Cycling across London the day after our summer school Ideas For Freedom (10-11 July), I was soaked to the bone in, I believe, the heaviest rainfall I’ve experienced in the UK. The tropical-style downpour turned roads into rivers. A premonition of things to come? Very soon, in fact.
In the week since, over 165 people have been confirmed dead from flooding across western Europe. Up to 1,300 further people are unaccounted for in one German district alone: whole villages have been destroyed, bridges twisted out of place, as rivers have burst banks.
In Verviers, in Belgium, an overnight curfew was implemented to prevent looting, after floods swept cars through the streets. Residents of Belgium’s third-largest urban area, Liège, were ordered to evacuate on Thursday 15th. Areas of Tokyo, Japan, have received the heaviest rainfall since measurements began.
Meanwhile, the UK Met Office has issued extreme heat warnings, the first of their kind under a new warning system after a wave of heat-deaths last summer. Record-breaking temperatures have hit Scandinavia and Moscow, hundreds have died from heat in areas of the Northwestern USA famed for cool and foggy weather, and cities across India, Pakistan, and Libya have all had unusually high temperatures.
Ongoing wildfires across much of North America have burned whole Canadian villages off the map.
A hotter world torches forests and dries and roasts humans: warmer atmospheres take up and hold more moisture, causing more extreme rainfall with greater regularity.
This extreme weather rampages across landscapes, ecosystems, infrastructures, and societies unused and unadapted to it, causing widespread destruction. The rainstorm I experienced on Monday 12 saw a whole-month’s worth of July rain fall on London in one day. Parts of Western Europe received up to two months rainfall in two days — Wednesday and Thursday — on soils already near saturation.
Yet for extreme weather, the years we’re living through now are the best we’ll ever have. The most ambitious targets aimed at by governments and most climate scientists are to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, the short-sighted inaction on climate change, puts the world on a trajectory to far higher still than that.
Even if we surpass current environmental and political ambitions, and limit warming to even less than 1.5°C, we will still move towards a hotter world with more chaotic and destructive extreme weather.
“Once-a-century” weather events will become even more commonplace. Many changes that happen before we win the net-negative CO2 emissions world we must fight for — glaciers melting, ecosystem destruction — are irreversible, at least on the scale of a single human lifetime.
This is reason not for despair, but for urgency in the radical action and organising that can win the changes we need to limit the destruction.
A world limited to 1.3°C will be almost unimaginably better than a world limited to 1.5°C; a world limited to 3°C in turn unimaginably better than one limited to 4°C. And how society will be structured, what climate interventions and what infrastructural adaptations to the changing world are made, matters just as much.
We — the organised working class, and socialist environmentalists within that — will be the decisive force in determining which future is realised. Organised where production happens, we have the power to transform society from the ground up.
We can kindle that fight now: joining protests, organising around environmental issues in our workplaces, bringing bold motions to the Labour Party and our unions, taking working-class and socialist politics to our local XR groups.
And engaging in Workers’ Liberty’s environmental events and publications, to arm ourselves with the ideas needed for the fight.