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The Year so far in Review

The Year so far in Review

The first two months of 2023 have been incredibly turbulent, with natural and human catastrophes here in New Zealand and across the globe. We’ve watched the onslaught of climate-related events with bated breath and heavy hearts. 

Staying abreast of all the news is always tricky, so here we summarise the major stories of the last two months;

The earthquakes in Turkey.

Perhaps the biggest news globally has been the earthquakes in South-Eastern Turkey and along the border of Syria, which struck on the 6th of February, killing more than 50,000 people in a series of shocks. The first of these big quakes measured at 7.8 on the Rictor Scale — by comparison, the most severe earthquake recorded in Christchurch in 2011 was 7.1. This puts the quake within the most deadly recorded worldwide in the last ten years. The fault line, at 100km, took the earthquake along some of the densest areas of the population, increasing the earthquake’s devastating impact. 

Since the 6th, Turkey has continued to experience more shocks, with a further 5.5 magnitude on the 26th of February. At the time of writing, it’s unknown how much further these shocks will continue, but to date, more than a million have been made homeless by the earthquakes, with many more bodies still being recovered.

Overall, more than 160,000 buildings collapsed or were damaged. Many lost entire families in apartment blocks, with sole survivors dug out only to find their lives in complete ruins, their loved ones crushed mere feet from them.

While there are no direct villains we can blame for the earthquake, the overwhelming extent of the damage can be blamed on the poor conditions of Turkey’s supposedly earthquake-safe buildings. Hundreds of contractors have been investigated in relation to the country’s building regulation compliance, with a handful of arrests causing some to attempt to flee the country on charges. 

But the corruption lies deeper than with mere contractors. Inspectors and state officials have been found issuing permits in direct violation of the building codes set up in 1999. The codes themselves were in response to that year’s deadly earthquake, in which more than 17,000 were killed. Greed and profit seem to have led to this even greater tragedy amidst the harvest of plenty, with small, inconsequential fines paving the way for a blatant disregard for any safety regulations. Without any institutions for accountability, the Turkish construction boom allowed the government to prosper financially, especially under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's last two decades as Prime Minister and as President. 

It may be of no consolation to the survivors who have lost families, lives and homes, but the current investigation will hopefully be the turning point for a country permanently straddling a major fault line.

To donate to Turkish and Syrian causes, visit Oxfam’s relief program here.


Floods in Auckland.

Auckland’s floods have continued to pour, with record rains and flash floods hitting Auckland and parts of the North Island on the 24th of February. The third instalment in Cyclone Gabrielle’s destruction brought with it more than 100mm of rain in less than six hours on Friday night, as well as hailstorms and record-low temperatures. More than 200 were left stranded in homes, cars and buildings, including students in Silverdale school.  

We’ve been covering the floods in detail from late January to February. While the death toll remains low, the widespread devastation has significantly impacted hundreds of North Island families who turned out of their homes. We fervently hope this is the last time we have to cover this particular story.

The Ukrainian War.

Amidst other news, the Ukrainian War has become another overseas conflict that appears to have no end. But the scale of devastation and the consequences of the war mean the conflict is forever boiling at the edges of international confrontation.

It’s now one year since the invasion, and the UN is calling for an unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. Meanwhile, China is being accused of smuggling in weaponry which would escalate the war, a war high-tech missiles and drone strikes have already intensified for Ukrainian citizens. Putin, too, is pushing for new hypersonic missiles (travelling five times the speed of sound) and nuclear submarines, which threaten Russia’s nuclear arms treaty with the U.S.

Meanwhile, Russia’s hold over Ukraine and its major cities, including Bakhmut and Kherson, remains shaky. Since last November, the freedom fighters have continued to hold lines with small advances and retreats. Overall, more than 200,000 military fighters and 40,000-60,000 civilians have been killed, with an estimated 800+ deaths a day. Still, the US and EU have deliberated over sending more help, with Biden holding off on delivering fighters to Ukraine’s aid. Similarly, an exact action plan has yet to be taken against Russia by the EU, despite Russia’s dangerous use of ballistic weaponry in what now promises to be a long, drawn-out conflict. 


Glacial lakes threaten to flood.

According to a new study conducted by Newcastle University, 15 million people could be at risk of catastrophic flooding from melting glacial lakes. This includes areas across India, Pakistan, Peru and China, especially mountainous areas where glaciers have built up for thousands of years. 

This is no idle scientific threat either, which last year’s flooding in Pakistan should prove. More pent-up water could release tsunami-like conditions, bursting glacial dams. The result of this force is due to the steady increase in the earth’s temperature and the amount of captured CO2 in large areas of ice, which have sped the process along tremendously. 

Chilian drought worsens.

While some areas are threatened by flooding, others have had intense dry spells. The change in climate conditions, which leads to these freak weather events, has hit Chile hardest recently, with the worst drought it’s had in over fifty years. Since late last year, water emergencies have been declared in the city of Punta Arenas. Now fires are being fought in the south-central region, with forest blazes killing dozens and endangering the lives of numerous animals. Argentinian and Uruguayan governments have lost billions in agricultural exports due to heatwaves and fires, severely impacting crop and hydro-energy production.  

The drought in Chile has progressively worsened over the last decade due to hotter, more arid conditions, with wind drying out much of the land. The drought now promises to be the worse stretch in (possibly) a thousand years. Similar parallels can be found in the heatwaves experienced in parts of China and America last year, which similarly taxed the crop production of China in particular. 


Our goal in bringing you these stories.

Although these news stories are gloomy, they all occur on our shared planet, and what happens in one corner directly affects the rest of the world.

The earth is getting warmer. The direct link to climate change is undeniable, whether extreme floods or heat waves. We need to put people first before personal profit if we’re to see any change. This, too, goes for non-environmental catastrophes, where individual greed or war has led to the deaths of thousands and destroyed fragile economies. 

Many countries, and global brands, are beginning to revise their original 2030 climate change pledges to find a more straightforward solution for them. There are no easy solutions, just as there are no shortcuts to standing up against corruption or taking charge of difficult situations. 

We hope, above all things, this climate column helps reinforce the message that more needs to be done. Climate change is all around us and is continuing to get worse. While perhaps you, the reader, don't feel like you can do much alone... you can stay informed, take individual actions against negative climate policies, shop more conscientiously and support good causes. There are many ways you can take action to find calm! 

Sites sourced:

  • Davis, Katie. “Turkey rocked by another powerful earthquake” on news.com.au. Date Published: 26th February, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3Z3ddKC
  • Ellerbeck, Stefan. “Renewables growth pushing power emissions towards ‘tipping point’, and the other climate crisis stories you need to read this week” on World Economic Forum. Date Published: 13th February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3xT8fnX
  • Hughes, Patrick. “Millions face the threat of flooding from glacial lakes” on BBC News. Date Published: 7th February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3Z2lJd0
  • Hurley, Sam. “Auckland weather: Heavy rain, floods for Auckland, Northland, Coromandel; rain warnings for Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, Bay of Plenty” on nzherald.co.nz. Date Published: 25th February, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3XWqTWA
  • Kirby, Jen. “Better buildings could have saved lives in Turkey’s earthquakes. Are contractors really to blame?” on Vox. Date Published: 14th February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3Z5QU7o
  • Lendon, Brad. “Three weapons that changed the course of Ukraine’s war with Russia” on CNN World. Date Published: 25th January, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3ITS9k9
  • McKernan, Bethan. “Turkey earthquake death toll suggests lessons of 1999 were not learned” on The Guardian. Date Published: 12th February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3ZnNAnS
  • Osborn, Catherine. “Climate Change Looms Behind South America’s Heat Wave” on Foreign Policy. Date Published: 4th February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/41qXh6y
  • Ott, Haley. “One year of Russia's war in Ukraine, by the numbers” on CBS. Date Published: 23rd, February, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3IWlpHh
  • Gan, Nectar, Raine, Andrew, Tanno, Sophie, Vogt, Adrienne, Meyer, Matt. “Russia’s war in Ukraine” on CNN World. Date Published: 25th February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3EE5sCY
  • Ghosh, Pallab. “ Turkey earthquake: Where did it hit and why was it so deadly?” on BBC News. Date Published: 10th February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3lXersg
  • Girit, Selin. “Turkey earthquake: How survivors cope with trauma” on BBC News. Date Published: 26th February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3m6c1YD
  • “Russia-Ukraine war at a glance: what we know on day 361 of the invasion” on The Guardian. Date Published: 19th February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3Y12cse
  • “Russia-Ukraine war at a glance: what we know on day 365 of the invasion” on The Guardian. Date Published: 23rd February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3kBcdyp
  • “'The grass does not grow': In Chile's far south, the worst drought in 50 years” on Reuters. Date Published: 11th February, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3Y6DTZI
  • The Visual Journalism Team. “Ukraine in maps: Tracking the war with Russia” on BBC News. Date Published: 14th November, 2022. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3IVghmI
  • “Tremors felt across NZ following earthquake off the coast” on NZ Herald. Date Published: 2nd February, 2016. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3ZphlVl
  • “Ukraine war: US estimates 200,000 military casualties on all sides” on BBC News. Date Published: 10th November, 2022. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3Znpg5u.

About the Author

About the author - meet Earthan James McCulloch 

James is a literary student and environmental enthusiast who likes thinking about the better futures we could have (and those we best avoid). When not playing with other people’s dogs or taking long, mindful walks, he’s usually found reading and writing, often at the local library. You can check him out on his blog for something a little different, where he talks about all things literary or otherwise.

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