On Monday, most UK newspapers led on the impact of fires on holidaymakers in Greece with headlines screaming “Rhodes on Fire” (Metro), “Our Terror” (Mirror), “Run for your lives, Brits escape inferno with seconds left” (The Sun), “Hell on Earth” (Daily Express), “Pressure on travel firms to fly Britons out of Rhodes” (Daily Telegraph). As usual, the headlines reflect the panic about the impact on Brits holidaying abroad of the fires in Greece. Once the fires abate and the tourists are safely home, we’ll hear little in the UK press about the impact of the fires on Greek landscapes, property and livelihoods.
On Tuesday, there was more emphasis on the industry. The Times led with “30,000 people from the UK have been left in “holiday limbo” by the disaster on the Greek island. The iᵢ led with “Irresponsible airlines flew tourists into wildfire zone” The Daily Express headline read “Race to Rescue Britons in Greek Wildfires Nightmare.”
Wildfire devastates the landscape and it will take time to recover, property will be expansive to rebuild.
Now we face the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions AND adapting to the consequences – where adapting increasingly means survival.
Average global temperature topped 17˚C for the first time, reaching 17.08˚C on 6 July, according to the EU climate monitoring service Copernicus. In June, the global average temperature was perilously close to going through a rise of 1.5˚C, the average global temperature in June this year was 1.47˚C above the typical June in the pre-industrial period.
On Tuesday, only The Guardian’s headline links the wildfires with the heatwave. “More than 61,000 people died in the European heatwaves of 2022, according to a recent study, including more than 3,000 in the UK. Another study estimated that millions have died from heat across the world in the past three decades because of the climate crisis”, the Guardian reports.
In the wake of the Uxbridge byelection where the Conservative Party used opposition to the Labour mayor’s extension of the ultra-low emissions zone to hold on to a parliamentary seat it was widely expected to lose, Michael Gove, the Levelling Up and Housing Secretary, warned against treating the environment as a “religious crusade” calling for a relaxation of some net zero measures. The Labour opposition leader Starmer is also reported to be considering reducing commitments on the green agenda.
On Monday, the Independent reported that Rishi Sunak is reconsidering green policies which could see consumers out of pocket amid fears that they could be electorally damaging: “A government spokesman insisted the UK is a “world leader on net zero” but said ministers would “always look to protect consumers from any rising costs”.
On Saturday, the G20 failed to reach a consensus on reducing the burning of fossil fuels. The Financial Times reported that the G20 deal was blocked after Saudi opposition. Some member states emphasised the need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels without the capture of emissions, but others “had different views on the matter.” The “others” wanted to focus on carbon capture and storage.
Greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and the consequent increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events leading to floods, drought and wildfires are a classic Tragedy of the Commons problem. There are climate change deniers but many more accept that greenhouse gas emissions but wish to continue with business as usual waiting for others to bear the costs of reducing emissions or hopeful that a magic solution will arrive, at the G20 hope has been placed on carbon capture and storage.
The Stern Review proposed that one percent of global GDP per annum was required to be invested to avoid the worst effects of climate change. In June 2008, Stern increased the estimate for the annual cost of achieving stabilisation between 500 and 550 ppm CO2e to 2% of GDP to account for faster-than-expected climate change. The longer action is delayed the more expensive it becomes.
Euro News reports, that Vienna has had, since 2018, a strategy to identify and combat urban heat, creating cool streets and maintaining more than 1,000 public drinking fountains, and has retained an extensive network of municipal pools first built in the 1920s. Dubrovnik has beautiful drinking fountains and doorways in the city walls to provide easy access to the sea to cool off. “Frankfurt has ventilation corridors, or ‘Luftleitbahnen’: stretches of land where there are no high buildings, or large stretches of trees, in order to draw in cooler air”, green roofs can keep buildings up to 40°C cooler. Madrid has opened climate shelters in air-conditioned public spaces such as libraries and community centres. The C40 Cool Cities Network has developed a ‘Heat Resilient Cities’ tool, enabling planners and politicians to quantify the benefits of specific parks and green infrastructure, rivers, lakes and cool and vegetative surfaces.
Suzanne Moore, writes in the Daily Telegraph: “The world is burning – stop pretending everything is fine. The extreme heatwave that caused the massive fires in Greece spread is the latest clear sign of an impending climate catastrophe. One of the Brits rescued off the beach in Rhodes compared it to Dunkirk. Children were screaming and falling in the water; teenagers were having panic attacks. But if this is Dunkirk, I wonder who is the enemy, exactly? Just Stop Oil’s aims are relatively modest. They want the Government to stop granting new gas and oil licences.”
She concludes pointing to the power of cognitive dissonance: “We can’t do anything about the weather! Get me out of here, it’s on fire. We are all potential climate refugees. Just pray you don’t live on a flood plain.”
I live on a flood plain…