This lady was using her umbrella to shield herself from the blazing heat of the sun, a sight I hadn’t seen since I visited Hanoi in Vietnam ten years ago and witnessed local women walking with parasols to protect themselves from the sun’s rays.
Vietnamese women were trying to keep cool and avoid tanning, and as someone with beyond bán skin tone incapable of tanning, it made perfect sense for me to hide under an umbrella too.
The sun is not my friend, so I went native and took up the parasol practice while travelling around Asia. I never thought I would see someone in Ireland use an umbrella for anything other than rain, but a lot has happened in the intervening ten years from a global heating and climate change point of view
Last week thermometers there hit 53 Celsius! Anything over 20 in Cork and we’re panic buying ice lollies and paddling pools. More than twice that temperature is unimaginable.
For some people, Summer, 2021 will be remembered as the year Irish staycations had a pleasantly Mediterranean feel to them, but for others around the world, it will be remembered as a frighteningly hot summer of record-breaking temperatures.
Places like the Canadian town of Lytton, at the same latitude as London, have been destroyed by wildfire caused by extreme heat, and in New York City residents were told to stay indoors, not because of Covid this time, but because of the terrible air quality caused by raging wildfires on the west coast of America. Yakutsk, the coldest city in Siberia, is experiencing its second consecutive year of heatwave with wildfires burning more than 1.5million hectares of forest.
Reading about these places, and many more, I find my enjoyment of the hot summer weather dampened by the underlying anxiety that this is not normal and the foretold effects caused by the 1.1 degrees increase in global temperature are already apparent. The climate emergency is happening.
I get hot under the collar when I hear that Northern Ireland has broken its highest temperature record — more than 31 degrees! The highest air temperature recorded in the Republic in the 20th century, when records are more reliable, was 32.5C at Boora, Co. Offaly, in June, 1976. The official highest air temperature record dates from 1887 — a whopping 33.3C measured at Kilkenny Castle. I wonder when that will be broken.
These high temperatures fade in comparison to the extreme temperatures experienced by millions of residents around the world every year. In the Pakistani city of Jacobabad, summer temperatures regularly reach more than 50 degrees, which is intolerable for humans.
More and more people are moving to escape extreme temperatures, drought, flooding, storms, etc. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre said more than 1,770 weather-related events in 2020 around the world led to more than 30 million new displacements, the highest number since 2010, when 15.5 million displacements in China were recorded as a result of flooding.
Many will never return to their homes wiped away by flooding or wildfire or storms.
The effects of 1.1C of warming are coming home to roost and temperatures are expected to increase by 3C by the end of the century without radical action.
Against the backdrop of this climate emergency news, and a global pandemic, another unprecedented event was happening — mega rich, middle-aged men were launching themselves into Space.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic launch, followed a week later by Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin New Shepard trip, kick-started a supposedly new age of private space travel.
In the past, I would have marvelled at the ingenious engineering and science that enabled them to get to Space, but these clever, powerful, rich men could do anything they want with all that money and influence — and they decide to leave the planet. Releasing huge amounts of carbon into the planet in the process!
Former U.S labour secretary Robert Reich summed up the thoughts of many when he tweeted: “Is anyone else alarmed that billionaires are having their own private space race while record-breaking heatwaves are sparking a ‘fire-breathing dragon of clouds’ and cooking sea creatures to death in their shells?”
Imagine if Bezos and Branson had assembled a team of the best and brightest a decade ago and paid smart engineers and scientists to solve the problem of carbon emissions. Imagine if, instead of their phallic spaceships, they unveiled a large scale carbon capture system that could be deployed easily and would suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and help cool the planet.
That’s the kind of massive engineering project I could get excited about.
Fostering a space tourism industry for the wealthy when such deep inequality exists in the world is completely tone deaf to the suffering of much of humanity.
Bezo’s Blue Origin’s space ticket sales are nearing $100million already, that money would be better served ending child poverty, eradicating diseases, ensuring safe drinking water, or any of the other 17 sustainable development goals that the world has agreed to address by 2030.
Rather than admiring the planet from Space, the wealthy should be pooling their money to protect the planet for us all.