Late last week saw Germany's deadliest natural disaster in nearly 60 years, as severe flooding hit the nation and other parts of Western Europe. As of July 19th, the floods had killed 200 people and injured 700. About 1300 people were still missing from just the Ahrweiler district near Cologne.
The floods were caused by an extreme rain event, where nearly twice the amount of rain that the region usually sees in a month fell in just two days. This disaster should drive home the point that climate scientists have been frantically trying to communicate: Climate change is happening now.
There may well be more floods to come. A paper published in Nature last year examined flood data for Europe from the past 500 years. The scientists, members of 34 different research groups, found that the past 30 years belong to one of the most flood-rich time periods in Europe, one of just nine such periods over the past five centuries. They also discovered that, while the previous eight flood-rich periods occurred during relatively cold periods, the most recent one is markedly warmer (by about 1.4 °C) than all of the others.
While the researchers did not explicitly attribute this current flood-rich period to climate change, they did highlight its "exceptional nature." As environmental journalist Andrew Revkin pointed out on Twitter, the reason this flood-rich period is so dangerous is that Europe is more developed and populated than it was over the past five centuries. Eighty-three million people live in Germany alone, and while the monetary damage has not yet been calculated, only about 45 percent of buildings are the country are insured against rain and flooding.
The flooding is also a reminder that climate change is affecting, and will continue to affect, the whole world. Yes, even the Global North. Everywhere. For instance, while the German floods have dominated the news, Oman is also seeing unseasonable rainfall and flooding that wiped out farmers' crops and disrupted the Eid Al Adha holiday.
We are currently way behind fighting climate change on all fronts. It is clear, though, that we have two main and urgent tasks ahead of us: mitigation and adaptation. The impacts of climate change are already deadly serious – let's get to work.