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Didn't tell you so

20 Sep 2023 | News Roundup

The weather disaster du jour is floods in Libya that have caused massive loss of life and humanitarian disaster. Never mind the deadly hurricanes that fizzled out annoyingly, Lee apparently being a particular disappointment. It’s a man-made disaster for sure when aging dams in a nation racked by over a decade of war, banditry and unrest give way. And we know the names of the men. The calamity struck in a city built by Mussolini a century ago, below a dam built under Gaddafi 50 years ago that last had a maintenance test 20 years ago. But the pundits nonetheless blame climate change. What else could it be? Never mind that the same storm hit Europe with only minor damage. And never mind that nobody predicted that Libya would suffer catastrophic flooding. With climate science, pouncing on a tragedy after the fact is fine and decent.

The Times of London did allow that:

“‘The high death toll in Derna is down to a lack of attention to these dams, which were last given a maintenance check in 2002 — so people are going to start demanding to know who was in charge here,’ Mohamed Eljarh, a managing partner at Libya Desk Consulting, said.”

Furthermore “In a report released last year by Libya’s Sebha University, experts claimed the 1970s-built dams had ‘high potential for flood risk’ and that ‘periodic maintenance’ was essential.”

The Times couldn’t keep going through the motions, declaring instead that:

“The intensity of the storm that swept through Libya has been blamed on climate change, but the claims about the dam suggest human error played a role in the death toll.”

Especially since the Times also paraphrases Eljarh’s pointed view that:

“A decade of conflict in Libya, in which General Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman, laid siege to Derna before conquering it in 2019 to oust Islamic militants, has led to vital infrastructure being ignored”.

And another expert they interviewed said if the authorities had simply opened the dams a bit before the storm they might have held. You don’t say.

Well, some people don’t. The New York Times “The Morning” instead ranted that:

“Most Libyans live in coastal areas at risk of flooding as sea levels rise. Towns along dry riverbeds can also flood rapidly when heavy rain falls and the parched earth struggles to absorb it.”

Yeees. And while North Africa was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire back when it was, um, warmer, it’s been a desert full of dry riverbeds and parched Earth for about 1,600 years. Your point being?

Sorry we asked. Because it’s apparently this one:

“‘This is going to happen more and more as the climate warms,’ said Matthew Brubacher, an expert on Libyan climate change. ‘Everything is falling apart.’”

So Muammar Gaddafi ruled the place for 42 horrendous years, most of them as “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution”, then came a dozen years of horrendous chaos and war, and the subsequent infrastructure failure is proof that CO2 is going to hammer Libya sometime fairly soon. Riiight.

“The Morning” authors David Leonhardt and Lauren Jackson did their best to sell us a tale of climate change. After conceding that “the worst of the damage was not a result of those floods” but of “the subsequent bursting of two dams near the coastal city of Derna” it predictably scolded that:

“Scientists say that climate change may have increased the severity of the storm that caused the flooding, a Mediterranean cyclone named Daniel. Though climate change is likely making Mediterranean cyclones less common, it is intensifying those that do form. Making matters worse, Libyans are especially vulnerable. ‘Libya is ill-prepared to handle the effects of climate change and extreme weather,’ said Malak Altaeb, an environmental expert.”

What has climate change to do with it? If Libya is ill-prepared to handle extreme weather, and we do not dispute the claim, then only if climate change is already causing it does this calamity relate to it at all. And if the point is that while this particular incident was not due to climate change, some bad thing might happen later that was, well, we feel that we’re being had.

At the very least, we’d like to ask whether there’s been a trend toward more flooding in Libya over the last couple of decades. Because if not, to swoop on one disaster seems ghoulish. And here come the vultures.

Gadfly senator Bernie Sanders screeched:

“Flooding in Libya has killed more than 5,300 people and left more than 30,000 homeless. Let’s be clear: We know climate change is making these kinds of disasters worse and more frequent. The international community must come together now to address this existential threat.”

Time magazine cawed:

“The Mediterranean storm that dumped torrential rain on the Libyan coast, setting off flooding that’s believed to have killed thousands of people, is the latest extreme weather event to carry some of the hallmarks of climate change, scientists say.”

Another Times story said:

“The flooding recalled the effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the storm struck Louisiana and became a calamity after levees in New Orleans ruptured, inundating vast parts of the city. It also underscored how climate change can combine with political conflicts and economic failure to magnify the scale of disasters.”

Not really, since the same storm hit Europe and caused under 20 deaths. Still, NBC found someone from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to say “The humanitarian needs are huge and much more beyond the abilities of the Libyan Red Crescent and even beyond the abilities of the government,” then added:

“The International Rescue Committee underscored that need, adding that action against climate change is also necessary. ‘Globally, climate change has made these extreme weather events more frequent and intense, making it even harder for communities to cope and rebuild, especially in conflict-affected regions,’ [Ciarán Donnelly, the International Rescue Committee’s senior vice president for crisis response, recovery and development] said.”

Again we ask: has flooding become more common in Libya? Because if not, you’re exploiting a tragedy. Especially since the vast majority of casualties appear to have been caused by a dam holding back the water then releasing it catastrophically. If “global” warming were the culprit, surely it would have affected more of Libya. Maybe even its neighbours.

NBC swept it all together, declaring that:

“Broken roads, failed communications networks, the legacy of years of civil conflict and the effects of climate change have all contributed to make Libya one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, said Elie Abouaoun, country director for Libya with the International Rescue Committee.”

And apparently they’re having trouble figuring out which of these factors predominated.

Not Heatmap Daily, which proclaimed “How War Left Libyans Vulnerable to Deadly Floods/ This is a different kind of compound climate disaster.” Yeah. The kind that hits one city because a dam burst, and basically leaves everyone else alone.

Likewise, in true person-with-hammer fashion, the New York Times “Senior International Editor, Opinion” pontificated that:

“The unprecedented catastrophe quickly stoked fears that other dams across Libya are at risk of bursting, too, and made brutally clear the price that so many communities across the world will pay as aging infrastructure fails to withstand the curveballs climate change is throwing.”

Like these new-fangled “storm” things? Or is it that Libya has rotten infrastructure and so otherwise manageable, familiar events prove deadly there?

P.S. The New York Sun, in cataloguing the disastrous state of infrastructure in Libya and its obvious causes, called it the “Worst Flooding in Its Modern History”. Nobody seemed to have much to say about past flooding. But even the Sun actually meant “the environmental disaster that caused the most fatalities in the country’s modern history” not the one with the most destructive force, most water or anything of that sort.

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