Other View: Europe's lead role fighting climate change falls victim to a massive heat wave

A notice in an underground train station warns people to avoid travelling where necessary because of the heat, on July 19, 2022, in London. Temperatures were expected to hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in parts of the UK this week, prompting the Met Office to issue its first red extreme heat warning in England, from London and the southeast up to York and Manchester.
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Europeans’ resolve to combat climate change is melting under the summer heat as they endure the kinds of temperatures and fire conditions that the American West has dealt with for years. Long protected from American-style heat catastrophes because of consistently cool weather patterns, Europe is now living the nightmare.

And that poses a conundrum for the world, because the hotter it gets, the more Europeans react in ways they’ve long criticized Americans for: cranking up the air conditioners and consuming even more carbon-heavy energy resources. Or, more accurately, Europeans are going out and buying air conditioners that they’ve never even needed before because their summer temperatures have been so predictably moderate.

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Despite Europe’s leading role in efforts to cut back on carbon-producing coal, gas and oil in favor of carbon-neutral wind, solar and geothermal, that response has been too late and too inadequate to fend off these global warming trends. For people’s survival as well as comfort, their only choice is to draw their energy from currently available fossil fuel sources. And the more those fuels are burned, the more carbon is pumped into the atmosphere, and the harder it’ll be to keep higher temperatures at bay.

The same forces are likely to result in winters that include massive polar vortex anomalies that sweep far to the south and result in electrical grid collapses like Texas saw in February 2020. The planet is trying to correct itself, climate scientists say, but the response has been wild swings toward weather extremes. And very little in the current energy makeup, including Europe’s widespread conversion to wind and solar energy, is enough to deal with extreme weather in the short term.

Fires are spreading across France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. In Britain, record-high temperatures this week are threatening to buckle railroads and, quite literally, melt airport runways. The transportation network is partially shutting down as a result. Office buildings without air conditioning are having to close. One historic London bridge under renovation is being wrapped in foil to fend off heat expansion that could cause existing big cracks to spread.


Perhaps more to the point, however, is that some European countries are now backing away from their commitments to meet carbon-neutral goals. The European Union on July 6 formally allowed investments in gas technologies to be labeled as “green” in order to qualify for government subsidies. Although gas burns cleaner than oil or coal, it’s hardly green. It’s a carbon- and methane-emitting fossil fuel that contributes to global warming. Europe also rejects the idea of a total ban on Russian oil and gas, sharply limiting the effect of international sanctions for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The prospect of the European bloc reaching its carbon-neutral goal by 2050 now seems bleak, and sadly, so is the prospect of humans saving the planet from the climate crisis humans unquestionably have caused.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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