We need to put it clearly: 2022 was an unyielding disaster. The effects of what happened this year will echo for decades to centuries, but far from there being any lessons learned from it, what the managers of global capitalism are doing is trying to make next year even worse.
The most worrying statistic of the year, the one that assures us that what happened in 2022 is not fleeting, is the fact that the record for global-scale greenhouse gas emissions has been broken again. With a 1% increase over 2021, the decrease in emissions that occurred during the pandemic has already been surpassed. The year's increase was led by the burning of more fossil fuels, particularly in the United States and India.
The volume of extreme events this year, both meteorological and social, economic, and political, means that most of them have simply been wiped from our collective mind and consciousness, because we effectively have no capacity to process what is happening to us, and the institutions that run global capitalism even less so. The cost of living crisis, intrinsically linked with the gas on which so much of the European economy depends, looks like the crisis that will precipitate a new global recession. That is the decision of governments and central banks. These institutions have decided that prices and inflation will be reduced by rising interest rates, that is, by widespread defaults on loans, evictions, bankruptcies, unemployment and austerity.
The global average temperature for the year was 1.15°C above the pre-industrial era, which will make this year the 5th or 6th warmest year ever recorded. This comes in the third year in a row that we have been under the "La Niña" phenomenon, which generally lowers the temperature. Next year there will be no La Niña, so an even greater increase in temperature is expected.
This was a year of great losses in glaciers around the world. All melting records in the European Alps were broken, with a decrease of between 3 and 4 meters in ice thickness. In the Swiss Alps, the ice volume was reduced by 6.2%. In Zermatt, a Swiss town in the shadow of the Matterhorn, the temperature reached 33ºC at 1620 m altitude. For the first time, there was widespread ice loss on the summits in July, ensuring no accumulation of new ice. The water cycle in the Himalayas is also breaking down, with permafrost in the Asian range melting ever faster, leading to glacier collapse, landslides and downstream flooding.
The climate justice movement globally has taken to the streets in large numbers and in major actions, from the mobilization of scientists in the Scientist Rebellion, to the Letzte Generation, to the movement to abolish debt to fund climate action, Debt for Climate, to Just Stop Oil in the UK and the End Fossil Occupy school occupations in Europe and the US. Visible climate degradation is leading to the radicalization of the movement and linkages with other causes, notably that of gas-related increases in the cost of living. From the most outrageous actions like throwing soup on picture frames to sabotaging of cement factories and slaughterhouses, the movement has blocked roads and refineries, ports and airports, occupied schools and marched in streets all over the world. This rise in activity has led to an escalation of repression by governments and judicial systems around the world, with the arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of activists, particularly in the UK, Germany and Australia. The system defends itself and, at this moment, defends climate collapse.
The "good news" of the year have so far caused no hindrance to the downward spiral we are in. The election of Lula da Silva, stopping Bolsonaro, does not represent a reversal in the extractivist policy that he has followed in the past. Joe Biden's "Inflation Reduction Act" falls far short of a Green New Deal useful in halting climate collapse, and this year emissions in the United States have even increased by 1.5%. The excitement over a successful nuclear fusion experiment, which may be useful at scale decades from now, is currently of no use except to distract from the need for a massive cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. That leaves the Kunming-Montreal biodiversity agreement which, as usual, is doubtful to be implemented effectively.
It is very important to review some of what has happened to us this year, so that the chronology helps our memory and places us in the moment.
January to June: stirring the fire
A coalition of climate, Indigenous and racial justice groups gathered at Columbus Circle to kick off Climate Week with the Climate Justice Through Racial Justice march.
(Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)
January and February saw record temperatures in South America, with torrential rains in Petrópolis, Brazil, creating floods and landslides that killed more than 230 people (there was another tragedy in the city in March). Three storms in a row hit Madagascar (Cyclone Emnati, Cyclone Batserai and Tropical Storm Dumako), devastating the country. In March, Cyclone Gombe hit Mozambique in Nampula, killing nearly fifty people. In April, Tropical Storm Megi would lead to landslides in the Philippines, killing over 200 people
In late February, Russia invaded Ukraine in a military action that caused chaos in Europe, exacerbated the energy crisis that had already begun with speculation by oil and gas companies, and increased tensions over food trade. The food tension is happening particularly in cereals (wheat, corn, barley), as Russia and Ukraine are among the world's leading producers and exporters.
In March and April, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were already suffering under severe heat waves, while in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia drought created conditions for a food crisis that would affect more than 20 million people (it is the fourth consecutive year that rainfall has been below the needs for agricultural production in East Africa). In May, several areas of Bangladesh began to flood, directly affecting millions of people, which lasted until June. Melting glaciers, rising river flows, and heavy rain precipitated the situation.
In March, protests began in Sri Lanka, a combination of rampant inflation, food and energy shortages. Falling agricultural production took the country from being an exporter to an importer of rice within a year. There was an escalation in demonstrations against the Rajapaksa family and the state stepped up repression against the millions of protesters.
In April, floods in South Africa, particularly in the Kwazulu-Natal area, forced all industrial activity to stop, the port of Durban to close, and killed more than 450 people. In June, the Trump packed’ United States Supreme Court overturned a 50 year old ruling that protected the right to abortion in the country. Since then, republican led states have all but banned abortion in the USA, a massive step backwards for women's rights of global impact.
July to September: A boiling world
A participant holding a sign at the climate march. A coalition of climate, Indigenous and racial justice groups gathered at Columbus Circle to kick off Climate Week with the Climate Justice Through Racial Justice march.
(Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A deluge fell over Pakistan and India in July and August. The floods in Pakistan killed at least 1700 people, inundated a third of the country, and caused the displacement of 33 million people, combining the effect of rainfall and the melting of thousands of glaciers in the highlands of the country. The scale of this event is difficult to comprehend, as there is a geological and social change right now in full operation that will last decades, if not centuries, to stabilize. Some parts of the country have been under water for months.
In China, meanwhile, the longest and largest heat wave ever recorded in the country unfolded, with the Yangtze and Wuhan rivers without water in several stretches. Industrial production was paralyzed in several cities for extended periods as power had to be cut off or directed to cooling homes and hospitals. Street circulation became restricted at various times for public health reasons, particularly for the most vulnerable people. In other parts of the country, in Guangdong and Sichuan, flash floods killed more than 200 people.
Europe baked under record temperatures, with heat wave after heat wave. In the old continent, which is experiencing the largest temperature increases, the longest drought in 500 years has occurred. While in the UK the temperature reached the extreme 40ºC, large stretches of the Rhine, Danube, Tagus, Ebro or Thames rivers were dry and all navigation was made impossible. In the midst of this scenario, forest fires once again swept through the Mediterranean. Many landscapes submerged decades or centuries ago came into view, including villages submerged by dams and the "hunger stones" in the Czech Republic and Germany. Electricity production from dams and nuclear power has dropped dramatically, due to water shortages, which combined with gas restrictions has made Europe almost exclusively dependent on solar and wind power, which it has not yet built in quantities even close to what is needed for energy security. Some industry in central Europe is suspended or has reduced production because of energy shortages. European corn production will have fallen by 16%, soybeans by 15%, and sunflower by 12%, further increasing the tension over food prices. The long multi-year drought in Brazil with agricultural impacts adds to the tension.
In mid-July there was a brief agreement between Russia and Ukraine to open the Black Sea ports of Odessa, Pivdenny and Chornomorsk and let some grain from the millennia-old Black Rails head to other countries. Back and forth, closures and bombings of ports and ships in the following months fueled speculation and uncertainty in food supplies.
Near this time, thousands of protesters stormed the presidential palace in Colombo in Sri Lanka, toppling the ruling family and creating powerful images of contrast between popular misery and the luxurious mansion of political power.
The temperature continues to rise in the oceans, which are more energetic, continuing to cause more and more storms that are also increasingly intense. This year, 55% of the oceans have experienced at least one maritime heat wave. In the summer in the Mediterranean, the water was as much as 5°C above the average of the last thirty years. With these temperatures, many species and sea vegetation collapsed
September to December: speculation, revolt, repression and the greatest show in the world
Environmental activists rally during the UK Student Climate Network's Global Climate Strike protest action in central London, on September 20, 2019. - Millions of people are taking to the streets across the world in what could be the largest climate protest in history.
(Photo: Ben STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
In September, the sabotage of the Nordstream 1 and 2 gas pipelines took from the hands of Vladimir Putin directly into the hands of Western and Persian Gulf gas companies control under the power of speculation and unilateral determination of energy prices. The historic profits made by these companies have turned into unparalleled prices in Europe, reverberating around the world. Floods in Nigeria have accentuated this pressure, adding power to the Persian Gulf countries. In Europe, protests against the rise in cost of living began, and two British Prime-Ministers were sacked in a little over a month.
The Atlantic hurricane season leaves Fiona, Julia and Ian as major records. Hurricane Fiona was notable for lasting a long time, forming near the west coast of Africa, heading towards the Caribbean and up into eastern Canada, where it dissipated. It killed several dozen people in Puerto Rico and was the strongest hurricane ever to reach Canada. Hurricane Ian left 11 million people in Cuba without electricity before moving on to Florida, where more than 2.4 million people were without electricity and at least 140 died (the biggest death toll for a hurricane in the US since Katrina). Hurricane Julia killed more than 90 people devastating Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. It is one of the most southerly-reaching Atlantic hurricanes ever. While this was happening, in the Pacific Typhoon Merbok was reaching Alaska, fed by the very hot waters for that time of year. It produced 15m waves in the Bering Strait, flooding several coastal communities, particularly indigenous people, in the middle of the harvest season.
In October, Elon Musk, then the richest man in the world, bought the social network Twitter, triggering a resurgence of climate denialism that has far outpaced Trumpism. The obsession with the myth of the self-made man, focused on Musk, has proven very useful to the cultural revival of the far right, offsetting the defeats of Bolsonaro and Trump. Climate denialism, however, continues to clash with thermometers. In 2022 the hottest October ever recorded in Europe occurred, the Mississippi River dried up in several stretches of its course, preventing river navigation in the middle of autumn, and at the end of the month tropical storm Nalgae killed more than 100 people, again in the Philippines.
In November the umpteenth useless climate summit, COP27, was held, this time organized by and for the oil industry, in the tourist resort of Sharm-El-Sheik, under the bloodthirsty dictatorship of General Sisi in Egypt. The siren songs of institutionalism appeal to fewer and fewer unwary people, and the climate justice movement - largely out of physical impossibility - walked away from this institutional process that was, on its own terms, a success (since halting the climate crisis has long since ceased to be the goal of this trade summit). It was also this month that what is probably one of the greatest washouts in history began. Qatar, an Islamic state under a medieval regime organised the World Cup. The stadiums were erected under the corpses of thousands of slaves paid with the gas money that is cooking the planet. The political, economic and sporting elites have united to render allegiance to the emirate, with useless little gestures that do not erase the shame and the amnesty to barbarism that the whole event comprised. The economic and political dividends reaped by Qatar are the greatest evidence of the collapse of any kind of democratic shame that still remained in the elites that run European capitalism. The arrest of a vice-president of the European Parliament, accused of bribery like others, including the secretary-general of the ITUC (trade union confederation) was the corollary of the successful Qatari strategy, which uses European gas dependence as a safe-conduct for all eventualities. And Europe's plan is still more gas.
After the death of Mahsa Amini in September at the hands of the Islamic morality police in Iran, protests have rocked the regime for months, and remain simmering. The uprising by Iranian women has been an example of courage around the world in the face of a violent and ultra-conservative regime. On the other hand, in China the massive protests, unparalleled in recent decades, against Covid's restrictive measures, seem to have made the inflexible authoritarianism of the country's state capitalism give way. The measures were relaxed closing the year. Everything that seemed solid and unchanging is dissolving into thin air.
A large area of South America, including parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay suffered two consecutive heat waves between late November and early December. This month, large forest fires devastated eucalyptus groves in Chile.
In Portugal, heavy rains ravaged various parts of the country, particularly Lisbon. Two episodes of heavy rainfall caused floods as records were broken for precipitation in 24 hours, which combined with the chronic poor construction and waterproofing of the city, caused enormous damage to the lives of thousands of people. In the United States, the worst cold snap in fifty years occurred, with several states simultaneously experiencing temperatures below -30ºC (-41ºC in Wyoming, -45ºC in Montana) and abrupt drops in temperature, dropping as low as 26ºC in less than two hours (from 8ºC to -18ºC in Colorado). Dozens of people died - several of them trapped inside their cars - and the electrical infrastructure failed in several places, with millions of people trapped in the dark and cold while it snowed heavily. More than 150 million people are in the territories affected by this cyclone-bomb, an icy storm with winds of more than 120km/h and temperatures that kill in minutes.
Hundreds of young climate activists march along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House to demand that U.S. President Joe Biden work to make the Green New Deal into law on June 28, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
In climate terms, 2022 was an avalanche of phenomena of historical scale. Society is unable to process this and the media doesn’t interpret and express what is happening, and doesn't critically assess it, in particular by omitting the causes of what is happening. We are already living in Planet B.
These devastating facts should not be interpreted as demotivating. Quite the opposite. We don't have time for that. We are living absolutely extraordinary times. Nothing will stay the same, no matter how much individuals, classes or entire societies wish it. Knowing reality is the first step to act, but we need to act, harder than ever, faster than ever. Capitalist institutions have only one plan, which they repeat every day: accept collapse. The strength of the youth that mobilize shows us the way, but the youth cannot walk alone. In a society where meanness and cowardice are promoted, where we are only told that we have to get by or look for opportunities to get rich, we need to regain our courage, because the narratives of the past are useless for the extraordinary times in which we live. We need to stop the road to collapse. We need to be brave, courageous, bold like many other societies and generations had to.
Yes, we can change. Yes, we are responsible for where we live. Yes, we have courage. Yes, we are millions of people who will not accept to stand by and watch while the future is thrown down a cliff. Yes, we will fight to win.
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams and was authored by Joao Camargo.