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Summer of disaster: Extreme weather wreaks havoc worldwide as climate change bears down

David Pierson, Alice Su and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Last week, the European Union proposed sweeping legislation aimed at cutting emissions by more than half of 1990 levels by 2030 through the phasing out of gasoline and diesel cars and the imposition of tariffs on imports from polluting countries. The plan poses formidable challenges for the 27-country bloc, including trade tensions and a political backlash from climate change denialists.

Scientists say global warming almost certainly exacerbated the conditions for the floods that ravaged Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands last week, killing at least 180 people. Parts of Western Europe were battered by two months’ worth of rainfall in two days, leading to overflowing rivers and torrents of floodwaters that toppled centuries-old buildings and saturated farmland that collapsed into giant sinkholes of churned earth.

“The German language barely has words for the devastation that has been wreaked,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a news conference after surveying the devastation Sunday.

Rains have also inundated Luxembourg, France, Switzerland and Austria, where parts of the historic city of Salzburg were submerged.

Further north, Finland is recovering from its warmest June on record — mirroring unusually hot conditions in North America that paved the way for the destruction of whole communities by fire, such as Lytton in British Columbia, Canada, where temperatures rose past 120 degrees.

Scientists at the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization said it was virtually impossible for the heat waves in the U.S. and Canada to have occurred without the influence of human-caused climate change. They calculated that rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions made the heat wave at least 150 times more likely to happen.


California is already on pace for a record-breaking year in wildfires, and Oregon has been besieged by heat, drought and the nation’s largest blaze, the 360,000-acre Bootleg fire, which is creating massive clouds of smoke and ash that can be seen from space and have brought haze to East Coast skies.

The impact is being felt most acutely by people who have lived off the land for generations.

Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribe in southern Oregon, said pine stands he’s relied on for firewood are dead or dying and marshes are drying up. That’s changing the tribe’s relationship with the land on which it has treaty rights to hunt, fish, trap, camp and conduct spiritual activities. It’s where Gentry grew up hunting deer and elk with his dad, and later hunted with his son.

“Water availability is critical to the forests here,” Gentry said. “We’re seeing it: the loss of the health of the forest and the extreme fire risk. This year it’s just unprecedented dry conditions, and that’s why you have a fire that’s almost 400,000 acres.”


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