How climate change looks — and feels — in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
KISANGANI – The searing heat of the last few months in this northern city of the Democratic Republic of Congo is taking its toll. Newborns, the elderly and albinos are the first victims, while others will feel the effects of the crop damage expected from one of the worst heat waves in memory.
Over the past three months, average temperatures in Kisangani have risen from 25°C to 38°C. “This is a first. The city has never known a level over 32°C,” says one veteran meteorologist.
Still, last year there was also a rise in temperatures, and some experts are blaming global warming. Climate expert Emmanuel Kasongo from Kisangani University points the finger at deforestation, which he says “diminishes the frequency of rainfall, modifies the agricultural calendar and produces greater heat.” He exhorts the woodland farmers as well as the population to plant trees.
Beyond the longterm impact, locals are feeling the heat right now. Babies are the first victims. One naked infant of three months is lying face down on a sofa, crying. Her mother tries to take her in her arms to calm her down but it’s useless. “She’s having trouble sleeping because of this red patch,” says the woman. “I’ve been using this ointment the doctor prescribed but it doesn’t work.”
These last three months, the local pediatric center of Alabul has taken in three times as many dehydrated babies as it did during the same period in 2012. Head nurse Alphie Kahambu blames it on the rising temperatures: “Obviously, when it’s 32°C the babies feel 38°C. It results in spots and severe itching sensations. As the infants don’t know how to scratch, they cry a lot, which leads to dehydration.”
Albinos without sunblock
The significant populaiton of albinos are the most affected, since the sun rays cause lesions on their skin. According to the figures provided by the Association for the Protection of Albinos (APRODEPA), “80% of the albino population suffers from minor wounds on their skin and mouth because of the high temperatures,” explains association president Severin Ndumba. “The situation is getting worse since we have no sunscreen to protect us at this time of year.”
The pharmacists refuse to order those products since they don’t sell well on the local market. “No one buys sunscreen. I threw away a whole case of a hundred last year,” says one pharmacist. Another complains that the products are expensive “and most albinos, or their parents, are poor.”
The sheet metal roofs used in local building turn the houses into virtual ovens and many families choose to sleep outside with the doors and windows wide open. One family was robbed recently, but the mother says they have no choice. “It’s too hot inside. My kids caught a heat rash on their backs because of it.”
The plants are also taking a hit. “Every crop is affected by the excessive heat and the harvests have been dropping the last two years,” explains Quadratus Muganza, president of the peasant union for development (UPDKIS). “We used to harvest between 800 and 1000 kilograms of white rice per hectare in 2010, but it plummeted to 400 or 600 in 2011 and 2012.”
Tomatoes are withering under the sun. “We are losing serious money!” says a tomato farmer in front of his field by the river Tshopo. She’s already lost ten patches of large tomatoes since March.
IF you haven’t seen them on the television or come across their interviews on the radio or in newspapers and magazines, then you’ve almost certainly seen their work as your eyes scan the climate change section in your local book store or library.
They are the authors of books claiming to reveal the “real truth” about global warming and climate change – that it’s either all a hoax, that it’s overblown bad science from green ideologues or an elaborate illusion and wrongheaded nonsense.
You might have been intrigued by titles like “An Appeal To Reason: A Cool Look At Global Warming“, “The Climate Caper” or the subtle sledgehammer that was “Global Warming and Other Bollocks”.
But new research into the origins and authors of more than 100 of these climate science denial books finds almost all of them – about four out of five – are largely the products of conservative-leaning think tanks.
The research finds the books avoid traditional academic peer-review and are often written by non-experts. Dr Riley Dunlap, of Oklahoma State University, and Peter Jacques, of the University of Central Florida, have published their research – Climate Change Denial Books and Conservative Think Tanks: Exploring the Connection – in the journal American Behavioural Scientist.
Sponsoring books “espousing climate change denial” has been a key tool for conservative think tanks to get the climate science denial message out to corporations, politicians and media leaders.
They are clearly a vital weapon in the conservative movement’s war on climate science, and one of the key means by which it diffuses climate change denial throughout American society and into other nations.
Getting a book published helps authors to be seen as ‘climate experts’ even if they don’t have the relevant academic expertise. They get interviewed and quoted by mainstream media and name-dropped by conservative politicians and corporate bosses. “Books confer a sense of legitimacy on their authors and provide them an effective tool for combating findings of climate scientists,” the researchers say.
The study covers the publication of 108 books between 1982 and 2010. To qualify as a denial book, the authors had to either reject the position that global warming was happening, that it was caused by humans or that the impacts on society and the environment would be negative. When the researchers looked at the qualifications of the 106 authors, co-authors or editors of the books, they found less than 40 per cent had anything close to a relevant academic degree. None of the books were published by a university-affiliated publishing house and almost all were unlikely to have gone through any kind of academic peer-review.
The general lack of peer-review allows authors or editors of denial books to make inaccurate assertions that misrepresent the current state of climate science. Like the vast range of other non-peer-reviewed material produced by the denial community, book authors can make whatever claims they wish, no matter how scientifically unfounded.
The very first climate denial book, according to the study, was Sherwood Idso’s Carbon Dioxide:Friend or Foe published in 1982, but there were no more denial books until 1989, at which point three or four were produced each year.
But in 2007, the number spiked to 13. In 2008, there were 14; 2009 got 21 and 2010 had 15. The authors put the sudden surge of denialism on the bookshelves down to Al Gore‘s 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fourth major report which laid the blame for global warming primarily with human causes.
Most of the books covered have US origins, but the study also shows how they have been used to promote climate science denial in other nations, in particular the UK, Canada and Australia.
While not covered in the research, many of the conservative think tanks involved have accepted cash from fossil fuel interests over the years, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, The Cato Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, and The Heartland Institute. Others, such as the Institute of Public Affairs in Australia or the Global Warming Policy Foundation in the UK, have consistently refused to reveal their donors.
Dr Dunlap told DeSmogBlog that it was hard to quantify accurately the impact the books had had on policy debates and the public perception of climate change science, but he said:
Keep in mind that they are just a small part of the wealth of material that conservative think tanks put out or help produce on climate change denial – there are reports, op-eds and TV interviews. But I do think that the better selling ones, almost always connected to a conservative think tanks, get a good deal of visibility. They are commonplace in major bookstores, where they are viewed if not bought by a huge number of people browsing the shelves. I think they clearly reinforce the message that climate change is not a threat, and maybe even a hoax, that is constantly put out by the conservative think tanks. Books tend to convey some degree of (false) credibility on their authors, allowing them to be viewed as “experts” despite their lack of scientific expertise. In the case of the successful books, I think this results in at least some interviews on TV and radio, and thus their messages are greatly amplified.
So what should readers do if they want to inform themselves on climate change? Dr Dunlap has some advice:
At a minimum, readers should be cautious if there is any indication that the authors or editors are affiliated with a conservative think tank and/or if the book is published by one. More generally, I strongly recommend that people consult Google Scholar to see if an author has credibility. If a book author is making contributions to the scholarly literature, he or she is going to have publications in peer-reviewed journals and be cited by others. I urge readers to be leery of anyone who is not publishing in scholarly journals and especially those who are not cited in such literature. Google Scholar, unlike the Science Citation Index, is freely available to everyone with access to Google, and lay people can learn a great deal more by consulting it that by simply browsing the web.