When tidying up my desk, I found a leaflet that got lost in a pile of papers. It was a leaflet from 2012 and came from 11.11.11 (an umbrella organization of Flemish North-South organizations). The leaflet was about the effects of climate change on the poor people of Africa. It dated from a time that this blog was still just an idea playing in my head and it probably evaded the paper bin because it is such a fine example coming from the we-can-change-the-climate department.
It started with a bang (translated from Dutch, emphasis by the author of the leaflet):
The climate is changing. You know that. With dramatic consequences. Every year, at least 300,000 people become climate victims in the South. And it will get worse if we don’t do anything.
Climate changes, nobody will doubt that. But that is obviously not what he meant. If you look at the leaflet as a whole, he meant “human induced” climate change. Changed by our emissions. It will hit home because the public is conditioned for many years by the media to understand it as such and the author surely is not going to give any background to make them think otherwise.
So judging from the first five sentences, the text is clearly emotional laden and it continues that way with two stories. One about a boy from Niger (Adamou) who can’t go to school because he has to get water always further away and one about farmers from Kenya (Rose and Simon Lokidongoi) who lost their last cow because of drought.
Then the upper-cut (translated from Dutch, emphasis by the author of the leaflet):
The biggest victims of climate change are exactly those who are the least responsible for it.
Do you find this unfair. Me too.
If it wasn’t already clear that this is an emotional appeal, now it should be. These people were painted as climate change victims, specifically because of our emissions. No other causes are given. So these two tragic stories seemed to be suggested as our fault and we have to make it better again by lowering our emissions and encouraging our politicians to do the same for our country and Europe.
At the back of the leaflet we get the consequences of global warming per degree Celsius (at this moment, +1 °C, +2 °C, +3 °C and even +6 °C). These were deliciously vague claims. For example, these are the effects of climate change already right now (translated from Dutch):
- The desert is advancing
- Agriculture is impoverishing
- Glaciers are melting
- At least 300,000 climate deaths a year
- 26 million climate refugees
How he knows that these dramatic consequences are caused or even facilitated by our emissions, is beyond me. Especially considering we never been in such a position before and considering talking about a complex, chaotic, coupled system… These examples are extremely vague.
For example, which deserts exactly are advancing and what exactly has CO2 has to do with it?
The Agriculture is impoverishing claim was also puzzling. Via Faostat we see globally food production is ever increasing. Does he maybe mean specific countries? But even in Kenya and Niger (the countries of his examples) most production is going up, sometimes even way up. Maybe he meant specific regions? Specific products?
And sure, glaciers are melting, but when did that process start and does that still fits the theory of our emissions?
I am very curious how he can pinpoint a specific death as caused by climate change. More, as a death specifically caused by our emissions. Considering the climate being influenced by a myriad of influences and being a complex, chaotic and well, you know the drift.
The climate fugitives claim reminded me of the failed prediction that there would be 50 million climate refugees by 2010 (and later just moved the prediction 10 years in time). Apparently 11.11.11 managed to somehow find those refugees where the UN failed 😉 By the way, how can he distinguish between climate fugitives and fugitives that flee the country because of political problems, social issues or even natural events?
Apparently he seem to be sure that all this can be traced back to our emissions and paints those people as victims of climate change. The climate change we triggered. How can he know whether Adamou would be able to go to school if we hadn’t emit so much CO2 in the atmosphere? Or whether Rose and Simon could have kept their herd?
Strange, there are actual known problems he seem to overlook entirely. Like over-exploitation of the dry-land, inappropriate land use, political instability, civil wars, deforestation, overgrazing of an already vulnerable area, bad irrigation practices and so on. None of these real problems are even mentioned. As long as I remember, Africa has struggled with droughts, famines, and refugees. These are not new. So it is not a honest representation to suggest that CO2 is the one and only cause of the problems that Adamou, Rose and Simon experience.
For such organizations, the global warming theory is a godsend. In the past they could only rely on the compassion of the public. Now, with the global warming/climate change component, they can additionally tap into powerful guilt feelings.