Viridian Note 00377: Viridian Commentary
Viridian Gizmo Extravaganza!
From: Peter Miller peter*perpetualocean.com
"Here in Australia, we are seeing the warmest winter temperatures on record. Which offers us pathetic images of daft tv weathermen gurgling about the 'wonderful warm sunny days'. I keep screaming at the television (to my wife's dismay) 'It's WINTER you morons. It's supposed to be cold!'
"And the country-wide drought continues.
"I can't wait for summer here. 37 degrees C? Cakewalk."
From: Dethe Elza <DaddyGravity*livingcode.ca>
"You forgot Canada (almost part of Europe). British Columbia, which was a rainforest until a couple of years ago, is combating some 337 forest fires at the moment.
"This is coupled with the out-of-control pine weevil infestation which is devastating the northern BC forests (the weevil used to be killed off in winter, back when it was cold in the Arctic). Things aren't looking good for Ma Nature up here in the thawing North, but the Vancouver Sun still has good powers of investigative journalism: Apparently Canadian porn magazines are holding their own against invaders such as Hustler Canada, even though Hustler (gasp) doesn't use real Canadian girls, just repackages 'Tara from Lousiana' to be 'Tara from Alberta.'
"It's good to see someone out there is still pursuing hard-hitting journalism. I just wonder where the paper to print it on is going to come from."
From: Alexander Schuth of the Viridian Curia
"European Heat Wave
"Dear Bruce, dear beloved fellow members of the Viridian Curia, dear Viridians — "Yes, this is Europe, and it is hot here. Germany'sNorth Sea and Baltic beaches deliver an nice and tasty 25- 27 degrees Celsius, but anywhere else, it is hell melting over. And that's not just news of this week — the whole year was a bit different.
"When we went kayaking in our folding boats
"on North-Hessian river Fulda during Easter Weekend, we already encountered summer-like low water levels. Not much surprise after over 4 weeks in Spring without any rain. We even had to walk in the river bed alongside our boats a couple times — and that in a river described as navigable for kayaks 12 out of 12 months a year. The rain in over a month came on day two of our tour The first rain in over a month came on day two of our tour (of course).
"A month later, river Rhine seemed to be lower than might be expected in May. The groins and wave breakers hadn't risen right out of the water, no, they don't do that — it's just the river was lower, so they were more exposed.
"In Spring, Germany already had about 20 forest fires — nothing really big, nothing like British Columbia, Australia or California, but still — forest fires in Central Europe's usually green, dripping-wet Spring time!
"During the last few weeks, farmers had to haul in their wheat harvest prematurely. After a lot of drought, the grains weren't ripe and well-matured, they were small. However, leaving them on the field would only mean that the grains would fall to the ground, resulting in even greater losses. So the farmers took what they could get, which wasn't a lot.
"Ah, what do I care about a bad harvest? It's easy - I eat bread. The math behind this is easy, too: Bad harvest equals rising food prices, and that in a country with a severe economic crisis and over 4 million unemployed folks in a population of 80 million. On one hand, everybody haggles to get taxes and health insurance rates lowered and tries to free up budget for jumpstarting the economy, on the other hand all those macro economic effects are simply sucked up by a single bad harvest.
"Meanwhile in Stuttgart Zoo's 'Wilhelmina', an elderly elephant, gets cold water showers every couple hours to drag her through this summer.
"For this week — tomorrow or Thursday — the mercury has been forecasted to climb to 40 degrees Celsius (for all you Fahrenheiters out there: At 0 degrees C water freezes, at 100 degrees C water boils and turns to vapor) in my state of Hesse. Mind you — this is not the Baleares or some Greek island, or Iraq, where a British soldier tried to dodge the local 58 degrees Celsius (didn't someone say 'We'll all be out and gone by Summer', or does my memory play tricks on me and that was the last time?) by taking a nap in a big food freezer and was pulled out hours later hypothermic and asleep, no: this is Rhein-Main area, this is the land around Frankfurt, this is right in the middle of Central Europe, where the grass stays green all year round without being watered and needs regular mowing.
"Good thing for all who commute by public transport: Deutsche Bahn AG has some nice airconditioned trains serving as RE (Regional Express). Bad news: Expect the engines of the locomotives to go funky in this heat, leaving trains stranded in the middle of nowhere. Or: You're in a train with AC, and one generator fails. In order to keep the arrival time so everybody catches their next train, they switch off AC to reroute the power for speed. And in those trains, you can't open any windows...
"River Elbe, running from Czech Republic through Germany to the North Sea (and scene of last years disastrous and deadly August flood) — is nearly dried up. Passenger ferries have stopped running.
"The undergrowth and paths in the forest are dry, and public fire warnings have been given. Open fires in forests are forbidden. Already some forest fires have been extinguished here in Germany in the last couple days.
"But we Germans are not the only folks who have it hot. River Danube, the beautiful blue Danube which flows from Germany through Austria, Hungaria and on down to the Black Sea, has reached yesterday the lowest level since 115 years, according to ARD's Tagesschau.
"They showed pictures of Danube in Serbia — restaurant ships that were moored to the shore now sit on dry land. But they wouldn't be able to serve their traditional fish specialties anyway — barely anything gets caught now. The Danube fishermen say this loss in fish population will still be felt several years from now.
(Q: What if another coincidental freak-heatwave hits the fish-population before it recovers to pre-2003 levels? And then another? And another?).
"Water-powered electricity plants were shut down to preserve water for providing a shipping lane. So much for reliability of water-power in a greenhouse — soon, all we will be able to rely on will be hot, dusty storms. Only partially-loaded freighters can still navigate Danube — and they only centimeters of water under their keels.
"Forgotten history comes back to light. The remains of the German Black Sea Flotilla, sunk after the end of World War I into the Danube, are normally all covered by water. At the Danube's 'usual low levels' these shipwrecks become a shipping hazard, but now the wrecks are so dry that the cabins are visible, and in some parts even the decks. A local explained that he had never seen them before, only some tips of the ships during a severe drought when he was a little boy, but never as exposed as now, and then he went climbing onto the deck of one of those former warships.
"Bruce, you mentioned French nuclear powerplants overheating. I heard a feature on radio HR1
"yesterday about the nuclear reactors on river Loire. Most nuclear reactors in France seem to line this single waterway ("like a pearl necklace" — some kind of pearls they got there!), and this summer their need of cooling is immensely greater than ever before. So they draw more water from Loire and return it with higher temperature levels than usual — which led to a 5 degree Celsius increase in the Loire's water temperature compared to the summer average of the last 25 years!
"Nice hot bathing water, one might say. Well, perhaps — but anybody who is experienced with fish knows that they unfortunately do need oxygen to live. The warmer the water, the lower the oxygen levels in the water (also diverse algae start to grow, some of which lead to poisoning the water, etc. ...). Lower oxygen levels mean lots of dead fish drifting down the river — just a change of a few degrees Celsius in the average water temperature is enough to give the residents in any given water the final eviction note. Sure, you could introduce better suited fish there later — and I guess French fishermen are already looking forward to catch some nice and funky tropical fish soon, but until then, the base of their income will be destroyed. The whole thing was commented by a chap from Darmstadt's Oeko-Institut, so if anybody feels like following up on this story, give them a call.
"And in the evening news, we were all presented with real and true footage of French nuclear powerplant Fessenheim on river Rhine being cooled with EXTERNAL SPRINKLERS — which supposedly lowered the plant's temperature by 5 degrees Celsius, back into 'a safe range'. Good for Fessenheim, good for everybody living downstream. This was something very spectacular, something that everybody can understand — and right in Alsace, on our own border. (Second thought: many people didn't understand Chernobyl — it was 'over there, where they have all this commie mismanagement', and now this reactor was 'in France, where they 'ave laissez-faire', so a reactor disaster obviously couldn't happen here, or there, or there, or in your country, or...) Where can I get a poster of that?
"Anybody really worried or surprised about the forest fires in Southern Europe? Not me! For decades, folks there did good business with arson — the guy who lights the fire gets nice money, the guy who loses a forest gets nice insurance cash and then sells this efficiently de-forested land to a developer for more nice money. This is supposedly how a lot of the hotel districts all around the Meditarranean got set up. One week, a protected forest; next week ashes; another week, construction site.
"In France, suspected arsonists already have been arrested this season. Tourists are sleeping in school gyms, with their holiday homes and trailers turned to cinders. Lots of French, British and German tourists cancel their trips, creating serious economic damage — maybe this arson-based business model needs a new approach, like including fire-insurance payoffs for the tourists, so they may also be winners.
"But that's all small fish (or no fish at all, for that matter). What really worries me is one thing: Remember the deadly Chicago heat wave of 1995 in the US? There was a sentence in one Viridian Note, basically saying: Well, why are Chicagoans dying in conditions that give Texans only a yawn? Because they aren't used to it — homes, clothing, habits and infrastructure are not adapted to the climate.
"This sounds like stark Darwinism to me, unfriendly and cruel. As cruel as the byline in the news yesterday: Besides suffering from headline-grabbing forest fires in the Iberian Peninsula (for the geographically challenged - that's Portugal and Spain, between Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea, that's right where German and British sunworshipers go for generations to get their skin cancers updated), now people there are dying from heat-related causes. YESDATZRITE! These places were ALWAYS flaming hot since El Cid's days, since Hannibal's days, and since before that. Those folks lived there forever. The Spanish and Portuguese know how to 'cope' with summer and serious heat, they have cool, massive stone houses that don't need air conditioning, they have siesta and they live the good live and have good food and wine and merry songs and a jolly party every night (and no, they don't wear sombreros) — and now they die in their own country from 'heat-related' causes! Just like any Chicagoan! Or German! Or Brit!
"That, dear Bruce, beloved Viridians, that is what really scares me: Now those people who — together with the Greek and the Sicilians — represent Europe's best and time proven hot weather survival strategies are starting to die from heat like any other guy.
"Dear friends, this is my report from Central Europe, soon a scorching, efficiently de-populated steppe.
"With best wishes from Germany,
"P.S.: Last year's Czech and German floods, by the way, were an extremely local phenomenon. As we were baking in Cologne during Popkomm around 15th-20th of August, not a single drop of rain fell. Meanwhile, other regions on the South-East of Germany and in Czech Republic got torrents of water. This may still come again — and then it may be considered handy that the levels of all rivers have been lowered in advance."
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