When Bob Geldof opened the world’s first climate change museum in northern Germany two years ago, he was surprised by two guests, a man from Niger and a man from Samoa whose countries feature prominently in The Journey, the main exhibit at the Klimahaus. Geldof, a well-known human rights activist and music producer, spoke about water, from rising sea levels to desertification, and how these global warming problems will lead to climate migration. People like Foua from Samoa and Ibrahim from Niger would be forced to abandon their homes and homelands because their island is being flooded or there simply isn’t enough water available to survive where their people have lived for centuries.
It’s no wonder then that two years later when I arrived at the Klimahaus there was a climate refugee art exhibit surrounding the museum. Artist Hermann Josef Hack set up his latest work, a scaled-down version of a climate refugee camp with tents scattered around the museum, as part of Bremerhaven’s Fresh Wind science festival. On his website Hack says the work is designed to bring attention to those who are the victims of the Western world’s “arrogant and selfish behaviour” and who are overlooked by places like the Klimahaus.
While Hack’s message is important, the reality of forced climate migration is not lost inside the Klimahaus. The journey around the world takes us from people simply surviving in the near-desert of Niger to the humid rainforests, diverse peoples and wildlife of Cameroon, all at risk from deforestation. Clear-cutting in Cameroon endangers wildlife and biodiversity through the destruction of habitat and delicate ecosystems while also weakening the planet’s ability to combat global warming.
After a freezing, albeit short trek through Antarctica we arrive in Samoa. Beautiful and tropical, the island nation is nevertheless the home to people on the edge of climate migration. Rising sea levels are forcing island nations to adapt to the loss of the ground beneath their feet. In some places it’s erosion and in others it’s rising water due to higher water temperatures and melting polar ice.
But beyond the Klimahaus and the art exhibit on its shores is Germany’s wider movement towards a greener society. Renewable energy has become a growing priority in Europe and especially Germany. In northern Germany wind dominates the renewable energy landscape, literally. From the plane and train you see them; at the beach they’re there: massive, peacefully spinning wind turbines.
The discussion around renewables like wind power has been spinning even faster since Germany shut down seven of its oldest operating nuclear plants in response to massive national protests before and in the wake of the recent Fukushima nuclear disaster. Germans are pushing for more renewable energy to replace nuclear power, no small challenge. But if anyone can do it, Germany can.
In 2010 alone, Germany installed 1,493 megawatts (MW) of new wind capacity, that’s nearly one-third of Canada’s total installed capacity of 4,588 MW (Germany’s total at the end of 2010 was 27,214 MW, and don’t get me started on solar). Even though Canada’s numbers are nothing to brag about, Canada’s wind resource has great potential and the numbers have been growing at a tremendous rate. Up until 2010, installed wind power capacity in Canada had grown by an average of 45 percent per year from 2004 to 2010 (that’s a lot). But that type of growth needs support. The federal program that aimed to provide $1.48 billion in investment support for renewable energy from 2007 to 2011, ecoENERGY for Renewable Power, came to an end in early 2010 and has not yet been renewed.
But did we have to come to Germany’s Klimahaus to realize climate change is, as many have written and declared, the greatest challenge of our generation? Maybe we did. Some might criticize this article for the greenhouse gas emissions required to make the trip possible. Blame the climate terror British environmentalist George Monbiot calls love miles, the miles traveled by air to see loved ones.
So while the conflict in writing this article is apparent, so too is the need to spread information to people that might not otherwise find out about it and to spread the word that work is being done on climate change elsewhere and Canada can get on board. Because as we learned at the Klimahaus: the consequences of global warming are real and happening around the world, but if developments in Germany are any indication, so are the movements for global environmental change.
Photos by Tomas Urbina