Climate illusions are no substitute for disaster management

With the onset of floods in Germany and elsewhere this summer, calls have grown louder for more climate change measures. But natural disasters happen all the time. What citizens should focus on is disaster preparedness. The Swiss example offers a path forward.

A German man surveys the damage after the flood
Floods caused death and destruction across western Germany in July. Instead of calling for restrictive climate change measures, citizens should be encouraging officials to engage in the painstaking work of disaster management planning. © Getty Images

In recent weeks, heavy rains have wrought havoc throughout Europe, especially Germany. Politicians and the media are blaming climate change, and calls for stronger environmental protection measures have grown even louder. 

Reducing pollution and waste is an important goal. We must also not forget that nature, especially the earth’s climate, is in constant flux. Natural disasters have always occurred from time to time. In the same parts of Germany, similar floods happened about 60 years ago, as well as in the 19th century.

Blaming climate change is the easy way out. It ignores other threats and weaknesses – a costly mistake. Except for Switzerland, Europe has significant gaps in terms of civil protection and disaster management.

It might therefore be useful to look at the Swiss example. The country defines its civil protection mission as follows:

The mission of civil protection is to protect the population and its vital resources in the event of disasters, emergencies and armed conflict. Civil protection provides management, protection, rescue and relief, and contributes to limiting damage and coping with it. To fulfill its mission, civil protection assumes the following tasks:

  • It ensures that the public is informed of hazards, protective possibilities and measures
  • It warns and alerts the population, and issues instructions on how it should act
  • It provides management
  • It coordinates the preparations and deployment of the partner organization
  • It ensures readiness appropriate to the time and situation, and “buildup” when required

Municipalities train professionals and militias, and provide emergency plans. Many parts of Europe lack such procedures. It should also be remembered that spatial planning and infrastructure form an important part of disaster preparedness.

To blame climate policies for the problems stemming from a lack of such systems would be wrongheaded and lazy. Yet the naive belief that fighting climate change is a substitute for disaster management is widespread. It is a sign of short-term thinking in society, a mentality of risk-avoidance. The irony is that this approach is exceedingly risky. Another – also dangerous – symptom of this mindset is the belief that in an era of high debt and aging societies, people will be able to retire at age 65 and retain the purchasing power of their pension payments.

It is worth repeating that it is crucial to fight pollution and waste – and much is already being done in these areas. But to believe the illusion that humans can keep the climate stable (against all principles of nature) and thereby protect us from disasters is naive at best.

Society has lost a lot of common sense, realism and pragmatism. The result is fear and panic, the worst remedy possible.

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