Thursday, February 2

Heat deaths, scorched trees and civil unrest: life on the climate frontline in 2022 | climate crisis

Damien Gayle, reporter on climate activism

When activists from Extinction Rebellion towed a pink boat into Oxford Circus, in the heart of London’s busiest shopping area, and locked themselves to it, they changed the face of climate protest.

XR’s April 2019 rebellion brought disruption to the heart of the metropolis, and with protest blockades manned by hundreds of activists, they established a model disruptive climate protest that has spread across the west.

Now scarcely a day goes by without news of climate protesters blocking roads, airports or fossil fuel infrastructure in cities in the UK, Europe or North America.

Protest is a politics of desperation, by those desperate and enraged that their concerns being disregarded by lawmakers. And yet they can wield real power.

Since joining the Guardian, I have made a point of trying to cover them. While other journalists worked the corridors of power, I quizzed those shouting and marching and blocking the streets outside.

The pink boat which climate change activists used as a central point of their encampment as they occupied the road junction at Oxford Circus in central London. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Protest and civil disobedience has proven itself as a way – sometimes the only way – for people to push issues on to the political agenda and into the public consciousness. This has been proven repeatedly.

In 2019, the wave of global climate strikes and Extinction Rebellion’s disruptive mass protests in London – controversial though they were – pushed climate change from a fringe concern to the top of the agenda.

Polls that year showed almost three-quarters of people across eight countries believed the world was facing a “climate emergency”, with climate breakdown at risk of becoming “extremely dangerous”.

Last year, with just 100 committed activists, Insulate Britain enraged politicians, press and public with repeated blockades of key roads around London – and forced a national conversation about home insulation that now, amid a fuel price crisis, seems remarkably prescient.

Most recently, the climate activists of Just Stop Oil blocked fuel terminals, vowing to paralyze the supply of petroleum in an escalation they described as a shift from “civil disobedience” to “civil resistance”.

But the problem is vast and, as much lip-service is paid to a greener future, scientists warn time is running out. We’ve made a series of videos about various activist groups, and I’m determined to keep readers informed about these vital elements of the climate movement into the future.

Nina Lakhani, environmental justice reporter

I met 60-year-old Sareptha Jackson in Phoenix, Arizona, as the city braced itself for its first extreme heatwave of the year, with daytime temperatures hitting 115F.

Sareptha’s apartment was like a furnace; it was literally too hot for her to do anything but lie as still as possible next to a small aircon unit. Last year she had a stroke on a similarly scorching day, but she cannot afford to move.

Phoenix is ​​America’s hottest city, and the climate crisis is making it hotter and drier, which isn’t much fun for anyone, but for those with limited financial resources it can be deadly.

So far this year, the county coroner has confirmed 175 heat-related deaths; another 250 are under investigation.

People try to keep cool at a resource center in Phoenix catering to the homeless population, as temperatures hit 110F in July.
People try to keep cool at a resource center in Phoenix catering to the homeless population, as temperatures hit 110F in July. Photograph: Ross D Franklin/AP

Extreme heat deaths are entirely preventable, and the people dying are those without adequate shelter and healthcare.

The climate crisis is no equalizer, rather it’s a threat multiplier: it is exposing and exacerbating racial, economic, land, housing, and gender inequalities between and within countries.

We are absolutely not all in this together, and my job as a climate justice reporter is ensuring we report the stories of families and communities most affected by the climate breakdown.

Part of my role is also reporting on the inequalities in access to resources to help communities adapt to extreme weather.

The transition to renewable energy risks sacrificing entire communities if land is stolen and water polluted in order to mine lithium and build hydroelectric dams, or if families unable to afford to retrofit their homes for solar or buy electric vehicles are left behind.

It’s in these communities – which, by the way, have contributed least to the greenhouse gas emissions causing global heating – that I’ve also found the most inspiring, affordable and sustainable solutions to climate adaptation.

Amplifying their stories is crucial, to make sure that frontline and Indigenous experts get a seat at the climate negotiating table.

Climate journalism, open to all

Gabrielle Canon, extreme weather correspondent

It has been a summer of extremes across the American west. In the months since I joined the Guardian as its new extreme weather correspondent, I have covered behemoth blazes in California that have swallowed small mountain towns and catastrophic floods that swept away homes and infrastructure in Montana.

From up close, I have tracked a devastating drought throughout the south-west that is threatening the waterways dependent upon by tens of millions of people for drinking water, vast agricultural hubs that feed the nation and the world and delicate ecosystems already in decline.

In the American west, as in much of the world, the climate crisis is already unfolding with devastating effects. A new era of aridification – peppered by severe storms – is settling in across this region, which faces increasing threats from spiking temperatures, ferocious wildfires, water shortages and catastrophic floods.

Burnt cars after a wildfire broke out in Foresthill of California.
Burnt cars after a wildfire broke out in Foresthill of California. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Dramatic bathtub rings encircle reservoirs where water levels have receded, ancient trees that thrived here for centuries are dying, and sea creatures have been baked alive by extreme heat.

I report from the frontlines of these disasters, adding context to the calamity while capturing the effects of a warming world. I am here to help readers from across the globe understand what’s happening, why it matters – and what can be done.

I know what’s at stake for these cherished landscapes – and the people, plants, and animals that call them home – if dramatic action isn’t taken quickly. I try to bring our readers to the frontlines of these disasters, aided by scientists, policy-makers, Indigenous experts, advocates and a dedicated global team at the Guardian that believes these stories must be told.

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