(CNN)Until recently, climate change had been talked about as a future threat. Its frontlines were portrayed as remote places like the Arctic, where polar bears are running out of sea ice to hunt from. Sea level rise and extreme drought was a problem for the developing world.
But in the past month, it’s been the developed world on the frontline.In the past four weeks, floods in Germany engulfed streets and swallowed homes that had stood for more than a century in the quiet village of Schuld. A Canadian town of just 250 — known more for its cool, mountain air — burned to the ground in a wildfire that followed unprecedented heat. Photos: Deadly flooding in western Europe Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeTwo brothers embrace Monday, July 19, in front of their parents’ home, which was destroyed by flooding in Altenahr, Germany.Hide Caption 1 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA damaged road buckles after flooding in Euskirchen, Germany.Hide Caption 2 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeThis aerial photo shows a bridge collapsed over the Ahr River in Germany’s Ahrweiler district on Sunday.Hide Caption 3 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeDamage is seen Sunday in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany.Hide Caption 4 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeHomes are damaged in Pepinster, Belgium, on Saturday.Hide Caption 5 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA resident stands in floodwaters in Rochefort, Belgium, on Saturday.Hide Caption 6 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeMembers of the German armed forces search for flood victims in Erftstadt, Germany, on Saturday.Hide Caption 7 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA resident of Arcen, Netherlands, looks at the rising water of the Meuse River on Saturday.Hide Caption 8 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeWater flows over a square in front of a house in Bischofswiesen, Germany.Hide Caption 9 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA man stands in front of a destroyed house in Schuld, Germany.Hide Caption 10 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA water level gauge shows rising waters in Arcen, Netherlands, on Saturday. Dutch officials ordered the evacuation of 10,000 people in the municipality of Venlo, as the Meuse was rising there faster than expected.Hide Caption 11 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeThis aerial photo shows flooding in Erftstadt, Germany, on Friday.Hide Caption 12 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA man brushes water and mud out of his flooded house in Ensival, Belgium, on Friday.Hide Caption 13 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropePeople collect debris in Bad Muenstereifel, Germany.Hide Caption 14 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeThe Steinbach dam is seen after flooding near Euskirchen, Germany.Hide Caption 15 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeFirefighters walk past a car that was damaged by flooding in Schuld, Germany.Hide Caption 16 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropePeople lay sandbags in Roermond, Netherlands, on Friday.Hide Caption 17 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA woman sorts through clothing at a shelter in Liege, Belgium, on Friday.Hide Caption 18 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA woman walks up the stairs of her damaged house in Ensival, Belgium.Hide Caption 19 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA man walks through a flooded part of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, on Thursday.Hide Caption 20 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA regional train sits in floodwaters at the local station in Kordel, Germany.Hide Caption 21 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropePeople use rafts to evacuate after the Meuse River broke its banks during heavy flooding in Liege, Belgium.Hide Caption 22 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropePeople look at a railway crossing that was destroyed by the flooding in Priorei, Germany.Hide Caption 23 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeMen walk by damaged homes in Schuld, Germany.Hide Caption 24 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA man surveys what remains of his house in Schuld.Hide Caption 25 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeWater from the Ahr River flows past a damaged bridge in Schuld.Hide Caption 26 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeEvacuees ride a bus in Valkenburg aan de Geul, Netherlands.Hide Caption 27 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA car floats in the Meuse River during heavy flooding in Liege, Belgium, on Thursday.Hide Caption 28 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropePeople walk on a damaged road in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany.Hide Caption 29 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA resident uses a bucket to remove water from a house cellar in Hagen, Germany.Hide Caption 30 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA man and woman stand on the stoop of their home as they look at floodwaters in Geulle, Netherlands.Hide Caption 31 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeHouses are damaged by flooding in Insul, Germany, on Thursday.Hide Caption 32 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA man steps down a ladder in an attempt to cut his boat loose in the Meuse River in Liege, Belgium.Hide Caption 33 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeCaravans and campers are partially submerged in Roermond, Netherlands.Hide Caption 34 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA destroyed building is seen in a flood-affected area of Schuld, Germany.Hide Caption 35 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropePeople walk over floodwaters in Stansstad, Switzerland.Hide Caption 36 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeCars are covered by debris in Hagen, Germany.Hide Caption 37 of 38 Photos: Deadly flooding in western EuropeA flood-affected area of Schuld, Germany.Hide Caption 38 of 38And in the western United States, just weeks after a historic heatwave, some 20,000 firefighters and personnel have been deployed to extinguish 80 large fires that have consumed more than 1 million acres (4,047 square kilometers).Climate scientists have for decades warned that the climate crisis would lead to more extreme weather. They said it would be deadly and it would be more frequent. But many are expressing surprise that heat and rain records are being broken by such large margins.Read MoreSince the 1970s, scientists have predicted the extent to which the world would warm fairly accurately. What’s harder for their models to predict — even as computers get more and more powerful — is how intense the impact will be.Michael E. Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, told CNN the past few weeks have showed the limitation of climate change models.”There is an important factor with many of these events, including the recent ‘heat dome’ event out west, that the climate models don’t capture,” Mann said. “The models are underestimating the magnitude of the impact of climate change on extreme weather events.”In climate models, Mann explained, day-to-day weather is just noise. It looks a lot like chaos. It’s only the most extreme events that stand out as a clear signal.”The signal is emerging from the noise more quickly” than models predicted, Mann said. “The [real world] signal is now large enough that we can ‘see’ it in the daily weather,” even though the models didn’t see it coming. Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestA firefighter battles the Bootleg Fire in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, along the Oregon and California border, on Thursday, July 15.Hide Caption 1 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestThe Tamarack Fire burns in Markleeville, California, near the Nevada border, on Saturday, July 17. The fire was sparked by lightning on July 4 and has triggered mandatory evacuations for a number of campgrounds and neighborhoods in the area.Hide Caption 2 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestA member of the Northwest Incident Management Team 12 holds a map of the Chuweah Creek Fire as wildfires devastated Nespelem, Washington, on Friday, July 16.Hide Caption 3 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestA cloud from the Bootleg Fire drifts into the air near Bly, Oregon, on July 16.Hide Caption 4 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestFirefighters spray water from the Union Pacific Railroad’s fire train while battling the Dixie Fire in California’s Plumas National Forest on July 16.Hide Caption 5 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestHorses climb a hillside that was burned by the Chuweah Creek Fire in eastern Washington.Hide Caption 6 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestFire from the Bootleg Fire illuminates smoke near Bly, Oregon, on the night of July 16.Hide Caption 7 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestA firefighting aircraft drops flame retardant on the Bootleg Fire in Bly, Oregon, on Thursday, July 15.Hide Caption 8 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestFirefighters dig away at hot spots underneath stumps and brush after flames from the Snake River Complex Fire swept through the area south of Lewiston, Idaho, on July 15.Hide Caption 9 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestBurned cars sit outside a home that was destroyed by the Chuweah Creek Fire in Nespelem, Washington.Hide Caption 10 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestEvacuee Dee McCarley hugs her cat Bunny at a Red Cross center in Klamath Falls, Oregon, on Wednesday, July 14.Hide Caption 11 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestAn airplane drops fire retardant on the Chuweah Creek Fire in Washington on July 14.Hide Caption 12 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestOperations Section Chief Bert Thayer examines a map of the Bootleg Fire in Chiloquin, Oregon, on Tuesday, July 13.Hide Caption 13 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestFire consumes a home as the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, tears through Doyle, California, on July 10. It’s the second time in less than a year that the small town has been ravaged by a wildfire.Hide Caption 14 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestMen hug a member of the Red Cross at a Bootleg Fire evacuation center in Klamath Falls, Oregon, on July 12.Hide Caption 15 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestEmbers blow across a field as the Sugar Fire burns in Doyle, California, on July 9.Hide Caption 16 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestFirefighters monitor the Sugar Fire in Doyle, California, on July 9.Hide Caption 17 of 18 Photos: Wildfires raging in the WestIn this long-exposure photograph, taken early on July 2, flames surround a drought-stricken Shasta Lake during the Salt Fire in Lakehead, California.Hide Caption 18 of 18That means historic events like the flooding in Germany or the wildfire in Canada didn’t register in the predictions. To make that happen, scientists say, we need even more powerful climate models.Tim Palmer, a research Professor in Climate Physics at the University of Oxford, is one of several scientists who have been calling for a global center for modeling that would house an “exascale” supercomputer — a machine that can process a mind-boggling amount of data.Scientists and governments in the 1950s established the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), when it became clear that to advance the field of particle physics would require a machine so expensive it was unlikely any single country would develop it.Deadly floods inundated parts of Europe, but the Netherlands avoided fatalities. Here's why“As an international organization, CERN has been hugely successful,” Palmer told CNN. “That’s what we need for climate change.”Scientists use computer simulations of weather events to make projections of how they may change decades into the future. But they can’t zoom in enough — even to a city level — to predict the most extreme events. Despite technology’s progress, computers are still not typically sophisticated enough to operate at such a high resolution.Palmer said climate models must get there.”If worldwide we’re spending trillions of dollars adapting to climate change, we’ve got to know exactly what we’re adapting to,” Palmer said, “whether it’s floods, droughts, storms or sea level rise.”‘A necessary evil’While the recent extreme weather events in the Northern Hemisphere took many by surprise, they were “not completely unexpected,” said Richard Allan, a professor of climate science at the University of Reading. “This is what the science has always been pointing towards,” he said.But he agrees that better computers would be useful in making more detailed and refined projections.”It’s also difficult to assess how weather patterns will shift and alter in the future, including whether westerly flow over Europe will be more commonly blocked, causing thunderstorms to stall over one place, such has been the case over Europe in July 2021, or more lengthy and sustained heatwaves such as over western North America,” said Allan.A wildfire has destroyed 90% of this town. Indigenous communities have been hit the hardestEven without this granular modeling, climate activists — and, increasingly, communities affected by extreme weather events — are calling for more action on climate change. German Chancelor Angela Merkel said over the weekend that, “We have to hurry, we have to get faster in the fight against climate change.”Several developed countries, including the US, have this year significantly increased their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union last week unveiled an ambitious plan to put climate at the center of just about every development and economic initiative it has. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, second right, and Rhineland-Palatinate State Premier Malu Dreyer, right, talk to residents during their visit to Schuld on July 18 after the flood hit.Yet many activists say that their pledges still fall short of the action needed to contain average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which the International Panel for Climate Change says is necessary to avoid even more catastrophic impacts of climate change. They also criticize governments that make ambitious pledges while continuing to approve new fossil fuel projects, including coal mines, and oil and gas facilities. Merritt Turetsky, director at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, is hoping that these weather events in the developed world will galvanize that kind of action. She is herself challenging her own perceptions of where climate change frontlines are and who is vulnerable.JUST WATCHEDHow to save the planet: Five simple things you can doReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
How to save the planet: Five simple things you can do 03:01″Maybe this is a necessary evil,” Turetsky said. “We used to think of frontlines as island nations because of sea level rises, or the Arctic.””We know there is a cognitive dissonance when climate change is impacting people so far away from you and everything you know. We tend to put it on a shelf, because it’s one thing to see ‘this is what they say,’ but it’s another thing to feel it. We’re at a point where everyone on the planet now has felt the impacts of climate change itself, or at least someone they love or know has. It’s circling in closer and closer.”That’s certainly the feeling among residents in Germany’s Schuld.”When you look at what’s happening in Canada, where they had temperatures of 50 degrees, and what’s going on all over the world, it is clear this is the result of climate change,” Niklas Pieters told CNN, as he helped his parents clear the debris from their ravaged home in Schuld on Monday. “I don’t want to have to get used to this.”
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