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How Europeans saw climate change in May – POLITICO Europe

Drought, travel fear, snow falling on blossoms and traveling to Scotland for cold water swim training — those are a few of the ways in which our readers are experiencing their climate changing.

All Europeans are witnessing the impacts of global warming, every day — although often it might not be obvious. At the same time, the ways people work and the fabric of our cities are shifting as a consequence of efforts to shift the economy away from fossil fuels and adapt to changing weather patterns.

Not all of these examples can or should be attributed to climate change. For many local effects that’s extremely difficult and in some cases impossible, while some changes would have happened without human intervention in the climate. 

But the perceptions of our readers — shared from across the Continent — of events that are consistent with a warming planet help us understand better how Europeans see climate change affecting them. That, in turn, can impact on the collective political mindset. Voters may be more willing to accept inconvenient policy changes if they perceive a direct impact to themselves rather than to one far away or long into the future.

We plan to publish these updates monthly. If you’d like to share your own experience, let us know here.

Drought in Turin

“We can clearly see the effect of climate change here in my region, Piedmont. It hasn’t rained for more than four months, from December until April,” writes Raffaele Manca, from Turin, Italy.

Northern Italy, along with much of Europe’s Mediterranean fringe, will become a hotspot for drought as the climate warms further. 

But for Manca, the future is here.

“We witnessed the worst drought since 80 years ago. The main river that goes through the city of Turin was reduced to a little affluent and the situation for agriculture has been quite severe. Also, some big dams in the mountains were completely empty by March. It has been the hottest and driest winter in two centuries: it’s clear that something is changing.”

Raffael sent these satellite images of the alpine Lago di Ceresole, which sits in the mountains above Piedmont, shared on Facebook by a the non-profit Piedmont CMP Weather Center.

“We witnessed the worst drought since 80 years ago. The main river that goes through the city of Turin was reduced to a little affluent and the situation for agriculture has been quite severe. Also, some big dams in the mountains were completely empty by March. It has been the hottest and driest winter in two centuries: it’s clear that something is changing.”

The warming waters of Dover 

Another reader, who requested anonymity, said climate change had affected swimming practice. 

“In 2019, I participated in a relay to swim from England to France,” she said. Participation requires taking part in a qualifying swim of 2 hours in water colder than 16 degrees Celsius. 

“It turned out that usually swimmers had time until well into June to do this qualifying swim, before the water in the Dover harbour would become too warm,” she added. “But since a few years now, the water warms up so quickly in spring that the water is already above 16 degrees Celsius in early June or even May.” 

That means swimmers are shifting north to practice in late spring. 

“Sometimes they are forced to go up to Scotland, where the water is colder, if they want more preparation time to do the qualifying swim later in spring,” she said. “It made me realize that summer, at least as defined by water temperature, has shifted by several weeks in just the past few years.” 

Sea surface temperatures have warmed steadily off coasts around Europe for the last three decades, according to data from the European Environment Agency.

Lessons unlearned in Luxembourg

Carl Springer reflects on the ways in which the Grand Dutchy is failing to learn from the traumas of the recent past.

Climate anxiety

One reader, who wished to stay anonymous, sent in a photo from a picture-perfect honeymoon in the Maldives. It’s an idyllic scene, but one that our reader said brings back anxious memories.

The Maldives is a low-lying atoll nation at grave risk of being overwhelmed by rising seas and more at risk from storms.

“As a consequence, I am also very scared at the idea of traveling to exotic places,” she said. “I had to intentionally convince myself that I wouldn’t let the worries about natural disasters prevent me from going to a fancy exotic part of the word.”

“Here is a picture of where we ended up in the Maldives. It was magical, but today I look at these fantastic corners of the world and know that they won’t be there forever,” she said. “Climate anxiety is one of the most common anxieties among the young generations — and I understand why.”

“Here is a picture of where we ended up in the Maldives. It was magical, but today I look at these fantastic corners of the world and know that they won’t be there forever. Climate anxiety is one of the most common anxieties among the young generations — and I understand why.”

Early beach weather in Portugal

Scientists said this month that in Spain, temperatures of 30 degrees or more were now occurring 20 to 40 days earlier than in the 1950s. In neighboring Portugal, too, spring is starting to feel like summer, said Dinis de Oliveira, a reader from Lisbon. 

“It is generally much hotter nowadays when it shouldn’t be that hot,” he wrote. 

The weather in early spring this year was warm enough to go for a dip in the Atlantic, he added. “I was able to go to the beach and swim in April, a season that’s supposed to be rainy and windy and it was almost 30C.” 

De Oliveira also described more frequent swings in the weather. “It feels like we experience every season in just a day, the weather changes far too often and I never know what I should wear.” 

Snow on pear blossoms in Sofia

Scrambled seasons are one of the classic predictions scientists make about how climate change will shift our weather. Desislava sent in this video of snowfall in April in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. The plum and pear trees in the background are covered in blossom, highlighting, she says, “changes in amplitudes which make weather events harsher.”

“In the past, Bulgaria has enjoyed quite a cold winter from November/December to March. This often included temperatures below freezing and substantial snow coverage especially near the mountains,” Desislava writes.

“For the past few years, winters have been exceptionally mild, and with temperatures often fluctuating from below zero to 20 degrees in the span of a week. In addition, snow has also been sporadic and most recently in April this year there was heavy wet snowfall long after trees have bloomed.”

Scrambled seasons are one of the classic predictions scientists make about how climate change will shift our weather. Desislava sent in this video of snowfall in April in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. The plum and pear trees in the background are covered in blossoms, highlighting she says, “changes in amplitudes which make weather events harsher.”

“In the past, Bulgaria has enjoyed quite a cold winter from November/December to March. This often included temperatures below freezing and substantial snow coverage especially near the mountains,” Desislava writes.

“For the past few years, winters have been exceptionally mild, and with temperatures often fluctuating from below zero to 20 degrees in the span of a week. In addition, snow has also been sporadic and most recently in April this year there was heavy wet snowfall long after trees have bloomed.”

Dying trees and swarming mosquitoes in Plovdiv

A Bulgarian reader, who asked to remain anonymous, fears for the green spaces in the country’s second-largest city of Plovdiv. 

“Quite a few conifer species are not doing too well. There are a few sequoias there that, until now, had managed to adapt to the somewhat arid summer climate,” he said, but “those trees are dead now or dying after blazing summers with not enough humidity.” 

Hotter temperatures have also brought more mosquitoes and ticks, he said, prompting the city authorities to spray parts of Plovdiv with pesticides. 

“And so various insect species end up in places where they shouldn’t be (sidewalks or below park benches), either dead or dazed,” he said. “You don’t hear or see as many birds in the hills of the town, probably as a result of the decrease in insects, the pesticides and the smog from all the cars, which is another issue in Plovdiv connected to climate change.” 

Climate change is bringing different types of mosquitoes and ticks to Europe, scientists have found, with knock-on effects for public health as disease-carrying species spread into new regions. 

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