Floods in Europe: This is not a natural disaster


At the time of writing, the terrible floods that hit Belgium, parts of Germany, and the Netherlands have claimed more than 100 lives. Tens of thousands of people had to be moved, lost everything and will remain traumatized forever. Others have not even had this “luck”, alas, and the large number of missing persons (1,300 in Germany) unfortunately leaves no room for doubt: in the end, the gruesome toll will be much, much heavier. The material damage is immense, not to mention the impacts in terms of water and soil pollution (by hydrocarbons, heavy metals, PCBs, plastics, sewage, etc.).

This is what climate change looks like

It is almost certain that this disaster is a manifestation of climate change brought about by greenhouse gas emissions (mainly due to the combustion of fossil fuels). Ultimately, if this were an isolated event, there would be room for doubt. But this is not an isolated event, quite the contrary. First, these exceptional rains follow two years of heat waves and equally exceptional drought (reminder: the 2020 heat wave killed 1,400 in Belgium, etc.). Second, the fact that this deluge in Western Europe coincides with a deadly and unprecedented heat wave in Canada (British Columbia) is not a coincidence: it is very likely that the two phenomena are linked and stem from the disturbance circumpolar jet stream (strong winds that rotate at high altitude around the pole). Third, the increase in extreme weather phenomena (more violent storms and cyclones, more intense heat waves and cold spells, unprecedented droughts and fires, rains, floods and mudslides, etc.) is indisputable and corresponds perfectly to the consequences of global warming such as that they have been projected by the IPCC since its first report—more than 30 years ago.

Governments ignored weather warnings

The meteorological services of the affected countries had diagnosed the presence over our regions of a “cold drop”—an isolated and stable low pressure associated with a mass of cold air. We know that this kind of phenomenon causes abundant precipitation. We know that these can last several days, since the depression is stationary. In this case, the threat was all the more serious as the “cold drop” was surrounded by huge masses of hot air, laden with large amounts of water vapor. As it circled around the low, this water vapor could only condense and rain down.

Liege, Belgium. (Valentin Bianchi / AP)

The warning was issued by meteorologists and hydrologists: an exceptional event was brewing. The two to three days before the start of the flood could/should have been used to analyze the threat, take emergency measures, mobilize civil protection and the army, warn the population, evacuate the most threatened homes. This would not have prevented the flooding, but the damage would have been limited and, above all, loss of life would have been avoided. Cuba’s experience with cyclones confirms that prevention makes the difference. But here nothing has been done. Once again (as in the face of COVID-19!), The warnings have been ignored. The reasons are each time the same: governments have their noses in the handlebars of the economy, their priority is the “competitiveness” of companies, they refuse to take into account the fact that humanity has entered the climate catastrophe (in Belgium, as the clouds gathered, part of the political “class” found it even more important to spread gossip about the links between Ms. Haouach and the Muslim Brotherhood).

A bundle of aggravating structural factors

In addition to this lack of preparation, the scale of the floods and their consequences were multiplied by a host of structural factors of various kinds. Let us quote in bulk: budgetary restrictions (to civil protection and firefighters, in particular – thank you Jan Jambon!); the concreting of the grounds (it prevents the percolation of water); rectification of streams and dewatering of wetlands (they act as a sponge); urban sprawl; rainwater management (sent to the sewer, it goes through treatment plants before swelling the waterways); land speculation (it encourages people to build in flood-prone areas); agricultural policy (encouragement for large monocultures) and cultivation practices (deep plowing, lack of soil cover, disappearance of hedges). On all these fronts, essential preventive measures should have been taken years ago – and will have to be taken without delay to avoid further tragedies. But what is called “adaptation” necessary for the irreversible part of climate change must not serve to avoid the root of the problem: the climate itself. We must move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible and, for that, it is not enough to increase the share of renewables: we must break with capitalist productivism, completely change the mode of production, consumption and relationship with nature, and do so according to a public plan.

A loan of 2500 Euros per household is an insult to the victims

The government declares a national day of mourning, calls for solidarity and unity, but by its declarations it is keeping in the dark the part of the population that is unaware of climate change. The Belgian Prime Minister spoke of an “exceptional, unprecedented” event. However, the bottom line is that, with global warming, “the exceptional” becomes the rule, the “unprecedented” becomes commonplace. We can clearly see here the link between “knowledge” and “power”: underlining the “exceptional” nature of floods without speaking of the climate allows politicians to keep the monopoly of decisions while avoiding their responsibilities. Without saying so explicitly, they convey the idea that the disaster is “natural” when it is not.

It goes without saying that this speech plays into the hands of climate negationists (represented in the government by MR David Clarinval, deputy prime minister, negationist sidekick of Drieu Godefridi and the late Istvan Marko). (The president of the MR, GL Bouchez, saw fit to protest against the link made by “some”—in particular, the climatologist JP van Ypersele—between floods and warming)). But all the political tendencies in power have a certain interest in holding this speech. Talking about a “natural disaster” helps sweep under the carpet the climate inaction of successive coalitions. If the victims had a clear idea of ​​the governments’ responsibility, the loan of 2500 euros per affected household (a decision by the Walloon government) would appear to them in full light as yet another injustice, an insult to the victims. Instead of this loan to be repaid, the populations have the right to demand a reparation worthy of the name, financed by the companies, the banks and the shareholders who continue against all odds to invest in fossils.

Flooded and thirsty of the whole world, unite!

Beyond imperative solidarity with the victims, we must learn the lessons of the tragedy, and lesson No. 1 is that the time is serious, that there is no more a minute to lose. The most energetic measures must be taken urgently to stop the climate catastrophe; otherwise this catastrophe will turn into a cataclysm. Lesson 2 is that we cannot trust governments at all: they have been telling us to act for the climate for over 30 years and they have done next to nothing. Or rather, yes, they have done a lot: their neoliberal policies of austerity, privatization, helping to maximize the profits of multinational fossil fuel companies and supporting agribusiness have brought us to the brink of the abyss.

“We are all in the same boat,” say policymakers. No: in the North as in the South, the rich get by and get richer through the disasters for which they are the main culprits (the richest 10% emit more than 50% of global CO2). The popular classes are paying the bill, which are faced with both the worsening of global warming and the deepening of social inequalities. The poorest pay it twice, tripling when they have no other solution than to migrate at risk of their lives, in the legitimate hope of a better life. Climate change is a question of class. Lesson 3 is that all those who are victims of this policy—small farmers, young people, women, workers, Indigenous peoples—must unite across the borders.

Nothing distinguishes the poor people who wade in the water in Pepinster or Verviers from the poor people who wade in the water in Karachi or Dhaka (1/3 of Bangladesh was under water in 2020 following the disturbance of the monsoon by the climate change!). Let us not fall into the trap of the government, which will push cynicism to use the floods to distract the undocumented migrants who have been on hunger strike in Brussels for more than 50 days, when they are in danger of death.

The EU’s criminal unsaid: the “temporary overshoot” of 1.5 ° C

In the coming days, we will hear the rulers swear with their hands on their hearts that the dramatic floods reinforce their desire to green up capitalism, that the European Union is at the forefront and that everything would be better if the other countries of the world followed its example.

Lesson 4 is not to let governments put us to sleep with this talk. Green capitalism is a lure. The European Union’s climate plan is riddled with false solutions (planting trees), sleight of hand (not counting emissions from global air and maritime transport), dangerous technologies (carbon capture and sequestration, nuclear, energy crops over millions of hectares), new colonial injustices vis-à-vis the South (“carbon offsets”, taxes at EU borders), and new anti-social market measures (the payment of carbon emission rights in the construction and mobility sectors, which companies will pass on to consumers).

The real aim of this plan is to try to square the circle: to combine capitalist growth and climate stabilization. Its unsaid is the senseless plan to “temporarily exceed” the 1.5 ° C threshold of warming, subsequently offset by a hypothetical technological “cooling” of the planet. Caused by a warming of 1.1 ° C, the floods in Belgium and Germany, as well as other catastrophes around the world, let’s imagine the nightmarish consequences of this “temporary overshoot.” On Oct. 10, in Brussels, let’s make the climate demonstration a popular tidal wave in favor of another policy. A policy of the common good, a democratic and social policy to meet real human needs, a prudent and loving policy of borderless care for people and our mother Earth.

Translated from Gauche Anticapitaliste, Belgian section of the Fourth International. See: https://www.gaucheanticapitaliste.org/inondations-ceci-nest-pas-une-catastrophe-naturelle/

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