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The summer of contradictions
2023 will be remembered as the summer where we lurched from global warming to “global boiling”. July 2023 is officially the hottest month on record, and yet climate ambition continues to shrink everywhere.
Retreating climate ambition also coincides with a new political trend in Europe - far right wing parties turbo-charging their electoral strategy with an aggressive environmental policy that opposes “green” and favours “agricultural” interests.
Meanwhile, summer played out once again with distressing scenes of people facing wildfires, biblical heat and floods, imbuing with a poignant hopelessness the words of Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley at a development finance summit in Paris in June:
The world cannot continue in the shadow of an old imperial order that does not see countries, that does not feel countries, that does not hear countries and worse does not see, feel or hear people.
For those of us coping with extreme heat that was not life threatening but still pretty intense, the question of how to adapt is a big one. Summer in Europe is getting pretty uncomfortable for tourists (and residents - this year the hardest hit were Greece, Spain and Italy), and the old continent seems slow and at times unwilling or unable to adapt. Every time a heatwave strikes, people act like it’s a temporary blip. People are reminded to hydrate regularly (but the public toilets are frankly a disincentive).
I was in Taiwan and Japan this summer, and noticed that the lived experience of 37C heat and 90% humidity was, compared to the equivalent in Paris, more bearable. Of course, it helps to sleep in an air-conditioned room, but beyond that, the business of going around during the daytime is a lot less gruelling thanks to a few small things, I’ll call them micro-adaptation.
hydration - Taipei is a paradise when it comes to tall iced drinks made from delicious ingredients from tea to tropical fruits to fresh sugar cane. The sugar cane juice in particular is a powerful thirst slayer. And in Japan no matter where you are there is always a vending machine selling water, cold coffee and tea, fruit juices, probiotic drinks (I find these very calming in extreme heat) & unusual combos such as salt & lychee.
cooling gadgets - from portable USB fans, to cooling wipes and liquids, to cooling neck bands and portable ice carriers - there is an ever expanding range of small, affordable devices to take the edge off the heat, and keep you feeling a tad more comfortable. The portable fan is my favourite.
sun avoidance culture - if you’ve had skin cancer, its very gratifying to be in a culture where people go all out to protect their skin during the summer. UV parasols are ubiquitous, and many are wearing UV sleeves to protect their arms and hands.
Mango shaved ice, Taipei. No comment needed.
Highlights from Sustainability
2023 will be remembered as a year of retreating climate ambition.
The dominant approach of global climate summitry can be summed up in a line. “Don’t mention Fossil Fuels” is now the way to get an agreement at the end of an international climate meeting. Christiana Figueres, who presided over the historic Paris Agreement in 2015 as head of the UNFCCC, wrote a mea culpa op-ed earlier this summer entitled: I thought fossil fuel firms could change. I was wrong.
👉 G20 and climate: No mention of phasing out fossil fuels
G20 climate ministers met in Chennai end-July, and pushed out a bland communique that failed to address proposals to phase down fossil fuels and tripe clean energy.
👉 COP28: Don’t talk about fossil fuels
Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, President of the COP28 in the UAE (and CEO of Abu Dhabi’s National Oil Company), sent a letter to governments outlining the main themes of the meeing: technology and innovation, inclusion, front-line communities and finance. “Unity is a prerequisite for success” he warned, which translates, basically, as “Don’t mention fossil fuels.”
👉 COP26: UK backtracks
The host country of COP26 has checked out as a green leader: PM Sunak is embracing full-on drilling for oil and gas as the way forward for energy security.
👉 Amazon Summit falls short
Earlier this month, Brazil’s President Lula and Colombia’s Petro hosted the Amazon Summit which failed to get a commitment from Amazon leaders to end deforestation by 2030 as countries couldn’t agree a common stance on the role of extractive industries such as beef, oil and mining, which are the primary drivers of its destruction. See Carbon Brief’s analysis of what the outcomes mean for climate and deforestation.
Europe’s far right politicizes the environment
In France, the far-right party, Rassemblement National, of Marine Le Pen, has just released their environmental policy. Le Monde writes that the party’s strategy is to treat climate and adaptation policies as a fertile source of national division to be exploited successfully just like immigration.
The new policy, which replaces the term “localism” with “common sense ecology” , seeks to frame an approach that relies exclusively on techno-solutions to deal with mitigation and embraces a brook-no-changes-to-status-quo approach that opposes “punitive” ecology.
This approach has already been tried and tested in the Netherlands by the BBB populist and agrarian party which is leading in the polls ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections in November. A similar movement, Vox, exists in Spain.
This topic came up in a 2021 episode of the New Climate Capitalism podcast, in an interview with academic Edouard Morena, who explained the dangers of allowing the far-right in France to appropriate the environment agenda.
This extract of the transcript has been edited for concision and clarity. To catch up with the entire episode which talks about the climate elite and Just Transitions, tune in here.
Denise: You were the one that actually alerted me recently to the fact that the far right in Europe is getting quite sophisticated in their climate narratives.
Edouard: In the case of Europe you have different situations. In places like Germany, the far-right parties like the AFD, for instance, are still fundamentally climate sceptic.
They’re still kind of very anti-climate, but if you look at countries like France, the Rassemblement Nationale, the dominant far-right party… in the last European elections it was really interesting to see how they took up the issue of climate change or the environment more generally head on. They were clearly kind of positioning themselves in that space, and they were clearly saying that, yes, it’s an important issue we need to address.
And they were also suggesting some things like re-localization again, a kind of a concept which they also reappropriated from other groups and environmental groups who are probably not xenophobic or not racist, but they were taking up these same concepts and in many ways, making the same proposals, but coupling those concepts with this kind of idea that re-localization is also about protecting our culture, protecting our identity and fending off the invaders from North Africa, et cetera.
My big worry and my big question is, well, when they do come to power, if they do come to power - I hope not. But if they do come to power, what will be the position of climate elites or people involved in the international climate space?
I think that’s a big problem with these groups that I’m studying is that they are constantly depoliticizing the climate issue.
They are kind of presenting it as something that is not political as if there is kind of one straightforward answer; as if the kind of low carbon transition is just a series of steps that we need to take in order to reach our common goal or a common destiny, which is not the case.
I think the strength of the climate movement, the strength of the climate community in the broader sense is in its diversity and its capacity to disagree. It’s an in its capacity to engage in political conflict in order to move forward.
I think depoliticizing the issue is a danger and I’m slightly concerned by the fact that they present the climate issue as a nonpolitical, non-partisan issue when it fundamentally is, I’m convinced it is. I think it needs to be in order for us to really be able to address it.
A few Substack newsletters I enjoyed reading over the summer.
Concrete Avalanche is a newsletter about indy music from China, and a great way to chill out from life in general.
A Broad and Ample Road Some of the best newsletters don’t fall into any clear category. This one is written by two academics, a husband and wife couple, based in Taiwan, and is nominally “about” history, politics, justice, and law but really is a great curation of human-centric stuff. Here’s a recent book review of “Papers”, which is about asylum-seekers in France.
Slow Chinese is a newsletter for Chinese language learners, but it’s actually a great way to follow what’s hot on the Chinese internet. Andrew Methven picks a hot topic every week - such as the recent mega-floods in China - and breaks down the key words and phrases. One thing I love is the way it chronicles the crazy pace of changing slang and language on the Chinese internet.
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