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A hard rain

As this issue of Eureka Street was about to go to press, there were reports out of Guatemala that as many as 1400 people were feared to have been buried alive in the highlands village of Panabaj, by a mudslide triggered by torrential rains from Hurricane Stan. The victims were mainly poor indigenous Mayans living in improvised dwellings on mountainsides and close to riverbeds.

This is but the latest tragedy for a people who have been living precariously for decades. As Lucy Turner reports, 83 per cent of the more than 200,000 victims of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war were also indigenous Mayans.

That the victims of Guatemala’s civil war suffered unconscionable humans rights abuses at the hands of fellow humans is indisputable. Less clear is whether the victims of the mudslide suffered because of what the insurance companies commonly call an Act of God, or whether their suffering can be attributed in any way to you and me. There is mounting evidence that global climate change is accelerating, increasing the likelihood of more frequent and more severe floods and droughts (for the devastating effects of the latter on the nomadic peoples of Niger, see Anthony Ham’s ‘Anatomy of a famine’).

Human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, is now generally regarded as a significant factor in global warming. Even the Bush administration (while still refusing to sign the Kyoto agreement on greenhouse emissions) has admitted that the problem is partially of human making (see ‘Power politics’, by Tim Thwaites).

No one is claiming that climate change caused hurricanes Stan, Rita and Katrina, or the recent Pacific typhoons, but if our actions are contributing to a climate which makes such storms more likely, surely we owe it to the dead, maimed and homeless (not to mention ourselves) to examine those actions more closely.

 Two recent Australian books are good places to begin: Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers (Text, $32.95) and Ian Lowe’s A Big Fix (Black Inc, $16.95). Both offer practical solutions to reducing our greenhouse emissions.

This year it was a hard rain that fell along the coastal communities of the Gulf of Mexico, from the First World to the Third. Next year, or the year after that, it could fall much closer to home—or not at all.       

Robert Hefner is the acting editor of Eureka Street.       


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Power politics

  • Tim Thwaites
  • 23 April 2006

Regarding climate change, what we need is not a new way of engineering but a new way of living.