Climate Change


Homes effected by the flooding that began last month in North East Brazil. Photo courtesy ofhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/8046955.stm

Homes affected by the flooding that began last month in North East Brazil. Photo courtesy ofhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/8046955.stm

 

Earlier this month North East Brazil experienced a series of extreme flooding events which have displaced thousands of people. In the last few decades remote cities like Salvador, in Northern Brazil, have felt the effects of climate change with increased intensity and frequency of flooding. This latest episode has taken a heavy toll. Thousands of people have been made homeless by days of heavy rainfall and there has been a heavy death toll due to collapsed houses, fallen trees and landslides. During this flooding event new media platforms, such as Twitter and the blogosphere, took centre stage as information disseminators for flood victims as well as keeping the rest of the world up to date. This example feeds into current theories that have stipulated the importance of new media during environmental hazards and other tragedies. New media, due to its immediacy and user generated contact, is quickly taking over from many mainstream media platforms in times of crisis.

Climate change in Brazil…

Firstly, lets put climate change in Brazil into context. Some critics argue that Brazil is just not properly prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change and does not have an efficient national climate change policy. In many areas of rural Brazil climate change is taking its toll. For some, whom it has rendered landless and homeless, the impacts are even worse than the current economic crisis. Whilst in urban areas shoddy buildings and inadequate planning regulations mean that flooding effects penetrate infrastructure and can destroy whole towns in one go.

This comes after new research has revealed that fiercer storm surges and extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change will claim the most land in Latin America than in any other continent. See here for the full report. Economists at the World Bank’s, who carried out the research say worsening weather threatens 52 million people and more than 29,000 square kilometers of agricultural land, across the globe. Mexico and Brazil, with larger coastal zones than other countries in the region, are predicted to suffer from the most severe coastal inundation.

Despite these ongoing threats from nature and repeated warnings, the media affords climate change little coverage.

Widespread flooding began in North East Brazil in April and has displaced thousands of people. It is thought this due to the increased impact of climate change in Brazil. Photo courtesy of http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/8046955.stm

Widespread flooding began in North East Brazil in April and has displaced thousands of people. It is thought this due to the increased impact of climate change in Brazil. Photo courtesy of http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/8046955.stm

Brazilian bloggers…

Brazilian blogs have played an integral role in covering of the flooding and getting information out to the wider population where it would other wise by impossible. Facebook, Twitter, You tube and the blogosphere have played a key role in disseminating information on the number of victims and how to assist those who needed help. Liberdade Digital (Digital Freedom) called for more help from social network users to spread information about the situation and ask them to help flood victims: “If you have a blog, a website, a mailing list or if you are a member of a social network, do pass this information on.” Whilst one local journalist took interactivity to a new level. Sarita Bastos published a map on Google Maps showing the most badly effected areas. Others internet users then updated the map with their own local information. The end product has been a community resource that has aided the local population with recovery from flooding.

The power of the Twitteratti…

In Salvador, Twitter took centre stage by giving detailed accounts of what was happening in the city day by day and at a mush faster rate than other media platforms. This contrasts greatly with the role played by mainstream media and especially commercial television who gave only brief and superficial news reports and whose news agenda was dictated by scheduling and advertising. Cottle and Nolan (2007) argue that this is the very nature of mainstream media; ‘the media spotlight is apt to roam from one disaster to another and does so in a competitive environment informed by the pursuit of readers, ratings and revenue.’

Mainstream media are only interested as long as it makes exciting news. This emphasises the importance of the role played social networking sites in news dissemination and cyber-activism. They are bottom up and participatory platform allowing everyday people, affected by these issues, to control the news agenda.

One blogger comments that: “there’s no doubt that the coverage via Twitter was the best about the tragedy in the city of Salvador.”

André Lemos, Communications professor at the Federal University of Bahia, reported the experience as an “alternative media show” and as a “sample of how mass media is losing influence” in his blog:

 “I went to look for some news on local online newspapers but I didn’t find anything very… informative. I gave up on it and came back to Twitter, much more deep, fast and detailed.’

One last point…

There was a clear lack of interest in this event from the rest of the country. Here in the West, if it wasn’t for the internet, and blogs especially, we would never have heard about these problems. This is again due to the differing controls and agendas of mainstream and alternative media platforms. Cottle and Nolan (2007) effectively sum up the fact that geopolitical issues dictate news agendas. Disaster reporting is all about focusing on ‘home connections’ and regionalising stories. If there is no cultural connection with an event then it goes unreported. People are left to fend for themselves and often lack the support needed for recovery from natural disasters. This is what has happened here in North East Brazil .The rest of the country and continent just aren’t interested as it does not affect them and for many climate change is old news and dull. Beck (1999)  has argued that climate change reporting focuses upon dramatic impacts at the expense of useful information and such ignorance increases the environmental risks. This perhaps reiterates the importance of new media platforms and user generated content in the future for environmental and disaster reporting.

Since Cochabamba’s water war, the issue of water and access to it has gained attention on the international stage. Bolivia forced water privatisation as well as water scarcity onto the international agenda. Fortune magazine declared that water is the oil of the 21st century whilst Barnett (2001) anaylses the implications of these environmental securty threats. For many authors water scarcity is the proverbial spark that starts the metaphorical Middle East bonfire. In a region which is extremely arid, with existing ideological, religious and geographical disputes, combined with water scarcity, the result is one of the most volatile situations in the world. This begs the question – Is water a basic human right to be provided by governments through the public sector or is it a commodity to be sold by big business?

Whatever your view it is clear that water is set to be a major source of conflict across the globe. The environmental literature is replete with dire predictions of water wars. The water wars thesis is simple; water is distributed unevenly and, as population grows and the climate changes, it is increasingly in demand and will cause violent conflict. The potential for violence is extremely high as like most things, whoever control water wields the power. Bolivia has faced a series of crises over water and it is somewhat depressing to acknowledge that in the aftermath of the 2000 Cochabamba water wars, thousands still do not have access to clean water. The debate rages on…is water a commodity or basic human right? I think morally we all know the answer to that one.

So is conflict inevitable and perhaps exacerbated by the effects of climate change?

Barnett (2001) argues that the environment-conflict thesis is a product of the Northern security agenda premised upon geo-political issues. It is often only concerned with resources of economic value rather than the reality of environmental degradation and the welfare of those in the developing world. In other words the north constructs an eco-centric outlook of two worlds to suit its own agenda. The south plays the psrt of the primeval Other who needs the north to maintain order. Bascially the West just simply aren’t interested in the plight of Bolivia because it has no resources that they need.

However there is no escaping from the fact that in many area resource wars are a reality whether their seriousness is exaggerated by the West or not. Homer-Dixon (1991) contends that the geopolitics of environmental problems, their transboundary nature and the geographical misfit between resources and national boundaries,  means that sometime soon the North need to sit up and take notice. Many countries throughout Latin America are teetering on the edge of environmental conflict.

Prince Charles doing the Samba in Rio

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are currently on a ten day environmental crusade in South America. So far the Prince has danced the Samba in Rio de Janeiro, visited indigenous trips in the Amazon, been fumigated in Ecuador and celebrated 200 years of Darwinism with a trip to the Galapagos Islands. The aims of the visit are to highlight climate change and promote sustainable development. Charles sees himself as a green crusader and has indeed been campaigning for environmental issues for more than two decades. This latest campaign or ‘holiday’ has been met with some scathing criticism from some parties

 

The Prince confronted some complex environmental issues, namely the worrying plight of the rainforest, whilst in Brazil. Two ongoing projects are worth a mention. In 2007 he set up the Prince’s Rainforest Project which funds projects promoting the sustainable use of the rainforest. Secondly the Forest People’s Alliance campaigns against urban development and logging in the rainforest. One of the project founders Chico Mendes, a leading green activist and voice of the local people, was assassinated more than two decades ago. This week Charles was declared as a ‘Friend of the Forest’ by the Amazonas state as he visited indigenous tribes of Manaus, in the heart of the rainforest, and was thanked for supporting these groups in the fight against de-forestation. This was followed by a so called landmark speech in Rio de Janeiro a few days later warning the world that it has less than 100 months to act to avoid catastrophic climate change. He quoted Chico Mendes in a speech aimed to highlight the serious reality of global warming: “At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees. Then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon Rainforest. Now I realise I am fighting for humanity”.

 

This all comes after The Copenhagen Climate Congress issued a strongly worded communiqué last week warning that the impacts of climate change will far exceed the worst fears expressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change in 2007. Research presented at the congress ‘sounded the death knell for the Amazon rainforest’ suggesting it will soon disappear completely.

 

It is clear that the Prince is serious in his fight to save the Amazon but to me it seems that there’s a lot of rhetoric and a lack of any serious action. The timescale of 100 months appears to be plucked out of no where and shows a lack of understanding of the complex science behind climate change. One blog, entitled ‘Prince Charles only hears the science he wants to hear’, goes further in its criticism of his motives and is worth a look. There’s no doubt that the Amazon is under threat, indigenous tribes are dying out and logging causes wide scale deforestation everyday. In addition the increasing number of adventure tourists to the region exacerbates this environmental degradation. Charles and Camilla’s trip has even been labelled as an adventure holiday that is detrimental to the environment. The recurrent theme of this trip is that a balance needs to be struck between economic needs and the preservation of the balance of nature. The projects mentioned above are a starting point and this latest royal visit raises the profile of the escalating problems in the Amazon; however until the world decides what is more important, economics or nature, then climate change and the issues surrounding sustainable development will continue to be ignored in the third world and exacerbated by the first world. More action and less rhetoric is required, but at least Charles is enjoying himself and Camilla is getting a good suntan.

Rio de Janeiro - The Heart of South America

Rio de Janeiro - The Heart of South America

Welcome!

This is my first daliance into the world of blogging. I’m a total novice but thought it was about time I jumped onto the blog wagon.

As a budding broadcast journalist, a one time geographer and a travel junkie this blog acts as a hybrid for all these interests. This is the first of (I hope) many insightful and analytical posts tracking the global media trends surrounding globalisation and development in the third world with specific focus upon environmental security (thats the geographer buried within).

I’ve developed an obsession of late for Latin America and thus many of my subsequent blogs will address this area of the world, which I might add is hugely under-reported by western media. Indigenous communities, social movements, sustainable development, grassroots infowar, eco-feminism…theres alot to get your teeth into!

And so…I hope these posts will act as a tool for opening up discussion of development issues which are often ignored and overlooked by the West, help to deconstruct the ’North’ vs ‘South’ (outdated) discourse and challenge the media imperialist paradigm towards third world development.

An ambitious feat? A rather wide remit of discussion? Yes indeed…but I’ll give it a go…whats the worst that can happen? In the distant future when I’m a famous foreign news reporter (Hmm time will tell)…I’m sure I’ll look on this maiden voyage into the blog-sphere with affection…

So Happy Blogging.