Despite record-breaking heat waves around the world, extreme megadrought in the western U.S., and wildfires in Europe, it’s also been a summer filled with historic rainfall and several “1,000 year” flooding events in places like Tennessee, Kentucky, Utah, and Yellowstone National Park.
These natural disasters have killed hundreds of people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage. But none of them compare to the recent apocalyptic flooding in Pakistan caused by a record monsoon season that killed over 1,000 people. A third of the country still remains under water.
So what’s going on here and how are inland areas far from rivers and streams still experiencing such enormous flooding? Experts say extreme rainfall spurred by climate change is rendering historical norms obsolete.
We know that the atmosphere gets hotter as humans burn fossil fuels and greenhouse gasses, like carbon dioxide and methane, are released into the atmosphere. And since hot air holds more water vapor, it means rain can fall harder when it rains, creating a greater risk for flooding.
As we’ve witnessed this summer, extreme heat events are also becoming more frequent and more intense globally due to a warming planet. When combined with record-setting rainfall, glaciers in Europe and Asia can melt faster, causing an even greater risk of flooding. Glaciers and ice sheets in the Arctic are also being impacted, contributing to sea level rise.
And in places like California that are experiencing historic drought, climate change is doubling the risk for a future megaflood in the next four decades.
As disheartening as this can all seem, it’s more important than ever that we proactively face our planetary emergency to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and help mitigate future climate disasters. But how?
The most important action we can take is accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. An NREL study found that generating 35% of electricity using wind and solar in the western U.S. would reduce CO2 emissions by 25-45%. Other studies have found that the Eastern United States power grid — one of the largest in the world— could accommodate upwards of 30% wind and solar/photovoltaic (PV) power.
There is progress being made as the pace of renewable energy generation accelerates worldwide. Renewable energy installations broke new records in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency. Solar is expected to account for 60% of the increase in global renewable capacity this year. Renewables in the US have already surpassed projections to provide 25.23% of total US electrical generation halfway through the year.
Generating electricity from renewable sources provides many other benefits such as water conservation and improved air quality. And on an individual level, there are many things we can do to lower our carbon footprint and help mitigate the effects of climate change.