Dismayed At Climate Change Disasters

August 13, 2021   ·   0 Comments


At the time of writing this, it has been around four weeks since the disastrous floods in Western Germany, one of my former home countries. With many friends and family still living there, the news of this disaster on July 15th made me feel quite upset. 

Thankfully, none of my loved ones live in exactly that region, which received two months’ worth of rain in 24 to 48 hours. Some 200 individuals though lost their lives, with several hundred homes being severely damaged or completely swept away. There was some significance to such an unusual disaster striking Germany, this highly organized and pragmatic country. One would have expected them to be more prepared for the growing and known risks from the increasing severity of weather events linked to climate change. And yet, not so.

Parts of Belgium and the Netherlands were also affected though for Germany it was their biggest flood catastrophe since WWII and worse even than the last 100-year flood in 2002, where 21 persons died. The cost of rebuilding roads and bridges has been estimated at 700 million Euro (over 1 billion Canadian Dollars) and there is no price that can be put on the lives lost. 

What upsets me equally about this, and similar disasters, that have been in the news this summer is that we – as Western societies – have known for DECADES that climate change would, and has been for some years already, cause “more severe weather events”, to quote scientists’ and meteorologists’ predictions. No longer do we get extraordinary rains, floods, snowstorms, heat waves and droughts only once every 100 years for each generation to experience maybe once in our lifetime; we get them every five years or more often. And yet, much of the population, politicians and industry continue ignoring this ‘canary in the coal mine’. 

How is it that this increasing occurrence and severity of climate-related events is not jarring the general population and federal decision-makers into swift, significant and collective action? Why do North Americans (and a growing number of Europeans, I’ve been told) hold on to their obsession with buying and driving gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks and having two to three vehicles per household, which typically carry only one person, when we know that transportation is THE biggest single cause of carbon dioxide emissions? Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation account for about 29 percent and of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and growing. Who is driving this SUV boom that is killing off the market for regular, less harmful, and more economical passenger vehicles? I would like to blame politicians and the automotive industry too, and says Dan Neil, an automotive columnist for the Wall Street Journal, who told Marketplace: “Carmakers always say they build what people want. But they never mention the fact that they spend billions to tell people what they want.”

Yes, I admit I am standing firmly and with both feet on my soapbox right now. I simply do not understand and feel saddened and disheartened by the pervasive head-in-the-sand responses or rather inaction to what we know and what we have been told again and again, is going to transpire with our changing climate. And we are simply letting the effects of weather catastrophes happen to us. As though if collectively we pretend not to hear it, it will not happen. Or at least not in our lifetime. And that is where we are so very wrong.

Since Western Germany’s devastating flood, the Indian state of Maharashtra was hit hard with the heaviest July rains in four decades, bursting riverbanks, causing mudslides and affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands and killing almost 200. Other regions also recorded their highest ever rainfall in a 24-hour period and many other countries, like China, had massive events too. According to FloodList, just in the month of July more than 920 persons have been killed worldwide in 124 floods across 385 locations in over 20 countries. 

Meanwhile, most of Europe, the Western US, southwest Canada and some areas of South America experienced drier-than-average conditions in June, and are enduring heat waves, drought and resulting wildfires in the past month or two. The smoke from fires in northern Ontario was noticeable as far south as our region of Dufferin County and the Greater Toronto Area, for several days turning the sky a strange and smelly grey and the sun a pretty but disturbing red from the ash and smoke in the atmosphere. Italy and Greece are now fighting fires, Oregon, California and British Columbia are being destroyed by hundreds of individual fire sites that are causing massive destruction and despair. The significance is that widespread wildfires have become an almost annual occurrence now and are happening in places that previously never burned, like Siberia. Does this not strike enough people as abnormal?

A German ecologist pointed out that part of our collective inaction is that there is a big gap between knowing about climate change and how it will affect humans and nature, and taking action to reduce, if not prevent climate-related disasters. We have known for a couple of decades about global warming and its expected effects, so none of this should come as a surprise. And yet overall, we are still woefully ignorant, inactive and unprepared, despite having the technology at least to prepare, protect and adapt our infrastructure, livelihood and lives. 

I hope that more of my friends, neighbours and our provincial and federal politicians will truly start acting individually and collectively as though ‘our house is on fire’, as teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg put it so succinctly. And for those who think this statement is a child’s hyberbole, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released a new Climate Report with a Code Red, stating – unequivocally – that our global home of Planet Earth is indeed on fire. How many more “wake-up calls” do we need? 

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