Extreme weather events: Is climate change to blame for deaths in Germany and Belgium or fires in the US?

19 July, 2021

Floods in Germany have caused severe damage and deaths mainly in flood-prone areas and buildings erected next to slopes and potential landslide areas, as in the photograph.
Floods in Germany have caused severe damage and deaths mainly in flood-prone areas and buildings erected next to slopes and potential landslide areas, as in the photograph.

It is well known, and this is stated in all official scientific reports, that climate change increases the risk of extreme weather events. However, this is something very different from such events necessarily translating into death and destruction of entire villages as we have seen in Europe or massive fires as we are seeing in the USA. If this has been the case, it is because states are not fighting against climate change and its impacts on populations, but for the Green Deal, that is, for subordinating this goal to the recovery of capital’s profits by extracting income en masse from the workers.

Table of Contents

Is climate change the direct cause of specific extreme weather events such as those in Europe and North America this week?

Doyle, California, this week. Fires are not an extreme weather phenomenon, although their likelihood increases with rising temperatures and droughts.
Doyle, California, this week. Fires are not an extreme weather phenomenon, although their likelihood increases with rising temperatures and droughts.

For the past few years every drought, heat wave, cold snap, DANA or hurricane has been presented to us as a direct result of global climate change. However, climate is a complex system and extreme weather events can only be linked probabilistically, not casually, to climate change.

That is, we can claim correctly that climate change will increase the probability of flooding over the next 20 years in Japan or in China and provide a fairly accurate estimate of the number of episodes… but when we try to scale down in an attempt to link a particular event to climate change the models cannot establish a cause-effect relationship. At best, attribution studies will be able to associate an indicative probability

In summary: we cannot say that climate change is directly responsible for any particular event; but with the science available today we can say that climate change is a key driver in the proliferation of extreme weather events.

Is climate change the cause of disasters and deaths

Dornau, Germany, built in a flood zone.
Dornau, Germany, built in a flood zone.

Not on the scales we are seeing. Extreme weather events do not necessarily imply a carnage. No house collapses just because there’s a flood and no forest burns just because there’s a drought. The latter also happens to be the extreme phenomenon in which it is most difficult to link a specific episode to climate change, due to the number of variables and local causes, ranging from deforestation in related regions to overexploitation of groundwater

.

But above all, the cause of the early and massive fires in the US is not the drought – which could hardly have been a surprise – but the lack of care for the forests that has caused them to pile up tinder and flammable materials. In other words, in the context of an increased risk of extreme weather events, fires are caused by a forest management model in which, when forests are not profitable for capital, they are simply abandoned without care.

Altenahr, Rheinland Palatinate. The entire neighborhood is built on the obviously flood-prone riverbed.
Altenahr, Rheinland Palatinate. The entire neighborhood is built on the obviously flood-prone riverbed.

Similarly, if between Germany and Belgium there have been over 180 deaths and more than 100,000 people are still without electricity it is not because of the mere fact that floods have occurred, but because politicians, builders and speculators encouraged for years to build houses, streets and buildings in flood-prone zones, the same buildings that today are damaged or washed away.

It is true that although the contradiction between universal human needs and the needs of capital is always present, and this is just one more example, states can cushion it concretely against the prospect of greater material or political damage in order to maintain the dictatorship of those same interests.

But even though they knew the growing risks of extreme weather events due to climate change, they chose to ignore what could happen at any moment and failed to even moderate a model of resource management that even they acknowledged was destructive to the environment and suicidal for people.

Blaming climate change and extreme weather events for the fires in the US as Biden did this week, or for the deaths in the floods in Germany and Belgium as German politicians are quick to do now – and even Sánchez is doing-is a rhetorical way out that seeks to make states unaccountable and above all the logic that guides them even beyond their medium-term interests: to ensure the conditions of accumulation, i.e., the profitability of capital.

Is the Green Deal the solution?

Trier, Germany, flooded this week
Trier, Germany, flooded this week

One only needs to see how the Green Deal is materializing week by week to see it become clear that it is the capitalist solution. That is to say, climate goals are subordinated at every stage and in every field to the recovery of the profitability of capital. This is the reason why the path chosen to face climate change has been to orchestrate the biggest transfer of income from labor to capital since the world wars. And that, instead of curbing the greenhouse effect, is its primary goal and therefore its true nature.

So much so that even in Spain – which suffers brutal DANAs with increasing frequency – Green Deal funds earmarked for buildings and housing had not considered moving construction out of flood zones. They probably never will: it’s much more profitable to launch a massive rehabilitation industry with state-guaranteed returns.

Let’s not even talk about forests. In Europe, the EU’s Fit for 55 package has focused in this area on giving business to capital invested in timber and paper companies. The result is that little changes for the Portuguese, Spanish, Cypriot, Greek or Romanian forests that suffer greater pressure every summer. Not exploitable by industry, forest maintenance is unaffordable for the populations that legally own them and the state puts band-aids with cleaning and maintenance programs that are known to be inadequate. In the USA, taking care of forests on a national scale on a regular and systematic basis is still an innovative idea being discussed in the press.

Conclusions

It is well known, and it appears in all official scientific reports, that climate change increases the risks of extreme weather events. However, this is something very different from necessarily translating into death and destruction of entire villages as we have seen in Europe or massive fires as we are seeing in the USA. If this has been the case, it is because the states are not fighting against climate change and its consequences for people, but for the Green Deal, that is, for subordinating that objective to the recovery of capital gains by extracting income en masse from the workers.

Read also our statements:
 
- Climate Change exists and is a product of reactionary capitalism, the Green Deal is capital's non-solution (6/22/2021).
- Against the "Sacred Climate Union" (12/28/2019)