Monday, July 4, 2011

The C-word

The inhabitants of the Danish capital Copenhagen are shocked. Flash floods in the weekend unearthed the invisible urban dwellers, roads were closed, and insurance claims are the highest ever. One wish only that such extreme weather had occurred at another time.

Britannica Rat - Brown Rat

Extremely heavy rains on Saturday flooded the Danish city, with the result that living and dead rats from the sewers appeared on street level. Don't touch them without a glove - rats can carry diseases, authorities warn. I wouldn't try touching a rat that was spewed out from the sewer no matter what authorities say, but obvious there might be people who have never before been exposed to the existence of rats.

They are as ubiquitous in modern cities as they ever were, but modern city planning has manged to separate the rat population from the human population to the degree that people are surprised once they see one, even though rats as a race live where humans live. You didn't see a rat on top of a mountain, did you? It is telling how severe weather can make the ghosts form past centuries reappear in the modern metropolis.

The consequences of the flood are wide ranging - some people in Sweden are unable to access their email accounts located on danish servers. "I am lucky to be on vacation" a commenter on Aftonbladeta>, a Swedish news site, writes. Whatever will be the final cost of this disaster, they would have been much worse had it occurred on a busy weekday than on a Saturday in July.

Miraculously, no person have been injured, but thousand of buildings have been flooded, and the insurance claims will be record high, insurance companies say to Politikken, a major Danish newspaper. It will probably also take record time to find out exactly how big. The last record was set as far back as - 2010, when less violent rains caused damages of approximately 134 000 000 EUR. The last record before that was in 2007, which makes a worrying trend.

In another Danish paper, Berlingske Tidene, a meteorologist says that he has never before seen a similar rain. Of course he has not. There will not be any more rains like the one's we have seen. Our climate is changing and chaos is the new normal. But anyone with computer and/or library access during the last five years know that this is what a warming atmosphere leads to. As the IPCC wrote in its Fourth Assessment Report back in 2007 : Negative impacts [of climate change] will include increased risk of inland flash floods, and more frequent coastal flooding and increased erosion (due to storminess and sea-level rise). I am not implying that anyone with a computer has been reading IPCC reports, but there has been a lot of articles and blog post about this throughout the last decade.

When the predicted flash flood now comes, wouldn't the reasonable reaction be to think that the prediction is true, and go to extreme measures to mitigate climate change? Or at least saying "hey, this was predicted four years ago - maybe reevaluate those predictions?"

Still, the taboo around climate change seems to be stronger than it ever was . You will have to look really hard to find an article in a mainstream paper evening mentioning the C word in connection with the Copenhagen floods.

When I looked for some older articles with climate change predictions, I read that in 2008 thousand of people were marching in Swedish cities, demanding political action against climate change Where are they (we) now? As these predictions come true one after another, the discussion about climate change have lost its intensity. Maybe it was more convenient to discuss it when it was a threatening future, rather than a lethal presence?

Maybe things would have looked different if the COP15 meeting in December 2009 had taken place in a flooded Copenhagen. Maybe Obama & co. would than have realized what was at stake? That winter was oddly normal, something that surely made it easier for politicians to believe that things were not as bad as scientists said. The international negotiations derailed, and public interest waned. And the climate changed.

If there is anything positive in all this, it is the record breaking insurance costs. The insurance man quoted above is taken aback by the extent of damages, but hardly surprised - for good reasons. Insurance companies have economic incentives to take climate change seriously, as the Guardian recently pointed out.

While other industries fight hard to keep on making money on destroying the planet, the insurance business is the one who has to pay for the party, as claims from floods, wild fires and tornadoes amount. The world's biggest insurance company, Munich Re is already active to put climate change on the agenda, and ultimately they will have their way. Society wouldn't work without reasonably priced insurances, any more than it works with too expensive oil. You either pay that insurance, or bears the cost yourself, which is suicidal when weather is bound not only to get worse, but to continue deteriorating for a long time.

At one point all other business will be at the insurers' mercy. Until then we will not see any real political initiatives against climate change. And media will continue to avoid the C word in order to not appear greenish and left leaning. How soon is that? Cast your vote in the poll to the right!

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