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Speaking Out

– Climate Casualties and Culprits

By staff reporter YAN WEIJUAN

WHEN scholars and politicians are toiling away at research on climate change and pausing only to dispute with each other with faces reddened to the ears, has the public even noticed this phenomenon? What does the man-on-the-street think is behind climate change?

Call the Witnesses

The man on the street speaks out.

“Abnormal weather and natural disasters occur more frequently,” says Xu Xiaoqin, reporter of the West Asia and Africa Center of China Radio International. “Although I live in the capital city of China, I am heartbroken by the succession of catastrophes hitting other parts of China. Droughts and floods of unprecedented severity have kept domestic emergency response unceasingly busy in recent years.”

Kato Masaaki, a Japanese student studying in China, says climate change was palpable in his native land. “I used to live in Nagoya where the summer was comfortable even without air conditioning. Now an air conditioner is indispensable. What’s more, spring and autumn seasons have become shorter. Natural disasters such as sudden and severe flooding have been on the rise in recent years.”

Joseph from Tanzania insists, “There is every indication that our climates are changing. Natural disasters have become extremely commonplace all over the world, like the floodwaters in Pakistan, mudslides in China and generally more extreme weather in every part of the world. Sometimes it is fatally hot and other times freezing. Temperatures are fluctuating dramatically.”

Also from the African continent, Odey Acha Francis of Nigeria has witnessed change both in his hometown and in China. “When I was a little kid, in my part of West Africa it rained, like clockwork, every December 11. Nowadays when the rains come is anyone’s guess. We also find the temperature is trending upwards.”

Herb, an American teaching in China for the last decade, has noticed abnormalities in many countries. “Many regions are experiencing cooler winters and hotter summers. I don’t remember any days being as hot as they have been recently, since I set foot on the planet. Winter and summer are both trending to weather extremes.”

Forty-year-old Jose comes from Spain, and he comments, “The weather has changed too much from what it was like in my childhood – smiles one moment and snarls the next. The frequency or intensity of extreme weather is also part of so-called global warming.“

Not all people are convinced that our climate is changing. Mary, a U.S. tourist, tells China Today, “So far, I haven’t felt any hints of global warming. America and China are both largely temperate, four-season countries. Although it is reported that the weather in North America appears abnormal, in my view, this is just seasonal variation. After all, we can’t expect immutable weather.”

Daniel is a German teacher based in China. At the mention of climate change, he confessed he hasn’t experienced too much, but acknowledged, “I used to travel in some mountainous areas. When I compare photos taken 50 years ago to recent ones, I notice how seriously glacier lines are retreating. Explicitly, personally, you can feel this climate change. The glacier is melting at an accelerating pace, and global warming seems to be the most rational explanation. But this remains debatable.”

Exacting a Price

“Climate change is a bad turn of events for our farmers and herdsmen,” remarks Liu Feiliang, vice president of the Mingai White Cashmere Goat Farm of Subu’erga Town, Inner Mongolia. “This year Inner Mongolia was blighted by a severe drought. All the corn stalks were ruined, which was a knockout blow to farming. Facing withered ranges, we had to import fodder from inland provinces or irrigated zones. That means husbandry cost increased for herdsmen. It cost RMB 0.4 to 0.6 for 1 kg of grass last year; while the price doubled this year to RMB 1.0 or 1.2.”

Zhaya from Mongolia admits, “Year by year our Mongolian summers are becoming scorching hot. Global warming announces itself in many ways. Desertification on the Mongolian steppes has been aggravated. Water resources are also in short supply. Many nomadic people often have no water to drink.”

Liu Zhili from Hunan Province in Central China believes, “Climate change exacts a certain price in the life of each person. My hometown is a small village, and in my childhood, the nearby brook was always a constant and bubbling flow. Now, either continuous rainstorms make it waist-deep or lengthy droughts reduce it to shallows or a dry bed.”

Long Yuanfang is a senior student in China Foreign Affairs University. Her daily expenditures are where she experiences the climate pinch. “Natural disasters this year are commonplace. Floods and droughts are wreaking havoc all over the earth. Naturally this abnormal weather pushes up the price of foodstuffs, vegetables in particular. So what I spend in the cafeteria is on the rise.”

Others feel climate change has impinged on their physical health. Li Zhuli is a staffer in a public institution. “I felt ill for a long time, owing to the complicated climate,’’ she complains. Her recollection is that torrid weather conditions were making her dizzy by the beginning of June, and she adds, “This was the first summer I kept the air conditioner on through to September.’’

Human Factors

Mention the reasons for our meteorological woes and Zhaya remarks, “Human factors are the key element. As our industrialization gains momentum, the oil sponges like automobiles are also emitting a huge amount of carbon dioxide. Populations affluent enough to create mountains of household waste are swelling at an accelerating pace. Not to mention industrial culprits – factories that release pollutants as they please. All these conditions threaten our living environment. Once the natural order is disrupted, climate change is an inevitable and natural consequence.”

Camille Druart of Belgium’s Druart Chocolate Co., Ltd., serves in the Belgium Pavilion at Shanghai Expo, and offers her final analysis: the cause is greenhouse gas generated by excessive carbon dioxide release. “Automobile exhaust, factories without pollution filters and disposal systems, over deforested woodlands and inefficient protection are all directly or indirectly connected with this issue.”

“I think the main reason is people’s abuse of resources and their weak grasp of how critical it is to ensure environmental protection during the course of production,” says Zhao Hui of Volkswagen Automobile.

Mankind’s exploration of untapped fossil fuel and mineral deposits, and successful pursuit of more advanced technology should also be figured into any collapse, mitigation or recovery scenarios. Paul Massot, a Frenchman who has been working in China for many years, interprets it this way, “Climate change is a complicated phenomenon caused by a variety of factors, among which human factors take the lead. People’s desire for more advanced technology is having an impact on the global climate.” Odey Acha Francis concurs: “The human footprint has imprinted every corner of the globe. People are making every effort to exploit the Moon, the Sun, oil and coal reserves. These activities can’t be separated from increased carbon emissions and additional disruptions to natural regulation or imbalanced ecological systems.”

Some people even believe that climate change can be traced directly to people’s cravings – for fortune and luxury. While giving this interview Xu Xiaoqin piped up point-blank that the ills of climate change are the wages of sin for putting material wealth above all else. As she puts it, “Excessive carbon dioxide emissions are shrinking the ozone layer and global warming is thawing glaciers, but the resulting water supply is being squandered. The unbridled exploitation of all natural resources has made the surface environment dysfunctional.” Japanese student Kato Masaaki also believes, “It all points directly to human factors, and lies most deeply in greed.” Jose concedes this point too, concluding, “Most of us are impulse shoppers, buying commodities whether we need them or not, and discarding them soon after getting them home. That erodes resources and generates even more waste.”

Begging to Differ

This ad hoc opinion poll revealed that some people are unconvinced human factors are at the root of the problem. As Herb noted, “I have no idea whether human beings are the prime culprit. Everyone knows there was a medieval ice age. Similarly, there were also periods of extreme weather in mankind’s history that killed tens of millions of people. I believe this climate change is a natural phenomenon, although human activities have an impact to some extent. Nature revolves in cycles of hundreds of years. People are polluting the earth for sure, but to change our climate – well, I think it is far easier said than done. When I lived in Los Angeles, I witnessed the smog. Now I’m in Beijing, same thing. People are certainly polluting the water and air, as well as creating noise pollution, but I don’t see how we caused climate change. This is just a normal phase in the cycle.”

Tanzanian student Joseph is philosophical and understated in his summary: “There’re two things at work here. Clearly the human factor is backed by research and many people have accepted that reasoning, and are more inclined to admit to our obsession with material wealth – for which the environmental sector was sacrificed and continues to be sacrificed. The other thing is nature and its unpredictability.”

VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us