Chapter 7: Paradise
The wall is completely covered by posters. Each one contains a photo of an animal. Dogs, cats, bunnies. On each and every one there is a big headline that spells out the word MISSING. A handful has FOUND handwritten across the picture, but the vast majority remain MISSING.
The wall belongs to the local primary school in the town of Paradise, California. On Nov. 8, 2018 Paradise was almost completely destroyed by a devastating wildfire. The pictures on the school wall represent all the pets that went missing in the fire. This wall became a place where the owners collectively displayed their last hope of finding their pets alive. But, needless to say, most of the animals remain MISSING.
The fire in Paradise destroyed almost 19,000 buildings. 85 people lost their lives, if you exclude other causes of death after the fire. Before the fire 27, 000 people lived in Paradise. Today that number is down to around 2000. The town became a symbol of how climate breakdown is affecting us in the global north already today.
California has always had a natural fire season, just like Australia, Brazil and many other places. But over recent years that season has grown considerably longer and the fires have become more frequent and devastating. Higher temperatures, less rainfall and stronger winds are some of the changing factors that together make up for a deadly combination when it comes to wildfires.
Walking around in Paradise is almost like being in a ghost town. I’m here with the BBC to talk to one of the survivors of the 2018 fire. He guides us around the area that used to be his neighborhood. He points at empty spaces and tells us what used to be there. Houses and gardens in the lush, green outskirts of town.
“That was a car,” he says and points to a lump of metal, lying on a burnt out driveway. The temperature in the fire sometimes got so high that cars started to melt. Suddenly he stops.
“This used to be my house.” He looks at an open field as if there still was a house standing there. It’s almost as if he’s hallucinating, since all that is left is a mailbox and the remains of power lines and sewage pipes, sticking out of the red soil.
The fact that the climate crisis is already affecting people today is hardly something new. Even though it would sometimes seem like it, judging by the ongoing discourse.
We often hear that we need to act for the sake of our children. That the future living conditions will get significantly worsened unless we act now. And that is of course true. But it seems like we keep forgetting that large numbers of people around the world are dying already today. And when I say that I’m not primarily talking about in places like California.
The ones who are and will be hit the hardest are the same as in most other crises. The poorest and the most vulnerable. Those who are already suffering from other injustices. Namely, people in developing countries, and above all women and children. Since they are the ones with the least resources, living in the most vulnerable parts of the global society.
The UN predicts that by the year 2050 there will be up to 1 billion climate refugees in the world. I wonder, what will it take for us to start facing these issues and begin to ask the uncomfortable questions?
In Sweden we live our lives as if we had 4.2 planet earths. Our annual carbon footprint is approximately 11 tonnes of CO2 per person, if we include consumption. That can be compared to India’s 1.7 tonnes per capita. Or Kenyas 0.3 tonnes.
On average the CO2 emissions from one single Swede annually is the equivalent of 110 people from Mali in West Africa. So if there is any truth to the claim – popular in Western societies – that quote ”there are too many people in the world” then wouldn’t that only refer to ourselves, living extremely high carbon lifestyles in the global north?
And not the vast majority of the global population who are already living within the planetary boundaries.
But my experience from all such arguments is that they are only used to seek further excuses to go on living the unsustainable life that we consider to be our right.
The climate and sustainability crisis is not a fair crisis. The ones who’ll be hit hardest from its consequences are often the ones who have done the least to cause the problem in the first place.
The global aspect of equity and climate justice make up the very heart of the Paris Agreement. Developed countries have signed up to lead the way.
And this is so that people in developing countries can have a chance to raise their living standards and to build some of the infrastructure that we in the industrialized world already have. Such as roads, hospitals, schools, electricity, sewage systems and clean drinking water.
After our visit to Paradise we get back in the car and head towards the coast. We have been offered a stay for the night in a small house in a vineyard. But suddenly the phone rings and we find out that the entire vineyard has burnt to the ground in the wildfires currently raging through the California wine districts.
We drive on towards San Francisco. As the evening falls the night sky turns red and you can feel the smoke from the fires in your nose.
This is the transcript of Chapter 7 of the Sverige Radio program aired on June 20, 2020 with the title Greta Thunberg: Humanity has not yet failed.
The full transcript was published by Time magazine on July 10, 2020. Here it is offered in chapters to make it easier to read.