Can we have a break from “record-breaking”? For a long time, those words were (for me, anyway) associated with all sorts of curiosities, mainly due to the hours spent leafing through the Guinness Book of Records when I was younger, and looking at photos of amazing deep-sea divers or the longest-ever fingernails. These days, records are being broken every other week – and not in a good or exciting way.
In November, two hurricanes hit Nicaragua, then moved through Central America with devastating consequences. They were a week apart; and when the second one made landfall, it blew the roof off a makeshift hospital for victims of the first hurricane – in addition to forcing thousands of people to flee their homes. Both Category 4 storms broke records for November hurricanes, though you could be forgiven for not knowing about them, or for missing the footage of washed-away bridges and roads, ripped-apart houses, or the airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, submerged in water. If they were reported, they didn't linger long in the top news slots.
The danger, as these events become more frequent, is that we also start to normalise them – and become immune to images of stark environmental wake-up calls
Extreme weather events are becoming increasingly common – and increasingly less headline-grabbing. This year the wildfires in California were the largest in its history, while it’s been an unusually busy hurricane season in the Atlantic. And because so many storms grew strong enough to be named, meteorologists had to turn to the Greek alphabet after using up all the names created by the World Meteorological Organisation. The danger, as these events become more frequent, is that we also start to normalise them – and become immune to images of stark environmental wake-up calls.
In countries such as Guatemala, for example, hurricanes or other weather events represent a “threat multiplier” because of already high levels of poverty and chronic child malnourishment. Likewise in Zimbabwe, where drought seasons are becoming more prolonged and unpredictable, with water shortages reaching critical levels.
All of which is to say, if you're thinking of having a "green" Christmas, why not consider giving to communities and families already living with the impact of environmental decay? Trócaire, Concern, Bóthar, Christian Aid, among many others are helping those in desperate situations in this pandemic year. As a rich nation, we have an obligation to help those more at risk to climate change, particularly when you consider that we are responsible for much more of the damage as far bigger consumers and emitters.