The flood disasters in Germany are shocking because they were so destructive and life-devastating. Local regions are affected to an enormous extent. Was it really the warning systems that weren’t enough or, above all, was there a lack of the ability to imagine such an event?
Both come together. The inability to imagine such a catastrophe is very human, I believe. You have to have experienced something like this to be able to imagine it. People in Germany did not previously know that their own local nature becomes so violent. At the same time, climate research has predicted an increase in heavy rain events. It is therefore right to ask what should have been done to better prepare the local people for it.
Do you think this experience will change the way we look at climate change in the long term?
The interpretation of the flood disaster shows how intertwined human interventions and natural events are. So have we now experienced a flood disaster or have we felt the effects of climate change? Yes and yes. This event goes back to global causes such as the change in the jet stream. And at the same time, mistakes were made locally with the sealing of surfaces. As climate change evolves, it has been shown that the societies that are hardest hit by it can best imagine what it means to suffer from climate change. So far we have mainly associated this experience with societies in the global south. Now it comes close to us too, to places of residence where our imagination hadn’t planned it. A sensual perception of climate change was previously not possible here – now it is.
So when we see pictures of the current flood in China, for example, does it no longer seem so far away?
This is complicated by global inequality in the image politics of newspapers and other media too. The vulnerability of people is portrayed differently depending on where they live. In the German reports from North Rhine-Westphalia or Rhineland-Palatinate, people were shown after the flood, desperate in front of their lost belongings. Or politicians who pace these places and offer help. You see actors, despite all the bewilderment. We are not only used to the images of flood disasters, for example from Bangladesh, they also portray people much more strongly as victims who are about up to their waist in the water. German citizens can only be seen in private photos on social media. Actors here, victims there: This is part of the iconography of disasters and draws distances where experiences could be comparable.
Concerns about the future of the planet and ecological issues have been an issue since the 1970s. For a long time, this has hardly influenced political speech and action. Too little has been done to date, but the discourse has changed. Almost all politicians have referred to climate protection as a rhetorical reflex. Horst Seehofer also said now that nobody can doubt that the flood is related to climate change.