The snow and cold in much of China over the past week has been sporadically in the news. It deserves more attention. Not only because of the dead, 24 on recent count, or the 78 million affected, or the hundreds of thousands stranded in railway stations, but because of what it is a harbringer of: climate chaos.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs estimates the direct economic cost of the weather so far to be $3.2 billion and the number of people affected to be 78 million, including 827,000 emergency evacuees. … the supply of coal for electricity had dropped to 21 million tons, less than half the normal levels at this time of year. As a result, 17 provinces were rationing power by Monday.


On the main highway between Guangdong, the manufacturing powerhouse of the south, and neighbouring Hunan province, more than 20,000 trucks and other vehicles were stranded, Xinhua said.

Among them was a man taking 10 children by bus to Guangdong to visit their migrant-worker parents.

“Today is our fifth day on the bus,” Tan Wenming told Xinhua. “Every day, we each get two packs of instant noodles to eat.”

Climate Chaos

“Snow in the south of China? Whoever would have imagined that?” said Yang Ailun, climate change campaigner for Greenpeace China.

China has a history of devastating natural disasters but the current harsh winter is the latest example of increasingly extreme weather as climate change progresses.

Average 2006 temperatures in China were the warmest in 55 years, while last year saw some of the worst regional droughts in decades, leaving huge swathes of farmland withered and rivers at record low levels.

China’s vast numbers of poor usually suffer the most from natural disasters, raising the spectre of weather-induced social unrest, Hong Kong professor Harris said.

“The people hit hardest are the poor and powerless. Climate change will just lead to more (social unrest),” he said.

Things to Come