Heat and drought: Europe's new normal

Half the continent is in the grip of a heatwave, with forest fires raging across southern Europe from Portugal to Greece, harvests drying out and life in some cities becoming unbearable with temperatures of up to 40 degrees. Europe's press discusses deficiencies in forest protection policies and false priorities. What needs changing - in climate policy, the media and collective consciousness?

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T24 (TR) /

It will be all forgotten again by autumn

People feel neither concerned nor responsible until the fire is right on their doorstep, T24 comments:

“With the rising temperatures, droughts and forest fires are spreading, rainfall patterns are changing and getting more extreme. Most of the world couldn't care less. Human beings have the tendency to believe that any catastrophe that is not right there in front of them has nothing to do with them or the area or the time they live in. This is why the forest fires will be forgotten as soon as summer is over.”

Imerodromos (GR) /

Ban construction on burnt forest areas

News site Imerodromos is outraged that burnt forest areas may be sold off as building land and calls for strict laws:

“The same criminal policy of forest destruction is being implemented that has led to millions of hectares of burnt forest, hundreds of dead citizens, dozens of dead firefighters and the destruction of thousands of properties. Yet none of those who are in government now or have governed for decades has ever said: 'It's forbidden to buy land in burnt areas'. That's six words [in Greek]. ... If they are against arsonists and land grabbers and in favour of forests, the environment and sensible management, how come none of them ever thought to enshrine these six words in law?”

Mediapart (FR) /

TV must up its game

TV journalism promotes ignorance and apathy when it comes to climate change, art historian André Gunthert protests:

“Television systematically sweeps any analysis of the causes under the carpet of fatalism and reduces the response to this event to tackling the immediate emergency or a litany about 'sensible behaviour'. Is it hot? Keep hydrated, stay in the shade and use it as an excuse to eat ice cream. ... These summers are a friendly joke compared to those that await us in a few decades. Studies show that a large part of the audience is well aware of this. The media have no choice but to up their game and raise the level of the debate. And fast.”

Libération (FR) /

Helping instead of hindering climate killers

Politicians always seem to have more urgent problems to deal with, jibes US sociologist Eric Klinenberg in Libération:

“This week, when Europe is cooking on the barbecue, instead of trying to decarbonise our lifestyles our political leaders are actually doing the very opposite: lowering the cost of petrol, electricity, travel and meat! There is only one option today: we have to adapt to the dangers posed by the climate. What would help would be investing in a resilient infrastructure: better power grids, green roofs, flood management systems and - most critically of all - more affordable and sustainable housing.”

Correio da Manhã (PT) /

Police must intervene

Known arsonists should not be allowed to roam free during the wildfire season, urges Correio da Manhã:

“The causes [of the fires] have been known for years: from the lack of measures to clean up the forests, to the desertification of the interior and a questionable reforestation policy. ... However, there is one issue where immediate action is needed. The police possess profiles of 700 arsonists. Since so many of the fires are caused by criminal intervention, it does seem commonsensical that these people, who pose a threat to society, should not be allowed to roam free during the summer months.”

Público (PT) /

Joint management of private woodlands

The government must be able to intervene in abandoned private woodlands, professor António Heitor Reis writes in Público:

“According to the law, owners must play an active role in managing their woodlands. But these laws are failing because in almost every case the owners are either dead by now or their heirs are far away or untraceable, or too old or lacking the means to take care of their land. ... I propose that the state should take charge of these estates and set up measures to manage them. ... Special conditions should be granted in case an individual decides to invest in the woodland within the framework of defined forest policy, or strengthen the local forestry sector and create jobs.”

Correio da Manhã (PT) /

The price for the neglect of entire regions

In Portugal, there is the danger of a repeat of the devastating forest fires of 2017, writes Correio da Manhã:

“The weather conditions this week are propitious for the spread of fires, with temperatures above 30 degrees, strong winds and almost zero humidity. But this could be avoided - if the inland regions were not increasingly abandoned and forgotten. ... Five years after the apocalypse of 2017, little has been done. There have been many well-intentioned changes in the law, but the region has become even more deserted, and the regrown forest awaits new tragedies. Politicians are now on alert, but no one cares about the inland areas in autumn, winter and spring. The fires are only controlled if a region becomes economically important.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

Italy needs to invest billions

The taz calls for a consistent change of direction in Rome:

“Italy must get rid of the idea that water is abundantly available, that all you have to do is turn on the sprinklers in the fields, that all you have to do is turn on the tap at home and water flows. Water is a scarce and precious resource. New reservoirs must be built, the dilapidated network of pipes in which 40 percent of the drinking water is lost must be renovated, and the purified water from the sewage treatment plants must no longer simply be dumped into the sea: Italy needs to pour billions into investments that it must tackle quickly if it doesn't want to be left high and dry every summer.”

20 minutos (ES) /

We can adjust to reality

There are simple ways to make hot periods more bearable, writes environmental journalist César-Javier Palacios in 20 Minutos:

“New heat wave, new suffering. We will have to get used to it, because climate change is a reality. ... There are two simple solutions: turn back the clock and make our cities greener. ... The deviation of the official time from solar time means that on the Spanish mainland the peak of the heat isn't reached in the late afternoon, between 5 and 7 pm. ... If we went to bed according to universal or solar time, we would be spared a few degrees of heat and sleep better. And trees, millions of big, unpruned trees we need. Did you know that under them it can be up to 15 degrees cooler?”

Le Monde (FR) /

Disasters are transnational

Climate change is hitting southern Europe harder, which is why the EU is urgently called upon to intervene, urge scientists Klaas Lenaerts, Simone Tagliapietra and Guntram Wolff of the think-tank Institute Bruegel in Le Monde:

“An EU-wide adaptation policy is also necessary because disasters and their prevention are often transnational. Rivers that flow through several countries need to be managed jointly, as in the case of drought or flooding. The EU already has certain competencies in these areas, for example in agriculture and rural development. ... The consequences of climate change and the low adaptive capacity of countries are being felt within the EU and could create a climatic fault line that exacerbates political tensions.”