climate crisis Juan Cole Middle East

Libya’s Climate Disaster Shows We Can’t Afford Erratic Leaders Like Trump and Haftar Anymore

Russian and Libyan rescue teams are searching for survivors, September 2023, video frame by Emercom of Russia. МЧС РФ, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Juan Cole / Informed Comment

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – For the past two weeks the Mediterranean has been reeling from the massive devastation wrought regionally by Hurricane Daniel, the “Medicane” that has visited more damage on this region than any storm in recorded history. In the east thirteen days ago, Daniel struck Greece, flooding the fertile valleys where a quarter of the country’s food was being grown and turning this agricultural heartland into a huge lake, devastating crops and killing 200,000 animals. As is becoming increasingly common, Daniel hovered over Greece, flooding it for a substantial period of time rather than moving along rapidly.

Greece had been hit by a cyclone, Ianos, three years ago, which was also very destructive but did only about a tenth of the damage that Daniel did this year. Cyclones are fed by warm seas, and the warmer they are the more intense they become. Warm seas release water vapor in the air above them, making cyclones more prone to dump walls of water when the make landfall and increasing the chance of major flooding. The seas have been heated up to a degree unprecedented in the modern period by the billions of tons of carbon dioxide human beings emit into the atmosphere annually.

Helena Smith writes in the Guardian that the crop crisis in Greece has shaken the public’s confidence in the center-right government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis for not having taken more flood control measures, which Storm Ianos had shown the need for fully three years previously.

She writes, “On Thursday the polling company Metron Analysis, releasing its first survey of public opinion after the floods, noted that 61% of respondents had a negative opinion of the government’s work, versus 57% in May. For the first time since Mitsotakis, who won a second four-year term in June, assumed power, analysts have begun to speak of the nation resembling a ‘failed state’.”

Likewise, in eastern Libya the warlord Haftar has ruled with more regard for his own position than for the welfare of the people of Libya. He has spent enormous sums on mercenaries, including on the dangerous Wagner fighters from Russia. But Haftar could not be bothered to reinforce the two rickety dams that regulated water flow in the Derna region, and people are blaming him in part for the disaster that washed away a fourth of the city, according to Samer al-Atrush at the Financial Times.

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Libyans, in shock at the way Storm Daniel’s deluges caused two dams to collapse and to release mountains of water that washed away some 20,000 people in the city of Derna and neighboring areas, are calling for the resignation of Haftar and his cronies.

What Storm Daniel and its dire impact on Greece and Libya demonstrate is that the climate crisis that contributed to making Daniel such a powerful doomsday machine does not suffer fools gladly. Many in Libya’s east saw Haftar, the strong man backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, as a flawed warlord who nevertheless provided needed security and kept out the fundamentalist forces based in Tripoli.

Now they are having buyer’s remorse, and many are angry at the warlord for not doing a better job of upkeep.

In the Holocene era, with its relatively cold and relatively stableFo climate, maybe some imperfect leaders could get lucky and spend out their years in office without incident.

Those days are over. In order to confront the challenges of climate change we need leaders who recognize that it is a real phenonomenon and that societies need to be reorganized to remain resilient and to stave off its worst effects.

For Americans, the lesson is that we cannot afford four more years of the buffoon Trump, and never had been able to afford his first four years in office. He called climate change a hoax and actively attempted to promote coal, the dirtiest of the fossil feuls. He built no new infrastructure intended to make the US more resilient in the face of challenges from climate change. The Republican Party’s response to these challenges has been to deny them and to deny their cause. The Republican-dominated legisture in North Carolina tried to outlaw even mentions by state officials of the state’s eroding shore line lest property values fall and insurance rates rise. But ostrich-like policies cannot be mandated by legislation. State Farm has ceased accepting new insurance applications in Florida and California because these states are on the front lines of climate change.

As bad as negative climate effects will be, they will be much, much worse if we don’t cease emitting carbon dioxide and methane in such great amounts. And as for the global heating already baked in, it has immediate implications for how we build new infrastructure and how we begin making our residents, towns and cities more resilient.

People like Trump and Haftar are not up to the job, clearly. But they aren’t the ones who will suffer most; it will be their constituents, led like lambs to the slaughter.

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Juan Cole

Juan Cole, a TomDispatch regular, is the Richard P. Mitchell collegiate professor of history at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: A New Translation From the Persian and Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires. His latest book is Peace Movements in Islam. His award-winning blog is Informed Comment. He is also a non-resident Fellow of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Doha and of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

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