By Selva Ozelli
It has been a blazing beginning to a new decade with 13% more large, uncontrolled wildfires around the world this year compared to 2019, spelling dire consequences for CO2 levels, health, biodiversity, as well as the economy. According to a newly released report, human actions in burning down forests are mostly to blame. The rate of human caused forest fires is 95% in India.
The year began with Australia’s record-shattering bushfires which bled through January and February and burned down a forest the size of England, pushing CO2 levels to 26 times higher than acceptable. In April, nearly 20% of the forested area of northern Thailand burned as wildfires overtook Indonesia and Ukraine’s Chernobyl region, causing dangerous levels of air pollution. During May, the Uttarakhand forest fires in North India marked the world’s warmest region at 50 C. By June, wildfires had lit up the Arctic Circle with Siberia registering the most extreme recorded heat temperatures, resulting in the severest arctic melting ever. By August, a government researcher told Reuters that Brazil’s Amazon wildfires had been the worst during the last decade. The West Coast of the U.S. slipped into an epic Wildfire season with California’s megafires erupting with stunning speed and ferocity across forests, grasslands, rural areas and city neighborhoods. To make matters worse, Colorado experienced its largest fire ever, one that is still ongoing. These wildfires raging across the world smashed last year’s records for CO2 emissions, according to scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service and aggravated respiratory ailments amid the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic — the most devastating plague to ravage humankind this century — which demonstrated the critical role of science in addressing global challenges.
A majority of the world’s population continues to be exposed to levels of air pollution substantially above World Health Organization’s (WHO) air quality guidelines, making air pollution a major and increasing threat to public health, according to a study published in the Journal of Climate and Atmospheric Science. India faced the highest per capita pollution exposure in the world — at 83.2 μg/cubic metre — according to the State of Global Air Report released on October 21, 2020 hosting 21 of the 30 cities with the worst air pollution according to IQAir AirVisual’s 2019 World Air Quality Report. A report prepared by the WHO stated that the true cost of climate change is felt when it penetrates deep into our respiratory and circulatory systems and damages our lungs, which is highly vulnerable to the coronavirus. Accordingly, researchers in multiple countries — the United States, Italy, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom — have been exploring the apparent correlation between pollution and the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Harvard University study shows that an increase of only one microgram per cubic meter in PM 2.5 — dangerous tiny pollutants in the air — is associated with an 8% increase in the Covid-19 death rate. Another study by scientists at the UK’s University of Cambridge also found a link between the severity of Covid-19 infection and long-term exposure to air pollutants which affect the immune system’s ability to fight the infection. In essence, failure to reduce levels of air pollution could potentially increase not only infection rates of COVID-19 but the numbers of people who die from the virus in the long-term as healthy lungs are our first defense against respiratory illnesses and viruses like COVID-19.
So far, over 40 million people globally have been infected and over 1 million people have died from the Coronavirus, with the highest infection and death rates in the U.S., according to John Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center. The Coronavirus not only causes severe acute respiratory symptoms, it also features neurological symptoms (Tsunami of Corona – Portrait of Dr. Kalbiye Yalaz who established the first Pediatric Neurology Department in Hacettepe University) including depression, according to a study (Surviving the Jungle of Corona – Portrait of Lale Baymur Vanli, Pediatric Neuropsychologist), and can cause severe and lasting harm in other organs (Blurring Lines to Save Lives – Portrait of Dr. Esma Akin, Nuclear Medicine) such as the heart and the kidneys (Surviving the Jungle of Corona – Portrait of Dr. Zubeyde Arat-Akdogan, Nephrologist). Nevertheless, in a hopeful announcement, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory disclosed that they found a safe way to track the spread of COVID-19 and other contagious diseases from one cell to another in the human body and a vaccine against COVID-19 by Pfizer and BioNTech (by Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Ozlem Tureci) may be ready by the year-end, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the significance of merging global efforts and ensuring global collaboration in addressing the world’s pollution problems came to the forefront, prompting world leaders to announce their decarbonization initiatives under the UN’s ‘Race To Zero’ campaign. This campaign is the largest ever global Climate Ambition Alliance — launched in 2019 and representing 452 cities (including London and New York City), 22 regions in 120 countries, 1,101 businesses, 45 of the biggest investors, and 549 universities. It rallies leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions and investors for a healthy, resilient, zero-carbon recovery ahead of COP26, where governments must strengthen their contributions to the Paris Agreement, achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.
The world’s top 6 carbon emitters — which I wrote about in a series of articles addressing their digital technology adoption (Simply Trying to Survive- Portraits of Prof. Erdal Arikan creator of 5G Technology and Vitalik Buterin creator of digital currency Ethereum), solar energy and tax policies — injected new momentum into global climate action this year.
The Chinese President Xi Jinping informed the UN General Assembly that China — the world’s biggest polluter of greenhouse gases — pledged to go carbon neutral by 2060, only a week after the EU, the world’s third-largest carbon emitter, committed to increasing its emission-reduction target from 40 to 55 percent by 2030. The French Oil and Gas company Total, SE delivered its first shipment of carbon neutral liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).
From the U.S., the World’s second biggest carbon emitter, Ex-Mayor of NYC Mike Bloomberg announced that Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Sierra Club successfully retired 60% of U.S. coal-fired power plants — 318 out of 530 plants — via the Beyond Coal campaign. Also, the governor of California signed an executive order to ban the sale of new gasoline-fueled cars by 2035.
In India, the World’s fourth largest carbon emitter, a diverse coalition of individuals and groups spanning culture, sport, entertainment, business and civil society announced their participation in Count Us In, a global campaign to inspire one billion people to take practical steps to reduce carbon pollution and challenge leaders to act more boldly on climate change related issues.
Russia – the world’s fifth biggest carbon emitter – adopted a new climate goal, seeking to reduce the demand for fossil fuels and boost renewable energy by 2030 and upgrade insulation for buildings that will encourage energy efficiency.
Japan, the world’s sixth largest carbon emitter, became the first country to purchase blue ammonia from Saudi Arabia to produce carbon free electricity, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledging a cut in greenhouse-gas emissions in Japan to net zero by 2050.
As for me, for the first time this year, I began expressing my thoughts and feelings on climate change and COVID-19 as an artist in 3 solo, 5 group digital art shows with 22 paintings that have been acknowledged in 10 international art contests. I would like to share these art shows with you on World Science Day for Peace and Development (Nov 10). These art shows (1 thru 5) are registered events for London Climate Action Week as well.
Solo Digital Art Shows
- Art in the Time of Corona, Pinelo Art Gallery
- Breathe Life, Pinelo Art Gallery
- Art in the Time of Corona 2, Pinelo Art Gallery
Group Digital Art Shows
- Atelier Teymur Rzayev First Digital Climate Change Art Show, Pinelo Art Gallery
- Clean Air for Blue Skies, Pinelo Art Gallery
- Portakal Cicegi Project for Orphans of COVID-19 Healthcare Professionals, https://www.portart.org/tr/sanatcilar/selva-ozelli_1833, Port Art Gallery
- Biology Society of South Australia Wildfire Art Exhibit University of Adelaide, Australia
- Youth For Human Rights International, Washington, D.C. Chapter, International Peace Day Art Exhibit https://publish.exhibbit.com/…/marble-gallery-35279, Marble Gallery
For further information on the artist: