Author: Kieran Cooke

About Kieran Cooke

Kieran Cooke, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Financial Times. He now focuses on environmental issues

Balkan water reserves may soon run short

South-east Europe faces problems in the next decade as Balkan water reserves are expected to falter, imperilling hydropower.

TIRANA, Albania, 8 August, 2019 − The Balkans is one of the world’s most troubled regions, often the setting for outbreaks of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict.

Now the area is also having to face up to the problems caused by a changing climate – in particular the prospect of severe water shortages in the years ahead.

Albania, a mountainous country with a population of just under 3 million, has abundant water resources at present. But government studies predict that due to increasing temperatures and declining rainfall, there could be severe water shortages within ten years.

The government says that within a decade water levels in three of the country’s biggest rivers – the Drin, Mat and Vjosa – will be up to 20% lower than at present.

Albania, largely isolated from the outside world for much of the second half of the 20th century under the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha, is struggling to build its economy, with hopes of joining the European Union in the not too distant future.

“Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation”

Falling water levels in its rivers could seriously impede economic progress. More than 80% of Albania’s power is derived from hydro. Even a slight drop in water levels in the nation’s rivers results in power black-outs.

In the summer of 2017 Albania suffered a widespread drought; it was forced to use precious foreign currency reserves for power imports.

Added to these problems is a chronic lack of investment in water infrastructure and mismanagement in the sector. The country has more than 600 dams, but 70% of these are believed to be in need of repair; estimates are that up to half the total water supply is lost in leaks.

In recent years rainfall patterns have become less predictable – with sudden storms causing extensive flooding. Deforestation and haphazard building development along Albania’s water courses result in rivers frequently bursting their banks.

Rivers and water resources, like climate change, do not obey borders. Albania is dependent for a third of its water on neighbouring countries.

Slow progress

The waters of the Drin, Albania’s major river, are shared with the newly independent states of Kosovo and Montenegro in the north and with North Macedonia in the east. Territory in northern Greece also forms part of the Drin river basin. The area is one of the most ecologically rich in Europe.

After many years of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict, efforts are now being made to manage the waters of the Drin on a cross-boundary basis, though progress is often painfully slow.

Ironically, some countries in the region are contributing to their own climate change problems. Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation.

Coal-fired power plants are among the leading sources of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Lignite coal – the most polluting variety of the fuel – is mainly used in the western Balkans region. The small state of Kosovo has some of the largest lignite reserves in the world.

Due primarily to the burning of lignite at ageing power plants, air pollution is a big problem in the country. Pristina, the capital, is often blanketed in a thick black haze in the winter months and regularly tops the world league of cities with the worst air quality. − Climate News Network

South-east Europe faces problems in the next decade as Balkan water reserves are expected to falter, imperilling hydropower.

TIRANA, Albania, 8 August, 2019 − The Balkans is one of the world’s most troubled regions, often the setting for outbreaks of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict.

Now the area is also having to face up to the problems caused by a changing climate – in particular the prospect of severe water shortages in the years ahead.

Albania, a mountainous country with a population of just under 3 million, has abundant water resources at present. But government studies predict that due to increasing temperatures and declining rainfall, there could be severe water shortages within ten years.

The government says that within a decade water levels in three of the country’s biggest rivers – the Drin, Mat and Vjosa – will be up to 20% lower than at present.

Albania, largely isolated from the outside world for much of the second half of the 20th century under the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha, is struggling to build its economy, with hopes of joining the European Union in the not too distant future.

“Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation”

Falling water levels in its rivers could seriously impede economic progress. More than 80% of Albania’s power is derived from hydro. Even a slight drop in water levels in the nation’s rivers results in power black-outs.

In the summer of 2017 Albania suffered a widespread drought; it was forced to use precious foreign currency reserves for power imports.

Added to these problems is a chronic lack of investment in water infrastructure and mismanagement in the sector. The country has more than 600 dams, but 70% of these are believed to be in need of repair; estimates are that up to half the total water supply is lost in leaks.

In recent years rainfall patterns have become less predictable – with sudden storms causing extensive flooding. Deforestation and haphazard building development along Albania’s water courses result in rivers frequently bursting their banks.

Rivers and water resources, like climate change, do not obey borders. Albania is dependent for a third of its water on neighbouring countries.

Slow progress

The waters of the Drin, Albania’s major river, are shared with the newly independent states of Kosovo and Montenegro in the north and with North Macedonia in the east. Territory in northern Greece also forms part of the Drin river basin. The area is one of the most ecologically rich in Europe.

After many years of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict, efforts are now being made to manage the waters of the Drin on a cross-boundary basis, though progress is often painfully slow.

Ironically, some countries in the region are contributing to their own climate change problems. Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation.

Coal-fired power plants are among the leading sources of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Lignite coal – the most polluting variety of the fuel – is mainly used in the western Balkans region. The small state of Kosovo has some of the largest lignite reserves in the world.

Due primarily to the burning of lignite at ageing power plants, air pollution is a big problem in the country. Pristina, the capital, is often blanketed in a thick black haze in the winter months and regularly tops the world league of cities with the worst air quality. − Climate News Network

Nuclear Baltic: An open and shut case

One atomic power station heads gradually towards closure, another prepares to open. Northern Europe may yet see a revived nuclear Baltic.

VILNIUS, 24 July, 2019 – The arguments just won’t go away. And while they persist, a nuclear Baltic looks likely to continue in Europe.

Its backers say nuclear power is vital in order to meet the world’s growing energy requirements; they also say it’s a clean fuel, able to meet the challenge of climate change and an ideal substitute for fossil fuels.

Others disagree; critics say that despite various technological improvements over the years, nuclear power is still unsafe. The issue of disposing of mountains of nuclear waste – which can remain active and dangerous for thousands of years – has not been resolved.

The 2.8 million people of the small Baltic republic of Lithuania are keenly aware of these different points of view. In former times, when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union, what was one of the most powerful nuclear plants in the world was built at Ignalina, in the east of the country.

As part of a 2004 agreement to join the European Union (EU), Lithuania agreed to close Ignalina. Brussels said the facility was unsafe: its construction and design is similar to that of the ill-fated nuclear plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine, with no proper containment shell to capture any escape of radioactivity.

“Officials at Ostrovets say strict building codes and all safety features have been adhered to”

Billions of euros are now being spent decommissioning Ignalina; spokespeople at the plant told Climate News Network it will take the 2,000 workers still at the site 18 more years to complete the work.

While Ignalina is being dismantled, another nuclear power facility is coming on stream across the border in Belarus – less than 50 kilometres from Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital.

The 2,400 MW plant at Ostrovets, in north-west Belarus, has been built mainly by ROSATOM, the Russian state-owned nuclear and energy company. Throughout its design and construction phases, Lithuania has raised strong objections to the Ostrovets facility.

Belarus and the Baltic states, including Lithuania, were among the territories most severely affected by radioactive fallout from the explosion at Chernobyl. Vilnius says ROSATOM and others involved in the construction at Ostrovets are not properly addressing safety issues.

Lithuania says it hasn’t been consulted on the environmental impact of the project. It also says that numerous accidents during construction work at the plant – reported to include a crane operator dropping and damaging a nuclear pressure vessel – indicate that building work has been rushed and not properly supervised.

Secrecy claim

Vilnius says that – as was the case at Chernobyl – any problems at the Belarus plant are hushed up and never disclosed.

Officials at Ostrovets say strict building codes and all safety features have been adhered to.

They point to a report last year by EU inspectors which gave a generally positive assessment of the project, though the EU said its findings were mainly concerned with seismic activity at the site and did not cover overall safety.

Russia has advanced a $10 billion loan to Belarus to cover the construction of the Ostrovets facility.

Critics of the plant say its cost is unlikely to be recouped. Belarus has limited use for the large amount of power Ostrovets will produce when it comes fully on stream. Lithuania and other neighbouring EU states are unlikely to import power from the controversial project. – Climate News Network

One atomic power station heads gradually towards closure, another prepares to open. Northern Europe may yet see a revived nuclear Baltic.

VILNIUS, 24 July, 2019 – The arguments just won’t go away. And while they persist, a nuclear Baltic looks likely to continue in Europe.

Its backers say nuclear power is vital in order to meet the world’s growing energy requirements; they also say it’s a clean fuel, able to meet the challenge of climate change and an ideal substitute for fossil fuels.

Others disagree; critics say that despite various technological improvements over the years, nuclear power is still unsafe. The issue of disposing of mountains of nuclear waste – which can remain active and dangerous for thousands of years – has not been resolved.

The 2.8 million people of the small Baltic republic of Lithuania are keenly aware of these different points of view. In former times, when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union, what was one of the most powerful nuclear plants in the world was built at Ignalina, in the east of the country.

As part of a 2004 agreement to join the European Union (EU), Lithuania agreed to close Ignalina. Brussels said the facility was unsafe: its construction and design is similar to that of the ill-fated nuclear plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine, with no proper containment shell to capture any escape of radioactivity.

“Officials at Ostrovets say strict building codes and all safety features have been adhered to”

Billions of euros are now being spent decommissioning Ignalina; spokespeople at the plant told Climate News Network it will take the 2,000 workers still at the site 18 more years to complete the work.

While Ignalina is being dismantled, another nuclear power facility is coming on stream across the border in Belarus – less than 50 kilometres from Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital.

The 2,400 MW plant at Ostrovets, in north-west Belarus, has been built mainly by ROSATOM, the Russian state-owned nuclear and energy company. Throughout its design and construction phases, Lithuania has raised strong objections to the Ostrovets facility.

Belarus and the Baltic states, including Lithuania, were among the territories most severely affected by radioactive fallout from the explosion at Chernobyl. Vilnius says ROSATOM and others involved in the construction at Ostrovets are not properly addressing safety issues.

Lithuania says it hasn’t been consulted on the environmental impact of the project. It also says that numerous accidents during construction work at the plant – reported to include a crane operator dropping and damaging a nuclear pressure vessel – indicate that building work has been rushed and not properly supervised.

Secrecy claim

Vilnius says that – as was the case at Chernobyl – any problems at the Belarus plant are hushed up and never disclosed.

Officials at Ostrovets say strict building codes and all safety features have been adhered to.

They point to a report last year by EU inspectors which gave a generally positive assessment of the project, though the EU said its findings were mainly concerned with seismic activity at the site and did not cover overall safety.

Russia has advanced a $10 billion loan to Belarus to cover the construction of the Ostrovets facility.

Critics of the plant say its cost is unlikely to be recouped. Belarus has limited use for the large amount of power Ostrovets will produce when it comes fully on stream. Lithuania and other neighbouring EU states are unlikely to import power from the controversial project. – Climate News Network

Household tissue is a climate issue

Trees are the source of much of our household tissue. And trees and soil store huge quantities of carbon to add to greenhouse gas totals.

LONDON, 27 June, 2019 − The household tissue you use to blow your nose could be adding to the problems of climate change.

A substantial portion of the tissue products we buy – toilet paper, paper towels and facial tissues – comes from boreal forests, the dense ring of trees which encircles much of the globe just below the Arctic Circle.

These forests – and the soils they stand in – contain vast amounts of carbon; when trees are felled and the land they are growing in is disturbed, carbon is released into the atmosphere, adding to the already dangerously high levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

A new report looking at tissue use in the US says Americans are voracious consumers of tissue products; they make up only 4% of the world’s population yet account for more than 20% of global tissue consumption.

The report, by the US-based environmental organisation, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says much of the tissue in the US originates from trees in Canada’s boreal forests.

“The consequences for indigenous peoples, treasured wildlife and the global climate are devastating”

“This vast landscape of coniferous, birch and aspen trees contains some of the last of the world’s remaining intact forests, and is home to over 600 indigenous communities, as well as boreal caribou, pine marten and billions of songbirds”, says the NRDC.

It says that when boreal forests are degraded, their ability to absorb man-made greehouse gas emissions declines.

“In addition, the carbon that had been safely stored in the forests’ soil and vegetation is released into the atmosphere, dramatically undermining international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Temperature increases in the world’s northern regions are already having an adverse impact on boreal forests.
Scientists say earthworms which have recently been found burrowing into the boreal undergrowth are another problem threatening the forests’ survival.

The report says logging on an industrial scale destroys more than a million acres of boreal forest each year. It says what amounts to a “tree to toilet” pipeline has been established, with trees chopped down and converted into tissue pulp, then rolled into perforated sheets or stuffed into boxes and flushed or thrown away.

Solutions available

“The consequences for indigenous peoples, treasured wildlife and the global climate are devastating”, says the NRDC. It insists there are solutions to the problem; sustainably sourced, alternative fibres such as wheat straw and bamboo are available which would greatly reduce the amount of trees being felled.

The report says some US manufacturers have made efforts to use more sustainable materials in their products, but the biggest in the sector – Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific − still rely on virgin pulp from boreal forests for almost all their tissue brands.

“The companies with the largest market shares have the power to make a significant difference for the future of our world’s forests”, says the NRDC.

“Instead, they largely adhere to decades-old tissue formulae that have taken a devastating toll on forests.”

The report calls on consumers to change their buying habits and purchase only brands derived from sustainable products.“Forests are too vital to flush away”, says the NRDC. − Climate News Network

Trees are the source of much of our household tissue. And trees and soil store huge quantities of carbon to add to greenhouse gas totals.

LONDON, 27 June, 2019 − The household tissue you use to blow your nose could be adding to the problems of climate change.

A substantial portion of the tissue products we buy – toilet paper, paper towels and facial tissues – comes from boreal forests, the dense ring of trees which encircles much of the globe just below the Arctic Circle.

These forests – and the soils they stand in – contain vast amounts of carbon; when trees are felled and the land they are growing in is disturbed, carbon is released into the atmosphere, adding to the already dangerously high levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

A new report looking at tissue use in the US says Americans are voracious consumers of tissue products; they make up only 4% of the world’s population yet account for more than 20% of global tissue consumption.

The report, by the US-based environmental organisation, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says much of the tissue in the US originates from trees in Canada’s boreal forests.

“The consequences for indigenous peoples, treasured wildlife and the global climate are devastating”

“This vast landscape of coniferous, birch and aspen trees contains some of the last of the world’s remaining intact forests, and is home to over 600 indigenous communities, as well as boreal caribou, pine marten and billions of songbirds”, says the NRDC.

It says that when boreal forests are degraded, their ability to absorb man-made greehouse gas emissions declines.

“In addition, the carbon that had been safely stored in the forests’ soil and vegetation is released into the atmosphere, dramatically undermining international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Temperature increases in the world’s northern regions are already having an adverse impact on boreal forests.
Scientists say earthworms which have recently been found burrowing into the boreal undergrowth are another problem threatening the forests’ survival.

The report says logging on an industrial scale destroys more than a million acres of boreal forest each year. It says what amounts to a “tree to toilet” pipeline has been established, with trees chopped down and converted into tissue pulp, then rolled into perforated sheets or stuffed into boxes and flushed or thrown away.

Solutions available

“The consequences for indigenous peoples, treasured wildlife and the global climate are devastating”, says the NRDC. It insists there are solutions to the problem; sustainably sourced, alternative fibres such as wheat straw and bamboo are available which would greatly reduce the amount of trees being felled.

The report says some US manufacturers have made efforts to use more sustainable materials in their products, but the biggest in the sector – Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific − still rely on virgin pulp from boreal forests for almost all their tissue brands.

“The companies with the largest market shares have the power to make a significant difference for the future of our world’s forests”, says the NRDC.

“Instead, they largely adhere to decades-old tissue formulae that have taken a devastating toll on forests.”

The report calls on consumers to change their buying habits and purchase only brands derived from sustainable products.“Forests are too vital to flush away”, says the NRDC. − Climate News Network

Rising US heat spurs urban rats’ numbers

It may not be the sole cause of US urban rats’ rising numbers, but climate change’s growing heat is probably implicated.

LONDON, 12 June, 2019 − In the heat of a US summer, urban rats’ thoughts focus on one goal: it’s reproduction time, as the media make clear.

They go for the type of headlines which send shivers down the spine. “Rats love climate change”, says one. “Climate change is scary; rat explosion is scarier”, says another.

Reports from several cities in the US indicate that city rat populations are increasing, and many point to climate change as a primary cause of what is a growing rodent problem.

The actual reasons for what some of the more florid commentators refer to as a “ratpocalypse” are difficult to gauge. Little research has been carried out.

Take, for example, New York City. Estimates of the size of the city’s rat population – the human population is 8.6 million – range anywhere between 2 and 32 million.

“The brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, common on the US east coast, can produce six litters a year with an average of 12 pups per litter”

While the figures might be vague, there’s general agreement that the city’s rat numbers are growing substantially. Calls to vermin controllers have increased. City officials say the incidence of rat sightings has gone up by nearly 40% over the last five years.

Rats can be vectors, or carriers, of disease and can transmit ticks and fleas. They can also do considerable damage to vital infrastructure, gnawing through wires and damaging pavements and drainage systems by their burrowing.

In cold weather rats tend to be inactive and stay in their burrows. With milder winters and rising average temperatures, rats’ breeding season is extended.

Rats reproduce at a prolific rate; the brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, common on the US east coast, can produce six litters a year with an average of 12 pups per litter.

“Everywhere I go, rat populations are up”, a research scientist told the New York Times newspaper.

More city residents

Other US cities report similar rat infestations; Chicago is said to have a particularly serious rodent problem.

While increased temperatures are believed to be one cause of the growth in rat populations, other factors are involved. In the US and around the world, more and more people are choosing to live in cities.

By 2050, it’s estimated that 70% of the world’s population will be urban-based. More people in tightly-packed areas means more food being accumulated and more rubbish. Inefficient waste collection facilities in many urban areas inevitably lead to a growth in rodent numbers.

Surprisingly, there seems to have been little research into urban rats, their behaviour and the size of populations in various cities.

One problem encountered by researchers is that many urban dwellers, particularly landlords, are reluctant to admit to rat infestation problems – or to highlight the issue by allowing scientists to carry out surveys on their premises. − Climate News Network

It may not be the sole cause of US urban rats’ rising numbers, but climate change’s growing heat is probably implicated.

LONDON, 12 June, 2019 − In the heat of a US summer, urban rats’ thoughts focus on one goal: it’s reproduction time, as the media make clear.

They go for the type of headlines which send shivers down the spine. “Rats love climate change”, says one. “Climate change is scary; rat explosion is scarier”, says another.

Reports from several cities in the US indicate that city rat populations are increasing, and many point to climate change as a primary cause of what is a growing rodent problem.

The actual reasons for what some of the more florid commentators refer to as a “ratpocalypse” are difficult to gauge. Little research has been carried out.

Take, for example, New York City. Estimates of the size of the city’s rat population – the human population is 8.6 million – range anywhere between 2 and 32 million.

“The brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, common on the US east coast, can produce six litters a year with an average of 12 pups per litter”

While the figures might be vague, there’s general agreement that the city’s rat numbers are growing substantially. Calls to vermin controllers have increased. City officials say the incidence of rat sightings has gone up by nearly 40% over the last five years.

Rats can be vectors, or carriers, of disease and can transmit ticks and fleas. They can also do considerable damage to vital infrastructure, gnawing through wires and damaging pavements and drainage systems by their burrowing.

In cold weather rats tend to be inactive and stay in their burrows. With milder winters and rising average temperatures, rats’ breeding season is extended.

Rats reproduce at a prolific rate; the brown rat, or Rattus norvegicus, common on the US east coast, can produce six litters a year with an average of 12 pups per litter.

“Everywhere I go, rat populations are up”, a research scientist told the New York Times newspaper.

More city residents

Other US cities report similar rat infestations; Chicago is said to have a particularly serious rodent problem.

While increased temperatures are believed to be one cause of the growth in rat populations, other factors are involved. In the US and around the world, more and more people are choosing to live in cities.

By 2050, it’s estimated that 70% of the world’s population will be urban-based. More people in tightly-packed areas means more food being accumulated and more rubbish. Inefficient waste collection facilities in many urban areas inevitably lead to a growth in rodent numbers.

Surprisingly, there seems to have been little research into urban rats, their behaviour and the size of populations in various cities.

One problem encountered by researchers is that many urban dwellers, particularly landlords, are reluctant to admit to rat infestation problems – or to highlight the issue by allowing scientists to carry out surveys on their premises. − Climate News Network

Football’s Euro finals will hurt the climate

One country − England − is home to every finalist in the Euro finals, Europe’s two top football competitions, this week.

LONDON, 28 May, 2019 − It’s unprecedented in the annals of European football: English clubs monopolise this week’s Euro finals.

All four finalists in Europe’s two top football competitions are from England, the first time one country has supplied all the teams playing. That might sound like great news for English football, but it’s bad news for the climate.

This Wednesday, Arsenal will take on Chelsea in the Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan. A few days later it’s Liverpool versus Tottenham in the Champions League in Madrid.

Thousands of fans of all four clubs will be flying from England to cheer on their teams. But air travel is one of the fastest-growing sources of climate-changing CO2 emissions.

It’s calculated that for every one of those fans making the return flight from London to Baku, the equivalent of 0.69 tonnes of CO2 will be released into the atmosphere. For the shorter London to Madrid return trip, the figure is 0.21 tonnes.

“An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up more than half his or her entire carbon emissions budget for the year”.

Now consider the wider picture; in order to head off catastrophic climate change and keep the rise in average global temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels to within 2°C, planetary emissions of CO2 have to be radically cut back.

That means not only cutting back on emissions from power stations and industrial plants, but also reducing carbon emissions on an individual basis.

To keep within the 2°C target agreed at the 2015 Paris climate conference − now considered not to be ambitious enough − analysts say each of us should limit annual carbon emissions, whether by flying or driving or the food we consume, to 1.2 tonnes per year.

An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up, with that return journey, more than half his or her entire carbon emissions amount − or budget − for the year.

Inescapable changes ahead

The scale of the climate crisis facing us is enormous and demands fundamental changes in our lifestyles – particularly among those in the developed world.

At present the average citizen in the US is responsible for CO2 emissions of more than 19 tonnes per year; in the UK the figure is nearly 10 tonnes.

In Kenya – a country which like many others in the developing world is already feeling the impact of climate change – the figure per person is 0.3 tonnes per year.

Why not play the football finals in England? Supporters are complaining about the large sums of money they are having to pay for flights and the expense of hotels in both Baku and Madrid.

Dismal human rights

In the case of the game in Azerbaijan, concerns have been raised about staging such a high profile match in a country with a dismal human rights record.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an Armenian who is one of Arsenal’s key players, is not going to Baku due to safety fears; for many years Azerbaijan and neighbouring Armenia have been locked in conflict over various territorial disputes.

Footballing officials might point out that the stadiums in Madrid and Baku were booked long ago and they cannot change arrangements.

Yet if the challenges of climate change are going to be effectively dealt with, tough decisions have to be made. If not, it will be game over for the planet. − Climate News Network

One country − England − is home to every finalist in the Euro finals, Europe’s two top football competitions, this week.

LONDON, 28 May, 2019 − It’s unprecedented in the annals of European football: English clubs monopolise this week’s Euro finals.

All four finalists in Europe’s two top football competitions are from England, the first time one country has supplied all the teams playing. That might sound like great news for English football, but it’s bad news for the climate.

This Wednesday, Arsenal will take on Chelsea in the Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan. A few days later it’s Liverpool versus Tottenham in the Champions League in Madrid.

Thousands of fans of all four clubs will be flying from England to cheer on their teams. But air travel is one of the fastest-growing sources of climate-changing CO2 emissions.

It’s calculated that for every one of those fans making the return flight from London to Baku, the equivalent of 0.69 tonnes of CO2 will be released into the atmosphere. For the shorter London to Madrid return trip, the figure is 0.21 tonnes.

“An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up more than half his or her entire carbon emissions budget for the year”.

Now consider the wider picture; in order to head off catastrophic climate change and keep the rise in average global temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels to within 2°C, planetary emissions of CO2 have to be radically cut back.

That means not only cutting back on emissions from power stations and industrial plants, but also reducing carbon emissions on an individual basis.

To keep within the 2°C target agreed at the 2015 Paris climate conference − now considered not to be ambitious enough − analysts say each of us should limit annual carbon emissions, whether by flying or driving or the food we consume, to 1.2 tonnes per year.

An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up, with that return journey, more than half his or her entire carbon emissions amount − or budget − for the year.

Inescapable changes ahead

The scale of the climate crisis facing us is enormous and demands fundamental changes in our lifestyles – particularly among those in the developed world.

At present the average citizen in the US is responsible for CO2 emissions of more than 19 tonnes per year; in the UK the figure is nearly 10 tonnes.

In Kenya – a country which like many others in the developing world is already feeling the impact of climate change – the figure per person is 0.3 tonnes per year.

Why not play the football finals in England? Supporters are complaining about the large sums of money they are having to pay for flights and the expense of hotels in both Baku and Madrid.

Dismal human rights

In the case of the game in Azerbaijan, concerns have been raised about staging such a high profile match in a country with a dismal human rights record.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an Armenian who is one of Arsenal’s key players, is not going to Baku due to safety fears; for many years Azerbaijan and neighbouring Armenia have been locked in conflict over various territorial disputes.

Footballing officials might point out that the stadiums in Madrid and Baku were booked long ago and they cannot change arrangements.

Yet if the challenges of climate change are going to be effectively dealt with, tough decisions have to be made. If not, it will be game over for the planet. − Climate News Network

Changing rainfall poses dilemma on dams

A changing climate usually means changing rainfall patterns. And that means a headache for dam builders.

LONDON, 23 May, 2019 − For the builders of hydro-electric schemes – usually multi-billion dollar projects involving vast amounts of complex engineering work – changing rainfall is a serious problem.

With climate change either on the horizon or already happening in many regions of the world, rainfall patterns, on which hydro schemes ultimately depend, are becoming ever more unpredictable.

Christian Rynning-Tonnesen is CEO of Statkraft AS, Norway’s biggest power producer and a major player in the international hydro power business.

In an interview with the Bloomberg news agency, Rynning-Tonnesen says his company has had to double its spending over the last 10 years to reinforce dams in order to cope with heavier rains. He says climate change is hard to ignore when you’re in the hydro-electric business.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”

“The general trend all over the world is areas that are dry become more dry and areas that are wet become more wet.”

Norway has seen a 5% rise in rainfall over recent years, says Rynning-Tonnesen.

Others say planning processes behind dam building have to be revised in the face of climate change.

Emilio Moran, a visiting professor at the University of Campinas in São Paulo state in Brazil, says that in one of the world’s biggest hydro-electric building programmes, a total of 147 dams have been planned in the Amazon Basin, with 65 of them in Brazil.

Output fears

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, Moran and his co-authors say many of the dams in Brazil − either completed or still in the planning stages − are likely to produce far less power than anticipated, owing to climate variability.

The Amazon Basin is predicted to receive less rainfall and to be hit with higher temperatures in future.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”, says Moran.

“To reduce its vulnerability with regard to energy in the context of global climate change, Brazil must diversify its energy mix. It’s still too dependent on hydro-electricity. It needs to invest more in other renewable sources, such as solar, biomass and wind.”

Rainfall drops

Deforestation is expected to create further water shortage problems for hydro plants in the Amazon region. About half the area’s rainfall is due to recycling within the forest.

“Deforestation will, therefore, lead to less precipitation in the region aside from the expected decline due to global climate change”, say the study’s authors.

They say that if the building of large dams in developing countries is to continue, full consideration has to be given to their social impact, the overall cost to the environment and to climate change.

International tensions

In many cases, this doesn’t seem to be happening. Turkey is spending billions on ambitious dam building projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in the south-east of the country. Climate change is predicted to alter the amounts of water available to drive the operation of these dams.

The rivers flow onwards into Syria and Iraq: already water flows downstream are severely reduced at certain times of the year, creating regional tensions and putting in jeopardy the livelihoods of millions dependent on the rivers for drinking water and for agricultural production.

One of the world’s biggest dam projects is in East Africa − the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, which flows into the Nile itself. Ethiopia wants to sell electricity generated by the dam to neighbouring countries.

Critics of the GERD project say climate change, including reduced rainfall in the Blue Nile’s catchment area, could seriously affect the dam’s generating capability. − Climate News Network

A changing climate usually means changing rainfall patterns. And that means a headache for dam builders.

LONDON, 23 May, 2019 − For the builders of hydro-electric schemes – usually multi-billion dollar projects involving vast amounts of complex engineering work – changing rainfall is a serious problem.

With climate change either on the horizon or already happening in many regions of the world, rainfall patterns, on which hydro schemes ultimately depend, are becoming ever more unpredictable.

Christian Rynning-Tonnesen is CEO of Statkraft AS, Norway’s biggest power producer and a major player in the international hydro power business.

In an interview with the Bloomberg news agency, Rynning-Tonnesen says his company has had to double its spending over the last 10 years to reinforce dams in order to cope with heavier rains. He says climate change is hard to ignore when you’re in the hydro-electric business.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”

“The general trend all over the world is areas that are dry become more dry and areas that are wet become more wet.”

Norway has seen a 5% rise in rainfall over recent years, says Rynning-Tonnesen.

Others say planning processes behind dam building have to be revised in the face of climate change.

Emilio Moran, a visiting professor at the University of Campinas in São Paulo state in Brazil, says that in one of the world’s biggest hydro-electric building programmes, a total of 147 dams have been planned in the Amazon Basin, with 65 of them in Brazil.

Output fears

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, Moran and his co-authors say many of the dams in Brazil − either completed or still in the planning stages − are likely to produce far less power than anticipated, owing to climate variability.

The Amazon Basin is predicted to receive less rainfall and to be hit with higher temperatures in future.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”, says Moran.

“To reduce its vulnerability with regard to energy in the context of global climate change, Brazil must diversify its energy mix. It’s still too dependent on hydro-electricity. It needs to invest more in other renewable sources, such as solar, biomass and wind.”

Rainfall drops

Deforestation is expected to create further water shortage problems for hydro plants in the Amazon region. About half the area’s rainfall is due to recycling within the forest.

“Deforestation will, therefore, lead to less precipitation in the region aside from the expected decline due to global climate change”, say the study’s authors.

They say that if the building of large dams in developing countries is to continue, full consideration has to be given to their social impact, the overall cost to the environment and to climate change.

International tensions

In many cases, this doesn’t seem to be happening. Turkey is spending billions on ambitious dam building projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in the south-east of the country. Climate change is predicted to alter the amounts of water available to drive the operation of these dams.

The rivers flow onwards into Syria and Iraq: already water flows downstream are severely reduced at certain times of the year, creating regional tensions and putting in jeopardy the livelihoods of millions dependent on the rivers for drinking water and for agricultural production.

One of the world’s biggest dam projects is in East Africa − the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, which flows into the Nile itself. Ethiopia wants to sell electricity generated by the dam to neighbouring countries.

Critics of the GERD project say climate change, including reduced rainfall in the Blue Nile’s catchment area, could seriously affect the dam’s generating capability. − Climate News Network

Car giant plumps for carbon neutrality

Germany’s major automotive supplier chooses to go for carbon neutrality as it joins the climate change fast lane.

LONDON, 15 May, 2019 − Bosch, the German engineering conglomerate which is the world’s largest supplier to the car industry, says it is aiming for full carbon neutrality by next year, in order to meet the challenge posed by climate change.

Volkmar Denner, Bosch’s chief executive, says it’s vital that companies act now in order to stop the planet from overheating and endangering global stability.

“Climate change is not science fiction; it’s really happening”, Denner said in a statement reported by Reuters news agency.

“If we are to take the Paris Agreement seriously, then climate action needs to be seen not just as a long-term aspiration. It needs to happen here and now.”

Bosch says that at present it emits around 3.3 million tonnes of climate-changing carbon dioxide each year, while its annual energy consumption is equivalent to the combined total of the power used by all private households in the cities of Berlin and Munich.

Offsetting emissions

The company says it plans to use renewables for as much as 40% of its energy supply and increase overall energy efficiency. It says what it describes as “unavoidable CO2 emissions” will be compensated for, or offset, by supporting projects such as wind power in the Caribbean and forest conservation in countries in Africa.

Bosch calculates that the move towards making its operations carbon-neutral will cost €2 billion, though half of this amount will be saved by introducing new energy efficiency measures.

Bosch supplies a wide range of products to the car industry, with spark plugs and diesel injection systems among its leading products. It is one of Germany’s most successful manufacturing companies, with record sales of nearly €80bn last year and profits of more than €5bn.

In common with others in the automotive sector, Bosch is having to adapt to changing times; many countries have announced plans to ban fossil fuel vehicles over the coming decades.

Legislators in Germany have approved proposals to ban all such vehicles by 2030 and reduce the country’s total CO2 emissions by 95% by mid-century.

“Climate change is not science fiction; it’s really happening”

Diesel-powered vehicles, which are considered to be a main cause of increasing pollution and health problems in many countries, are already seeing big declines in sales. Hamburg became the first city in Germany to ban older diesel-engined cars; other cities and towns are imposing similar restrictions. Meanwhile, there’s a big push to develop the electric car market.

Though Germany’s automotive sector is one of the biggest and most successful in the world, it has come under considerable pressure recently due to a series of scandals associated with false vehicle emission readings and tests.

In 2015 the US’s Environmental Protection Agency accused the German car maker VW of deliberately manipulating testing software in millions of its vehicles in order to give low emissions readings. Bosch, a supplier to VW, was also accused of falsifying data, charges it denied.

Other manufacturers in Germany and in other countries became caught up in the scandal; Angela Merkel, the country’s Chancellor, said German car companies had “excessively exploited loopholes” in regulations and had to rebuild trust. − Climate News Network

Germany’s major automotive supplier chooses to go for carbon neutrality as it joins the climate change fast lane.

LONDON, 15 May, 2019 − Bosch, the German engineering conglomerate which is the world’s largest supplier to the car industry, says it is aiming for full carbon neutrality by next year, in order to meet the challenge posed by climate change.

Volkmar Denner, Bosch’s chief executive, says it’s vital that companies act now in order to stop the planet from overheating and endangering global stability.

“Climate change is not science fiction; it’s really happening”, Denner said in a statement reported by Reuters news agency.

“If we are to take the Paris Agreement seriously, then climate action needs to be seen not just as a long-term aspiration. It needs to happen here and now.”

Bosch says that at present it emits around 3.3 million tonnes of climate-changing carbon dioxide each year, while its annual energy consumption is equivalent to the combined total of the power used by all private households in the cities of Berlin and Munich.

Offsetting emissions

The company says it plans to use renewables for as much as 40% of its energy supply and increase overall energy efficiency. It says what it describes as “unavoidable CO2 emissions” will be compensated for, or offset, by supporting projects such as wind power in the Caribbean and forest conservation in countries in Africa.

Bosch calculates that the move towards making its operations carbon-neutral will cost €2 billion, though half of this amount will be saved by introducing new energy efficiency measures.

Bosch supplies a wide range of products to the car industry, with spark plugs and diesel injection systems among its leading products. It is one of Germany’s most successful manufacturing companies, with record sales of nearly €80bn last year and profits of more than €5bn.

In common with others in the automotive sector, Bosch is having to adapt to changing times; many countries have announced plans to ban fossil fuel vehicles over the coming decades.

Legislators in Germany have approved proposals to ban all such vehicles by 2030 and reduce the country’s total CO2 emissions by 95% by mid-century.

“Climate change is not science fiction; it’s really happening”

Diesel-powered vehicles, which are considered to be a main cause of increasing pollution and health problems in many countries, are already seeing big declines in sales. Hamburg became the first city in Germany to ban older diesel-engined cars; other cities and towns are imposing similar restrictions. Meanwhile, there’s a big push to develop the electric car market.

Though Germany’s automotive sector is one of the biggest and most successful in the world, it has come under considerable pressure recently due to a series of scandals associated with false vehicle emission readings and tests.

In 2015 the US’s Environmental Protection Agency accused the German car maker VW of deliberately manipulating testing software in millions of its vehicles in order to give low emissions readings. Bosch, a supplier to VW, was also accused of falsifying data, charges it denied.

Other manufacturers in Germany and in other countries became caught up in the scandal; Angela Merkel, the country’s Chancellor, said German car companies had “excessively exploited loopholes” in regulations and had to rebuild trust. − Climate News Network

Irish schools fail to teach climate change

Students at Irish schools are being let down by the country’s education system, say lawmakers demanding full climate change literacy.

DUBLIN, 10 May, 2019 − There’s a yawning gap in Irish schools, say the country’s legislators: they’re just not telling the new generation what it needs to know about climate change, although young people in many countries are on the march, protesting against governments’ inaction on the mounting problems associated with the issue.

Inspired in part by the actions of people like Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl who has very publicly challenged world leaders to act to prevent climate meltdown, the young around the world are demanding urgent action.

This movement has come about almost entirely on young peoples’ own initiative; in many countries there is still a serious lack in the education system of any information on climate change.

In Ireland – a country where leading government officials have been forced to admit their failure to tackle climate change – students are given little or no guidance on the subject.

Climate competence needed

Now a hard-hitting report by the Oireachtas – or Parliament – Joint Committee on Climate Action (JCCA), an all-party group, says that must change. Schools, says the report, must ensure that the next generation is fully literate on the subject of climate change.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change and geography, a critical subject for engaging in the topic, has been removed as a core subject at Junior Certificate level.

“There are insufficient opportunities in the formal education system to learn about or to act on climate change”, says the report.

Ireland, a relatively sparsely populated country with little heavy industry, is among the worst performers in the European Union on climate change.

The report says the country’s emissions of highly damaging greenhouse gases are still at 1990 levels; a fast-expanding cattle population is responsible for producing a large amount of GHGs. Inadequate action on tackling GHG emissions in the housing and transport sectors is also to blame for Ireland’s bad performance.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change … Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”

The JCCA study says that in tandem with more emphasis being placed on issues associated with global warming in the education system, there should also be public information campaigns, and state-funded media should be more vocal on the subject.

Met Eireann, the state meteorological service, should play a greater role and be more proactive on the issue, says the report.

The state’s response to a warming world has been insufficient, says the JCCA; urgent action must be taken. “Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”, says the report.

Changes in climate are affecting Ireland in several ways, some big, some small. The Irish Times reports that the numbers of wild salmon returning to spawn in Irish waters are at their lowest level since records were first compiled.

Scottish parallel

Similar declines have been reported in Scotland, where the survival of wild salmon is said to be “at crisis point.”

In one of nature’s great migrations, mature wild salmon swim many hundreds of miles through the ocean to lay their eggs where they first began life. In the 1970s, 1.7 million salmon were recorded returning to Irish rivers. That number has now dropped to about 200,000.

Dr Ciarán Byrne, CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland, says the decline in numbers is due to several factors, including climate change. Rising temperatures at sea could be influencing migration patterns.

Warmer ocean temperatures could also be encouraging the growth of sea lice, which attach themselves to the salmon, ultimately causing their death. − Climate News Network

Students at Irish schools are being let down by the country’s education system, say lawmakers demanding full climate change literacy.

DUBLIN, 10 May, 2019 − There’s a yawning gap in Irish schools, say the country’s legislators: they’re just not telling the new generation what it needs to know about climate change, although young people in many countries are on the march, protesting against governments’ inaction on the mounting problems associated with the issue.

Inspired in part by the actions of people like Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl who has very publicly challenged world leaders to act to prevent climate meltdown, the young around the world are demanding urgent action.

This movement has come about almost entirely on young peoples’ own initiative; in many countries there is still a serious lack in the education system of any information on climate change.

In Ireland – a country where leading government officials have been forced to admit their failure to tackle climate change – students are given little or no guidance on the subject.

Climate competence needed

Now a hard-hitting report by the Oireachtas – or Parliament – Joint Committee on Climate Action (JCCA), an all-party group, says that must change. Schools, says the report, must ensure that the next generation is fully literate on the subject of climate change.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change and geography, a critical subject for engaging in the topic, has been removed as a core subject at Junior Certificate level.

“There are insufficient opportunities in the formal education system to learn about or to act on climate change”, says the report.

Ireland, a relatively sparsely populated country with little heavy industry, is among the worst performers in the European Union on climate change.

The report says the country’s emissions of highly damaging greenhouse gases are still at 1990 levels; a fast-expanding cattle population is responsible for producing a large amount of GHGs. Inadequate action on tackling GHG emissions in the housing and transport sectors is also to blame for Ireland’s bad performance.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change … Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”

The JCCA study says that in tandem with more emphasis being placed on issues associated with global warming in the education system, there should also be public information campaigns, and state-funded media should be more vocal on the subject.

Met Eireann, the state meteorological service, should play a greater role and be more proactive on the issue, says the report.

The state’s response to a warming world has been insufficient, says the JCCA; urgent action must be taken. “Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”, says the report.

Changes in climate are affecting Ireland in several ways, some big, some small. The Irish Times reports that the numbers of wild salmon returning to spawn in Irish waters are at their lowest level since records were first compiled.

Scottish parallel

Similar declines have been reported in Scotland, where the survival of wild salmon is said to be “at crisis point.”

In one of nature’s great migrations, mature wild salmon swim many hundreds of miles through the ocean to lay their eggs where they first began life. In the 1970s, 1.7 million salmon were recorded returning to Irish rivers. That number has now dropped to about 200,000.

Dr Ciarán Byrne, CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland, says the decline in numbers is due to several factors, including climate change. Rising temperatures at sea could be influencing migration patterns.

Warmer ocean temperatures could also be encouraging the growth of sea lice, which attach themselves to the salmon, ultimately causing their death. − Climate News Network

Life within The Wall keeps The Others at bay

What would it be like to live behind a barrier built to keep the world out? The Wall explores a post-climate change world.

LONDON, 25 April, 2019 − John Lanchester’s latest novel, The Wall, is pure fiction. Isn’t it?

It has haves and have-nots battling each other in the aftermath of dramatic alterations in climate. Right now, ignored for the most part by the outside world, thousands of people are being held in appalling conditions in camps in Libya.

Libya is a key setting-off point for migrants, mostly from countries in Africa, seeking a better life across the Mediterranean in Europe. Often they are fleeing from violence and persecution in their home countries. Many are escaping from hunger and the impact climate change is having on agricultural communities.

The European Union, anxious to secure its borders, has been sending millions of euros to military forces in Libya to control the migrant flow.

Now there is a growing threat of full-scale civil war in Libya, and the migrants are trapped – often going for days without provisions – as fighting goes on around them. It is a humanitarian disaster – and a terrible indictment of EU migration policy.

Frantic search

In Lanchester’s futuristic novel The Wall, people are roaming the world in ever greater numbers. We are not told when the book is set but, as with those migrants captive in Libya today, they are desperately searching for some sort of safe haven.

To prevent incursions, a massive concrete wall has been built around the entire coast of Britain.

Kavanagh, the book’s main character, is what’s called a Defender, part of an army of guards which patrols the wall to prevent it being breached by the seaborne forces of those known as the Others − in today’s parlance, migrants or refugees.

Slowly, as in the best kind of mystery writing, we accumulate some background. There has been a momentous event which, in Defender terminology, is referred to as the Change but in the language of one of the Others is called kuishia, a Swahili word that means “the ending”.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world”

We are not told directly about the Change but can surmise it refers to a profound shift in the global climate leading to, among other things, a sudden rise in sea levels.

It is a harsh, amoral, world. For Kavanagh and his fellow Defenders, all Others are the enemy and have to be killed. The only Others allowed to exist within the wall are what are called Help – virtual slaves who assist in doing menial jobs or who can be called upon to act as carers.

Lanchester might be writing of an imagined future, but there are striking parallels with today’s labour market in the UK and elsewhere. And of course the book appears at a time when countries seem to be increasingly turning in on themselves: walls and other barriers are not going up just in the US.

In the book the Change is described as happening over a relatively short time span, in the space of a single generation.

Kavanagh goes home on leave. He doesn’t like his parents and they feel uncomfortable round their son.

Culpable generation

“It’s guilt: mass guilt, generational guilt”, Kavanagh tells us. “The olds feel they irretrievably fucked up the world, then allowed us to be born into it. You know what? It’s true. That’s exactly what they did. They know it, we know it. Everybody knows it.”

The world’s beaches have disappeared, along with the old riverscapes. Kavanagh leaves his parents as they watch images of the past on TV – an old documentary showing golden beaches and surfers cavorting in the waves.

An elite constantly warns that as the Change continues and intensifies, the numbers of Others attempting to scale the wall will grow. There are traitors within who might even try to assist these invaders.

We are drawn into Kavanagh’s world. He is bored, he yearns to be away from the wall, yet it becomes a part of him.

Kavanagh falls in love. He gets drunk. He is hungry. (Britain has became self-sufficient in food, though this seems limited to berries and root crops, with turnips a staple).

Fierce fighters

There are dramatic, deadly, fights. Lanchester is a master at letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. Only once are we given some hint of the Others’ identities.

“They were trained and competent. They were from sub-Saharan Africa. It was quite likely that they had been professional soldiers in their previous lives.”

For failing to stop a group of Others from vaulting the wall, Kavanagh and his fellow guards have their all-important identity microchips removed from their bodies and are left to fend for themselves on a boat at sea. They come across an outcrop.

“We stood for a moment and looked at the island and I imagined what it had once been like – beaches, gentle slopes, maybe a few houses down near the water.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world.”

Some might view Lanchester’s book as pure fiction, a rattling good yarn set in a future that will never come about. Let’s hope, for all our sakes and for the sake of future generations, they are right. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Wall, Faber & Faber, £14.99 in the UK.

What would it be like to live behind a barrier built to keep the world out? The Wall explores a post-climate change world.

LONDON, 25 April, 2019 − John Lanchester’s latest novel, The Wall, is pure fiction. Isn’t it?

It has haves and have-nots battling each other in the aftermath of dramatic alterations in climate. Right now, ignored for the most part by the outside world, thousands of people are being held in appalling conditions in camps in Libya.

Libya is a key setting-off point for migrants, mostly from countries in Africa, seeking a better life across the Mediterranean in Europe. Often they are fleeing from violence and persecution in their home countries. Many are escaping from hunger and the impact climate change is having on agricultural communities.

The European Union, anxious to secure its borders, has been sending millions of euros to military forces in Libya to control the migrant flow.

Now there is a growing threat of full-scale civil war in Libya, and the migrants are trapped – often going for days without provisions – as fighting goes on around them. It is a humanitarian disaster – and a terrible indictment of EU migration policy.

Frantic search

In Lanchester’s futuristic novel The Wall, people are roaming the world in ever greater numbers. We are not told when the book is set but, as with those migrants captive in Libya today, they are desperately searching for some sort of safe haven.

To prevent incursions, a massive concrete wall has been built around the entire coast of Britain.

Kavanagh, the book’s main character, is what’s called a Defender, part of an army of guards which patrols the wall to prevent it being breached by the seaborne forces of those known as the Others − in today’s parlance, migrants or refugees.

Slowly, as in the best kind of mystery writing, we accumulate some background. There has been a momentous event which, in Defender terminology, is referred to as the Change but in the language of one of the Others is called kuishia, a Swahili word that means “the ending”.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world”

We are not told directly about the Change but can surmise it refers to a profound shift in the global climate leading to, among other things, a sudden rise in sea levels.

It is a harsh, amoral, world. For Kavanagh and his fellow Defenders, all Others are the enemy and have to be killed. The only Others allowed to exist within the wall are what are called Help – virtual slaves who assist in doing menial jobs or who can be called upon to act as carers.

Lanchester might be writing of an imagined future, but there are striking parallels with today’s labour market in the UK and elsewhere. And of course the book appears at a time when countries seem to be increasingly turning in on themselves: walls and other barriers are not going up just in the US.

In the book the Change is described as happening over a relatively short time span, in the space of a single generation.

Kavanagh goes home on leave. He doesn’t like his parents and they feel uncomfortable round their son.

Culpable generation

“It’s guilt: mass guilt, generational guilt”, Kavanagh tells us. “The olds feel they irretrievably fucked up the world, then allowed us to be born into it. You know what? It’s true. That’s exactly what they did. They know it, we know it. Everybody knows it.”

The world’s beaches have disappeared, along with the old riverscapes. Kavanagh leaves his parents as they watch images of the past on TV – an old documentary showing golden beaches and surfers cavorting in the waves.

An elite constantly warns that as the Change continues and intensifies, the numbers of Others attempting to scale the wall will grow. There are traitors within who might even try to assist these invaders.

We are drawn into Kavanagh’s world. He is bored, he yearns to be away from the wall, yet it becomes a part of him.

Kavanagh falls in love. He gets drunk. He is hungry. (Britain has became self-sufficient in food, though this seems limited to berries and root crops, with turnips a staple).

Fierce fighters

There are dramatic, deadly, fights. Lanchester is a master at letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. Only once are we given some hint of the Others’ identities.

“They were trained and competent. They were from sub-Saharan Africa. It was quite likely that they had been professional soldiers in their previous lives.”

For failing to stop a group of Others from vaulting the wall, Kavanagh and his fellow guards have their all-important identity microchips removed from their bodies and are left to fend for themselves on a boat at sea. They come across an outcrop.

“We stood for a moment and looked at the island and I imagined what it had once been like – beaches, gentle slopes, maybe a few houses down near the water.

“In living memory the sea floor below us was dry land. All drowned now. Part of the old drowned world.”

Some might view Lanchester’s book as pure fiction, a rattling good yarn set in a future that will never come about. Let’s hope, for all our sakes and for the sake of future generations, they are right. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Wall, Faber & Faber, £14.99 in the UK.

The day the Earth’s climate went berserk

The day in 1815 when the world’s climate went berserk was only the start of months and years of global climate disruption and social unrest.

LONDON, 19 March, 2019 − If you had been in what were then called the Dutch East Indies on 10 April 1815, the day would have been etched indelibly on your memory: it was the day the global climate went berserk.

Many parts of the world are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Island nations in the Pacific are seeing their lands eaten away by rising sea levels.

Whole communities of people in Arctic regions are threatened by rapidly expanding ice melt. The foundations of houses are being swept away. Traditional hunting grounds are being lost.

Wolfgang Behringer is a climate historian who seeks to draw parallels between what is going on now and events long ago. In particular Behringer, a professor of early modern history at Saarland University in Germany, looks at how changes in climate can influence and shape events – political, economic and social.

In a new book he focuses on the 1815 volcanic explosion of Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in present-day Indonesia. The eruption still rates as the largest in human history; the cloud that burst from the volcano reached a height of 45 kilometres.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity suffice to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems”

Many thousands of people were killed on Sumbawa and adjoining islands, including Lombok and Bali. Dust clouds from Tambora were swept around the globe; the world’s climate went berserk, says Behringer.

“The dimensions of the Tambora crisis were so extraordinary because its roots lay in nature, in processes of geology, atmospheric physics and meteorology. These forces of nature respect no borders.”

The suspended particles from the volcano reduced solar radiation and led to global cooling. What scientists call a dry fog enveloped much of Asia. A blue sun appeared in Latin America. Snow that fell in Italy was red and yellow.

The winter of 1815/16 in much of the world was one of the coldest of the century. In Europe, 1816 became known as the year without summer. In North America what was described as the “Yankee chill” resulted in the worst harvest ever recorded.

Global upset

Torrential rains caused floods and thousands of deaths in China and India. Famine was widespread.

Behringer says the changes in climate provoked social unrest on a worldwide scale.

“The reactions to the crisis offer an example of how societies and individuals respond to climate change, what risks emerge and what opportunities may be associated with it”, he writes.

Epidemics broke out. In 1817 the cholera pathogen appeared for the first time. In India alone it’s believed 1.25 million died of the disease each year for more than a decade following the Tambora explosion. The suffering led to uprisings against British colonial rule in India and Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka.

Simmering revolution

In Ireland, Scotland and Wales people rioted as grain prices soared. In England the authorities became concerned at a rise in revolutionary activity. Prisons filled up.

The years following 1815 were a time of mass migration. Hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, in an effort to escape hunger, travelled across the Atlantic to the US and Canada. Within the US there was a movement westwards towards California, which had largely escaped the more severe effects of the eruption.

There were other, less dramatic consequences. Behringer says Tambora inspired a new-found preoccupation with weather and climate phenomena. Not surprisingly, it spurred the emergence of the science of volcanology.

Establishing the cause and effect of changes in climate – whether caused by volcanic eruptions or by the burning of fossil fuels and the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in consequence – is an extremely tricky business.

Temporary influence

Behringer makes the point that not all of the events of 1815 and subsequent years can be directly attributed to Tambora. But the explosion did act as a catalyst.

The eruption was a single event and its after-effects were not permanent though, for a limited period, the world’s ecological framework was altered.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity sufficed (and still suffice today) to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems.

“And without their daily bread, people can very quickly become angry. In such situations it is clear – even in absolutist monarchies or dictatorships – who the sovereign is.” − Climate News Network

* * *

Tambora and the Year without a Summer, Polity Books, £25.00: to be published on 26 April, 2019.

The day in 1815 when the world’s climate went berserk was only the start of months and years of global climate disruption and social unrest.

LONDON, 19 March, 2019 − If you had been in what were then called the Dutch East Indies on 10 April 1815, the day would have been etched indelibly on your memory: it was the day the global climate went berserk.

Many parts of the world are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Island nations in the Pacific are seeing their lands eaten away by rising sea levels.

Whole communities of people in Arctic regions are threatened by rapidly expanding ice melt. The foundations of houses are being swept away. Traditional hunting grounds are being lost.

Wolfgang Behringer is a climate historian who seeks to draw parallels between what is going on now and events long ago. In particular Behringer, a professor of early modern history at Saarland University in Germany, looks at how changes in climate can influence and shape events – political, economic and social.

In a new book he focuses on the 1815 volcanic explosion of Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in present-day Indonesia. The eruption still rates as the largest in human history; the cloud that burst from the volcano reached a height of 45 kilometres.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity suffice to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems”

Many thousands of people were killed on Sumbawa and adjoining islands, including Lombok and Bali. Dust clouds from Tambora were swept around the globe; the world’s climate went berserk, says Behringer.

“The dimensions of the Tambora crisis were so extraordinary because its roots lay in nature, in processes of geology, atmospheric physics and meteorology. These forces of nature respect no borders.”

The suspended particles from the volcano reduced solar radiation and led to global cooling. What scientists call a dry fog enveloped much of Asia. A blue sun appeared in Latin America. Snow that fell in Italy was red and yellow.

The winter of 1815/16 in much of the world was one of the coldest of the century. In Europe, 1816 became known as the year without summer. In North America what was described as the “Yankee chill” resulted in the worst harvest ever recorded.

Global upset

Torrential rains caused floods and thousands of deaths in China and India. Famine was widespread.

Behringer says the changes in climate provoked social unrest on a worldwide scale.

“The reactions to the crisis offer an example of how societies and individuals respond to climate change, what risks emerge and what opportunities may be associated with it”, he writes.

Epidemics broke out. In 1817 the cholera pathogen appeared for the first time. In India alone it’s believed 1.25 million died of the disease each year for more than a decade following the Tambora explosion. The suffering led to uprisings against British colonial rule in India and Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka.

Simmering revolution

In Ireland, Scotland and Wales people rioted as grain prices soared. In England the authorities became concerned at a rise in revolutionary activity. Prisons filled up.

The years following 1815 were a time of mass migration. Hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, in an effort to escape hunger, travelled across the Atlantic to the US and Canada. Within the US there was a movement westwards towards California, which had largely escaped the more severe effects of the eruption.

There were other, less dramatic consequences. Behringer says Tambora inspired a new-found preoccupation with weather and climate phenomena. Not surprisingly, it spurred the emergence of the science of volcanology.

Establishing the cause and effect of changes in climate – whether caused by volcanic eruptions or by the burning of fossil fuels and the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in consequence – is an extremely tricky business.

Temporary influence

Behringer makes the point that not all of the events of 1815 and subsequent years can be directly attributed to Tambora. But the explosion did act as a catalyst.

The eruption was a single event and its after-effects were not permanent though, for a limited period, the world’s ecological framework was altered.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity sufficed (and still suffice today) to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems.

“And without their daily bread, people can very quickly become angry. In such situations it is clear – even in absolutist monarchies or dictatorships – who the sovereign is.” − Climate News Network

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Tambora and the Year without a Summer, Polity Books, £25.00: to be published on 26 April, 2019.