Fires within the Arctic Circle

by Farooque Chowdhury | Published: 00:00, Jul 27,2018 | Updated: 22:16, Jul 26,2018

 
 

A picture taken on July 23 shows an Italian firefighting plane that helps to fight the wild fires in the area around Sveg in central Sweden. — Agence France-Presse/TT News Agency/Robert Henriksson

All these news are alarming: ‘Sweden Wildfire: Blistering heatwave sparks fires within Arctic Circle as Europe boils’.
‘Two major forest fires raged out of control Monday on either side of Athens, killing at least 50 people, burning houses, prompting thousands of residents to flee and turning the sky over Athens a hazy orange from the smoke.’
‘At least 44 people have died across Japan as extreme heat waves continue to grip the east-Asia nation.’
‘Sweden faces “extreme” risk of even more wildfires’.
‘Denmark, southern Norway and northern Finland are experiencing extreme heat.’
Aircraft and helicopters were battling the forest fires near Athens.
‘Intense heat wave to build up across western Europe’.
‘Sweden heatwave: hottest July in (at least) 260 years’.
The further a reader goes through the news coming from Japan in the east to Sweden in the west the more concern creeps in:
What’s happening?
Is it the Arctic Circle? Is there any error in the reports?
Are the numbers of dead 44 in Japan and 50 in Greece? Is the info correct?
Media reports are almost unbelievable as none of these are coming from the ‘cursed’ south, the hemisphere that fails to provide its citizens with adequate arrangements for a safe life. Two of the countries in the cited news — Sweden and Japan — stand on a strong technological-industrial base, and spend a lot of money behind arms.
All the news cited say:
‘Wildfires are raging in Sweden gripped by the worst drought in 74 years. The fires have broken out across a wide range of territory north-west of the capital of Stockholm as the hot, dry summer continued to stir up the flames. A number of communities have been evacuated and tens of thousands of people have been warned to keep windows and vents closed to prevent smoke inhalation. Rail services have been disrupted.’
‘The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency has called the recent fires the country’s most serious wildfire situation of modern times.’
‘The severity has caused the government to appeal for help from other countries. Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway and Poland have responded by sending water-spreading helicopters and planes, and emergency personnel. Carl XVI Gustaf, king of Sweden, in a statement said he was “worried” about the fires raging in 59 locations in Sweden.’
‘Sweden is experiencing an unprecedented drought and soaring temperatures which have reached the highest figures in more than a century. Other than a negligible 13 millimetres of rain in mid-June the country has not seen any rain since May. Farmers are struggling to feed their animals. The heat also arrived early.’
‘The lack of rain in Sweden is now so bad that the government is even considering state assistance for farmers struggling with the conditions.’
‘Dangerous heat will threaten millions of people across Europe this week with no lasting relief in sight.’
‘A heat wave is building up from Spain to Scandinavia.’
‘Locations that may have their highest temperatures of the year this week include Madrid, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Stockholm.’

Japan
ACCORDING to CNN, out of the 44 that have died since July 9, 11 lives were claimed on Saturday alone, with temperature remaining around the 38 degree Celsius mark in central Tokyo.
‘The temperature rose past 41 degrees Celsius in Kumagaya, the highest ever recorded temperature in Japan. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, the temperatures recorded have been around 12 degrees higher than the average temperatures.’

Greece
‘GREECE is seeking assistance from the European Union to battle forest fires.’
‘A state of emergency has been declared in the eastern and western parts of greater Athens as fires raged through pine forests and seaside towns on either side of the Greek capital.’
‘The blaze has created such thick smoke that the main highways between the Peloponnese and the Greek mainland have been shut down.’

The real curse
CLIMATE crisis deniers will confidently claim: these are (1) mere accidents; (2) these are exceptional incidents due to weather pattern; and (3) these should not be cited as examples of anomaly in the climate system.
But, shall not the citizens in the countries experiencing unusual incidents in the nature search for answers to the fires within the Arctic Circles and sudden surge of death due to increased temperatures? Citizens in the ‘cursed’ South are concerned as they are experiencing unusual pattern in the nature, and their coping capacity is almost non-existent.
This reality is pushing many to search for the origin of the crisis in climate.
A few years ago, Fred Magdoff, professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont and adjunct professor of crop and soil science at Cornell University, and John Bellamy Foster, editor of Monthly Review and professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, discussed the issue in an essay — ‘What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism’.
They write:
‘For those concerned with the fate of the earth, the time has come to face facts: not simply the dire reality of climate change but also the pressing need for social-system change.’
To them, knowledge is essential for survival: ‘Knowledge of the nature and limits of capitalism, and the means of transcending it, has therefore become a matter of survival.’
On climate change, they write:
‘Climate change does not occur in a gradual, linear way, but is non-linear, with all sorts of amplifying feedbacks and tipping points. There are already clear indications of accelerating problems that lie ahead.’
Fred and Foster raised the issue of living standard:
‘[T]here are biospheric limits, and that the planet cannot support the close to 7 billion people already alive (nor, of course, the 9 billion projected for mid-century) at what is known as a Western, ‘middle class’ standard of living. […]
‘A global social system organized on the basis of “enough is little” is bound eventually to destroy all around it and itself as well.’
They raised the issue of economic system:
‘[M]ost of the critical environmental problems we have are either caused, or made much worse, by the workings of our economic system. Even such issues as population growth and technology are best viewed in terms of their relation to the socioeconomic organization of society. Environmental problems are not a result of human ignorance or innate greed. They do not arise because managers of individual large corporations or developers are morally deficient. Instead, we must look to the fundamental workings of the economic (and political/social) system for explanations. It is precisely the fact that ecological destruction is built into the inner nature and logic of our present system of production that makes it so difficult to solve.’
On solutions, they wrote:
‘“[S]olutions” proposed for environmental devastation, which would allow the current system of production and distribution to proceed unabated, are not real solutions. In fact, such “solutions” will make things worse because they give the false impression that the problems are on their way to being overcome when the reality is quite different. The overwhelming environmental problems facing the world and its people will not be effectively dealt with until we institute another way for humans to interact with nature — altering the way we make decisions on what and how much to produce. Our most necessary, most rational goals require that we take into account fulfilling basic human needs, and creating just and sustainable conditions on behalf of present and future generations (which also means being concerned about the preservation of other species).’
They concluded by proposing a system:
‘If there is to be any hope of significantly improving the conditions of the vast number of the world’s inhabitants — many of whom are living hopelessly under the most severe conditions — while also preserving the earth as a liveable planet, we need a system that constantly asks: “What about the people?” instead of “How much money can I make?” This is necessary, not only for humans, but for all the other species that share the planet with us and whose fortunes are intimately tied to ours.’
Current developments in the areas of temperatures and wildfires lead us to consider the ideas presented by Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster. The countries — Sweden and Japan — stand on capitalist system. Greece is another case — a capitalist country, a victim of capitalist plunder, a country whose population has been burdened with the load of capitalist anomalies, debt, bankers’ dictation and austerity. Sweden and Japan are part of the world imperialist system while Greece is entangled in the system. The three countries’ present situation shows their level of preparedness to face the climate crisis. With so much resource in their command, Japan and Sweden are failing to cope with the crisis. This is the system’s — capitalism’s — failure.
A closer look will find:
The amount of profit and the amount of money spent for research on weapons system development are larger than amount of money spent for research to face climate crisis.
Profit enriches a few while climate crisis affects all — millions and millions of people.
This situation leads to the question: Isn’t it the time to question the governing system — capitalism?

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.

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