We live in turbulent times. Brexit, Trump and the rise of far-right populists in Europe have rapidly changed the political climate. In some cases, these populists are outright climate deniers that have close links to polluting industries. In all cases, the regressive politics they stand for and their dismissal of facts and science are a major threat to the urgent action on climate change we need.
We don’t have time to be held back. The impacts of climate change we already witness are taking us into uncharted territory. The most vulnerable communities that have contributed least to the problem are disproportionately affected but climate change already has widespread impacts on our health and well-being in Europe too.
10 ways climate change already impacts us in Europe:
Flood disasters have more than doubled in Europe in the last 35 years. In the last decade, millions of people in Europe have been affected by river and coastal flooding. The severe flooding that submerged Paris last summer was made almost twice as likely by human-made climate change.
More rainstorms. Northern Europe has been getting rainier. Winters in the UK for example have been getting wetter due to climate change. The winter of 2015/16 came with some of the worst flooding the country has seen leaving tens of thousands of people to rebuild their homes and destroying small family businesses. Flooding already causes an average of £1bn of damage in the UK every year.
Flooding following heavy rain in Münster, Germany, 2014
Deadly summer heat waves. Europe has experienced several extreme summer heat waves that caused tens of thousands of deaths. They have become ten times more likely because of climate change. An estimated 70,000 people died as a result of the record heat wave in 2003.
Droughts and wildfires. Drier conditions in Southern Europe, especially the Mediterranean, increase the risk of wildfires. Last year, intense forest fires forced thousands to evacuate their homes in Southern France and the Canary Islands.
Damages to livelihoods and jobs. A changing climate and unpredictable seasons damage people’s livelihoods and jobs. Last winter, unseasonably dry weather forced ski resorts in the French Alps to turn off their snow cannons after water reserves had been depleted. The lack of snow hit thousands of people whose jobs depend on ski tourism.
Cities and villages under threat. Our governments already have to make huge investments to protect cities, towns and villages from rising sea levels, more severe flooding and heat waves. The City of Rotterdam spends millions to protect its citizens from floods. Coastal communities in Wales face being abandoned because of the enormous costs to maintain defences against rising sea levels.
Traditional ways of life in peril. The livelihoods of the indigenous Sámi people are severely threatened by warmer and increasingly unpredictable conditions in the Arctic. Their reindeer face starvation as winter snow turns into rain and freezes over, so that they can’t find enough food. People and reindeer have drowned because ice sheets have become unpredictable.
Cultures and traditions being lost. In the Netherlands, the ice skating race through eleven cities (the so-called Elfstedentocht), which is a century-old national spectacle, has become an increasingly rare event. The last time the ice was thick enough for the tour to take place was in 1997.
Besides destroying our climate, fossil fuels also damage our health, destroy homes and entire ecosystems.
We can still prevent the worst from happening – by stopping those causing the problem
The impacts of climate change are only going to get worse but we can still prevent the most devastating effects from happening. We need to tackle the problem head-on by directly challenging those most responsible for causing climate change. We need to take away the fossil fuel industry’s power to carry out their dangerous business plans that destabilise our climate.
This May, the Fossil Free network will fight back against regressive forces sowing division and hatred by demonstrating the strength and resolve of the many of us across Europe and around the globe that see a brighter path forward.
Instead of hate and fear, we need to rid ourselves of the political stranglehold corporate elites like the fossil fuel industry have over our democracies. It’s time to take back control over our energy system and stop climate change from spiraling out of control.