a tax to what they buy), and thereby turn consumers into advocates for the fossil-fuel industries (advocates on the fossil-fuels-companies’ side, favoring elimination of that tax upon their products). In this key respect, such proposals are counterproductive, because they dis-incentivize the public to support opposition to fossil-fuel extraction. Such proposals are therefore politically unacceptable, especially in a democracy, where consumers have powerful political voice at the ballot-box. Any carbon tax would also anger the consuming public against environmentalists. Turning consumers into friends of the fossil-fuels extractors would be bad. What I am proposing is not like that, at all. Investors are a much smaller number of voters than are consumers. Everyone is a consumer, but only a relatively tiny number of people are specifically fossil-fuel investors. To terminate the freedom those investors have to sell their stock, by making illegal for anyone to buy that stock, is the most practicable way to prevent global burnout (if it still can be prevented). This needs to be done right now.
How was slavery ended in the United States? It became illegal for anyone to own slaves — and the way that this was done is that it became illegal for anyone to buy a slave. The same needs to be done now in order to (possibly) avoid runaway global heat-up.
Once it’s done, those firms will go out of business. (First, these firms will increase their dividend-payouts to their stockholders while they lay off their explorers, but then they’ll cut their other costs, and then they’ll fold. But the objective isn’t that; it’s to make their products uneconomic to produce, market, and sell; and this will do that, even before all of those firms have become eliminated.) All of today’s existing economies-of-scale in the fossil-fuels-producing-and-marketing industries will then be gone, and will become replaced by new economies-of-scale that will rise sharply in non-carbon energy, as R&D there will be soaring, while the fossil-fuels producers fade out and fade away.
This is the only realistically possible way to avoid global burnout. It must be done. And even some top executives in fossil-fuels extractors harbor personal hopes that it will be done. For example:
Shell CEO Says Governments, Not Firms, Are Failing on Climate Change
On Monday, 14 October 2019, Reuters headlined “Exclusive: No choice but to invest in oil, Shell CEO says” and reported:
Ben van Beurden expressed concern that some investors could ditch Shell, acknowledging that shares in the company were trading at a discount partly due to “societal risk”.
“I am afraid of that, to be honest,” he said.
“But I don’t think they will flee for the justified concern of stranded assets … (It is) the continued pressure on our sector, in some cases to the point of demonisation, that scares asset managers.”
“It is not at a scale that the alarm bells are ringing, but it is an unhealthy trend.”
Van Beurden put the onus for achieving a transformation to low-carbon economies on governments.
He didn’t suggest any specific policies which governments should take, but he did say “that not enough progress had been made to reach the Paris climate goal of limiting global warming to ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.” Furthermore:
Delaying implementation of the right climate policies could result in “knee-jerk” political responses that might be very disruptive to society, he said. “Let the air out of the balloon as soon as you can before the balloon actually bursts,” van Beurden said.
He is, in a sense, trapped, as the head of one of the world’s largest fossil-fuel extractors. He doesn’t want to be “demonised,” but he is professionally answering to — and obligated to serve — investors who are still profiting from destroying the world. Though he acknowledges that consumers cannot initiate the necessary policy-change, and that investors aren’t yet; and though he doesn’t want government to do anything which “might be very disruptive to society,” he does want governments to “Let the air out of the balloon as soon as you can before the balloon actually bursts,” and he’s therefore contemplating — and is even advising — that governments must do the job now, and not wait around any longer to take the necessary decisive action.
Here’s what that type of governmental action would be (and unlike the Paris Climate Agreement, it doesn’t require an international consensus — which doesn’t actually exist among the nations), and therefore I am asking readers here to give me an endorsement of it, so that I can publicly move forward with pushing for it. Please send the endorsement to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “ENDORSEMENT” in the Subject line; “Investing in fossil-fuel extractors must be outlawed” as the message; and indicate any appropriate identifiers of yourself that are especially relevant to the matter (so as to impress your Senators, etc.). In addition, after that, push, on your own, by urging your Senators and Representative to draft a law to ban purchases of investments in fossil-fuels extractors.
Why is this the ONLY way? No other proposals can even possibly work:
The “Bridge Fuels” Concept Is a Deceit
The concept of “bridge fuels,” such as methane as being a substitute for petroleum, is a propaganda device (another delaying-tactic) by the fossil-fuels industry and its agents, in order to slow the decline of those industries. For example, on 16 November 2019, Oil Price Dot Com headlined “Why Banning Fossil Fuel Investment Is A Huge Mistake”, and Cyril Widdershoven, a long-time writer for and consultant to fossil-fuel corporations, argued against an effort by the European Investment Bank to “put more pressure on all parties to phase out gas, oil and coal projects.” Widdershoven’s argument is that “experts seem to agree that the best way to target lower CO2 emissions in the EU is to substitute oil and coal power generation in Eastern Europe with natural gas.” He says, “Even in the most optimistic projections, renewable energy options, such as wind or solar, are not going to be able to counter the need for power generation capacity. If the EIB blocks a soft energy transition via natural gas, the Paris Agreement will almost certainly fail.”
The unstated “experts” that Widdershoven cited are, like himself, hirees of the fossil-fuels industries. Furthermore, this go-slow approach is already recognized by the IMF and IEA to be doomed to fail at avoiding global burnout.
Furthermore — and this is perhaps the most important fact of all — government-support has largely been responsible for the success of fossil-fuel corporations (especially now for natural gas), and, if fully replaced by government-support going instead to non-fossil-fuel corporations, there will then be a skyrocketing increase in R&D in those non-fossil-fuel technologies, which skyrocketing R&D, there, is desperately needed, if any realistic hope is to exist, at all, of avoiding global burn-out.
So, to each reader of this, I ask: If this is not what you propose, then what do you propose? Your endorsement is therefore requested. Please send the endorsement to email@example.com, with “ENDORSEMENT” in the Subject line; “Investing in fossil-fuel extractors must be outlawed” as the message; and indicate any appropriate identifiers of yourself. I shall then try, again, but this time with emails that will have all of those signatories, not merely myself, as the person who is requesting action (or at least requesting the person’s reasons for continued inaction). And keep on pushing for this, on your own, in any way you can.
P.S. In January, I had sent this (the above emailed letter) to (and never received any answer from any of) the:
Dear EU Climate Commissioners:
What is needed is a method which (unlike international agreement on carbon-trading credits) won’t require agreement among nations, which are too corrupt to take the necessary collective action to avert catastrophe. Here’s the solution which could be implemented by, say, the EU, or even just by Germany, or just by India, or just by China, alone, if not by any of the far-right countries (such as U.S. and Brazil), which action, taken by any one of them, would create the necessary cascading-effect among all nations, that could transform the world and perhaps save the future (and please do follow closely the argument here, and click onto any link here wherever you might have any questions, because this is a truly new idea, and every part of it is fully documented here):
[That message was then followed by the letter that’s printed above it here, and no one responded to it.]
Author’s note: first posted at Strategic Culture
Floods in Europe, Turkey, China and India
The residents of Erfurt in Thuringia, where Martin Luther lived and studied, had never seen anything like it. The main street became a raging river washing away parked cars and anything else besides that emerged from flooded first floors.
The flooding in northwest Germany and Belgium as the gentle meandering Ahr River transformed into a torrent, overflowing its banks and devastating this wine producing region stunned Angela Merkel by the extent of damage in the towns and valleys. Close by in Schuld nearly half of the houses are completely destroyed, many simply disappeared, washed away, and the rest suffered serious damage.
West of Cologne, the Erft River submerged streets and houses in Blessem. The sides of a gravel pit gave way as it filled with water and parts of a castle and several houses collapsed into the huge hole. Southwest of Cologne in the Eifel region, the charming old-world tower of Ban Munstereifel was inundated and the charming pedestrian mall lined with centuries old buildings was ripped up by the waters.
The story was repeated in Liege, Belgium’s third largest city, as the Meuse River spilled over its banks and into the city turning the streets into rushing waters and carrying away cars, furniture and unfortunately, people. The river had risen by about 10 feet in one day. Almost all of Belgium was under flood alert as other rivers rose. By the time it was over at least 20 had died, many were missing and the prime minister had declared a day of mourning.
Across the channel, a fierce storm flooded West London and affected subway tunnels bringing transport to a stop. Again, roads turned into rivers as a month’s rain fell in one day. Affecting large portions of southern England, it flooded rail lines even in Southampton.
Earlier in the month, tropical storm Elsa flooded subways in parts of New York. Meanwhile, torrential rains have flooded subways in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, trapping passengers.
The rains have battered the Chinese province for almost a week. Home to more than 99 million, the region has suffered an estimated $190 million of damage. At least 33 people are feared dead, 12 in the Zhengzhou subway when it was flooded. Terrified survivors on Line 5 report water slowly rising up to their necks as they stood on the seats. Dams have burst, reservoirs have overflowed as have rivers, affecting almost a half billion people according to People’s Daily.
Catastrophic floods in Artvin Province in Turkey, this week repeat the story. Cars washed away down streets turned into torrents when the cities of Artvin and Arhavi were inundated. Also this week in India the monsoon season in Maharashtra has brought extremely heavy rains with flooding.
The terms being used for these floods are ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ or ‘once-in-a-thousand-year events. But the coincidence of so many of these across the globe begs the question of whether the climate crisis has altered the norm. Will another of these ‘thousand-year’ events hit us next year or decade? Time will tell. Our hearts go out to the people who are suffering… those who have lost loved ones and those who have lost what they owned and their peace of mind.
Climate change could spark floods in world’s largest desert lake
For years it appeared as though Lake Turkana, which sits in an arid part of northern Kenya, was drying up.
Its main river inflows had been muffled by dams and many feared water levels were poised to drop by two-thirds, causing the lake to cleave into two smaller bodies of water. It was, one report said, an African “Aral Sea disaster in the making” – where only 10 per cent remains of the original sea.
But a new study from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) predicts a far wetter future for Lake Turkana – and possibly a more perilous one for the 15 million people who live on its shores.
The report found that over the next 20 years, climate change could likely lead to heavier rains over Lake Turkana’s river inflows, which would raise water levels in the lake itself and increase the likelihood of severe flooding.
The study urged officials in Kenya and Ethiopia, which both border Lake Turkana, to prepare for a future in which once-rare floods, such as those that hit the region in 2019 and 2020, are regular occurrences.
“Many people think that climate change is a problem for the future,” says Frank Turyatunga, Deputy Head of UNEP’s Africa Office. “But as Lake Turkana shows, it’s happening now and it’s already forcing people to adapt to new conditions.”
Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, is part of the Omo-Turkana basin, which stretches into four countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda. The basin is home to many rare plants and animals.
Since 1988, Ethiopia has built a series of hydroelectric dams on its main tributary, the Omo River, leading to predictions of Lake Turkana’s demise.
Using sophisticated water resources modelling and climate change scenario analysis, the new UNEP report found that up to eight human settlements around the lake could be inundated by flooding periodically. While severe, abrupt flooding has been rare, climate change projections foresee this becoming more regular and impacting more people if adaptation measures are not put in place.
The report called for improved international cooperation and adaptation measures, including reforestation, agroforestry and avoiding construction in areas at risk of flooding.
“In the last two years, rising water levels in Lake Turkana have damaged pastureland, inundated buildings and forced people to flee their homes,” says Tito Ochieng, Director of Water in Kenya’s Turkana County. ”But there is still a mindset in Kenya that lake water levels are constantly falling, which makes planning difficult.”
The study also found evidence of rising water levels in the eight lakes that line Kenya’s Rift Valley. Severe flooding in those lakes in 2019 and 2020 damaged homes and infrastructure – and even reportedly led to a spike in deadly crocodile attacks.
Africa stands out disproportionately as the most vulnerable region in the world to climate change. This vulnerability is driven by the prevailing low levels of socioeconomic growth in the continent. While climate change is global, the poor are disproportionately vulnerable to its effects.
UNEP’s climate change work in Africa supports countries to implement their climate action commitments – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – to meet food security, create income and opportunities for youth, and economic expansion.
The report was part of a wider project designed to accelerate cooperation in the border areas between Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
The project also developed an open-source information portal on the basin, based in part on satellite imagery. It contains data on land cover, water quality and soil moisture, and examines the various climate change scenarios.
The report follows the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, a global push to revive natural spaces. It is also part of UNEP’s wider work to monitor and restore freshwater ecosystems worldwide, supporting Sustainable Development Goal 6.
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