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It has rained incessantly recently in the Bolivian Amazon and in the Valleys. The waters that have flooded our territory since January, are thought to be the result of the worst rains in 40 years. More than 60,000 families have been affected—at least 350,000 people have had to leave their homes.
They have lost almost everything they own: their animals, their crops, their daily lives. UNICEF has reported that 60,000 Bolivian children have been affected. Nine hundred schools have had to suspend activities for almost a month due to high risk. More than fifty people have died and some of their bodies have still not been recovered. And we cannot yet tell what the magnitude of the impact on health, food and the ability of communities to rebuild their lives will be as the floodwaters recede and the extent of the destruction is slowly revealed. One small example of how poverty triggers the vulnerability of communities comes from the situation of the indigenous people in the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) communities.
Though reports speak of huge losses of corn, rice, potatoes, soybeans, vegetables and livestock—with estimates of more than 250,000 head of cattle missing—it remains to be seen in the next few months what the economic impact of floods will be for these peoples themselves, and what the impact will be at both regional and national levels.
In the face of the dramatic situation presented by this disaster both authorities and civilians across the whole country have mobilized to collect food, medicines and everything necessary to bring help to the affected communities. Above and beyond, these good intentions to come together to provide aid for those affected by the floods in the Amazon region and in the Bolivian valleys, we were far from being capable of confronting the dimension of such a disaster. Rainfalls are also far from being recognized as not an occasional event but rather as climate change events that will only repeat more frequently in the future.
Not far from this region, droughts are hitting hard: in both the Chiquitanía region and the Chaco regions of Santa Cruz and Tarija there have been losses of thousands of hectares of crops, which is resulting in a silent forced migration to the cities. Just some months back the Bolivian Defence Ministry reported 247,000 hectares of land affected by the lack of rain, by snow or by fire. Meanwhile the loss of our glaciers is a sorrow to which we are becoming accustomed.
Climate change is not just a scientific issue, nor is it just something which is of exclusive interest to UN negotiations, nor it is a warning for the future: it is already present in our times, in our territories and it comes with violence. Climate change affects people’s lives and it is already claiming many victims.
We share this grief with millions of people across the planet who are suffering the same consequences. Just a few months back more than 11 million people were affected by super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. A million people were without electricity after snowstorms caused by the late winter polar vortex in the U.S. Thousands of people affected in the UK in what was considered the worst flooding in 200 years. Thousands of hectares of forest burned annually in Australia by the alarming drought and heat. Thousands affected in Central America, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Paraguay and other countries. Twenty-five million souls were driven into uncertainty by water shortages, the result of droughts and heat waves in California. A deadly landslide with more than one hundred people missing in Washington State, the result of heavy rains. Millions of humans and ecosystems at risk in various parts of the world … News that nobody wants to hear, but which we will inevitably be forced to confront in our own lifetimes, even though the news appears first as cold statistics in the press.
We need to connect the dots to realise that climate change is a phenomenon that challenges us to overcome short-term visions and the empty rhetoric of “Mother Earth,” devoid of concrete actions. Climate change is a consequence of the violent exploitation of nature, of endless economic growth systems based on fossil fuel consumption, understood as an irreplaceable condition for human “welfare.” This obsolete idea has been inculcated into our lives on a social, a psychological and on a cultural level.
What can we do to finally get on board that the emissions from burning fossil fuels, of large scale cattle exploitation and of deforestation emissions—both in the North and in the South—are destroying our atmosphere? Where are the effective means of caring for the common goods kidnapped by corporations and the global addiction to unlimited growth? How long do we have to wait till the polluters begin to stop poisoning us and prevent worse consequences? When and how will there be compensation for the damage? (almost 71.5 percent of global emissions are from developed countries where only 17.3 percent of the world population reside). What can we do to avoid the likelihood that the so-called “development” of the global South will repeat that same destructive patterns (disguised by the promises of progress and of happiness)?
Unfortunately—and not only in Bolivia—this theme has become distorted. It became an issue of political and economic interest, rather than simply being recognised as a matter of life or death, a challenge for survival.
The Fifth IPCC report has established in an unequivocal way that climate change is caused by human activity and that it is causing climate chaos everywhere. This report has warned that climate change presents enormous risks related to the access to water, food and livelihood. Some scientists and activists have been highly critical of this report for being—when all is said and done—conservative in nature, especially when it comes to expressing the urgency of the matter. They note that climate change is occurring faster than the IPCC scenarios had indicated, and that the Arctic ice-melt—and its consequent methane release (one of the greatest global threats)—has been underestimated due to pressure mounted by the rich nations and by the oil lobby. Other voices are questioning the possibility that the IPCC report has opened up opportunities for false solutions like geoengineering and unproven technologies, instead of insisting in a stronger way on the restriction of the use of fossil fuels.
Denialism Around the World
In the context of this global emergency, surprisingly, a political/ideological current called “denialism” has emerged. Denialists claim that these phenomena do not correspond to the saturation of the atmosphere as a direct result of human action, rather they claim that it is simply due to the planet’s “natural cycles.” Denialists, as if we have need of such a service, have devoted their activism to denial of scientific reports. They have become a strong global current that accompanies the rhythms of economical development and investment, blaming environmentalists for creating unnecessary uncertainty. Their position is in essence linked with the corporate oil lobby, large corporations and private capital dedicated to the continued exploration for—and exploitation of—fossil fuels. Their political/industry alliances are indestructible.
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