By Jonathan Diebold
Droughts, wildfires, 40-degree temperatures and thousands of directly related deaths: this is not the apocalyptic warning of future climate catastrophe, nor the latest disaster in a far flung corner of the globe, but the impact of the latest European heatwave.
On Monday the 18 July, the temperature in Ireland reached a climax with a of 33°C in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, making it the hottest day in a century in the South, and at 31.2°C in Derrylin, Fermanagh, it was just a tenth of a degree off the highest temperature ever recorded in the North. Parts of Britain meanwhile topped 40°C for the first time ever.
Records shattered globally
Similar records were set across Europe, the peak of which was a 47°C recording in Pinhão, Portugal. Forest fires continue to rage in Spain, Portugal, Italy and France — where 14,000 people have been evacuated. Thousands of hectares of land have been burnt. Italy is facing its worst drought in 70 years, with states of emergency being declared in several regions across the Po Valley and Tuscany, major agricultural regions of the country.
Already, thousands of deaths have been recorded due to the heatwave. In Germany 1,636 excess deaths were recorded between 14 and 20 June alone. 1,063 died in Portugal in June. In Spain, 829 died in June and another 510 so far in July, for a total of 1,339.
This is the impact climate change is having in Europe in 2022, but as always in the unequal capitalist world we live in, things are much worse in the global south. In Eastern Africa, across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, an estimated 16.7 million are facing food insecurity, having not seen a rainy season since 2020. Floods have devastated Bangladesh and north-east India since May, with over 166,000 hectares of farmland flooded and 9 million people impacted. In the southern cone of South America, this year’s summer heatwave broke records across Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil.
Response from capitalist rulers
What has been the reaction of the political establishment to this climate chaos? In Britain, Tory Party leadership candidates have expressed their government’s (nominal) commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, a target that already falls far short of what is needed. More broadly, rather than turning towards renewable energy, fossil fuel investment is at an all-time high. Key industrial nations like Germany and the US have made a turn back towards coal, with 34 nations currently planning to open new coal power plants. Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest is up 68% this year.
The government in the south of Ireland continues to greenlight data centres, hugely wasteful structures which are predicted to soak up a third of Ireland’s electricity by 2030. Currently the country’s 70 data centres account for 11% of energy usage, versus a global average of 2%, but nearly 50 more are at some stage in the development process already.
Since the COP26 summit last year, the most important climate conference to date, only 11 countries out of 196 have submitted plans in line with the goals set out at that conference. In such a context, with governments doing little in the face of climate change or actively regressing, it is easy to understand the demoralisation and fear that many people are feeling. Our planet is burning, and the clock is ticking fast on climate change.
Socialist change now!
But there is a force on this planet right now with the power to exact change. Working-class and young people have the power to change society, just look at the uprising that overthrew the corrupt, autocratic Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka in July. If we are to end climate change and the capitalist system that is destroying our ecosystem we must organise now.
This means fighting for demands like free and much extended public transport, retrofitting of all homes and buildings, and 100% renewable energy. This needs to be linked to a struggle to take the key sectors of the economy out of the private ownership of the profiteers — the banks, the fossil fuel companies, big agribusiness and big tech — and bring them into democratic public ownership, under workers’ control. Together, we can collectively build a socialist world based on human need and safeguarding our planet.