‘The iconic monarch butterfly is now officially an endangered species close to extinction due to climate change and habitat loss’
‘The iconic monarch butterfly is now officially an endangered species close to extinction due to climate change and habitat loss’ Photo: KENNETH DWAIN HARRELSON/WIKIPEDIA

Global warming here and now

Events over the past two weeks have surely scuppered any Trump-like delusions that climate change is not happening or not threatening all forms of life on planet Earth.

For example, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that the iconic monarch butterfly is now officially an endangered species close to extinction due to climate change and habitat loss.

Best known for its incredible migrations across thousands of miles between Canada and Mexico, its population in Western America is estimated to have plunged by 99.9% between the 1980s and 2021. The monarch butterfly is still to be found in parts of south-western Europe, including the Algarve, Madeira and the Azores, but maybe for not much longer.

The IUCN’s ‘red list’ now totals 41,415 endangered animal and plant species, up 16,118 from last year. A total of 16,306 species are considered to be on the very edge of extinction. Unless we humans get our act together on climate change, we too could soon be on the red list.

The extraordinary heatwaves in Europe and North America have wakened people up to the likelihood of a global calamity unless vital action is taken by the leaders of major powers without further delay.

The latest extreme heat causing wildfires across Portugal, Spain, Greece, France and Italy has been a reminder to Europeans of their ever-worsening vulnerability to climate change. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 1,700 people have died because of the heat in mainland Portugal and Spain alone. And the summer is only half over.

In Lisbon, Reuters correspondent Barry Hatton summed up the overall situation thus: “Wildfires in Europe are starting earlier in the year, becoming more frequent, doing more damage and getting harder to stop. And scientists say, they are probably going to get worse as climate change intensifies, unless countermeasures are taken.”

The heat problem in Portugal has been greatly worsened by the severe drought that has gripped the country because of last winter’s low rainfall. The month of May this year was the warmest in nine decades and 97% of the land was classified as being in severe drought. Crops have been wilting. It will be many weeks before we can expect any substantial rain.

Portugal’s Environment Minister Duarte Cordeiro has told parliament that preparing the nation for climate change will take a generation. Meanwhile, he said, citizens should cut back on their use of water. Some local authorities have already closed public swimming pools at the very time they are most wanted. Irrigation is to be cut on golf courses and green spaces in the Algarve. Rationing on domestic water supplies may follow as the levels of reservoirs continue dropping to very low levels.

France had its hottest May since records there began. The river water used to cool French nuclear power plants became too hot to be effective. This pushed power prices up 10 times higher than between 2017 to 2021.

Unprecedented heat in more northern countries, including Scandinavia but particularly the United Kingdom, have exposed how unprepared some are for extreme weather conditions.

London’s fire services were busier coping with fires in the city than at any time since the blitz in World War II. As temperatures reached an all-time record level, the demand for power in the UK sent power processes soaring by 5% in a single day.

So, the global warming problem is not only about preparations for 2030 and 2050. It’s also about the here and now.

By LEN PORT

Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: algarvenewswatch.blogspot.pt