Stormy Weather, Volatile Climate

The news this week, with the exception of the American presidential election, is about rough climates – environmental and political. First, environmental:

Haiti is still devastated from hurricane Matthew, and should serve as an example of the medium and long-term effects of climate-related natural disasters. The short term effect is death and destruction, and after that we tend to turn our attention to other world crises, but for the people affected the storm is just the beginning. After the storm, unhygienic conditions lead to cholera (intense, potentially fatal diarrhea) and other diseases; Haitians are facing this now, with 13 dead since hurricane Matthew, but 10,000 Haitians have died from cholera since 2010. These are the mid-term effects of disasters, but they stem from the long-term: only 1 in 3 Haitians had access to a proper toilet or latrine before hurricane Matthew. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere (in large part due to Western economic and political control), but it’s also still reeling from the last natural disaster to hit it. The Red Cross of Canada said on CBC’s The Current last week that they approached rebuilding from the earthquake as a 10-year process; while most of the hundreds of houses they’ve built are still standing after the hurricane, there’s still a new batch of devastation to clean up, not to mention long-term damage to Haiti’s food supply.

Haiti’s problems seem to pile up, with each new major storm or disaster adding to their infrastructure deficit and reliance on foreign aid. We should be careful not to write this off as just a problem for Haiti though: this is the reality of poor nations in tropical regions, where storms are increasing in intensity and regularity due to climate change. The Philippines is enduring the aftermath of a typhoon right now. (A hurricane and a typhoon are the same thing, with different terms used in different regions.) There are two major implications for us here in Canada though:

First, Haiti (and other poor nations recovering from major storms) depend enormously on foreign aid. We still offer less foreign aid than our allies, at 0.28% of our GDP compared to 0.7% from Great Britain. Our generosity has been waning for some time. Not only should we be giving more, but as climate change increases the occurrence of this kind of disaster, we’ll be called on more frequently to give greater amounts. We need an aid budget that can actually address these kinds of situations, rather than help poor countries limp from disaster to disaster.

Second, and perhaps this should have been first, we need to address our role in causing these disasters in the first place. Canada emits far more than our share of greenhouse gases, and we have some of the weakest targets among developed nations for curtailing our emissions. Not only is our low bar and high consumption shameful in regard to our claim to be global leaders, but we must recognize that our poor performance in this regard is not simply a matter of numbers on a chart or international reputation: people are dying. While provincial environment ministers are walking out on meetings because they don’t want a (negligently small) carbon tax, people with cholera are literally shitting themselves to death. I apologize for the graphic imagery, but we need to recognize what is at stake. That’s why I find it so terribly frustrating that our federal environment minister has become a booster for pipelines and liquefied natural gas (derived from fracking, a method of releasing oil and gas from shale deposits that itself causes earthquakes). The Pacific Northwest LNG project alone makes it impossible for BC to meet its climate goals, but was justified by its economic benefit. Whenever Catherine McKenna or Justin Trudeau apply the true adage that we do not need to choose between ecology and economy to approving pipelines and fracking, I think about people in other countries who are affected by our choices but have no say in them. Yes, we can continue to develop our economy without sacrificing the environment – but NOT by investing in long-term emissions-producing projects. Our failure to recognize that carries political and economic implications for us, and life-and-death implications for people in places like Haiti.

The global political climate is also volatile right now. The US might be more divided than it has been since the civil war (certainly more than in living memory); sabre-rattling between Russia and just about everyone else is ramping up, with threats of sanctions from Europe and the end of talks with the US, all over Russia’s bombing of Aleppo; the president of the Philippines, known for supporting extra-judicial killings of anyone involved with the drug trade or drug use, has publicly denounced the US and claimed alliances with Russia and China; the US is increasingly certain that they were hacked by Russia; the EU is concerned that other nations will leave in the aftermath of Brexit, even while South Africa is leaving the International Criminal Court and potentially causing the same problem; Donald Trump is railing against NATO, NAFTA, and virtually every international commitment the US has; and most concerning (at least for me), Russia is pulling out of nuclear treaties with the US.

It seems that we don’t all get along anymore. The breakdown of international organizations and relationships is exploding, at a time when international relationships are as important as they have ever been. Distrust of outsiders makes for good political fare in elections and referendums, but if the global community is no longer founded on shared interests and trust, there is no safe way forward for any of us. Could political globalization be shifting into reverse? Is anyone prepared for that? I don’t think that we are.

It seems that Russia is at the centre of most of the breakdown in international diplomacy and cooperation.

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