Yes, It Is Getting Hot In Here


July 2012 was the 329th consecutive month of above average global temperatures, warned climate change pressure group on Sunday.

Temperatures in much of Western Europe were below summer averages last month and a heat wave hit the US Midwest and the Balkans. Temperatures there were up several degrees on historical monthly averages, 350’s map from the US Department of Commerce’s Climatic Data Center shows.

And all signs are that August 2012 might turn out to be even hotter — in Europe, at least. High temperatures and fierce winds have fanned huge fires across many parts of Southern Europe in recent weeks.

Blazes threatened Mt. Athos, the World Heritage-listed spiritual home of the Greek Orthodox Church, in August. 

Meanwhile in Spain, figures released by the environment ministry last week show that fires have razed three times more woodland than in 2011, news agency Europa Press reported. And those figures don’t include large fires that have now destroyed 10 per cent of Canary island La Gomera, the service added.

Six people have died so far in this summer’s Spanish fire season to date.

Moreover, Spain’s fires have produced an echo of the Christine Nixon row that followed Melbourne’s Black Saturday. Spain’s socialist opposition has angrily condemned agriculture and environment minister Miguel Arias Cañete for "going to a bullfight" while Spain burned.

Centre-right paper El Mundo quotes denunciations of the minister by the Opposition. He attended a fight near Cadiz last Saturday as fires burnt in three Spanish national parks. "We are facing environmental losses of incalculable dimensions, while ministry chiefs are on holidays and Cañete at a bullfight," a statement by the shadow environment minister read.

But the minister has rejected those claims, says Catalan paper El Periódico, reproducing an agency photo of the minister with the toreros and Spain’s King Juan Carlos. "I was dispatched [to the bullfight]to accompany the king … when he travels, he has to be accompanied by a minister," Cañete told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.

Across the Mediterranean it’s a similar story. Dozens of fires were burning in Italy on Sunday. "More than double (104 per cent) the amount of land has gone up in flames in 2012 than in the previous year," reported Italian news agency ASCA yesterday.

And with Italian forecasters warning that there will be over a week more of high temperatures, Italian media issued fire safety tips as dozens of fires continued to burn uncontrolled.

Naturally, just as one swallow doth not a summer make, one huge fire season doesn’t prove global warming. Still, researchers are warning that it is "highly likely" that global warming has caused recent heat waves, says conservative German daily Die Welt.

The paper cites a recent study by climatologists at New York’s Columbia University. In a paper published in the National Academy of Science’s Proceedings journal, the scientists warned that "extreme abnormalities" such as heat waves in Moscow (2010) and France (2003) came about due to the effects of global warming.

It’s not just scientists who are worried about changes in the ecosystem provoked by global warming.

French news aggregator JOL Press republishes leaks from the forthcoming National Intelligence Council report Global Trends 2030. The Council is the public arm of the CIA.

The Council argues that "populations and goods" may be threatened by extreme weather events triggered by global warming. It judges "unpreventable" average temperature hikes of around two degrees by 2050 and three to six degrees by the end of the century. Governments must "manage" risks associated with the temperature rises, its report continues.

Those risks include threats to food security, says JOL Press, citing the Council report. Global Trends 2030 argues that there is a correlation between greenhouse emissions and "persistent and recurrent" droughts in the world’s breadbaskets, the basins of the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, Niger, Amazon and Mekong rivers.

That said, there are few signs that certain governments are tackling global warming — even as its effects are becoming starker and starker.

Chinese carbon emissions continue to grow untrammelled, reports Spanish daily El País. The paper reveals that Chinese and European emissions per capita were practically identical in 2011. European emissions fell to 7.5 tonnes per person, while Chinese emissions rose to 7.2 per head.  The paper also highlights Australia’s continued status as number one carbon emitter per capita. Australian emissions rose slightly in 2011 and are re-approaching their historical peak, a graphic printed in the paper shows.

In total, Chinese emissions are roughly two thirds higher than those of the United States — 9.7 billion tonnes of CO2 versus 5.4 billion – says El País, citing Dutch environment ministry figures.  American emissions per capita are still three times those of China.

So why have European emissions "diminished slightly" since 1990, as China’s have skyrocketed?

Over the long haul, El País traces European cuts to carbon emissions to two major factors: the European emissions trading system and the economic recession of recent years.

Meanwhile, China’s "role as the world’s factory", its booming economy, and (more recently) high investment in real estate and infrastructure explain the Chinese emissions blowout, conclude experts quoted by the paper.

Yet neither China — where pollution is becoming a big political issue — nor developed countries — which face increasing droughts natural disasters — will immediately confront the worst effects of global warming.

Regional news site Afriquejet quotes the head of the re-forestry program at NGO Energie, Environnement, Développement warning that the existence of the Sahel nations is "threatened" by deteriorating soil — given that their economies are largely "based on primary industry".

Afriquejet says that conference in Dakar on the issue two weeks ago concluded that a "titanic struggle" was needed to beat desertification. And "civil society should act and react" to the challenges posed by global warming in general, a representative of the Swiss ambassador in Senegal told delegates.

A famine across the Sahel zone of sub-Saharan Africa has struck over 18 million people. Now experts are warning that the Francophone nations face a tough challenge fighting the advance of the Sahara desert — a phenomenon linked to global warming.

It’s a big world out there and plenty of commentators and journalists are writing about it — but not always in English. And not surprisingly, ideas about big events of the day shift when you move away from the Anglosphere. Best of the Rest is a fortnightly NM feature by Berlin-based journalist Charles McPhedran. Charles reads the news in French, German, Spanish and Portuguese and reports on what the rest of the world is saying about the big stories.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.