Schadenfreude: Climate Change Meets the Global West

Schadenfreude: Climate Change Meets the Global West



: a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people

In recent times, the world has witnessed quite the dramatic increase in climate-related natural disasters in the global West. The Amazon rainforest, once one of the world’s largest and most important carbon sinks, now produces more CO2 than it removes. From the German and US floods to the wildfires in Turkey and Italy, news media has been awash with think-pieces on the climate change issue with focus on the wealthier nations. The rush is of such a nature that, as a journalist put it on Twitter, suddenly ‘every journalist is about to become a climate journalist’. With these devastating environmental events arriving on the heels of the COVID pandemic, jokes have been thrown around as to the end of the world and questions on whether or not Mother Nature has begun to fight back has been repeatedly asked. It’s almost as if the issue of climate change just surfaced in 2021.

I have realized that the big news is not that there are climate disasters happening; the world has seen those for some time. Some flooding in Peru or Brazil or India is not much of a surprise. These things are particularly scary not because they are floods but because of where they are happening. What has everyone worried is that these disasters are now happening in cities that were before now “untouched” by the climate crisis.

The rest of the world has been battling with the effects of climate change for some time now. Mozambique, for one has had a higher than normal number of cyclones with death tolls in the thousands. This is hardly surprising when you consider that a few years ago, the World Bank estimated that the poor developing nations across the globe will bear the brunt of climate change events like these. I should point out here that these developing countries are not responsible for carbon emissions or climate change. For instance, Africa’s 54 countries produce 2-3% of global carbon emissions and are only responsible for 1% of all historic carbon emissions. On the other hand, the US has contributed more excess carbon dioxide than any other country on the planet.

New York’s Times Square H&M store selling fast fashion clothing and lit up at night is the epitome of Western capitalism. Photo: Sorbis.

In the last few years the response of most developed countries towards the climate crisis has been that of benevolent indulgence. Meetings have been held, conferences and summits hosted, promises made but in the end, little action has been taken. The appearance of action that we have witnessed has been more for political expediency than any actual attempt to provide sustainable solutions to the crisis. I do not blame them entirely. The major indicators of a climate crisis in these countries have been mostly political; protests by school students, the climate as an issue for voters. With the events of the past few weeks I can’t help but think that perhaps there will be a collective realisation that climate change is not a fight for developing nations alone. At least I hope so.

Back in July, when Germany and some neighboring countries experienced unusual floods during the summer, scientists blamed the changing climate for the floods as hundreds of lives were lost. In an interview with BBC one of the survivors of the flooding said words that I find very poignant and which I feel the need to repeat here. “You can imagine this sort of thing happening in Asia, but not here”. Another survivor in an interview with DW said “…there are so many people dead. You don’t expect people to die in a flood in Germany, you expect it maybe in poor countries but you don’t expect it here. But it was all too fast, too quick”.

These comments might be politically incorrect and cringeworthy to many residing in the poorer nations but in reality, they are not surprising. When you look beyond the press conferences on climate action, you will understand that most of the Global West and their leaders share this sentiment. Whether or not this stance is solely based on World Bank estimates earlier noted, remains unclear.


My people have an old saying: a funeral procession appears insignificant to a bystander until the death hits his own home. The wealthy nations can no longer look away in this case because now, their houses are being affected as well as ours. Things like devastation from hurricanes and flooding are no longer the results of the incompetence in developing countries. The climate and weather occurrences of the last couple of months have perhaps made it clearer to us all that climate change is an actual global crisis that cannot be solved by merely just having big economies or strong militaries.

To be clear, this is by no means an attempt to mock the people affected by these events, I know firsthand how these events can turn life upside and bring sadness and grief. What I feel is a real sense of vindication and hope that we might be on a verge of a collective awakening. That been said, I will not advise you to hold your breath though as the wealthier nations have shown an unusual collective knack for being tone deaf towards the plight of other people beyond themselves. It could be that these countries will double down and consume even more of the world’s resources in hopes of a perceived immunity from climate change and all its attendant problems. Or they just might make the choice to do better.

As COP26 is around the corner, coming on the heels of the events of the past weeks, for the sake of all of us, I hope our countries do better. Climate change has been slow and in the making for a while now. It weaves through our daily lives – from global politics and business trade to sea levels and weather to the clothes we choose to wear and the food we can eat. I hope at the end of it all, we aren’t only left with more kinds of tragic stories to tell.

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Cover photo by Alexandros Michailidis.

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