The current definitive proof of a man-made global warming crisis is floods in Europe. If only German leaders had heeded the alarm. No we don’t mean the cut-emissions-now warnings that every news outlet clangs in the aftermath of a weather disaster, such as the New York Times (“European Floods Are Latest Sign of a Global Warming Crisis”) or NBC news (“Amid flooded roads, collapsed homes and death, Europe reckons with signs of climate change”). We mean the flood warnings which authorities ignored despite their being given nearly a week in advance first by meteorologists and then by the European EFAS flood warning system that led Belgium and the Netherlands to evacuate citizens while Germany did not. Luckily for Chancellor Angela Merkel the media’s predictable obsession with climate change allowed her to avoid the blame for the inexcusable failure of her government’s emergency alert system.
It’s hard to know what’s most disgraceful about this story. But we’re leaning to the widely reported fact that Merkel “said governments would have to get better and faster in their efforts to tackle the impact of climate change only days after Europe outlined a package of steps toward ‘net zero’ emissions by the middle of the century.”
The New York Times joined in the effort to exonerate Merkel and her colleagues, insisting that “‘No One Is Safe’: Extreme Weather Batters the Wealthy World/ Floods swept Germany, fires ravaged the American West and another heat wave loomed, driving home the reality that the world’s richest nations remain unprepared for the intensifying consequences of climate change.” But whatever one thinks of that “batters” or of the capacity of G7 nations to deal with some imaginary hypothetical climate apocalypse in the year 2100, it is an insult to the intelligence to say that they cannot protect people from a flash flood in urban Germany, or foresee that the more one paves floodplains like that around Altenau the more dangerous runoff from heavy rain will be with no reference to climate change at all.
It’s also irresponsible, though not lethal, that NBC did the can’t-attribute-but-must-anyway two-step: “While it’s too soon to directly blame this week’s deadly flooding in Germany on climate change, the science is clear that such disasters could become more common, experts warn.” And threw in the heat dome out of nostalgia. Or that Yahoo! News did a similar dance: “The extreme rainfall causing deadly flooding across western Germany and Belgium has been so alarming, many across Europe are asking if climate change is to blame. Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours. But determining its role in last week’s relentless downpours will take at least several weeks to research, scientists said on Friday.” Oh. Several weeks? Wanna bet?
If so, you lose. That same news story, mere seconds later, said “In general the rising average global temperature – now about 1.2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average – makes heavy rainfall more likely, according to scientists.”
The Times, in a separate entry in the we’re-all-going-to-die sweepstakes, bungled its history with a mighty blast: “Floods like these, which have left more than 100 dead, had not been seen in perhaps 1,000 years. For many, the warnings came too late, raising questions about lapses in Germany’s flood alert system.” As a matter of fact, the Grote Mandrenke or St. Marcellus’ Flood in January 1362 (it has names in at least four languages because of the extent of its devastation) killed at least 25,000 people in a continent whose population was not 1/10th of what it is today. Do these people not have search engines (an issue also raised by Pierre Gosselin)? Do they not know how to use them? Or, more likely, do they not know what to search for?
If they did, they might get as far into the exotic academic weeds as Wikipedia, which declares of the Mandrenke that “This storm tide, along with others of like size in the 13th century and 14th century, played a part in the formation of the Zuiderzee, and was characteristic of the unsettled and changeable weather in northern Europe at the beginning of the Little Ice Age.” Um what? Cooling brings extreme weather? Why weren’t we told? (CDN readers were.)
Also, why weren’t we told that an earlier “First St. Marcellus flood” had killed even more people in 1219? Why weren’t we told 1362 was not 1,000 years ago? Why weren’t we told Marcellus was Pope from summer 308 until January 309 and noted for his uncharitable severity toward Christians who lapsed under coercion?
OK, we weren’t told the last bit because it’s not relevant to this story. But for the rest, the reason is obvious. The reporter assumed that climate change was making thousand-year events commonplace and wrote a story about it, grabbing whatever headline flew by. The reporter did not investigate. The reporter did not report. The editors did not probe. Nobody checked that Germany (along with Denmark) had between 8,000 and 15,000 people killed in the Burchardi flood of 1634. Not 1,000 years ago. Or even that Germany lost 315 people in the North Sea flood tide of 1962. Not even a century ago. Let alone that St. Lucia’s flood killed between 50,000 and 80,000 people in the Holy Roman Empire in 1287. Also not 1,000 years ago.
The reason they didn’t check is that they had the verdict first and the trial afterward, with whoever happened to wander in as a key witness and carbon-spewing humans the predetermined villain. Reuters may not see the irony in its headline “As floods hit western Europe, scientists say climate change hikes heavy rain”. But the point is precisely that it is when some unusual event occurs that news stories rush to tell us scientists predict it. Not that they predicted it, or on what basis the reporter now concludes that it’s suddenly a consensus view. But if chunks of ice were to rain down from a clear blue sky in Merauke tomorrow, we would hear “As ice chunks hit southern New Guinea, scientists say climate change hikes heavy hail”.
P.S. Most stories were rather vague about exactly what mechanism scientists had been predicting would cause more rain. One New York Times piece said “This sort of extreme downpours are one of the most visible signs that the climate is changing as a result of warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, generating more, and more powerful, rainfall.” And NBC seemed to agree. But Reuters offered an it-wasn’t-climate-so-it-was explanation (while predicting a political upsurge against warming in previously climate-inert Energiewende Germany): “The devastation of the floods, attributed by meteorologists to a climate-change driven shift in the jet stream that has brought inland water that once stayed at sea, could shake up an election that has until now seen little discussion of climate.” So um have scientists long predicted that climate change would cause flooding by shifting the jet stream? Or was it about more evaporation? It doesn’t really matter. See, climate change is sinful and attracts the wrath of God. Stay tuned.