Karl Lauterbach is on vacation in Tuscany. He arrived in Bologna a week ago on Thursday. “The heat wave is spectacular here,” he wrote upon arrival. “If things continue like this, these holiday destinations will have no future in the long term. Climate change is destroying southern Europe. An era comes to an end.”
Naturally, social democrats are particularly sensitive to the subject of Tuscany. A whole generation has grown so fond of the area that it has become proverbial as the “Tuscan Fraction”.
And now, of all things, the sun is killing off this jolly troupe? I immediately checked my weather app. Friends of mine are also in Italy at the moment, they hadn’t said anything.
The app reported 29 degrees as the maximum temperature for July 13, Lauterbach’s day of arrival. That’s warm, no question, but far from what makes the Italian sweat. On Tuesday, the thermometer briefly stood at 39 degrees, which is also not uncommon in Italy in summer.
Heat in Bologna: A look at the temperatures
On the other hand: The “Spiegel” reported 48 degrees for the south. That sounded completely different. I experienced 45 degrees eight years ago in Sandpoint, Idaho, one week in June. Everything is okay up to 42 degrees, you can stand it. After that it gets very tiring. Above 45 degrees, nobody leaves the hotel room voluntarily.
“Doctors are already warning of many deaths from the heat,” announced the news magazine from the cool north in the expectant tone of the climate apocalypse. Well, the fine print then said that it wasn’t the air temperature that was meant, but the “ground temperature”, whatever that is. You probably just put a thermometer in the sun when it’s really hot and see what happens.
Oh Italy, you could say. But then I remembered that I had recently read about a climate researcher who gave a lecture on how the Lower Franconia region will change as a result of climate change.
It was, of course, about climate deaths and that downtown Würzburg would resemble a ghost town at lunchtime, with absolutely ruinous consequences for trade. In a few decades, Würzburg will have a climate like Bologna, was the conclusion of the expert. I was still laughing when I read that, I didn’t know the experience report of our health minister.
Media, fear lust and response to extreme weather events
One or the other will now object that the city center of Bologna is not deserted either, despite the warnings from the Federal Minister of Health. In Italy they simply have an extended siesta around lunchtime, but the shops open later in the evening. But that would probably be too practical for a German city.
Climate change is a bit like the fear of the knife-wielding Muslim. The fear of doom is mixed with the desire for the most fatal possible outcome of the fear scenario. In his aesthetics, Immanuel Kant called this strange combination of conflicting feelings “anxiety”.
If you wanted to, you could also come to the conclusion that the increase in extreme weather events is a result of media networking. Somewhere in the world it is always raining too much or too little. You will always find a place too hot or too cold for the time of year. But nobody wants to hear that. If it’s not pouring like rain, then it’s on fire!
Even people who are supposed to be cool-headed can be tempted to spout nonsense. Two weeks ago, countless tweets showed a street in Zaragoza, Spain, which had turned into a torrent after heavy rain. “Is there anyone else who hasn’t noticed that we are in an escalating climate crisis?” wrote climate researcher Stefan Rahmstorf.
Reflections on the climate crisis and individual renunciation
If Mr. Rahmstorf had familiarized himself with the topography in Zaragoza, he would have known that the street was known as the “gorge of death” beforehand. It is at the lowest point in the city. The city planners have built a wall on the left and right, so that a long downpour is enough to flood everything.
But there is an insatiable need for validation. It’s like climate change deniers, for whom a wet May or snow in November is enough to shout triumphantly: You see, it’s all a lie!
I’m afraid the people who call the alarm every week are getting the opposite of what they want to achieve. The first time you hear that 48 degrees were predicted in Europe, you think: awesome, now it’s going to be really tight.
The second time around, the novelty is gone and you’re glad that it’s cooler yourself. The third time you just shrug your shoulders. I find it amazing that this habituation effect is hardly considered, especially by experts in the media business. Journalists in particular should know how readers deal with terrible news. But oddly enough, it is primarily the media people who rely on the shock effect. If she doesn’t, just increase the dose.
There can be no doubt that the planet is heating up. The so-called extreme weather events are also likely to increase. Although that is not so easy to judge. Last week pranksters immediately had a front page of the weekly magazine “La Domenica del Corriere” at hand from July 12, 1952, which warned of “extraordinarily hot days” in Italy (“40 degrees in the shade in Novara, 42 in Reggio Emilia”).
Hope for the ingenuity of mankind
What is the appropriate frame of mind in the face of the crisis? Just going on like this is not a convincing concept either. More thoughtful contemporaries try applied Protestantism. So doing without everything that promotes climate change, which at this time of year includes, first and foremost, a holiday flight.
The “SZ” editor Vera Schroeder reported from the circle of acquaintances that this year they will make their way to southern Italy by train. I admire so much dedication to the cause, seriously. With three small children, even a longer flight is a challenge. But 22 hours with the screaming brats in a stuffy train compartment?
I would give myself the ball. Anyway, I don’t think that individual renunciation will save us. Attribute it to my advanced age, but when I read that 68 percent say in polls that they support the green energy transition, I think to myself: Let’s see how they react when things get serious.
I’m just hoping for the ingenuity of our species. Luckily, humans are extremely resourceful beings when it comes to dealing with adverse conditions, as the settlement of the Netherlands shows. A quarter of the country is below sea level. Of course, sometimes the thought creeps up on me too: what if we’re too late? But I don’t see any reasonable alternative.
If I had something to say, my recommendation to people who still have to make their career choice would be: Get out of the postcolonialism or gender seminar and into engineering, physics and chemistry. The study of gender studies is a fine thing. But when it comes down to saving the world, it’s utterly useless, alas.
Inner contemplation as a possible way in view of the impending end
To really do something about climate change, protest is not enough. What would definitely help us would be a way to recapture the CO₂ that we put into the atmosphere. Or a technology that cools our planet down to a point where we can also cope with the many coal-fired power plants that China is bringing on line every month.
Lauterbach arrived in Siena earlier this week. As a holiday greeting, he sent a picture of the deserted Basilica di San Domenico, together with the recommendation to use the church as a cold room.
The representatives of the evangelical and catholic church in Germany got in touch immediately. Mr. Lauterbach runs into open doors. Everyone is welcome in the church, for prayer, for devotion and also for protection from the heat. Perhaps this is the way in the face of the imminent end: inner contemplation. When all else fails, there is always prayer.
Read all of Jan Fleischhauer’s columns here.
The readers love him or hate him, Jan Fleischhauer is indifferent to the least. You only have to look at the comments on his columns to get an idea of how much people are moved by what he writes. He was at SPIEGEL for 30 years, and at the beginning of August 2019 he switched to FOCUS as a columnist.
Fleischhauer himself sees his task as giving voice to a world view that he believes is underrepresented in the German media. So when in doubt, against the herd instinct, commonplaces and thought templates. His texts are always amusing – perhaps it is this fact that provokes his opponents the most.