Friday, September 16, 2011

Planning for climate change

After the music of Bach, the part of German culture I admire most is their love of organization.  I grew up around a lot of Germans and nothing, not corn planting nor women's softball games or anything in between, was ever marred by lack of planning.  Someone always showed up with the bag of bats, or made the coffee, or printed up the meeting's agenda.  And because most of the folks I knew were self-employed in agriculture or were helping out a volunteer organization, virtually all of these necessary little tasks were self-assigned.

So there is something a little distressing about the following article because it features Germans actually wondering how they are going to plan a task.  On one hand, it is reassuring to know that serious people are honest about the difficulties of organizing for a large social change.  At least SOMEONE is thinking about the problems.  On the other hand, I have this worry that if the Krauts can't figure this out, the rest of us are certainly doomed.

Fingers in the Dike
Germany Lacks Clear Plan for Climate Change
By Michael Fröhlingsdorf   09/09/2011

Germany is preparing for climate change by installing air conditioners in overheated cities and irrigation systems on dry fields. But a new federal proposal is short on details, state programs differ and there is no solid plan for preparing the country for a warming world.

Volker Mommsen is the mayor of one of the smallest communities in Germany. The island of Gröde, a flat green disk in the middle of the Wadden Sea, lies four kilometers (2.5 miles) off the coast of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. There are only two small raised mounds on the island, artificial dwelling hills known as terps, each of them four meters above sea level. Five houses exist on the two terps. The island is inhabited by 11 people and, in the summer, 70 cows and 60 sheep.

Mommsen, with his gray beard, weathered face, bright-colored knit socks and worn brown shoes, has lived on the island for 47 years. His daughter moved to the mainland with his two grandchildren recently, but Mommsen doesn't want to leave Gröde.

The only problem is that the North Sea sloshes across the island several times a year now. When that happens, only the terps are above sea level. It doesn't bother him, says Mommsen. When he moved to Gröde with his parents in 1964, the structures had just been rebuilt after a major storm surge. "The state government offered low-interest loans so that the terps would remain inhabited," he says. 
But now some in the state government in Kiel are asking themselves whether it's still a good idea for people to be living out on the island. If climatologists' predictions are correct, the earth's atmosphere will continue to heat up, and sea levels will rise significantly within a few decades. When that happens the sea will inundate Gröde and the other islands known as the Halligen. 
Mommsen can identify with people like the king of Tonga and the president of the Maldives. Climate change also threatens the existence of their seats of government. But how can the North Sea be kept at bay? With new dikes and higher terps? It would cost many millions of euros and would fundamentally change the face of the islands. 
Now, architects and engineers are being called in to help solve the problem. The state has just announced a contest for new ideas. "Perhaps," says Mommsen, "we'll need houses here like the ones in Holland, which float like boats during floods." 
Making Changes from Flensburg to the Alps 
Mommsen and the officials charged with protecting the coast aren't the only ones being forced to find ways to deal with the consequences of climate change, which will affect Germany from Flensburg in the north the Alps in the south. 
Climatologists are certain that winters will get wetter and summers will be drier. Average annual temperatures could rise by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. If that happens, summers will be unbearably hot in urban areas, the fields will be dry, and Germany will face new hazards from thunderstorms, severe weather, storm surges and flooding. 
So far, municipal governments have taken steps to protect the environment, such as insulating schools, replacing incandescent light bulbs with new energy-saving bulbs and buying hybrid vehicles as official cars. But all of these efforts will hardly stop the rise of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As a result, some are beginning to focus more heavily on another aspect of climate change: Protecting society from its unavoidable effects. 
But there are still no uniform standards, binding regulations or clear plans for how to prepare the country for climate change, partly because of the lack of funding and an appreciation for the problem on the part of politicians, urban planners, preservationists and citizens. more

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