Toasted villages, torched forests. Images of weeping relatives confronting the sight of charred bodies of failed escapees in their cars. The terrible scenes from Greece in recent days have added to suspicions voiced throughout Europe that 2007 was no ordinary summer. Statistics suggest the popular hunch was indeed correct and that 2007 really was a mad, bad summer, marked by unprecedented deluges in the north and extreme heat in the south.
We in Britain may have thought we had an especially bad time of it with the most sodden, grey weather in generations – a cruel follow-up to a scorching April. Then came the flooding of several towns. But, as the death toll from southern Greece suggests, it is the south that is bearing the brunt of climate change.
Attention remains understandably focused on Greece, where the Prime Minister, Costas Karamanlis, is calling for European Union aid for the stricken Peloponnese. But over much of southern Italy, the Balkans and Turkey, people have been dying in unusually large numbers from sizzling temperatures or forest fires. In the Turkish capital, Ankara, extreme drought has deprived the city's 4 million inhabitants of regular tap water for months.
What are we to make of all this? Shrugs and claims that the weather is always more variable than we imagine no longer suffice. On the contrary, the now almost constant series of recording-breaking events, be they floods or heatwaves, points in a far more ominous direction.
For years, ever since the first supercomputers began producing models predicting climate chaos if we continued to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, sceptics dismissed those prognostications as just that; as scaremongering speculation – the sport of doomsayers. Well, it appears that these Cassandra voices were more or less on target and that we are moving into a new phase in which we are no longer dealing with prognostications of future climate change but with empirical evidence.
We are living through climate change, whether you care to call it chaos or merely disruption, rather than awaiting it. And we have been doing so for several years – at least since 2003, when that astonishing August heatwave nudged British temperatures through the 100-degree Fahrenheit barrier for the first time.
The past 14 months, meanwhile, have seen a series of records broken, with either higher rainfall or higher temperatures repeatedly forcing themselves on our attention. Climate change is no longer an equation in a computer programme, in other words; it is before our very eyes.Reuse content