The floods in the summer of 2021 in Germany and Switzerland – Are these weather phenomena or already climate changes? The answer is quite clear.
The massive rainstorms in Germany, Switzerland and other parts of Europe have pushed the Corona virus off the front pages of the daily newspapers, at least for a few days in July 2021. The terrible weather during these days has caused far more deaths than the Corona infection in the regions that were particularly affected in Germany. In fact, the amount of rain in the western German states has exceeded any known dimensions. Although this extreme rain was not the first of its kind, in addition to its increased intensity it is now on its way towards much higher frequency. This clearly corresponds to the predictions of climate research given the ecological consequences that our behavior within the global economy is imposing on nature. The ever-increasing CO2 content in the air (as well as that of other climate-relevant gases) is thus actually leading to more extreme weather effects, as climate experts have been predicting for a long time: Super heavy rainfall become more intense, heat waves more severe, droughts more extreme, and so on. Thus, the increase in extreme rainfall is only one of numerous climate predictions that are now also clearly measurable. They include global warming, rising sea levels, melting polar ice, more forest fires, to name just a few that have been known to us in our everyday lives for a while. What we are now experiencing, more and more extremely almost every year, shows that climate research is not extremist thinking, as claimed not only by the true extremists, but sometimes also by established politicians, but very serious science.
Even the oldest climate models predicted an increase in rainfall with rising temperatures and thus more intense flood phenomena. In fact, what we experienced in parts of Europe is the result of an old fundamental law of physics, long known to weather researchers, expressed in the Clausius-Clapeyron equation (from 1834!). It has long been part of all climate models. Thus, during the heavy rain, the well-known Zurich climate researcher Reto Knutti wrote in strong words on Twitter: „Until even the last person understands: 1) Heavy precipitation increases with climate change. 2) Variability also increases, even with a tendency towards dry summers, situations like now are to be expected. 4) Heat waves increase. 3) Climate change costs.“
Of course, a single effect is not yet an indication of climate change, but the quantity of such effects is revealing it more and more clearly. This can be seen in parallel to the ongoing rain in Europe with more dangerous extreme heat waves from California to British Columbia in Western Canada. These, too, are effects that have long been known and predicted and are becoming more and more apparent from year to year. So, anyone who draws a general critical argument against the warning against climate change from the heavy summer rain in Germany and Switzerland – after all, it was raining, and it was relatively cool in this region in July 2021 – is increasingly revealing himself to be completely ignorant. Unfortunately, such thinking is still widespread.
In addition to the directly visible consequences of weather effects from the changed climate, there are also quite different effects that are mostly less noticed such as a massive restriction of drinking water, as experienced in Germany after all the extreme rain. Another very serious climatic effect is a change in the jet stream, the fluctuating wind band around the upper northern hemisphere at an altitude of about 10km, which leads to an increase in the duration of persistent weather conditions, exactly as experienced in Europe in July 2021. At the same time, the people in North and Central America were confronted with completely different extreme weather conditions. The US West Coast and Western Canada were experiencing persistent heat waves with new record temperatures, much like Northern and Southern Europe with heat records in Finland and Lapland respectively, as well as in Spain. And in the Arctic, there was unprecedented ice melt. We thus do experience in 2021 the continuation and worsening of extreme weather conditions throughout the world, which have already started their development several years ago. But now they are not only affecting polar bears and corals, but also our livelihoods, the human livelihoods.
Politicians are thus facing two very important and tough climate tasks:
- The fight against climate change itself, especially by limiting the emission of climate-relevant gases into the atmosphere. At last, they have begun, albeit very slowly and very late, to take the dangers of climate change seriously. In Germany, however, the CDU-led governments have almost completely slept through the last 16 years, after the Red-Green Party had already established important and, at the time, globally unique climate protection standards. The CDU also seems to have little intention to focus on climate issues in the federal elections in autumn 2021.
- The experiences in recent years are now indicating a second major task: Climate change can probably no longer be averted after 30 sleepy years, so new weather conditions will have to be adapted to. However, it is still possible to limit the possible much more extreme climate In order to do this, we need besides new housing structures (more rain-resistant) a more robust transport infrastructure, deeper sewage systems being more robust for storing rain and more to adapt to the extreme weather conditions that are likely to intensify in the coming years and decades. Otherwise, we will continue to be helplessly exposed to the consequences of climate change, then with even much worse consequences. But this, too, has hardly been taken seriously by politicians so far. That such adaptations are possible can be seen in Switzerland, for example. In the canton of Ticino, it rained far more in mid-July 2021 than in NRW and Rheinland-Pfalz. However, there was no corresponding consequence here. Of course, the slopes also helped somewhat, but here people are simply used to more intensive rainfall and have built their infrastructure and houses accordingly.
Those who still deny climate change and declare the necessary measures against it to be unimportant are arguing in a completely dubious manner (for example, in Switzerland, the increasingly far-right Neue Zürcher Zeitung has railed against the conclusion that this has anything to do with climate change). It is increasingly clear that we must use effective environmental protection to mitigate climate change. This may cost a lot of money, but failure to do so will be much, much more expensive, as nature is increasingly illustrating. Meanwhile, even – albeit very belatedly – financial investors are catching up: In the investment market, the issue of „ESG“ (Environment Social Governance) is playing a very rapidly increasing role. So, slowly (and probably 20 years too late) the climate problem also seems to interest and even concern the – rather conservative – capital market experts. This gives us hope that the necessary measures will now be implemented, and presumably with optimal capital efficiency. Thereby the financial costs could turn out to be far lower than the levels many climate change skeptics still claim vehemently today. One can only hope that we have enough time for this.
In October 2021, Lars Jaeger’s new book on climate will be published: Ways Out of the Climate Catastrophe – Ingredients for a Sustainable Energy and Climate Policy. Here is the advance notice: https://www.springer.com/de/book/9783030851316