Tag Archives: floods

Living dangerously

We live close to one of Europe’s biggest rivers, the Elbe. Only six months ago we had an emergency situation here when floodwaters where threatening to flood our town, Bleckede, which is some 80 kilometres, southeast of the northern German port city of Hamburg. For several days thousands of people, some even coming from afar as Scandinavia, helped secure the dykes with sandbags. We were fortunate because the waters eventually broke through the dyke, lower downstream , easing the pressure. Others were not so lucky. Thousands of homes in eastern Germany were flooded, agricultural lands and infra-structure destroyed.


In April this year a groundbreaking TV series on the experiences and personal stories of people whose lives have been touched by climate change will be aired.  Years Of Living Dangerously is an eight-part series produced by famous film-makers James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Weintraub. It is all about how climate change is affecting people everywhere here and now.

Here is the trailer: http://vimeo.com/78162825

 Lets hope that this storytelling-series will serve as a wake-up call! It is not something we cannot change. Global warming is a result of human actions – the burning of fossil fuels, the destruction of carbon sinks such as rainforests and swamps. For almost two centuries, coinciding with the industrial revolution, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased dramatically.

Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide were about 280 parts per million (ppm), reflecting a long-term balance between natural processes that emit and that absorb carbon dioxide. This natural balance has been seriously upset. Currently the levels are at about 390 ppm and rising faster, despite efforts to bring the levels down to 1990 levels of about 350 ppm. Many people and governments out there are still in denial about climate change.

 Some very strange arguments are being put out on the Internet – that it is all fear-mongering by green activists or sunspot activity. Serious climate scientists are being attacked viciously by media sponsored by those who have most to lose, if we take the necessary steps in replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. The “war” on climate scientists is vividly portrayed by a leading climate scientist Michael Mann in the book: “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.”

 We are indeed living dangerously. According to climatologists we have less than 15 years, if that, to bring carbon dioxide levels down to below 350 ppm. And that is only to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

I see many correlations between the climate debate and personal health issues. All the information is out there. We know that we are destroying the environment for future generations. We know that if we lead a certain lifestyle that we will most likely fall ill. So why aren’t we changing our habits? Why are we so much in denial about those things that seem so starkly obvious to the normal intelligent mind?

Maybe it is just part of human-instinct to avoid imagining the worst. “So what! I’m still around and enjoying life, so stop rocking the boat and disturbing me with your bad news.” The sad thing about both issues, is that we very often don’t see the catastrophe happening. It is a very slow process. Lung cancer doesn’t come overnight and after only smoking one cigarette. It is a result of many years of heavy smoking, stress and other factors.

 When the floodwaters came to Bleckede there were also people out there, initially doubting the situation. But when the floods were actually there, when the first homes were flooded and we could actually see with our own eyes kilometres of land under water, nearly everyone was stirred into action and wanted to do something. Lets hope that the positive human spirit will prevail.

 We are just a part of the bigger whole in the unity of things. It is comparable to the different salts found in blood and body tissue which correspond exactly to the 84 elements found in salt water. How we treat our planet and its fellow inhabitants is a reflection on how we are treating ourselves.


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Venice, Climate change and denial

Venice is undoubtedly one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Walking these ancient streets and squares one cannot but be astounded by the architectural masterpieces built by the Venetians over the centuries.


The Basilica of San Marco overlooks one of the most beautiful squares in the world. It is the main tourist attraction and a favourite backdrop to many a movie. Unforgettable the scene from “Moonraker”: After being pursued by Drax’s henchmen down the canals in Venice, James Bond approaches St. Marks Square on a gondola. He activates a skirt on the boat, turning it into a hovercraft that allows him to travel on the square to the astonishment of everyone around.


But St. Marks Square is only one of the many wonders to be admired here. Looking across from St. Marks Square is the magnificent baroque Basilica of St. Mary of Health (Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute), a huge, domed church built on a spit between St. Mark’s Basin and the Grand Canal. It was founded in 1630 as a tribute to the Virgin Mary and took 57 years to complete. It was built as a tribute to the Virgin Mary for freeing the city from the plague. And every year on November 21 the locals pay tribute to her, praying for good health.


Venice is literally built on water and the people have learned to live with regular floods. But in recent years the frequency of those floods has increased. Last year the city was flooded several times. A group of mobile flood barriers have been constructed at the entrance to the Venice lagoon in a project started ten years ago and scheduled to be completed in 2015. http://goo.gl/axO9rb


Will it be enough?


The city once boasted several hundred thousand local inhabitants. Now it is just over 50,000. It is not only the high property prices but the cost and discomfort of having to protect your house against the flood waters that is driving the people away. The first exodus began after the catastrophic flood of November 1966 that virtually submerged the city. At the same time more than 20 million tourists came to the city every year. As a major generator of tourist income the city is worth protecting.


Meanwhile another United Nations Climate Conference is taking place in Poland of all places. The country has shown little inclination in the past to do anything about curbing carbon dioxide emissions from its coal-fired power stations. To the contrary it is taking the tack of many climate change sceptics. The outcome of this conference is predictable. Too little is being done too late and the longer we wait, the more difficult it is going to get to save cities like Venice and many low-lying island nations.


There seems to be a parallel between the denial ism in the climate debate and personal health. It is beyond doubt that smoking, junk food and lack of exercise will shorten your life. But the human being seems incapable of relating such information to the future. “So what, as long as I can enjoy my Bic Mac in front of the TV now…”


In the same way we ignore the warnings from climate scientists that if we don’t radically reduce emissions we are going to have a very hot and uncomfortable planet by the end of this century. We are playing roulette with ourselves and the future of our children. Its time to wake up!








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