Climate Impacts Now Felt in Wealthy Countries

August 5, 2021


As the world staggers through another summer of extreme weather, experts are noticing something different: 2021′s onslaught is hitting harder and in places that have been spared global warming’s wrath in the past. 

Wealthy countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany and Belgium are joining poorer and more vulnerable nations on a growing list of extreme weather events that scientists say have some connection to human-caused climate change.

“It is not only a poor country problem, it’s now very obviously a rich country problem,” said Debby Guha-Sapir, founder of the international disaster database at the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. “They (the rich) are getting whacked.”

Killer floods hit China, but hundreds of people also drowned in parts of Germany and Belgium not used to being inundated. Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. had what climate scientist Zeke Hausfather called “scary” heat that soared well past triple digits in Fahrenheit and into the high 40s in Celsius, shattering records and accompanied by unusual wildfires. Now southern Europe is seeing unprecedented heat and fire.

And peak Atlantic hurricane and U.S. wildfire seasons are only just starting. 

When what would become Hurricane Elsa formed on July 1, it broke last year’s record for the earliest fifth named Atlantic storm. Colorado State University has already increased its forecast for the number of named Atlantic storms — and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Wednesday said it was expecting one or two named storms more than it predicted in May.

For fire season, the U.S. West is the driest it has been since 1580, based on soil moisture readings and tree ring records, setting the stage for worsening fires if something ignites them, said UCLA climate and fire scientist Park Williams.

What happens with U.S. hurricane and fire seasons drives the end-of-year statistics for total damage costs of weather disasters, said Ernst Rauch, chief climate and geo scientist for insurance giant Munich Re. But so far this year, he said, wealthier regions have seen the biggest economic losses.

But when poorer countries are hit, they are less prepared and their people can’t use air conditioning or leave so there’s more harm, said Hausfather, climate director of the Breakthrough Institute. While hundreds of people died in the Pacific Northwest heat wave, he said the number would have been much higher in poor areas. 

Madagascar, an island nation off East Africa, is in the middle of back-to-back droughts that the United Nations warns are pushing 400,000 people toward starvation.

Though it is too early to say the summer of 2021 will again break records for climate disasters, “We’re certainly starting to see climate change push extreme events into new territories where they haven’t been seen before,” Hausfather said.

New York Times:

Some of Europe’s richest countries lay in disarray this weekend, as raging rivers burst through their banks in Germany and Belgium, submerging towns, slamming parked cars against trees and leaving Europeans shellshocked at the intensity of the destruction.

Only days before in the Northwestern United States, a region famed for its cool, foggy weather, hundreds had died of heat. In Canada, wildfire had burned a village off the map. Moscow reeled from record temperatures. And this weekend the northern Rocky Mountains were bracing for yet another heat wave, as wildfires spread across 12 states in the American West.

The extreme weather disasters across Europe and North America have driven home two essential facts of science and history: The world as a whole is neither prepared to slow down climate change, nor live with it. The week’s events have now ravaged some of the world’s wealthiest nations, whose affluence has been enabled by more than a century of burning coal, oil and gas — activities that pumped the greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that are warming the world.

“I say this as a German: The idea that you could possibly die from weather is completely alien,” said Friederike Otto, a physicist at Oxford University who studies the links between extreme weather and climate change. “There’s not even a realization that adaptation is something we have to do right now. We have to save people’s lives.”

5 Responses to “Climate Impacts Now Felt in Wealthy Countries”

  1. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    European wild fires were not a thing in the ancient past of my youth. Think they became news in the 90’s (?) and the new normal in this century. Another brick in the wall?

  2. redskylite Says:

    In my ancient past, growing up in the U.K, I can remember quite clearly two grave weather related incidents:

    1) North Sea flood of 1953, which affected the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom and caused 2,551 deaths. This disaster spawned the Thames Barrier project in the U.K and the Delta Works project in the Netherlands.

    2) The Lynmouth Flood in 1952, which killed 34 after a storm of tropical intensity broke over south-west England, depositing 229 millimetres (9.0 in) of rain within 24 hours on the already saturated soil of Exmoor, Devon.

    These incidents were rare in those days and if you look at the official statistics sites these type of events are definitely increasing in modern times. Many studies predict worsening weather events as ghg’s increase.

    Wealthy or not all nations need to act as the prognosis in the future is not good.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      All they have to do is put the ‘doubt’ content out there and all the suckers spend their own time and money to come running to confirm their bias. In unrelated news: any rancher knows that once you’ve trained cattle to eat at a trough, gathering them for slaughter costs next to nothing.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I’m trying to convince myself that the mere $9.6million dollars fossil fuels spent are a drop in the bucket for Facebook revenues, and that it wouldn’t be that hard for FB to refuse to run more such ads. *sigh*

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: