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Climate Catastrophe Comes for Europe

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From Dispatches From The Edge

Europe: The Water Crisis Comes Home

Climate Change: the heat from human emissions is roughly equal to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs every day.
Climate Change: the heat from human emissions is roughly equal to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs every day.
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  • On Aug. 18, several dozen people gathered around a patch of snow in Iceland to commemorate the demise of the Okjokull glacier, a victim of climate change. Further to the west, Greenland shed 217 billion tons of ice in the month of July alone.
  • Paris reached 108.7 degrees on July 25, and normally cold, blustery Normandy registered 102 degrees. Worldwide, July 2019 was the hottest month on record.
  • Melting Russian permafrost which makes up two-thirds of the countryis buckling roads, collapsing buildings, and releasing massive amounts of methane, a gas with the ten times the climate-warming potential of carbon dioxide,
  • Some 1.500 residents of Whaley Bridge were recently evacuated when a damoverwhelmed by intense rainfall that pummeled northern Englandthreatened to break. The rains washed out roads and rail lines and swamped homes and business.

Ever since coal was partnered with water to generate steam and launch the industrial revolution, Europeans have been pouring billions of tons of atmospheric warming compounds into the planet's atmosphere. While scientists were aware of the climate-altering potential of burning hydrocarbons as early as 1896, the wealth generated by spinning jennies, power looms and drop forges was seductive, as was the power it gave countries to build colonial empires and subjugate populations across the globe.

But the bill is finally coming due.

When most people think of climate change, what come to mind are the poles, Asia's fast vanishing glaciers, or Australia, where punishing droughts are drying up the sub-continent's longest river, the Murray. But climate change is an equal opportunity disrupter, and Europe is facing a one-two punch of too much water in the north and center and not enough in the south.

According to recent projections, drought regions in Europe will expand from 13 percent of the continent to 26 percent and last four times as long, affecting upwards of 400 million people. Southern France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece will be particularly hard hit, though how hard will depend on whether the planet's temperature hike is kept to 1.5 degrees centigrade or rises to 3 degrees centigrade.

Northern and Central Europe, on the other hand, will experience more precipitation and consequent flooding. Upward of a million people would be effected and damage would run into the hundreds of billions of Euros. While weather is battering away at Europe, sea rises of from four to six feet over the next century would inundate Copenhagen, the Netherlands, many French and German ports and London. If the Greenland ice sheet actually melted, the oceans would come up 24 feet.

Food production will be another casualty. According to David Wallace-Wells in "The Uninhabitable Earth," cereal crops will decline 10 percent for every degree the temperature goes up. When crops fail, people will move and the logical place to go is north. It is not just war and unrest that is driving refugees toward Europe, but widespread crop failures brought about by too little or too much water.

The warming climate also allows insects, like the bark beetle, to attack Europe's forests. The beetles are increasingly active in the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Norway and, particularly, Russia, which host the largest temperate forests in the world.

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Conn M. Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus, "A Think Tank Without Walls, and an independent journalist. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. He oversaw the (more...)
 
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