The Germans have a word for everything, runs an old joke. But they didn’t have one for the disaster that unfolded in the west of the country last week, says Joy Lo Dico in the Financial Times. In the “Wasser Inferno” that inundated the Rhine and Meuse basins, at least 164 people drowned. More than 150 are still missing and centuries-old towns and villages have been devastated. A further 31 people died in Belgium. Many survivors were plucked from their roofs by helicopters. Once we’d have called this an act of God. Now it’s harder to “shift the blame”.
You can blame climate change, as a number of our politicians have done, but that’s just “a bluff,” says Axel Bojanowski in Die Welt. The Ahr flooded in 1804 and 1910, killing dozens each time. Nineteen years ago we had flood catastrophes on the Elbe and the Danube. Yet even after that, Germany’s disaster preparedness remained “on a par with developing nations”. Yes, climate change is a big problem. What’s worse, though, is our failure to protect the towns on our natural flood plains. “Incredible ignorance” is what made this catastrophe possible.
If you’re wondering how Britain’s leaders might tackle these extreme weather events, just look at how they’ve dealt with the pandemic, says Aditya Chakrabortty in The Guardian. We’ll doubtless be told that we have to “learn to live with climate breakdown” and “make a trade-off between lives and livelihoods” when it comes to cutting carbon emissions. Instead of global co-operation, ministers will wax lyrical about “money-sucking” techno-fixes such as carbon capture. This attitude is possible while those dying are “brown or black or poor”, but when German streets are being washed away, wildfires are consuming rich California and Chinese commuters are drowning on metro trains, it’s clear there are “some bunkers you just can’t buy”.
Politicians in US and Europe talk a good game when it comes to climate policy, but there’s an emptiness to their promises, says India Bourke in the New Statesman. Germany and France are trying to dodge an EU proposal to phase out petrol cars by 2035. President Biden’s big infrastructure bill has ditched many of its climate provisions. At least the EU has laid out plans to halve its emissions by 2030, and to launch a fund to help citizens struggling with higher fuel bills. Until then we need to realise that, as Greta Thunberg tweeted this week, this is not the “new normal”, it’s “the very beginning”. Be it a mega-fire in California or a murderous heatwave in Gujarat, the real crisis is still ahead of us. We need swift and concrete action. The scale of the loss unfolding across our drowning and burning world “demands nothing less”.