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Climate Change

About Those Killer Floods In Europe — We Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet!

Devastating floods in Europe last week have raised new fears about climate change. Is it too late?

The Guardian and the New York Times are running big stories about how global heating may be playing a role in those “nobody alive has ever seen anything like this” floods that brought massive destruction and killed more than 150 people in Europe recently. Both publications very carefully put forward the idea that maybe, just maybe, climate change is responsible and human activity could be a factor.

If you read CleanTechnica on a regular basis, you already know that burning fossil fuels — whether in the form of trees, peat, coal, oil, or unnatural gas — increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Too much CO2 leads to higher atmospheric temperatures. Warm air holds more moisture than cooler air, ergo there is more water vapor in the atmosphere which means when it rains, it rains harder and longer than we are used to.

It’s no secret. Climate deniers like to shrug it all off by saying extreme weather events have always occurred and what is happening today is just an aberration. Another Ice Age is right around the corner. And if you don’t have more than a third grade education, you can be excused for thinking that. But if you have an IQ higher than yogurt, you know there is much more to it than that.

We know that there is a carbon cycle. Trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide and convert it by photosynthesis to make the nutrients they need to grow. That allows climate deniers to crow that carbon dioxide is good for the planet. And they are right. No carbon dioxide? No trees, vegetables or flowers. No corn, sorghum, rye, wheat, barley, or rice. No farm animals either.

But here’s the thing. Imagine a typical human who needs roughly 1,500 calories a day to survive. Now put that human on a 10,000 calories a day diet. The point is this: too much of a good thing is not a good thing. We have too much carbon dioxide to support the ecosystem of plants and animals (including humans) that has evolved since the last glaciers retreated more than 10,000 years ago.

We are like the Apollo 13 astronauts who were sealed in a space capsule that could not absorb any more carbon dioxide. If they weren’t able to correct the problem, they would die. It’s amazing how many people are incapable of the second order thinking needed to see that what happened aboard Apollo 13 is similar to what is happening to us here on Earth.

We are drowning in carbon dioxide pollution but stuck with political and economic systems that promote more of the stuff because, you know, JOBS! It’s odd they don’t understand there will be no politics or commerce when most people are dead. The end result is as predictable as the next sunrise.

Climate scientists cannot say with absolute certainty that human activity is responsible for floods or forest fires and more than health professionals a generation ago could pinpoint which puff of cigarette smoke caused lung cancer in a patient. But scientists today do have access to sophisticated computer modeling that tells them the increase in carbon dioxide related to human activity made the deadly heat dome over the US and Canada this month 150 times more likely or the catastrophic flooding in Europe last week 600 times more likely.

Richard Betts, the head of climate impacts research at the Met Office Hadley Center in the UK, tells The Guardian those calculations demolish the argument that “extreme weather happens anyway, so we don’t need to worry about it.” He predicts “warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers along with an increase in the frequency and intensity of extremes,” in the decades to come.

According to a New York Times report, German officials said Friday that their warning system, which include a network of sensors that measure river levels in real time, functioned as intended, but the amount of rain that fell has never seen before. It fell so rapidly that it engorged even small streams and rivers not normally considered threats.

To describe the events of recent days as a 100-year flood would be an understatement, said Uwe Kirsche, a spokesman for the German Weather Service. He called it a once in a 1000-year flood. “With these small rivers, they have never experienced anything like that. Nobody could prepare because no one expected something like this.”

Felix Dietsch, a meteorologist for the German Weather Service, has warned that some areas of southwest Germany could receive previously unimaginable volumes of rain — up to 70 liters (18 gallons) per square meter in a few hours.

Why Are Climate Warnings Not Emphasized By The Press?

The Guardian report contains this sub-headline: Why do so many news reports about extreme weather underplay the climate connection? The answer is as follows:

“In some media organisations, this appears to be part of a deliberate strategy to undermine climate science and the political impetus to reduce emissions. Habit also plays a part. For decades, journalists have depicted heatwaves as a good news story to be casually illustrated with pictures of sunbathers, ice creams and swimming pools. Excess caution can also make reporters timid about making the link with the climate crisis.

“On Wednesday, the climate scientist Ed Hawkins took the BBC to task for this and for failing to keep up with the science. From now on, he suggested journalists use the phrase: Experts say that climate change is already increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, and many single events have been shown to have been made worse by global warming.” (emphasis added.)

Why Were We Not Informed?

Many Germans are angry that they were not warned far enough in advance about the floods that devastated their cities and towns. Imagine how pissed off people will be when the full impact of climate change — melting ice caps, rising sea levels, raging forest fires, famine, killer heat, and extreme drought — hit home. “Why weren’t we told?” they will wail.

Exxon knew exactly how its products were screwing up the environment, but kept silent. James Hansen told the US Congress in 1988. Bill McKibben and Michael Mann have been telling us the truth for decades. We knew. We all knew. But the truth has always been, in the words of Al Gore, “an inconvenient truth.” It’s so easy to ignore things we don’t want to hear. If you are keeping up with the news, you know that China, which is responsible for 27% of all global carbon emissions today, has an ambitious new plan to be carbon neutral by 2060. That will be 30 years too late.

Don’t say you weren’t warned. We have had ample warnings; we just chose to ignore them. RIP, Planet Earth. It was fun while it lasted.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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