Guest post | “There were no sirens”

When cleaning up after the flood, one question arises: How could we allow politics to fail so harshly in the face of the climate crisis?

“It’s getting moldy every minute,” one of the employees of the Stolberg city archive hurriedly shouts. We’re in the basement and smeared with mud from top to bottom in no time. Metal cabinets are welded on by the fire brigade, we hand wet files, illustrated books and art objects upstairs, where they are stacked on pallets on the ground floor. Despite the FFP2 mask, my throat starts to burn, increasing the rush. The memory of the city threatens to rot after days of wetness. The population helps, forms ranks, and perseveres in the stifling air. At the top, entire families are wrapping the folders in clear film – ready for freezing. Tomorrow a special transporter will come from the Cologne city archives for this purpose, it is reported. Time is of the essence, not just here. While the basement is moldy, the mud on the streets begins to dry as hard as a rock. It is a non-toxic mixture of the substances from the sewer system, the oil heaters and everything that has been carried away by the floods.

If I scroll through the news in the evening, I find the reports about the failure of the state government. About the warnings of the European flood warning system Efas for the affected regions that have not reached the people. I hear NRW Interior Minister Reul say: “The essence of disasters is that they cannot be predicted”, and I have to control myself not to want to yell at him. Isn’t that the same politician who once had us beaten up from the trees of the Hambach Forest and who now pretends to be ignorant in the face of the climate catastrophe that has occurred?

Whether the Efas warnings about floods or those of the climate science of the past decades about the effects of the climate crisis: incompetence paired with willful ignorance have led to the fact that neither the necessary measures to reduce emissions were taken, nor our disaster control prepared for the occurrence of extreme weather events was.

Whoever has caused the climate crisis the least will be hit first

“Did you hear sirens?” I ask an elderly resident of the campsite Mulartshüttethrough which a stream meanders and which we help clear out the next day. “No – there were no sirens. Suddenly the power went out and when we stepped out of our trailer, the water was already washing over us, ”she says. They ran from caravan to caravan and made sure that everyone could escape to the village above. They had to leave their belongings behind. The campsite is now like a field of rubble. Many of the caravans were dragged along, wedged into one another or wrapped around trees. A problem for some of the permanent residents here and those from Hartz 4. She hit the tide first and hardest. The responsible mayor is talking about renting former accommodations for refugees for them. How and whether they can come back is just as unclear as the question of whether the operator of the campsite can financially manage to rebuild it.

The reports from Zhengzhou hit me that evening. In one day there was as much precipitation as normally in eight months. The pictures of people in flooded subways are gruesome and show once again that the climate crisis has long been something that only lies in the future. It is a reality. What is new is that we are also beginning to feel it in Central Europe.

“Compared to similar events in Europe, floods in Africa are being reported much less and less. Some are surprised to hear that Uganda is flooding! ”Tweeted Leah Namugerwa, an activist with Fridays For Future Uganda. In the past few years, heavy rain events with floods and landslides have become more frequent and severe. Again and again people lose their homes in this way and crops are destroyed. It is the people who have contributed the least to the climate crisis and at the same time are least able to protect themselves from the effects.

As long as this did not affect white people far from Central Europe, it was not important enough for the ruling politicians, not urgent enough to intervene. Instead, people were patted on the shoulder in favor of the Paris climate agreement resolution, as if the resolution alone would be enough to stem the climate crisis. We will only be able to begin an honest climate policy if we break with global injustice, colonialism and exploitation and take measures that allow people in all regions of the world to live with dignity and without a climate crisis.

I want to feel sadness, but I can only feel ice-cold anger

In the Rhineland, my home, the cause and effect of the climate crisis are now moving closer together. With its lignite-fired power plants and open-cast mines, the region is still Europe’s source of CO2. When the brooks here began to become raging rivers, the Inde also overflowed its banks, took the old riverbed again and flooded the Inden open-cast mine. The Weißweiler coal-fired power station has since been cut off from deliveries of coal. Shutting it down and turning it off forever would be the right first step. At the Garzweiler opencast mine, abandoned houses in the villages threatened by the opencast mine were opened to people affected by the floods. Instead of further mining lignite here and destroying the villages for it, the coal excavators should be retired. Unfortunately, that won’t just happen – we don’t get climate justice for free, we have to keep fighting for it.

The first cellar, because I helped clear it out after the floods, was that of my loved ones. They too live by a stream, there were no sirens here either, they were surprised by the tides, which rose as high as they had never seen it before. People I have known all my life, whose children I grew up with. Now we took her books on art history, which she had collected over decades, onto the street. When an old family photo flashes, fish it out of the mountain and wipe it on my pants. I want to feel sadness, but I can only feel ice-cold anger. On August 27, I was told there would be a demonstration in Düsseldorf against the failure of the government. Who can, nothing how.

Kathrin Henneberger is a climate activist from the Rhineland. In 2021 she was elected to 20th place on the state list of Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen Nordrhein-Westfalen for the federal election in 2021

Read more in the current issue of Friday.



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