26th September 2023 – (Hong Kong) The recent catastrophic flooding across the Mediterranean highlights how extreme weather events are often incorrectly labeled “natural disasters”, obscuring humanity’s role in exacerbating climate threats. While triggered by a storm system, the true culprit lies less with nature than human actions intensifying risks.
Over 10 days in early September, low pressure dubbed Storm Daniel dumped heavy rainfall across southern Europe and North Africa. But the deluges in each location resulted from separate causes – none truly “natural.”
In Spain, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, precipitation occurred for 4 days. But emissions-driven climate change made this extreme rainfall up to 10 times likelier, with up to 40% more water. Climate change has been identified by experts as the underlying cause of the unprecedented rainstorm that devastated Hong Kong earlier this month, which is typically expected to occur only once in every 500 years.
Meanwhile, in Libya, back-to-back record-shattering rainstorms capped by a rare Mediterranean hurricane submerged the country. Here, scientists found climate change increased likelihood over 50-fold, with 50% higher rainfall. While still an outlier event, emissions dramatically boosted odds and intensity.
After such disasters, attribution studies quantifying global warming’s impact have become vital to inserting humanity into the narrative. By comparing what happened to simulations without greenhouse gas emissions, researchers calculate how the climate crisis influenced a given weather system.
Crucially, this also adds human agency. Collectively burning fossil fuels escalates and worsens storms, heatwaves, droughts and wildfires. But there are always underlying sociopolitical vulnerabilities that enable catastrophe.
Libya epitomises this. Already crippled by civil war, corruption and neglect, critical maintenance never occurred at breached dams despite expert warnings. The resultant tsunami-like torrents inflicted utter devastation. At minimum, proper upkeep may have mitigated damage.
Bad governance and greed often underlie “natural” disasters. In Madagascar’s 2021 famine, corporate land grabs rather than sole climate factors caused hunger. And concrete-paved floodplains and discriminatory disaster response intensified South Asia’s climate suffering.
Indeed, the disproportionate impact of apparently natural hazards exposes global inequity. While climate change makes disasters more likely and extreme, social structures dictate who suffers most. This underscores the need to build climate justice on adaptation alongside emissions cuts and compensate those least responsible. Funding to strengthen climate resilience remains fractional compared to mitigation efforts.
Some argue focusing on adaptations distracts from slashing emissions. But this outdated binary view ignores how marginalised groups bear the brunt of intensifying threats. Protecting them is a moral imperative, regardless of attribution.
Of course, attribution helps counteract apathy and inertia by demonstrating clear danger. But solutions must then address root injustices, not just atmospheric chemistry. No society can climate-proof fully without equitable foundations.
Scientists found with Libya’s dams, proper maintenance may have helped despite the storm’s extremity. But neglect born of conflict left people excruciatingly exposed, their fate sealed by institutional failures.
Climate change will keep worsening hazards globally. Survival depends on building resilience, especially for the vulnerable. This requires adapting infrastructure and economies, but also remedying societal disparities leaving many defenceless.
Emitting less can slow climate change. But preventing disasters requires fixing systemic fragility and inequity. Greater climate justice is only possible by transforming the social order. Our collective actions shape how weather impacts humanity – for good or ruin.
With the right vision, we can remake the world to endure coming storms. Yet currently, our own dysfunctions amplify climatic upheaval. We worsen the peril while leaving the marginalised most imperiled. Nature alone does not dictate the toll of catastrophes. The causes lie nearer – in systems created by human hands. Until remade to protect all people, these will keep magnifying disasters amid a warming world. But the solutions remain ours to choose.