The threats of the future are happening today

Constantly we are saying that our medaling with the weather is ensuring a future of floods, droughts, storms and heatwaves. Occasionally when an extreme weather event occurs here in Europe, the climate change fear surfaces briefly, but then normality returns and climate change is once again banished to a distant, future concern.

In 2003, a “freak” heat wave swept across Europe, with temperatures reaching 104 degrees F and 70,000 associated deaths. Many of the hottest months and years on record have followed. This summer Europe has again been ravaged by a heat wave. Between June and July temperatures across the continent crossed the 100 degrees Fahrenheit mark. Paris had its second hottest day since records began (back in 1873) with 103.5 degrees F, Madrid went a bit further at 103.8 degrees F, but Kitzingen in Germany topped the thermometer at 104.5 degrees F: the highest temperature ever recorded in the country.

These record breaking numbers cause havoc in the present, with people not yet adjusted to such summer temperatures, and events such as the Tour de France affected. But they are also a reminder that a changed climate is not so far away.

In fact, Climate Central (an independent scientific reporting organization) and a team of scientists assessed the extreme weather across Europe as it was happening and found clear indications that climate change had increased the likelihood of such temperatures. In fact, comparing how often severe heat waves occurred a century ago versus today, and also using climate models to compare worlds with and without warming, they found that these freak events are occurring far more often.

The frequency of the heat waves has increased drastically. In Madrid in 1950 such temperatures would be a 1 in 20 year event, now they are 1 in 5. In Zurich in 1900 they would have been 1 in 100 events, now it is 1 in 13. The same trends of “freak” weather becoming more like the norm are reflected across the continent.

Climate change is not some far off threat that can be pushed to the back of the priority list because it an intangible concern for the future. It is clearly having an effect here and now. Whilst mitigation of future risks must continue, there is also a need for adaption to the extremes: the new normal. After 2003, much of Europe invested in improved heat wave warning and response systems. But with a need to also adapt to the increasing frequency of high winds, storms, droughts and floods, it is likely we are still highly unprepared for our arriving future.

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