Schwarzenegger Says Pandemic ‘Opportunity’ To Rebuild Devastated Economies

Participants sit in front of a video screen displaying Austrian-American actor, businessman and former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger during the Austrian World Summit on climate action organised by The Schwarzenegger Climate Initiative in Spanische Hofreitschule in Vienna, Austria, on September 17, 2020. (Photo by VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP)

 

Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday said the coronavirus crisis was a “tremendous opportunity” to rebuild devastated economies with clean energy.

Speaking virtually at a climate summit that his non-profit organisation holds annually in Austria, the Hollywood star said the pandemic, which has killed almost a million people and caused massive economic downturns worldwide, was “a window of opportunity to act right now”.

“Forward-looking decisions are needed right now, right now as trillions of dollars and trillions of euros are being poured into rebuilding economies and infrastructure in the wake of the coronavirus,” he said on screen, speaking from a podium surrounded by plants.

“These funds are so massive they are capable of remaking societies. We have a tremendous opportunity here.”

Schwarzenegger said money should be invested into building “a clean energy economy”, providing “sustainable jobs” and upgrading buildings to make them more energy efficient.

Schwarzenegger had intended to travel to his birth country Austria for the summit but cancelled his trip following the advice of doctors — cheering on participants instead from an office with a poster of himself in younger days as a body-builder in the background.

Among other speakers at the Austrian World Summit, which was launched four years ago, were Austrian, Slovakian and Croatian leaders, as well as European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans and other international public figures.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen vowed Wednesday in her first annual State of the European Union address that Europe would lead the global search for a coronavirus vaccine while rebuilding its shattered economy with a green recovery plan.

AFP

Every Child Under ‘Immediate Threat’ From Climate, Poor Diet – UN

A photo of the United Nations emblem
A photo of the United Nations emblem

 

The world is failing to protect children from the health dangers posed by climate change and poor diet, a landmark UN report said Wednesday, warning that every child is under “immediate threat”.

According to more than 40 of the world’s pre-eminent child and adolescent health experts, not one country on Earth is adequately protecting the next generation from the impacts of carbon emissions, the destruction of nature and high-calorie and processed foods.

They said that excessive carbon emissions, produced overwhelmingly by wealthier nations, “threaten the future of all children” and will burden them with additional health dangers, from deadly heatwaves to the increased spread of tropical diseases.

The report, commissioned by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, also highlights the threat children face from harmful marketing of fat- and sugar-laden foods, alcohol and tobacco.

“The big message is that no single country is protecting children’s health today and for their future,” said Anthony Costello, professor of International Child Health and Director of the Institute for Global Health at University College London.

“When you look at the damage being done to children’s lungs by air pollution, we’ve got a very limited time to sort this out,” he told AFP.

“We have the solutions, what we don’t have is the political leadership and will to make it happen.”

The report, published in The Lancet medical journal, ranks the performance of 180 countries when it comes to child survival, education and nutrition rates.

Under these criteria, less-developed nations such as Central African Republic and Chad perform particularly poorly compared to rich countries such as Norway and the Netherlands.

However the rankings are largely reversed when the impacts of air pollution from per capita carbon emissions were assessed.

“The world’s decision makers are failing today’s children and youth: failing to protect their health, failing to protect their rights, and failing to protect their planet,” said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

11-fold obesity surge

Around 250 million under-fives in low- and middle-income countries risk being stunted due to malnutrition and other impacts of poverty, the authors said.

At the same time, the number of obese children worldwide has surged 11-fold since 1975 to stand at 124 million.

Children in some countries see as many as 30,000 adverts on television in a single year. And despite industry self-regulation, one study showed that children in Australia were exposed 51 million times to alcohol adverts in just one year of televised sport.

“Industry regulation has failed,” said Costello.

“And the reality could be much worse still: we have few figures about the huge expansion of social media advertising and algorithms aimed at our children.”

The authors called on governments to radically reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris climate goals and to tighten regulation of harmful marketing.

Current emissions pledges put Earth on course to warm more than 3C by 2100, which “would lead to devastating health consequences for children”, from rising sea levels and heatwaves to disease and malnutrition.

More Than Aus$25mn Raised As Australia Reels From Bushfire Fury

Firefighters tackle a bushfire near Batemans Bay in New South Wales on January 3, 2020. With temperatures expected to rise well above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) again on January 4, a state of emergency has been declared across much of Australia’s heavily populated southeast in an unprecedented months-long bushfire crisis.
PETER PARKS / AFP

 

 

A global appeal to help Australian firefighters tackling catastrophic bushfires raised more than Aus$25 million on Monday, as swaths of the country suffered extensive damage and the death toll from the long-running crisis hit 24.

East coast seaside towns were plunged into darkness, ash rained down on rural communities and major cities were again cloaked in choking smoke, even as stunned Australians tried to regroup amid a wave of cooler air and light rain.

The weekend marked some of the worst days in the country’s deadly bushfire crisis, with hundreds more properties destroyed and the overall death toll climbing to 24, including a man who died Saturday trying to save a friend’s home.

Comedian Celeste Barber used her international social media fame to launch a Facebook fundraiser for firefighters that had surpassed its Aus$25 million ($17 million) target in just three days with donations from all over the globe.

American pop star Pink said she would donate US$500,000 to the firefighters, a donation matched by Australian actress Nicole Kidman.

World number one tennis player Ashleigh Barty pledged to hand over all her winnings from this week’s Brisbane International tournament — potentially US$250,000 — to the Red Cross.

Around 200 fires continued to burn Sunday, many out of control, although only a handful prompted emergency warnings as temperatures dipped.

Everywhere, millions of beleaguered residents struggled to come to grips with a catastrophe that has taken place on a near-continental scale, unfurled over months, altering daily life.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. “We can’t pretend that this is something that we have experienced before. It’s not.”

Authorities have struggled to keep pace with the severity of the crisis — which has now scorched an area almost the size of Ireland.

While bushfires are common in Australia’s dry summers, climate change has pushed up land and sea temperatures and led to more extremely hot days and severe fire seasons.

Decades to recover

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Saturday announced the country’s largest military call-up in years, mobilising up to 3,000 reservists to assist exhausted volunteer firefighters.

Warships and combat helicopters have already been repurposed to help with the largest maritime evacuation in Australia since World War II — moving to safety some of the 4,000 people trapped for days on the foreshore of Mallacoota, midway between Sydney and Melbourne.

Up and down the coast, thousands of people remained displaced and many more weighed an uncertain future.

Noreen Ralston-Birchaw, 75, lost her home in the southeast coastal town of Mogo on New Year’s Eve and said she was unsure what to do.

“At this very moment, I don’t want to go back and see my house laying burnt on the ground,” she told AFP. “I don’t want to rebuild there.”

Morrison also announced the establishment of a Bushfire Recovery Agency to run for at least two years and help survivors get back on their feet, a signal that the path ahead will be long and difficult.

Even for those not in the fires’ direct path, the crisis has put Australia’s much-admired outdoor lifestyle on hold: barbecues have been barred under blanket fire bans, top sporting events have been called off and beach trips cancelled.

The country’s distinctive flora and fauna will take years or decades to recover — countless thousands of gum trees have been lost and experts on Kangaroo Island said half the koala population has been wiped out.

Queen Elizabeth II on Sunday said she was “deeply saddened” by the fires, and thanked the emergency services “who put their own lives in danger” to help communities.

Easing conditions

Sunday brought milder conditions, including some rainfall in New South Wales and neighbouring Victoria state, but some communities were still under threat from out-of-control blazes, particularly in and around the town of Eden in New South Wales near the Victorian border.

“The sky is still red,” said John Steele, 73, who was evacuated with his wife from their rural property north of Eden late Saturday. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

In Cooma, in inland southern New South Wales, the fire crisis turned into a flood disaster when a large tower carrying 4.5 million litres of water collapsed, sweeping away cars and filling homes with mud.

“First bushfire and now flood, back-to-back disasters,” a shaken resident who asked not to be named told AFP.

Australia’s capital Canberra was ranked as the city with the poorest air quality in the world on Sunday by Air Visual, an independent online air-quality index monitor, amid a severe haze caused by the fires.

Flights were cancelled, galleries were closed to safeguard public health and a large consignment of face masks was being brought in.

In some rural areas affected by fires, police patrolled the streets amid reports of looting and break-ins.

Climate Activist Greta Thunberg Emerges TIME’ Person Of The Year

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg gives a speech during a high-level event on climate emergency hosted by the Chilean presidency during the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 at the ‘IFEMA – Feria de Madrid’ exhibition centre, in Madrid, on December 11, 2019. CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

 

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who became the voice of conscience for a generation facing the climate change emergency, was named Wednesday as Time magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year.

The 16-year-old first made  headlines with her solo strike against global warming outside Sweden’s parliament in August 2018.

“We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow. That is all we are saying,” Thunberg told Time.

The magazine interviewed Thunberg aboard the sailboat that took her from the United States to Europe after a hectic 11-week North American trip to several US cities and Canada.

Thunberg has taken her disarmingly straightforward message — “listen to the scientists” — to global decision-makers, accusing them of inaction.

The Swedish activist was in Madrid as the award was announced, at a UN climate forum tasked with saving the world from runaway global warming.

“The politics of climate action are as entrenched and complex as the phenomenon itself, and Thunberg has no magic solution,” Time wrote in the interview.

“But she has succeeded in creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change.

“She has offered a moral clarion call to those who are willing to act, and hurled shame on those who are not.”

 ‘I want you to panic’ 

Within months of launching her lonely “School Strike for the Climate” protest outside the Swedish parliament Thunberg was spearheading global demonstrations by young people and demanding environmental action from world leaders.

“I want you to panic,” she told CEOs and world leaders at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland in January 2019. “I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”

Her words spread like wildfire online.

The daughter of an opera singer mother and an actor-turned-producer father born, Thunberg has faced severe criticism — the latest from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who dismissed her as a “brat” — and been subjected to a swarm of online conspiracy theory.

Some mock her youth or try to discredit her because of her Asperger’s syndrome, a diagnosis she has never hidden.

Her diagnosis means that Thunberg “doesn’t operate on the same emotional register as many of the people she meets,” Time magazine wrote.

“She dislikes crowds; ignores small talk; and speaks in direct, uncomplicated sentences. She cannot be flattered or distracted” — and according to the magazine, “these very qualities have helped make her a global sensation.”

Thunberg says she is mystified by the hostility of some of the reaction to her.

“I honestly don’t understand why adults would choose to spend their time mocking and threatening teenagers and children for promoting science when they could do something good instead,” she wrote on Twitter in September. “Being different is not an illness.”

She also insists that she has “not received any money” for her activism.

And with 12 million followers on her Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts, she continues to rack up high-profile supporters, from Barack Obama to the Dalai Lama and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

AFP

Climate Change Threatens End Of Trail For Niger’s Nomadic Herders

 

 

Ali’s sharp eyes scanned the heat-shimmered horizon, searching in vain for clouds.

It was noon and 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) on the ninth day of their quest to reach new pastures.

There was no tree anywhere, no shelter at all for his family, 27 sheep and six camels.

“We heard that the first rain has fallen in the north. That’s where we’re going,” the turbaned herder said, as he filled up a water bottle at the side of the road.

An arduous trail lay ahead: more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) across the arid wastes of southern Niger before the family reached their goal.

There at Bermo, they counted on joining thousands of other herders, spending a few months in verdant hollows on the edge of the Sahara, famous for their moist air, juicy grass and water.

The annual migration of the nomadic Fulani community — also called Peuls — is a vast caravan of herder folk that tails back to neighbouring Nigeria.

Women and children perched on donkeys already overburdened with bags of jute, plastic containers, mattresses and gourdes. Scrawny cows, sheep and goats trailed alongside in the baking heat, looking exhausted.

Vulnerable

Nomadic herders are among the world’s most exposed communities when it comes to the impact of climate change.

Higher temperatures, shifting winds and moisture levels that alter rainfall patterns, sandstorms, torrential rain — all can change the quality or even the location of pasture on which migrating herders depend.

This year, for the Fulani, has been relatively good.

The herdsmen were able to draw on stocks of animal feed to help them survive stress points, while timely rainfall on some areas of the migration trail helped tender young grass to grow.

But whether this respite endures is the big question.

Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, depends on farming, particularly herding, to provide a livelihood for 80 per cent of its population.

In addition to its vulnerability to climate change, the country is on the frontline of desertification — the equivalent of around 150,000 football pitches is lost each year.

Capricious

“The weather has become completely unpredictable,” said Djafarou Amadou, an engineer working for a group called the Association to Revitalise Herding in Niger (AREN).

“What we fear most are pockets of drought which take people by surprise when they least expect it.”

In 2018, more than 60,000 people, gathered in Bermo, celebrated when the rain began to fall as early as May.

But after a few weeks, the precious rain suddenly stopped. None fell for the next 30 days. The green plains turned yellow and the price of cereal fodder on local markets rocketed.

Rouada Sabgari, an elderly herder, said that he had to sell off his skinniest cows at rock-bottom prices just to survive — a mere 5,000 CFA francs ($8.4, 7.6 euros) per animal, compared with more than 200,000 francs at better times.

Every winter, Sabgari said, he camps nearby a well dug by his grandfather more than half a century ago, six kilometres (four miles) from the village of Bermo.

He is part of a Fulani clan called the Wodaabe, famous for travelling extremely long distances with their herds, from Niger to the Central African Republic via Cameroon and Chad.

They are also nicknamed the Mbororo, like the hardy strain of reddish, large-horned steers they drive.

There is little that Sabgari doesn’t know about survival and resilience.

But he said he wondered whether his children will be able to carry on the ancient herding traditions.

Successive droughts over the past 10 years have caused him to lose half of his herd.

Today, he only has 32 cows — a catastrophic loss of capital for him and his 25-member family.

In the Fulani culture, cattle are the measure of wealth and freedom. According to their beliefs, at the making of the world, the cow was created by God (Gueno) himself, using a drop of milk.

Lethal droughts

Seated on a mat in front of his tent, on a plain swept by winds and plastic bags snared on thorny bushes, Sabgari looked back on a life of hardship and brutal change.

“In the old days, we didn’t eat cereal or meat. The milk was rich and plentiful, it made us strong just by itself,” he said. “It’s impossible to do that today.”

Sabgari said the worst droughts, in 1974 and 1984, were turning points for Sahel herders. They lost half of their cattle.

“We were unprepared for it,” he recalled. “Everyone fled (south) to Nigeria. The animals were so thin and tired that we had to lift them to get them on their feet. Even the people were dying. There was nothing in markets.”

Prayers to God to raise this “curse” and bring rain went in vain.

After the big droughts, smaller ones followed — and food insecurity gradually became chronic, worsened by a jihadist insurgency and the displacement of the rural population it caused.

“Today, we have fewer animals and smaller harvests and more mouths to feed,” said the engineer Amadou.

Niger is the sixth poorest country in the world but has the planet’s highest fertility rate at more than seven children per woman on average.

The crunch

Dwindling harvests, relentless population pressure, climate uncertainty, pollution of underground aquifers, the rivalry between herders and farmers over access to land: all this is a deadly mixture.

In recent times, even in good years such as 2019, the phantom of hunger has never gone away.

Harvests and livestock production are in surplus and the price of millet, sorghum and corn has fallen.

Yet despite this, between June and August, 1.2 million Nigeriens were in a position of serious food insecurity, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Barka Azzey, 38, is a testimony to how herder families in Niger can be ground down by repeated crises.

His once-proud herd of 40 cows dwindled from hunger and diseases, leaving only scrawny beasts that gave no more milk and were unable to have calves.

It was time to quit.

“We didn’t have enough to eat, to buy clothes, so I took my family and we went to live in the town,” Azzey said, his voice betraying sadness.

He became a watchman, living with his wife Rabi and their five children in the grounds of a wealthy trader in Maradi, Niger’s second-largest town.

On the floor of his hut, three thin chickens rested in the shadow of a satellite dish where clothes were stretched out to dry.

Azzey earns a meagre 20,000 CFA francs ($34, 30 euros) a month, and to feed the children has to buy food on credit at the local grocery store.

“There’s nothing good in towns. Just despair,” Azzey said.

He is fixated by one idea — “to earn enough money to rebuild my herd and get my old life back.”

Exodus

Azzey is just one of innumerable young Nigeriens who have turned their backs on the harsh life of herding to try their luck in the cities.

In cities across West Africa, you can see these young men hustling for a few banknotes, offering to shine your shoes, sell you a SIM card for your phone or some medicinal remedy.

Many become caught in the poverty spiral and have no way out.

AREN, the British charity Oxfam and other NGOs have set up programmes in rural areas that seek to stem this human haemorrhage.

One such scheme is a dairy, set up in the village of Bermo, which employs 300 people, mainly women, to produce yoghurt and cheese that are then sold at the local market.

Help such as this has been a boon to Hadiza Attahirou, 39, who for 15 years went to Mali or Senegal to work for a few months to earn a little money.

She received two cows under a help scheme — a small income, but a lifeline.

“I can ease the burden for my husband when he goes off with the herds and pay my daughter’s school fees,” she said.

Others have benefited from micro-credit to buy farming tools or sewing machines.

Store the good times

The wheel of time turns, in the Fulani year, to Gerewol — a grand festival to mark the end of the rainy season.

In Fulani folklore, this is a time to breathe and take into account life’s blessings. Food is plentiful and the flanks of the animals are fat.

Nomadic clans arrive in Bermo from across the Sahel. Bonds of friendship and love are renewed. Weddings and births are celebrated.

The ageless rituals of courting are renewed once more, as men — their faces painted, their hair in locks and bodies decorated with magical charms — dance for the women.

Like their animals who have grown fat on the grass of Bermo, the Fulani will also stock up on this moment.

Tomorrow, they will set out once more on the trail.

They will draw on memories of these days of comradeship, love and fun — a precious fund to sustain them in the perils that lie ahead.

Before them lies furnace-like heat. Grass that will unexpectedly wither and die. Water holes that become parched.

And they will be doomed to walk further and further, in search of those elusive clouds.

West Africa’s Fulani Nomads Fight Climate Change To Survive

A Fulani herdsman guides cattle in the area surrounding Bermo, on June 27, 2019.MARCO LONGARI / AFP

 

 

They are one of the last great nomadic peoples of the planet, a community of some 35 million people scattered across 15 countries in West Africa, from the dusty Sahel down to the lush rainforests.

The Fulani are pastoral herders who migrate with their cattle, following the pendulum swing of the seasons.

But their age-old way of life is under threat.

Booming populations have intensified conflicts for land, religious extremism has shattered social bonds and climate change is driving them on an ever more desperate search for pasture.

While they are well used to the extreme conditions of this often inhospitable region, today they face threats from longer and more severe droughts to greater rain and flooding.

Niger, a country in which more than 80 percent of the population lives off agriculture, is at the forefront of the climate emergency.

The Fulanis there have seen their herds decimated by droughts and hunger in recent decades — and this decline is gaining speed.

Every year an area of over 1,000 square kilometers (380 square miles) is lost to the spreading desert and soil erosion.

The sixth poorest nation in the world also has the highest birth rates with women on average bearing seven children.

This fuels a vicious spiral that has seen demographic pressures and the struggle for resources intensify competition with farmers for land.

Many Fulani have had to abandon herding and settle down in towns in a bid to feed their families.

They have become security guards or petty traders as huge numbers of people have flowed to Niamey and other capitals in West Africa.

It is no surprise in this context that community elders speak of a “curse”.

Cows represent far more to the Fulanis than just a source of revenue: they are a symbol of freedom and a way of life to be defended ferociously.

Australians Warned Worst Bushfires May Be Yet To Come

Firefighters tackle a bushfire to save a home in Taree, 350km north of Sydney on November 9, 2019 as they try to contain dozens of out-of-control blazes that are raging in the state of New South Wales. At least two people have died and 100 homes have been destroyed as an unprecedented number of bushfires tore through eastern Australia.
PETER PARKS / AFP

 

Sydney is facing a “catastrophic” fire threat, authorities said on Sunday, as firefighters in eastern Australia raced to prepare for worsening conditions after ferocious bushfires devastated communities.

Fires have killed three people and razed more than 150 homes since Friday, but cooler weather overnight provided a welcome reprieve for firefighters and residents.

Authorities were assessing the damage on Sunday, with more than 100 fires still burning across New South Wales and Queensland, including several blazes that remained out of control.

Wider swathes of the states — including greater Sydney — are now bracing for perilous fire conditions predicted for the coming days, as is Western Australia state.

It is the first time Sydney has been warned of a “catastrophic” fire danger, the highest possible level, since the grading system was introduced in 2009.

Massive fires tore through several towns on Friday and Saturday.

The mayor of Glen Innes, where two people died, said residents were traumatised and still coming to terms with their losses.

“The fire was as high as 20 foot (six metres) and raging with 80 kilometres-an-hour (50 miles-an-hour) winds,” Carol Sparks told national broadcaster ABC.

Five people reported missing have been found, but the unpredictable nature of the disaster means officials have not ruled out the possibility that others could still be missing, NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan told AFP.

In Old Bar, which was spared the worst when the wind changed direction, hectares of bushland had turned charcoal and small pockets of flames continued to smoulder.

Peter McKellar, 75, was clearing debris from his property as his neighbour’s home sat in ruins.

“The firies (firefighters) saved ours,” he told AFP. “They are doing a wonderful job. They’re angels.”

High temperatures, low humidity and strong winds forecast from the middle of the week are predicted to fuel blazes that authorities have warned they will be unable to contain ahead of time.

“We are ramping up for probably another 50 trucks full of crews to be deployed into New South Wales on Monday night ahead of conditions on Tuesday,” NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shan Fitzsimmons told reporters in Taree, one of the worst-hit areas.

“We have seen the gravity of the situation unfold… What we can expect is those sorts of conditions to prevail across a much broader geographic area as we head into Tuesday.”

‘Primed to burn’

In Queensland, where a state of emergency has been declared, more than 1,200 firefighters were battling over 50 active fires on Sunday.

“Queensland does not usually have a fire season like we’ve experienced this year and last year,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters.

With thousands of people forced to flee from their homes, Australia’s government was offering immediate emergency assistance payments of up to Aus$1,000 (US$685) to those affected and extended financial support for anyone unable to work as a result.

Many residents are now returning to their scorched communities to assess the extent of the fire-inflicted damage, amid warnings it could take months for them to rebuild their lives.

Emotions were running high at an evacuation centre in Taree, with one man breaking down in tears as he was embraced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“People are under a lot of pressure,” Morrison told reporters. “The level of optimism, despite the circumstances, is quite inspiring.”

Morrison, whose government has downplayed the threat of climate change, was also heckled about the issue at a fire command centre in nearby Wauchope.

“Climate change is real, can’t you see,” the Australian newspaper reported a man as yelling before he was escorted out of the building.

Bushfires are common in Australia but the country has experienced a dramatic start to what scientists predict will be a tough fire season — with climate change and weather cycles contributing to the dangerous combination of strong winds, high temperatures and dry conditions.

The current disaster has not wreaked the human devastation of Australia’s worst recent bushfires, the Black Saturday fires that killed 173 people in Victoria state in 2009, with some experts attributing that to better early warning systems.

But Ross Bradstock, from the Centre for Environmental Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong, described the situation as “unprecedented” for the affected regions, which have rarely — if ever — experienced such severe fires.

“Sadly, given the weather forecast for the coming week, the crisis may worsen and extend southward into landscapes primed to burn via extreme dryness,” he said.

‘Uncharted Territory’ As Bushfires Rage Across Australia’s East

Smoke from rural bushfires are seen over Sydney Harbour on October 31, 2019. Sydney residents coughed and spluttered their way around Australia’s largest metropolis as a bank of smoke from rural bushfires enveloped the city prompting health warnings. Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

 

Dozens of bushfires raged out of control across eastern Australia on Friday, blocking escape routes for residents and shuttering the main highway linking major cities on the country’s Pacific coast.

More than 90 blazes pockmarked the New South Wales countryside, 50 of them uncontained, tearing through tens of thousands of hectares.

“We are in uncharted territory,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told public broadcaster ABC. “We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level.”

Authorities said fires had breached containment lines and forced the closure of the Pacific Highway linking Sydney and Brisbane in two places.

Emergency warnings were introduced for 14 flashpoints, bringing warnings to evacuate immediately.

READ ALSO: Five Killed, 120 Injured In Iran Earthquake

In some areas, residents were told to simply “seek shelter as it is too late to leave”.

Local radio stopped normal programming and provided instructions about how to try to survive fires if trapped at home or in a vehicle.

A prolonged drought, strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures have conspired to make the landscape a tinderbox.

“It’s a very dynamic, volatile and dangerous set of circumstances,” said Fitzsimmons.

Bushfires are common in Australia, but the country is gearing up for busy bushfire season with record temperatures predicted for the summer months.

130 Climate Protesters Arrested In Amsterdam

Climate activists protest on Trafalgar Square during the sixth day of demonstrations by the climate change action group Extinction Rebellion, in London, on October 12, 2019. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

 

Dutch police on Saturday arrested 130 climate change protesters who blocked a main bridge in central Amsterdam as Extinction Rebellion activists disrupted traffic in front of the French parliament in Paris.

The group, created in Britain last year, has carried out a wave of demonstrations around the world since Monday, primarily attempting to blockade city centre streets.

“The police has for the moment carried out 130 arrests at the Blauwbrug bridge” in the heart of the Dutch capital, the police said on Twitter.

Dozens of activists gathered at the bridge at around 9:00 am (0700 GMT), local media said.

The historic bridge connects several districts in central Amsterdam and dates back to the 17th century.

Some of the protesters slumped on hammocks hung from pillars supporting the bridge to prevent boats from passing underneath.

Protesters have multiplied in the city since Monday, when some 80 people were arrested outside the celebrated Rijksmuseum, one of Amsterdam’s top tourist draws.

In France, a few hundred activists blocked a key route to the National Assembly for a few hours but were dispersed by police in the afternoon.

“The police is not our enemy. it’s the big industrialists who exploit the living and the states who let them do it,” one demonstrator said.

Extinction Rebellion members occupied Paris’s central Chatelet area for five days until Friday evening.

Extinction Rebellion is demanding that governments drastically cut the carbon emissions that scientists say cause devastating climate change.

They are backed by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager whose searing UN address in September made international headlines, and by academics studying rising temperatures and sea levels.

Their protests have irritated drivers and some officials but raised the hopes of those who see climate change as a threat to the planet.

The movement is partially credited with pushing the UK government in June to become the first in the Europe Union to commit itself to a net-zero target for planet warming emissions by 2050.

Extinction Rebellion is demanding governments reach that target by 2025, as well as holding “citizens assemblies” to decide policies to achieve that aim.

AFP

‘Millions’ Protest In Youth-Led Global Climate Strike

A youth holds a placard as she participates in a climate strike to protest against governmental inaction towards climate breakdown and environmental pollution, part of demonstrations being held worldwide in a movement dubbed “Fridays for Future” in Hyderabad on September 20, 2019./AFP

 

Masses of children skipped school to join a global strike against climate change that teen activist Greta Thunberg said was “only the beginning,” ahead of a UN youth summit she will participate on Saturday.

Some four million people filled city streets around the world, organizers said, in what was billed as the biggest ever protest against the threat posed to the planet by rising temperatures.

Youngsters and adults alike chanted slogans and waved placards in demonstrations that started in Asia and the Pacific, spread across Africa, Europe, and Latin America, before culminating in the United States where Thunberg rallied.

“Change is coming whether they like it or not,” said Thunberg, hitting out at skeptics as she wrapped up the massive day of action in New York, where she said that 250,000 protested.

Strike organizers 350.org said Friday’s rallies were the start of 5,800 protests across 163 countries over the next week.

From Berlin to Boston, Kampala to Kiribati, Seoul to Sao Paulo, protesters brandished signs with slogans including “There is no planet B” and “Make The Earth Great Again.”

– ‘Safe future’ –
In New York’s Battery Park, tens of thousands of supporters gave Thunberg a rockstar reception, chanting her name as she called on leaders to act now to curb gas emissions.

“Why should we study for a future that is being taken away from us?” She asked. “We demand a safe future. Is that really too much to ask?”

On Saturday, she and 500 other youth environmentalists from around the world will take part in the first-ever Youth Climate Summit.

Then on Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has convened a Climate Action Summit where more than 60 world leaders will take to the podium to present greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.

Events began Friday in the deluge-threatened Pacific Islands of Vanuatu, the Solomons, and Kiribati, where children chanted: “We are not sinking, we are fighting.”

The defiance reverberated across the globe as kids closed their textbooks in a collective call to action.

“We are the future and we deserve better,” 12-year-old Lilly Satidtanasarn, known as “Thailand’s Greta” for her campaign against plastic bags in malls, told AFP in Bangkok.

Schoolchildren rallied in India while thousands protested in the Philippines, which experts say faces threats from rising sea levels and increasingly violent storms.

About 200 marched in Ghana’s capital Accra, where some 44 percent of the country’s population has not heard of climate change, according to a study by Afrobarometer.

“Developing countries like Ghana are the most affected. We don’t have the resources to adapt to climate change,” said 26-year-old protest organizer Ellen Lindsey Awuku.

In Slovakia, five-year-old Teo asked a crowd of 500 “not to cut down forests, and reduce garbage production, and not to use so many petrol-fuelled cars.”

– ‘Day of the Dead’ –
German Chancellor Angela Merkel used Friday to pledge at least 100 billion euros by 2030 to tackle emissions in the energy and industrial sectors, boost zero tailpipe emission electric vehicles, and get passengers out of planes and onto trains.

Several thousand protested in Brazil, where banners slammed President Jair Bolsonaro over recent devastating fires in the Amazon rainforest.

And in Mexico City, protesters wore wrestling masks and skeleton costumes associated with the country’s Day of the Dead celebrations.

Organizers said more than 300,000 children, parents and supporters rallied in Australia alone.

Australia has been struck in recent years by droughts, more intense bushfires, devastating floods and the blanching of the Great Barrier Reef — phenomena experts have blamed on a changing climate.

The protests also highlighted resistance from climate change skeptics.

“The facts are, there is no link between climate change and drought, polar bears are increasing in number,” said Australian ruling coalition parliamentarian Craig Kelly Thursday.

– Businesses taking action –
Businesses also backed the protests.

Amazon chief Jeff Bezos pledged Thursday to make the US tech giant carbon neutral by 2040 and encouraged other firms to do likewise.

A landmark UN report to be unveiled next week will warn global warming and pollution are ravaging Earth’s oceans and icy regions in ways that could unleash misery on a global scale.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Guterres acknowledged Monday’s summit would not solve everything.

“My main objective is to make as much noise as I can, and to do as much as I can to support as many actors involved in this as I can, especially in relationship with the youth,” he said.

Climate Activist Greta Thunberg Sets Sail For NYC

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg walks along the quayside to board an electric powered RIB. KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH / POOL / AFP

 

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg sets sail on Wednesday for New York, heading for a UN summit on a zero-emissions yacht skippered by a member of Monaco’s ruling family.

The 16-year-old Swede, whose school strikes have inspired children across the world to protest against global warming, refuses to fly because of the carbon emissions caused by planes.

But she has been offered a lift on the Malizia II racing yacht, along with her father Svante and a filmmaker to document the journey, that will allow her to attend the UN talks in September with a clear conscience.

The 60-foot (18-metre) boat is skippered by Pierre Casiraghi, vice president of the Monaco Yacht Club and a member of the principality’s ruling family, and German round-the-world sailor Boris Herrmann.

The journey takes about two weeks — the yacht can travel at speeds of around 35 knots (70 kilometres an hour) but will be heading into the wind for much of the time so will be slower, and the captain wants a smooth ride.

“The objective is to arrive safe and sound in New York,” Herrmann told AFP as he made final preparations in the English port of Plymouth.

‘Pressure on people in power’

Thunberg has become a figurehead for climate action with her stark warnings of catastrophe if the world does not act now to cut carbon emissions and curb global warming.

Speaking to AFP before she set sail, the activist said: “Of course there are many people who don’t understand and accept the science.

“I will just have to do what I have always done — ignore them and just tell the science as it is,” she added in reference to her North American trip.

“We create an international opinion and movement so that people stand together and put pressure on the people in power.”

The yacht is made for racing, with foils, or wings, that lift it out of the water for a faster and smoother ride.

Inside it is sparse, fitted with high-tech navigation equipment, an on-board ocean laboratory to monitor CO2 levels in the water, and four bunks — Herrmann and Casiraghi will share one, sleeping in turns.

The toilet is a blue plastic bucket, complete with a biodegradable bag that can be thrown overboard, and meals will be freeze-dried packets of vegan food mixed with water heated on a tiny gas stove.

But state-of-the-art solar panels adorn the yacht’s deck and sides while there are two hydro-generators, which together provide all the electricity they need on board.

Thunberg has never sailed before this week, and got seasick on their first journey out of Plymouth on Monday, but said she was looking forward to the adventure.

The teenager, who has spent hours on trains across Europe to spread her message, was relaxed about the basic conditions.

“You can’t really ask for that much if you get to sail across the Atlantic for free,” she said, adding: “I am grateful for what I have.”

29 US States And Cities Sue Trump Over Climate Protections

A coalition of 22 US states and seven cities on Tuesday sued President Donald Trump’s administration to block it from easing restrictions on coal-burning power plants. 

Trump has set about systematically dismantling environmental regulations put in place by his predecessor Barack Obama, including the Clean Power Plan, which called for cuts to greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Finalized in 2015, it was put on hold by the Supreme Court and the White House has ordered the Environment Protection Agency to work on a less stringent replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.

“This administration has decided to repeal the Clean Power Plan and replace it with a toothless substitute,” said California attorney-general Xavier Becerra at a news conference in Sacramento Tuesday.

“It’s anything but clean, and it’s anything but clean energy. President Trump’s attempt to gut our nation’s Clean Power Plan is just the wrong way to go,” he added.

The ACE rule would allow states to set their own standards for existing coal-fired power plants, rather than follow a single federal standard.

It foresees a far less ambitious overall reduction of power sector carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 than the regulation it would replace.

Tuesday’s challenge argues that it violates the EPA’s duty under the Obama-era Clean Air Act to address carbon pollution from power plants, and artificially narrows the EPA’s authority.

The lawsuit, filed in the United States Court of Appeals in Washington, could end up at the Supreme Court.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said the Trump administration was “in the short-term business.”

“They are absolutely neglecting the next generation and shame on them,” he said.

Trump pulled the US out of the Paris climate change accord committing countries to mitigating global warming in his first year in office.

He has ordered the Energy Department to pour millions into research to boost the performance of coal-fired power plants.

But the US energy mix is quickly shifting away from coal and toward natural gas, as a result of the fracking boom, and renewables.

Coal consumption has plummeted to its lowest level in 40 years, according to the Energy Department, and bankruptcies have abounded, closing dozens of mines, shrinking capacity and idling hundreds of workers.

US voters have rarely considered climate change a top-priority presidential election issue, but that is changing.

An April CNN poll labelled it as the single most important issue to Democratic primary voters, topping health care.

AFP