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The Toll Of Extreme Weather Is Mounting
Climate change is starting to bite.
Thanks to our rampant climate crimes over the past century, the globe is getting hotter every year. This isn’t speculation; it is provable. In fact, 2023 will almost certainly be the hottest year on record. Such climate extremes don’t go unnoticed. This year, we have seen some of the most frequent and potent extreme weather ever worldwide, though you hardly need reminding of that. But a vast majority of the death and destruction of this has mostly gone unreported, and it is only set to get worse.
As with most unreported disasters, this centres around Africa. The continent has been one of the hardest hit by extreme weather this year. From horrific floods to winter heatwaves and prolonged droughts that continue to this day, the people of Africa have suffered greatly under our rapidly changing climate.
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Carbon Brief has combined disaster data, humanitarian reports and local news stories to try and get a picture of the extent of extreme weather damage in Africa during 2023. In total, they found that at least 15,700 Africans lost their lives due to extreme weather. That is a vast increase from 2022, in which 4,000 Africans died from extreme weather. But the damage goes far beyond death. All in all, 34 million Africans were severely impacted by extreme weather, and 29 million of them still struggle under the drought currently gripping Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Mauritania and Niger.
This follows trends seen by the WMO, which found that the annual economic cost of weather-related disasters in Africa has increased by 62.9% since the 1990s. Last year, the continent suffered a staggering economic loss of over $8.5 billion due to extreme weather. This is less than in the Americas, Europe, or Asia. Moreover, as Africa has a smaller economy than the other continents, this loss has more damage, as it represents a more significant portion of their economy.
However, as I said, things are only going to get worse. A recent study found that parts of Africa could become uninhabitable in the near future. Sub-Saharan Africa appears to be a climate change hotspot, and will see peak wet-bulb temperatures of 35°C in the near future. In these conditions, the human body can’t regulate its body temperature, and after a few hours of exposure, even healthy individuals die. Such conditions will cause a vast number of Africans to become climate refugees, causing a migrant crisis or, even worse, a humanitarian crisis.
This is why a Kenyan scientist told Carbon Brief that the toll of extreme weather on Africa’s people in 2023 is a stark reminder of why the developed world must take responsibility for the “loss and damage” caused by climate change. After all, these people had little hand in the degradation of the Earth’s climate, yet they are paying the majority of the price. But, more on that in a minute.
You see, this problem is also going unreported around much of the world, not just Africa. According to the WMO, from 1970 to 2019, there were 11,000 extreme weather disasters, which caused 2 million deaths and a global loss of $3.64 trillion! Sadly, more than 91% of these deaths and a majority of the losses occurred in developing countries.
Now, not all of these were directly caused by man-made climate change. After all, a certain amount of extreme weather can happen without climate change. However, data shows that the frequency, length and strength of extreme weather is increasing dramatically year-on-year because of climate change. This is reflected in WMO’s data, as they found that economic losses due to extreme weather have increased sevenfold from the 1970s to the 2010s!
Despite these mounting economic losses, worldwide deaths from extreme weather have been reduced by 66% since the 1970s. This is because the developed world has become better prepared to withstand the onslaught of extreme weather. But this trend won’t last forever. Developed nations currently don’t have the infrastructure to deal with the far more potent extreme weather they will face in the near future or its knock-on effects, such as deadly wet-bulb temperatures, extreme droughts, mass crop failures and water shortages. As such, we can expect this trend to reverse in the coming decades, as global deaths due to extreme weather are set to rise worldwide once more.
This brings me to the idea of “loss and damage”, as I feel many people don’t fully understand what is happening here.
We live in a capitalist, free-market world. This means that the prices of goods and services are determined by supply and demand expressed by sellers and buyers. For the most part, this system works rather well. It encourages innovation and prunes away inefficiency within our economy, and as such, our goods and services evolve to our needs and wants. But that only happens if the market is genuinely free and equitable. Let me explain.
Nuclear energy has a lot of equity. It has to, by law, safeguard the public from its potentially deadly waste. Fossil fuels have very little equity; they can spread their planet-wrecking and deadly waste (carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere and face no repercussions. Imagine if nuclear energy had the same attitude to its waste and wasn’t held responsible like fossil fuels. Well, it would have a massive price advantage in the market, and it could undercut competition, making the free market unfair, and giving them a vast advantage.
But here is the thing: arguably, carbon emissions can do more damage over the next century than nuclear waste can. But, the companies profiting from fossil fuels aren’t being held responsible for the damages, such as those being felt by Africa. So even though we know who is responsible for these deaths and economic loss, no justice is being enacted. This lack of accountability and equity makes the free market unjust and skewed, which is stifling progression, as the fossil fuel companies don’t have to pay for their damages and are, therefore, more profitable and take up a more extensive section of the market than they should if the free market was genuinely fair. Let’s also not forget that the bloated profits of the fossil fuel industry enable them to conduct lobbying and government corruption at a scale humanity has never seen before, rendering this free market even more skewed.
This is why it is so laughable when people like Ben Shapiro say that the free market will account for and correct climate change by itself. It can’t because the free market is skewed, inequitable, and biased thanks to a lack of accountability, and as such, the polluting fossil fuel companies are running a muck.
This is why we need some way to compensate those affected by climate change and hold those responsible accountable through a loss and damage fund of some kind. One way to do this is by taxing companies based on their carbon emissions, which would tax those most responsible and use this money to compensate those affected. This can help bring equity to the free market whilst also ensuring those most affected have, at the very least, some help.
So, if we want to solve climate change and save millions of lives, we can’t let the current free market dictate the future. We either need to make the playing field fairer or step in and resolve this issue ourselves. But, however we solve this issue, time is running out, and we need to act now before more lives are ruined or lost.
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