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2005-01-13

George Monbiot: "Climate Change Is a Far Greater Threat To Human Well-Being Than Terrorism"

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Landslides and flooding following days of heavy rain in California have left some 20 people dead in the state, including 10 in La Conchita following a devastating mudslide. We take a look at extreme weather and global warming with author and columnist George Monbiot. [includes rush transcript]

Residents of the coastal town of La Conchita are begin warned that the steep hills overlooking their community could collapse again as the death toll from Monday’s mudslide rose to 10 with three still missing.

Rescue workers are still searching for any survivors who may remain trapped in the 30-foot-deep mound of earth that swallowed some 15 homes in La Conchita, which lies about 80 miles north of Los Angeles.

Part of a hillside that towered over the seaside enclave collapsed two days ago after weeks of drenching rain unleashed torrents of mud that buried a four-block area within seconds. Video of the mudslide showed a large portion of a towering bluff break off and then rumble down the hill toward the town, carrying trees, power lines and thick mud into homes below. Several cars were crushed, and a bus was tossed into one of the homes.

On a visit to the area, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told reporters "We have seen the power of nature to cause damage and despair, but we will match that power with our own resolve."

Authorities blamed the landslides and flooding on five days of heavy rain, which have resulted in some 20 deaths in the state. Southern California has had a total of about 17 inches of rain in the past two weeks.

  • * George Monbiot*, author and columnist for the London Guardian. His latest book is "Manifesto for a New World Order."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to George Monbiot. He is author and columnist for the London Guardian. His latest book is Manifesto for a New World Order. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

GEORGE MONBIOT: Thanks very much, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you talk about the extreme weather we’re seeing in the California area, and then we want to talk you to a little about the tsunami.

GEORGE MONBIOT: Sure. It seems very clear that the sort of weather that you are seeing in California ties in with the predictions made by climate scientists for what would happen under a climate change scenario. No one can put their hand on their heart saying — and say that any one weather event is —- is we know the result of climate change. What we can say is that weather events like this are in line with the predictions made by climate scientists for what would happen when climate change begins to accelerate. And what they say we’re likely to see far more events of this nature. Far more freak weather, far more hurricanes, far more storms, far greater precipitation, rainfall, at certain times of the year, stronger winds, and all of the rest of it. And the frightening thing to remember is this -—, that so far, as a result of human activities, we have seen a global warming of 0.6 degrees centigrade. What the climate scientists are talking about is a possible global warming of maximum scenario of 6 degrees centigrade by the end of this century. In other words, ten times as much warming as we have seen so far. If the disruptive weather which we have suffered so far in many parts of the world, we are having something similar in the United Kingdom at the moment. If disruptive weather like that results from .6 degrees, think of what the consequences of 6 degrees would be.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In terms of the reality of the Bush administration now, who is increasingly totally isolated from the rest of the world on this issue, what hope do you see over the next four years, for the world community being able to more properly address the issues of global warming?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, you’re absolutely right Juan, to say that Bush really is isolated at moment. As far as the world is concerned the great majority of developed countries have signed up to the Kyoto protocol on climate change which is an attempt to get the rich countries together to try to limit their own carbon emissions. The United States is one of the very few which has not signed up and now the Bush administration just in the past few weeks has tried to prevent any extension of the Kyoto Protocol. There was an attempt to have a new treaty, which would come into force in 2012, which would bring about much bigger cuts in carbon dioxide and which would try to pull in the developing countries such as India and China, and the Bush administration, even though it didn’t have negotiating rights because it hadn’t signed the Kyoto protocol, it deliberately disrupted and destroyed that meeting so that so far there is no agreement for what’s going to happen from 2012 onward. It’s not just the Bush — that Bush has withdrawn from global agreements and global attempts to do something about this problem, he has actually quite deliberately gone about to try to destroy those attempts, and try to destroy any agreements to sort out climate change. And so, when Schwarzenegger talks about matching — matching the scale of nature with the scale of our resolve, he’s certainly not talking the same language as Bush is talking. Even the language which Schwarzenegger — which Schwarzenegger is using is unmatched by his own involvement in trying to do anything serious about climate change. We have seen how he is really given drivers in particular a very easy ride, how the efforts that should being made, particularly to get people out of sports utility vehicles, are simply not being made either by Schwarzenegger or, of course, by Bush. Now, what we need to do is to campaign constantly to make sure that the Bush administration, like governments all over the world, begins to take climate change as seriously as they take terrorism. Because when it comes to the numbers of people who are likely to be affected by climate change that outweighs by many times the number of people who even under the worst case scenario could be affected by the terrorism. Climate change is actually a far greater threat to human well-being than terrorism is.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, George Monbiot, on the issue of the tsunami, you have a column called, "Killing Versus Helping." Very briefly, explain.

GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes, the United States government has quite generously given $350 million to the victims of the tsunami, or at least promised that money to the victims of tsunami in Asia, and — but that is a drop in the ocean. It’s the equivalent of one-and-a-half days of its spending in Iraq. It’s so far spent $148 billion there. It seems to me to be a commentary on the fundamental thickness at the heart of government, that we always find enough money for killing people and we always struggle to find enough money for helping people. And if the Bush administration really had the — had humanity at heart and really was concerned about the people of the developing world, the $148 billion it has spent in Iraq on clearing people out of cities like Fallujah on killing possibly tens of thousands of civilians, that money would have been spent on humanitarian aid for the very poor.

AMY GOODMAN: George Monbiot, we want to thank you very much for being with us. George Monbiot, a columnist in Britain with the Guardian newspaper. We thank you. This is Democracy Now! Thank you.

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