A new study has found a record-breaking heatwave in Siberia was made 600 times more likely by man-made climate change. Temperatures in the far north of Russia were more than five degrees above normal from January to June this year, causing permafrost to melt and forest fires to proliferate, which in turn increased more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The event would happen less than once every 80,000 years without climate breakdown – now it can be expected once every 130 years.
“This research is further evidence of the extreme temperatures we can expect to see more frequently around the world in a warming global climate,” Andrew Ciavarella, a lead author of the research and scientist at the Met Office, said.”Importantly, an increasing frequency of these extreme heat events can be moderated by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Siberia’s fires now fit into a familiar pattern of increased extreme weather events. Remember Australia’s bushfires at the end of last year and start of this year? These events, both caused by and cause of climate breakdown, now come and go from our collective consciousness at rapid speed, each wave leaving a residue of fear and exhaustion. In a pandemic year especially, there is a tendency towards “crisis fatigue”.
“So I think there is a big issue out there around almost the layering, or sedimentation, of crises upon crises upon crises, that risks eroding our sense of social achievement, actually, and resilience,” Matthew Flinders, founding director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics at the University of Sheffield, told Wired.
One of the psychological factors at play with crises closely related to nature specifically is that it can induce a certain fatalism that would perhaps not otherwise be the case in, for instance, an industrial dispute or a civil war, where human actors are more immediate. We can trace the role of humans in inducing the environments which ultimately leads to pandemics, and in producing the carbon dioxide which ultimately leads to forest fires in Siberia, but the distance between human cause and nature’s affect is quite large, and in that distance alienation grows. This is particularly the case when our experience of eco-crises is primarily via social media and/or news media: we become deactivated, and switch off from what’s happening around us partly as a conscious self-preservation technique and partly just out of sub-conscious mental exhaustion. This permanent switching off can take several forms, but usually none are very healthy, for us or for society at large.
How do we break the disempowering cycles of acute stress from crisis events in nature followed by exhaustion and disengagement? The answer is that we need to build collective cultures of engagement that are less reactive and more pro-active. Where plans are hatched and followed through. Where values remain consistent and trust is built up over the longer-term, so we are not violently throwing ourselves and each other off course every time a crisis event happens.
There is a history we can draw on here of cultures of politicised collective organisation that unfortunately has largely been lost. Mike Davis, one of the few writers to predict the current pandemic, looks at the cultures of organisation that developed in Europe during the emergence of mass socialist movements in the early 20th century, in his book ‘Old gods, new enigmas’. He finds in France the ‘bourses du travail’; “union-managed, municipally-funded, and territorial labour-based exchanges”. In Italy, the ‘camera’, which “provided a centre for all the local unions and workers’ institutions of a particular commune or district”. In Glasgow, the Trades Council was important in promoting a “greater degree of interaction” between different groups of workers within Red Clydeside, Davis finds.
“A proletarian public sphere developed,” Davis argues. “The ideas of socialism became embodied in well-organised counter-cultures that projected the solidarities of the workplace and neighbourhood into all aspects of recreation, education and culture”.
While these environments were undoubtedly riddled with problems, they provided collective autonomy and agency, in a way that the spaces of digital interaction most of us inhabit daily are under the algorithmic control of platform companies seeking maximum profitability. These sites fit comfortably with the political rhythms of eco-crisis, as we rush to tweet about the latest shock event and then move on. What you don’t usually see on these platforms is the moment of disengagement for many – that disappears from view on our timelines. In a time where face-to-face meetings carry health risks, working out how to use the digital sphere to induce better quality of interactions and politicised cultures of solidarity and resistance is not an easy challenge, but one that needs to be worked at. We are now in an epoch of eco-crisis – if we want to break free from the disempowering effects of crisis-fatigue, we need to lear how to operate differently.
Source Direct is a free morning newsletter providing you with all the latest Scottish news in your inbox each morning, including:
- Analysis of the key stories
- A summary of what’s in the Scottish papers
- The latest on Source
- Interesting opinion pieces from around Scottish media
- A letters section
To sign-up for Source Direct, click here.