All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Moving on after Covid

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One of the many memes making the rounds

I’m always looking for a silver lining.  Not easy to do with Covid-19.  But could this pandemic hold lessons on how to help the environment in the long term?

On the environmental front, the record is mixed.  Yes, air pollution emissions have drastically dropped, most notably in China and northern Italy.  This includes not just greenhouse gas emissions, but ordinary air pollutants, which is why the air in these regions is now cleaner than it has been in decades.  This is important, since there is an indication that people that live in areas with poor air quality are more vulnerable to respiratory diseases such as Covid-19.

That the air is cleaner is a result of reduced emissions from factories and traffic where economies are in partial or full shutdown.  I expect that hospitalization statistics will also reveal fewer cases due to traffic accidents.  (Mind you, there has been a report of more bicycle accidents in NYC, as commuters are taking to their bikes to avoid crowded subways.)  And the canals in Venice are clearer, if not really cleaner (that would take a miracle) but the increased visibility is a result of fewer boats churning up the waters.

Biking accidents aside, all these things are good.  The fact that they are the result of a tragic epidemic is not, obviously.  Once the pandemic subsides (as it will), can we find ways to keep the air cleaner, the sky bluer, the GHG emissions lower, and the roads safer?

No easy task, obviously.  China is gradually emerging from its shutdown, and emissions are creeping up with the reboot of the manufacturing sector.  And we need that manufacturing activity.  We need it to address this crisis: masks and gloves, respirators, test kits and analytical equipment, all these are badly needed worldwide and few countries besides China have the heft to meet the current needs.  But it is also needed, in the longer term, in the environmental sector.

Take solar panels.  Australians keep surprising us; they were the first to publish about toilet paper hoarding, and they have also started a run on solar panels.  Just like for toilet paper, the rationale is obscure, but installers are starting to fear that they will soon run out of solar panels.  Most are manufactured in China.  We need China back.

Many environmentalists have expressed frustration that the urgency and coordinated response that arose from Covid has been nowhere near in evidence when facing climate change.  There are some good reasons for that. Eric Galbraith and Ross Otto notice four key differences: Covid, a disease, elicits spontaneous, instinctive fear; as opposed to the climate, Covid is a fast-moving threat; there are well established, clear strategies to tackle a pandemic; and individual countries, or even towns, can go it alone, decide on measures to protect themselves independently of what happens elsewhere.

Still, are there some lessons that we can learn – how measures that fight Covid could be adapted to fight climate change?  Maybe.  Climatologist Katharine Hayhoe was recently interviewed on CBC’s Quirks & Quarks:

“What we are seeing are very significant reductions not only in carbon emissions, but in air pollutants,” she told Quirks & Quarks. “In fact one of my colleagues at Stanford, Marshall Burke, has estimated that the reduction in air pollution in China may have saved many more lives than were actually lost in the pandemic.”

To be clear, Hayhoe is not suggesting in any way that this pandemic is a good thing. “Anything that causes human suffering is a tragedy, but it highlights the fact that often we have become accustomed to — and blasé to — issues like air pollution that are responsible for millions of deaths every year.”

Hayhoe thinks there are still lessons to be learned, including the importance of pushing industry towards clean energy sources. “I think that this pandemic really emphasizes the fact that everything is connected,” she said.

We also know that the pandemic will be around for awhile.  If measures such as social isolation are to be effective, they will need to remain in place for months.

My employer, a local university, is still open for business – but classrooms are closed.  All of us have been switching to on-line teaching (with varying degree of success) and of course to on-line meetings.  Many other workplaces that could have resorted to similar approaches. All of a sudden telecommuting seems the safe thing to do.

Of course, it is annoying to remain cooped in, and when the all-clear is sounded, all of us will be hungry for human contact – bring on the meetings, you bet!  They may be almost as welcome as socializing in parties and eating out.

But once the smoke clears, after that initial enthusiasm, I hope we take stock of the situation.  By then we will have developed a lot of on-line resources; I have been impressed by how creative my colleagues are.  I hope that this will not be all for naught; I hope that we continue with some of these resources, the ones that proved to work well.  If half of our classes remain in on-line delivery mode, say, that translates into half the commuting, half the emissions, half the risks from car commuting.

This logic is likely to translate into many other workplaces that have been forced to transition.  Give it enough time, and some of the adaptations will be seen as efficient.  Work place efficiency is usually a dirty expression, one that is synonymous with cutbacks and extra work for the remaining workers. But what if it meant what it always should have meant: the ability to do a better job with whatever resources we have.  I know that every instructor at my school is thinking about core material: what is really essential, as opposed to the merely traditional.  If our courses are less packed with “stuff”, maybe our students can really master what turns out to be essential.  And the environment, too, will benefit.

But some industries need a lot of energy.  Dr Charles Donovan from London’s Imperial College Business School, made the following comments to Forbes:

“I think we’re entering a whole new phase of volatility,” Donovan said. “These are the unfortunate repercussions of a global market that’s exposed to the volatility of the oil markets, and suffers when unforeseeable events like coronavirus arise at the worst time.”

Donovan suggested that such volatility was built into the global economy owing to over-reliance on fossil fuels. “We are now seeing the downsides of the choices we’ve made about the kind of energy economy that we have,” he said.

And then there is the economic stimulus. Part of the federal help package for the oil patch is supposed to go towards the clean-up of abandoned oil wells, which is great.  I hope that it goes beyond that and includes support for other energy sectors: solar, wind and geothermal.  I hope that some of the stimulus money for the manufacturing sector will go towards adaptation and flexibility – the very things we would need now, where a factory equipped with a bank of 3D laser printers can turn on a dime from making air-conditioning units to making hospital ventilators.  I hope that some of the money meant for the hospitality sector goes towards reinforcing links with the local farms.  I hope that the stimulus helps us to become more resilient when global supply chains fall apart – and generates local jobs.  I hope that we learn to devote resources to sectors that look after the helpless, the old, the sick, the homeless.

Or something like that.  You get the picture.  It would just be very sad if we aim for a return to the status-quo ante.  We’d be faced with the same problem as before.  We’d be just licking our wounds, sparing a thought for those health professionals who lost their lives because, as a society, we weren’t prepared.  And repeating the same mistakes, while we know that climate change will be exacerbating the pandemics to come.  But if we’re smart, and that’s the silver lining, we’ll move in the right direction: a society that is environmentally cleaner, but also much more caring and fairer.

 

Written by enviropaul

March 23, 2020 at 4:37 pm

Smetana and the Vltava River

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Here’s a pretty piece of classical music, played by the Berliner Philarmoniker:

It’s part of a longer piece, which you can listen to at length (it’s about thirteen minutes) here; or, if you prefer a mellower version, here as a harp solo version.

They are both lovely, both worth re-listening to often.  The piece, entitled variously The Vltava or The Moldau, was meant by composer Bedrich Smetana, to describe the river that flows through Prague and is the heart of the Czech Republic.

I discovered that piece while the Wet’suwet’en dispute was raging in northern BC.  While it is ultimately about aboriginal title, it flared first at Unis’tot’en camp on Gosnell Creek, over a natural gas pipeline project.  Those opposed to the project were quick to point out that Gosnell Creek flows into Morice Creek (or Wedzin Kwah), into the Buckley and ultimately the salmon-rich Skeena, with all the risks that it entails.

But the importance of the resources of the river should not obscure the most important fact that a river like this is wrapped into a sense of belonging and identity.  Environmental scientists may be able to quantify threats to a river, but only an artist can access the emotional significance of a river.

Which brings me back to Smetana.  He composed The Vlatva in 1874 as part of a six-part tonal poem called in Czech Ma Vlast (my country), but it is the river part that is best known and most closely associated with the sense of national identity developed around the physical features and history of the country. Smetana describes it as follows:

The composition depicts the course of the river, from its beginning where two brooks, one cold, the other warm, join in a stream, running through forests and meadows and a lovely countryside where merry feasts are celebrated; water-sprites dance in the moonlight; on nearby rocks can be seen the outline of ruined castles, proudly soaring into the sky.  Vltava swirls through the St. John Rapids and flows in a broad stream towards Prague.  It passes Vysehrad and disappears majestically into the distance, where it joins the Elbe.

The key melody is thought to have been adapted from a local folk song.  There is a certain irony here, because what was already a well-known melody throughout the Slavic world was turned into another piece with nationalistic leanings, the Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem.

The irony does not stop there: the sixth section of the piece, the swirling part meant to denote the St John’s Rapids, acting a bit as a bridge, depicts a section of the river that no longer exists.  The rapids were submerged under a hydro-electric dam in the 1930s.

Why the nationalism?  Smetana, a Czech, was raised in German and only learned the Czech tongue as an adult.  Frantisek Smetana, his father, was a Czech brewer who had determined that educating his children in German only would be the key to their success in Habsburg-dominated Bohemia, and refused to speak Czech to them.  Bedrich Smetana, who called himself Friedrich at the time, went along – until he moved to Prague to further his musical education.  There he was derided for being a Czech country bumpkin.  This was happening just as what became called the Czech revival was emerging, born of writers such as Jan Neruda who were starting to publish in Czech rather than in German, telling the stories of the local people.  Smetana never forgot; he internalized the humiliation and expressed it through his music.  A further irony, typical of the contradictions of nationalism: Smetana, the father of Czech music, was rejected by many of his contemporaries for being too “Wagnerian”, ie, too German, in his music.

This story resonates with me.  My father, French-Canadian through and through, defied my grand-father and was educated in English.  The oldest son of a traditionally large family, he intended to break out of the ghetto of the unilingual French Quebeckers.  He meant to escape poverty by getting a good job in the English-speaking corporate world of Montreal at the time.  He did, but he did not escape the jeering.  Thankfully, French-Canadians were never oppressed as badly as the Czechs were under the German-speaking Habsburgs.  And fortunately, that story doesn’t share the same ugly ending (three million German speakers, whose families had lived in Bohemia for centuries, were expelled from Czechoslovakia in 1945, many dying along the way).

Be that as it may; music gets tangled into identity politics, but also conjures some of the most beautiful emotions tied to nature and, especially, to water.

I’ll leave you with one last bit of trivia: Smetana, like Beethoven, was stone-deaf when he composed Ma Vlast.

Note: the quote and biographic details are from Brian Large, 1970: Smetana.  New York: Praeger Pub.

Written by enviropaul

March 5, 2020 at 4:01 pm

Hamburg flooded. Again.

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The picture on the right shows the Fish Market in Hamburg.  It’s located along the Elbe river.  It used to be a true fish market, a clearing house for fish sellers and buyers.  Fishmongers have moved to modern refrigerated facilities down river; the old market is now a tourist attraction.  It opens early (4am) and this is where revelers congregate on Sunday morning after a night of partying; people who actually slept can still catch the end of the party, complete with rock music and beer drinking, before 10am.  It is also a retail market; around 9am one can find amazing deals on fresh produce and seafood.  But whether or not it is market day, this is a very lively spot with shops and cafes filled with strollers, locals or (mostly German) visitors.

Except when it’s under water.  This is the aftermath of Storm Sabine on the night of February 9th of this year.  It looks like a catastrophe, like the equivalent of New York’s Sandy.  But it’s not.  It’s merely inconvenient, and was greeted with a bit of a shrug in the local media.  The photo is not from a news outlet, but from an outfit called Geheimtipp Hamburg (Insider’s tips for Hamburg) that posts pretty pictures.

Why the damage is not worse is because the city is well prepared for floods.  I messaged a friend who has a café right at street level, on that very street that can’t be seen on the picture, under the dark waters of the Elbe.  Here is what she said:

There was some water in the bistro, but in the morning it was almost gone. He [my boyfriend] had to wipe the floor. The steel doors in the front helped a lot….So far so good! Thanks for asking.

Indeed, most shops have sturdy outer doors and window shutters to protect against the pressure of the flood waters.  And that’s good, because Sabine was far from inconsequential.  One house in the suburb of Blankenese was destroyed when an old chestnut tree was uprooted by the storm and fell on the roof.  There were road closures, trains and flights canceled, mostly because of fallen branches and wind damage.  And the Elbe was 2.8 meter higher than normal at the Fish Market.

A ten-minute news video from NDR (in German) gives a good idea of what happened.  It’s mostly footage of downed trees, blocked train tracks, huge waves along the North Sea shore – but also, how the coastal dikes are holding well, and how the flood storage basins are doing their job.  The reporters are trying to infuse some drama – “this is the highest level we’ve ever seen in these inland basins!” – but overall, flood control devices are working as they are meant to, unspectacularly.

One week later, storm Dennis flooded the Fish Market – again.  Same reaction: oh well, a shrug.  But people are certainly aware that these storms, and these floods, are arriving with unprecedented frequency.  Nobody there is denying climate change, and nobody complains about the cost of the flood prevention devices.

Steel shutters protecting a cafe against flood damage by the Fish Market

My friends’ cafe in front of the Fish Market, opening day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In England, the same storm (labeled Ciara) caused power failures (affecting 675,000 households) and over 200 million pounds worth of damage.  Dennis is expected to cause 225 million pounds on top of that.  When you look at news clips, you can see why – you also see lack of structural preparedness.  Sandbags, not steel doors.

In the greater Vancouver, we are sitting ducks for such storms.  We can thank Vancouver Island for attenuating wind speeds and storm surges.  But we shouldn’t be complacent.  Some of White Rock, Tsawwassen, and Crescent Beach have no protection to speak of.  We need to be pro-active.  It would be nice to know that we can just shrug off a major storm.

Written by enviropaul

February 22, 2020 at 12:38 pm

Thirty years of failure: understanding Canadian climate policy (a book review)

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Here are my own summary notes for a new book that should be read by many.  It’s partly a review of environmental policy in Canada, but mostly, an investigation into what went wrong.  This is stuff I know well, I thought, but I caught myself every now and then, between thoughts of “yeah, nicely put”, going  “wow, I never knew that!”  It’s both a simple precis of policy, a historical overview, and a sharp investigation work.

Not bad for somebody based in Australia; author Robert MacNeil, a Canadian, is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney.  I guess a bit of distance helps in framing an overarching, uncluttered view.  Reviewer Craig Taylor has this to say:

Thirty Years of Failure will jolt a certain type of optimistic Canadian who believes all is okay, who quietly consumes, rolls up his rim to win, and exhibits an unshakable belief in our inherent goodness. After all, surely Canada is better than the United States when it comes to climate? That fact just feels right. Didn’t we take in 70 million Syrian refugees and give each one a Canada Goose jacket at the airport? Don’t we always play the role of the good guy?

Chapter 2 provides a brief history of environmental and climate policy in Canada.  Things were good under Mulroney, as the issues not yet polarized; for instance, in 1988 Canada suggested an international Law of the Atmosphere that would be modelled on the Law of the Sea.  The Mulroney government also saw the enactment of the Environmental Assessment Act, the Environmental Protection Act, the Montreal accords on ozone, the acid rain accord with the US, and Canada was the first industrialized nation to ratify the international biodiversity accord.  But nothing came out of the Rio climate conference.  The Chretien and Martin years saw the priority go to deficit fighting, as well as delegating more power to provinces, including in environmental protection.  Still, the main legacy of those years was the signing of the Kyoto accord – and the complete lack of any provisions towards meeting it.  The the US was out, which led to complete inertia in Canada. This was followed by the Harper years.  MacNeil: “Put simply, by almost any metric, Harper would easily be considered the most anti-environmental prime minister in modern history.”  While relatively moderate while ruling as a minority government, the majority government mandate saw unfettered gutting (“sweeping regressive changes”) of CEAA, navigable waters, Fisheries, NEB act, as well as the complete elimination of Roundtable on the Environment and Economy and the Kyoto Implementation Act.  The Trudeau government repaired some of the damage (an ongoing process) and implemented a carbon tax, while bizarrely promoting oil and gas exports and pipelines.

Chapter 3 asks why the situation has turned out as it did.  It provides an analysis of the structural factors at play: federalism, First-Past-The-Post voting system, and issues with aboriginal land title.  For me, this was the most interesting part of the book.

The first structural factor is Canadian federalism; Canada’s version has led to some paralysis.  Canada is far from being the only federation; Germany, the US are federations, to name a few obvious ones. But “[t]here is arguably no federal system in the world with as bizarre a history and constitutional structure as Canada’s.”  That said, until the sixties, there was little conflict in provincial-federal relations; but Trudeau père, with his belief in the need for strong central government, managed to alienate both Quebec and Alberta, setting the stage for future conflicts (okay, I oversimplify). During the Harper era, climate action was left to provinces.  Some, like BC, Ontario, and Quebec, adopted progressive policies; heavy emitters, especially Ralph Klein’s Alberta, did not.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but there is little equivalent in Canada of a California effect; no single province has enough heft to create legislation that others have to follow, as in the case of California and clean air protection.  Here, activists have tried to ride on environmental initiatives from a strong province; but this is vulnerable to policy whiplash, as in the case of Ontario. There has also been little equivalence to the situation in Germany; there, programs were put in place at the federal level to help states with strong coal industries transition away, both in terms of work force retraining and industrial investment.

The second structural factor is our voting system.  First-Past-The-Post creates a strong obstacle; it is not all bad, obviously, but it is characterized by policy whiplash, and makes it very difficult for new voices such as the Greens to get proper representation.

The third structural factor comes from the Canadian legal system and its management of Aboriginal title.  It is worth quoting the opening paragraph in full, because it packs a punch:

It may seem odd to think it, but some of the largest sources of Canada’s GHG emissions are technically unlawful, and if the Canadian legal system actually functioned properly, they would likely be shut down immediately.  This is because, according to the Constitution, massive fossil fuel megaprojects all across Canada (but particularly the tar sands in Alberta) have proceeded for decades in violation of basic constitutional statutes around Aboriginal land title.

For instance, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation territory (nearly 40,000 km2) has been filled with unauthorized oil and gas wells sites (over 19,000 permits have been granted by Ottawa).

Chapter 4 reviews the economic interests that overlay the issues, something often missing in environmental legal work.  In particular, a review of the very real importance of exports in any economy, and how this varies from province to province, is very helpful.  I will conclude with a diagram from another source, Bora Plumptre 2019 report for the Pembina institute entitled The most important climate numbers you need to know.  This report supports MacNeil’s arguments very well and shows, in a single graph, where our problem lies.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Province

 

MacNeil, Robert 2019. Thirty years of failure: understanding Canadian climate policy.  Halifax: Fernwood.

Written by enviropaul

February 19, 2020 at 7:05 pm

The energy revolution, as seen from the business pages

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I always enjoy reading the business pages of the Globe  Mail.  For one thing, it’s not an echo chamber of what I usually read.  For another, it often gives a snapshot of what moneyed people – our movers and shakers – care about.

Today’s headlines (January 22 2020) give the impression that we are well into an energy revolution, with fossil fuels on the way out, surprisingly quickly.  But also, one gets the impression that Canada is sleepwalking when it comes to energy.

Take these two headlines:

Tesla’s valuation tops $100-billion as stock rally continues

Daimler profits fell by half in 2019, despite strong sales

Interesting, isn’t it?  One of the best run car companies can’t make a profit, tied as it is to the internal combustion engine.  Tesla, the maker of electric cars (and battery packs and solar cells) has surpassed the valuation of GM despite all naysayers.  Three other headlines add context; Germany is well aware of the need to transition “German energy shift will be like an ‘open-heart surgery,’ Economy Minister says”.  Some of this is a fallout of dieselgate, obviously. “Volkswagen pleads guilty to all Canadian charges in emissions-cheating scandal.” “German prosecutors probe Mitsubishi for suspected illegal defeat devices.”

But Canada seems to think that investments in oil are justified; consider “Teck oil sands project splits Canada’s indigenous people, poses challenge for Trudeau”.  This despite headlines such as Oil falls as surplus forecast overshadows Libya disruptionorHalliburton takes $2.2-billion charge on slumping shale activity”.

This is all happening while the powerful are meeting in Davos.  One who is not sleepwalking through the transition is Trump, obviously; he is engaged in active rearguard, sabotage action as reported here “Trump dismisses climate pessimism at Davos, boasts of U.S. economic strength”.  This earned him a rebuff from the Globe’s Eric Reguly: “Donald Trump condemned climate activists at Davos. His hero Maggie Thatcher would not have done the same.” (He’s not the only one to react, obviously; Mark Carney is quoted in the Guardian as siding with Greta Thunberg, for instance.)

But getting back to the issue of Canada sleepwalking, the same issue of the Globe has this headline “Climate not considered a top 10 risk by CEOs: surveywhile columnist Gary Mason blasts AlbertaAlberta needs to wake up to a rapidly changing world – and to stop listening to the deniers”.

It’s worth quoting Mason a bit (he’s behind a paywall – the whole opinion piece is worth reading):

There isn’t a day that goes by now, it seems, that doesn’t include some ground-shifting announcement in the fight against climate change.

Last week, for instance, the European Union laid out a €1-trillion ($1.45-trillion) plan to lower carbon emissions and get the continent carbon-neutral by 2050. That amounts to nearly one quarter of the European Commission’s annual budget, money that will be used to underwrite the new “green deal” announced in December, which will affect the economies of virtually every member state.

As big as that development was, however, it took a back seat to the news that broke recently on Wall Street: the revelation that Larry Fink, head of the world’s largest asset manager BlackRock, had written to clients and fellow chief executives to say his firm will be making investment decisions in the future with environmental sustainability as a central mantra.

Mason goes on to lambast the Alberta government for hosting a summit of deniers including Conrad Black. But elsewhere in the paper is this interesting opinion piece, by an Albertan researcher: Alberta has a rare rare-earth opportunity on its hands – if it chooses to seize it

Meanwhile, the federal government is wrestling with whether to approve the giant tar sands mine proposed by Teck: “Teck oil sands project splits Canada’s indigenous people, poses challenge for Trudeau”.

There is no lack of opposition to this.  You can read an open letter from First Nations here.  But I will leave the last word to U Lethbridge professor Jim Byrne, in a facebook post:

 Vancouver-headquartered Teck Resources Limited will go bankrupt within a few years if they proceed with the massive oil sands mine plan for Alberta. The company has told shareholders the price of oil for the next 40+ years will remain in the $70-$90 US range. That’s absolute foolishness given the very rapid expected rise of electric vehicles, and electrification of most transportation and other energy sectors across global societies. Electrification will eliminate the need for fossil fuels with 1-3 decades. TECK’s proposed development is climate science denial… an absolutely blind, lemming-state that fails to recognize the climate emergency we are already experiencing globally, and assumes that somehow one of the most expensive, and environmentally damaging fossil fuel resources will continue to have a market. The global price of oil will continue to decline as humanity needs less and less oil given electrification. The federal government should save TECK from their suicidal, blind #FossilFuel beliefs!

“Blind, lemming-state”.  Jim has a talent for the turn of phrase.  I’ll stick with sleepwalking.

Written by enviropaul

January 22, 2020 at 12:10 pm

Hamburg’s green ring, canals, and other videos

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This is the second post that features videos in German, from NDR. (The first installment is here.)

The first is about Hamburg’s “Green Ring”, a nearly continuous band of parks and wild lands that surround the city.  It starts with a night-time survey of bats, in the west; continues with kingfishers; moves east with the Boberger dunes (a pocket “desert” left behind by the glaciers); wild habitat for birds and insects in the moors behind Harburg, in the south.

The second is about the canals – or specifically, about the group that keeps them clean – and educates kindergarten-age kids about them.

These are the only two that have a clear environmental theme, but there are many others that I want to keep track of; anyone interested in Hamburg – yes, it’s a great place to visit – may want to take a look; as for me, I’ll want to look at them again and again until I understand everything they talk about.  Two, both from NDR on Youtube, are long ones: one hour about the unique farmers’ market under the Ubann, the Isestrasse market; the other, about the Elbe on the east side, one and a half hour, ideal for those who like old ships, and country life.  Another from NDR is about the fancy homes along the Elbe and the Alster (quite fun, but really about how the one percenter of Hamburg lives).  The last one is short – just an homage to the river as it flows past the city, again on the (wilder and more natural) east side.  Here are the links:

The Isestrasse and its market: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6G4e8MnTse0

The east side of the Elbe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=468LovdIT9M

The fancy homes along the Elbe and Alster: https://www.ndr.de/fernsehen/sendungen/die_nordstory/Elbe-und-Alster-vor-der-Tuer,dienordstory724.html

The homage to the Elbe: https://www.horizont.net/agenturen/nachrichten/Geheimtipp-Hamburg-Eine-Hommage-an-den-schoensten-Fluss-der-Welt-160025

 

Written by enviropaul

January 21, 2020 at 5:05 pm

Canals in Germany

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Here are three videos about canals in northern Germany.  They are in German – I’m putting them here in my blog so that I don’t lose their URLs; I want to watch them again as a way to improve my understanding of the language.  And maybe some of my readers will do the same – or already understand German.  In which case, enjoy!

Canals, big and small, are found all over Germany.  The first video is about the canal that links the North Sea and the Baltic, via the Elbe and the Trave (Hamburg and Lübeck, if you will).  It profiles a couple who work and live in a barge, in this instance carrying rapeseed.  Very peaceful, beautiful scenery, slowly going down the historic canal, through no less historic towns such as Mölln.

The second video is about the Elbe lateral canal.  Still peaceful, much more industrial.  The canal was built after the war for two reasons.  The first was to facilitate the movement of bulky goods in a north-south direction.  You’d think that barges could just make their way up the Elbe river nearby; but there is a strong current, and while going downstream is fine, upstream would take too much energy, hence the canal.  The other reason to build the thing was political; the Elbe was the border between East and West Germany, and the West Germans, along with NATO, felt that a waterway completely in the West would be more reliable.  It is pretty spectacular, with large locks and an even larger ship lift, at the time the biggest in the world at 38 meters rise.

The third video is about the east-west canal, the Mittelland canal.  This is a giant canal that crosses the whole of the country, linking Poland to the Netherlands, in the process crossing rivers such as the Weser and the Elbe, over the biggest water bridges in Europe. Canals have quiet, predictable waters and are perfect for moving heavy stuff – minerals, grain, containers, etc – at a fraction of the cost and the energy needed even by railway, the next most efficient system.  But canals also create a shortcut for invasive species.  Zebra mussels, originally from the Black Sea, appeared in western Europe after the Danube-Rhine canal was completed.  The Mittelland canal is suffering from its own invasion of a fish from the Black Sea, the Schwartzmaul Grumpel (?) It’s a rather cute thing: lacking a swim bladder, it just walks at the bottom of the canal.  But, hey, it’s an invasive, out-competing native fish;  I’ll try to find what its name is (in English) to look it up. (Found it: neogobius melanostomus, the blcak-mouth goby)

I’ve added a fourth video, this one much shorter, but with narration in English; inexplicably, the NPR video about the Mittelland Canal does not feature the Magdeburg water bridge, a little marvel of engineering (imagine crossing a major river on a bridge that carries a canal – a bit unreal).

Anyways, here are the videos.  If interested in German, enjoy!  Otherwise, just look at the scenery…

Written by enviropaul

January 21, 2020 at 11:21 am