Britain today is coming up from under after devastating floods up and down the country all day yesterday and last night. Three people died, one in a heart-wrenching catastrophe where the emergency rescue services were unable to release the foot of a young man caught in a mangled fence beneath the water. Despite underwater divers, in the end, the waters simply rose faster than they were able to work. Hundreds of people were air-lifted from roofs in Sheffield last night as the walls were threatening to collapse beneath them. Major roads are closed, and entire villages were evacuated because the retainers of a major dam have cracked and are still threatening to break. The police went around banging on doors at 2 am, giving people “one minute” to get out. A tornado then hit one of the cities. Thousands are in temporary accomodation and tens of thousands more still without electricity and clean water. Those who are able to get into their houses are dealing with destruction, mud, and sewage.
Catastrophic and unusual as these floods are, it is not possible to say they are caused directly by global warming. There is good reason to believe that extreme weather events are going to be made both more frequent and more extreme by climate change. But we would be fooling ourselves to believe that hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and major storms would be controlled altogether if only we stopped spewing so many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
On the other hand, climate change paradoxically is going to increase both drought and flooding. It’s going to increase the situations where war is likely to break out, as people fight for survival and compete with each other for water and food. So even though it won’t solve all our problems, slowing down climate change would do a lot to make our world a better place to live.