Afghanistan – The Climate Crisis

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

Last month we wrote about the end of the American occupation of Afghanistan and the Taliban victory.[1] This piece is about climate change in Afghanistan. The topic is urgent. Afghanistan is one of countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change.

This year a long-running drought caused by climate change has reduced the harvest by almost half. Hunger and famine threaten unless Afghans receive a great deal of aid, quickly. But there is the looming danger that US financial sanctions will make aid work impossible and combine with hunger to create economic collapse.

This article begins with the effects of climate change in Afghanistan over the last 50 years. Then we talk about the situation now. We argue that instead of making war for twenty years, the Americans could have worked to create climate jobs and prevent the climate crisis. We end with ideas of what people in other countries can do politically to help Afghans facing climate disaster.

In many parts of the world people see climate change as a terrible threat in the future. In Afghanistan that threat has been eating away at the fabric of the economy and society for half a century.

Since 1750 climate change has already warmed the world by an average of 1.1 degrees centigrade. Afghanistan is warming at more than double the global average. Scientists and the UN now urge us to keep the total increase below 1.5 degrees if possible, and absolutely to avoid the dangers of passing 2.0. Afghanistan warmed by 2.0 degrees between 1951 and 2020. By 2050, thirty years from now, temperatures in Afghanistan are likely to rise by another 2 degrees.

This is happening in what is already one of the poorest and most arid countries on earth. On the plains, and in the summers, it is already very hot. Only 5% of the land can produce crops, and most of that only with irrigation. Most people live on 2 dollars a day or less. Now that the crops have failed, the price of food will rise rapidly.

The most important effect of rising temperatures is drought. Andrej Přívara and Magdalena Přívarova write that, “Striking droughts in Afghanstan have become a solid feature of its climate. Several severe droughts have been recorded with a tendency to increase the frequency of the drought cycle, for instance, 1963–64, 1966–67, 1970–72 and 1998–2006. The period 1998–2006 appeared to be the longest and most extreme drought in the climate history of Afghanistan.”[2]

Notice that the drought from 1998 to 2006 lasted eight years. Since then, there has been the drought of 2013-14, and the drought that started in 2018 continues today.

Two accounts of the early days of climate change in Afghanistan can help us understand what that could mean. One account is from the north of the country, and one from the south.  

Nancy writes: In 1971 and 1972 Richard Tapper and I lived with Afghan villagers, the Piruzai, for nearly a year. Hajji Tuman was our host throughout our stay with the Piruzai. This is a picture of Tuman and his daughter, Maygol. They were crazy about each other.

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Can you help with translations of Fight the Fire?

In the first two weeks since The Ecologist and AIDC co-published Jonathan Neale’s book, Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs, 7200 people downloaded it as a free pdf or a free e-book. We think there may well be a similar demand for the book in other languages. So we want to encourage translations.

We also want to encourage the model of publications we have used, with a free pdf and a free e-book for download in order to get the ideas to as many people as possible. There might also be a paperback edition for sale. We do not have any money to pay translators, so this will have be volunteer work. Continue reading

Small climate meetings of 5 to 8 people on Zoom

Hi. I’m Jonathan Neale. My book, Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs, has just been published by The Ecologist in Britain and AIDC in Cape Town. I want to try something new – small zoom meetings around the book where I have a conversation for an hour with 5 to 8 people. Everyone will get a chance to speak, and it will be a real conversation. This will provide something that streamed webinars mostly do not.

Examples could include: A small group of electricians in Britain, a small group of hospital workers in the United States, of political activists in Pakistan, climate activists in New Zealand, union members in a shipyard in Scotland. Or a small group of Fridays for the Future strikers in a school in Norway, students on an environmental course in India, environmental justice activists in Canada, forest activists in Guyana, or a small group of care workers in Ireland. You get the point. Continue reading

Renewables and the Market

Jonathan Neale

Over the last few years, the falls in the price of solar and wind power have been dramatic. Does this mean the the market will now produce enough renewable energy?

Unfortunately, no.

We have been told for two decades that the proportion of renewable energy in total global energy has been continually rising. But in fact, in 2019 wind and solar produced less than 2% of the total energy used globally. Less than 2%.

[This article is an excerpt from Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs. You can download a pdf or an e-book for FREE here, or order a paperback here.]

That proportion of 2% has not been growing. For the last four years, the amount of new wind and solar each year has been flat, and not increasing. That means that total investment has actually been falling. (If solar is cheaper, lower investment can still produce the same amount of solar.)

On the face of it, this makes no sense. Surely, if the price of wind and solar is falling, they should be replacing fossil fuels. And the cheaper they get, the more corporations should be investing. In fact, the opposite is happening. The market is failing. This article explains why, and what we can do about it.[1] Continue reading

Lithium, Batteries and Climate Change

Jonathan Neale writes: I have spent the last year working on a book called Fight the Fire – Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs. Most of it is about both the politics and the engineering of any possible transition that can avert catastrophic climate breakdown. One thing I had to think about long and hard was lithium and car batteries.

[This article was first published by Climate and Capitalism on 11 Feb 2021.]

I often hear people say that we can’t cover the world with electric vehicles, because there simply is not enough lithium for batteries. In any case, they add, lithium production is toxic, and the only supplies are in the Global South. Moreover, so the story goes, there are not enough rare earth metals for wind turbines and all the other hardware we will need for renewable energy.

People often smile after they say those things, which is hard for me to understand, because it means eight billion people will go to hell.

So I went and found out about lithium batteries and the uses of rare earth. What I found out is that the transition will be possible, but neither the politics nor the engineering is simple. This article explains why. I start by describing the situation simply, and then add in some of the complexity. Continue reading

Fight the Fire

Jonathan Neale’s new book Fight the Fire – Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs can be downloaded as a free pdf or a free e-book here. It can be ordered as a paperback for £15 here .

Advance Praise for Fight the Fire

“This is a timely book. At a time when the world is still reeling from the ravages of Covid-19 and the massive economic dislocation that it engendered, now is the perfect time to reinvigorate the campaign for climate jobs, or, as in the case of the Philippines, to launch it. And this book is just what any climate jobs campaigner would need. It provides the big picture, the science and the politics of climate change, as well as the nuts and bolts of how such a campaign would look like. More than that, it is replete with lessons that the author has gained from a life spent fighting in the trenches of various campaigns.” – Josua Mata, Secretary-General, SENTRO union federation, Philippines. Continue reading

Anthropology and Climate Jobs

Nancy Lindisfarne

[Originally published as a letter/comment in Anthropology Today, March 2020.]

The editorial by Thomas Hylland Eriksen (AT Feb 2020, Vol 36, no 1) is a passionate plea for more anthropological engagement in public debates about global warming. His focus is on knowledge – ‘what we can say’ and storytelling – ‘how can we say it?’ His hope is that anthropologists can find ways to intervene more effectively in political debate. I agree and would add that to do so, we need to be willing to take sides, and draw on our anthropological and historical understanding of resistance, social movements and the mechanics of social change (Armbruster & Laerke 2008; Lindisfarne 2010). And in the case of global warming, there is one utterly compelling way to take Eriksen’s plea for action further.

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WTF? The morning after Trump’s victory

wtf-1Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Trump’s win this morning has left many of us in despair. To prepare ourselves for what is to come, here are some things we need to understand about class struggle, racism and climate change.

First, this vote is a victory for the far right and for racism on a global scale. Second, it is also partly a class revolt against the consequences of neoliberalism. Trump’s appeal to class anger through racism is a tragedy and an obscenity. Continue reading