Tag Archives: Switzerland

The biggest ground offensive in Europe since World War II

Russia started its invasion of Ukraine on Thursday February 24, 2022, with airstrikes on cities and military bases. Russian troops and tanks then entered the country on three sides and reached the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, on Friday, in the biggest ground offensive in Europe since World War II. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned other countries not to come to Ukraine’s aid, reminding the world of Russia’s nuclear weapons stockpile and threatening “consequences you have never seen.” Ukrainian leaders said their military was fighting back, and that dozens of their soldiers and hundreds of Russian troops had been killed. They said Russian forces had seized control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant in an attack that could “cause another ecological disaster” at the site of the world’s worst nuclear meltdown. [The Associated Press, The Washington Post]

Thousands of people across Russia took to the streets but were silenced. Opposition activist Tatyana Usmanova called the invasion “a disgrace” and she asked for “forgiveness” from Ukrainians.

“We didn’t vote for those who unleashed the war,”

she said.

Despite hundreds of arrests daily, and nearly 3,000 total since the invasion began, demonstrators held signs and marched through the centres of cities from Moscow to Siberia, chanting “No to war!” in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Russia’s smaller neighbour.

It is good to hear how International businesses operating in Russia and Ukraine one after the other started closing offices and factories after Russia invaded Ukraine, all facing dark days for all of us.

Siemens Energy CEO Christian Bruchtold shareholders at their annual meeting.

“The attack on Ukraine represents a turning point in Europe; a war was simply unthinkable for many people, especially the younger generations.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had agreed to send a Ukrainian delegation to negotiate with Russia near Ukraine’s border with Belarus. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to use Belarus as a staging ground for his invasion, arranged the meeting. But we could see yesterday that Russia did not keep to the agreement to have a corridor for the civilians to flee the terrorised cities. As soon they drove out of those cities they were shot at by the Russians, and as such were driven back to where they came from.

The European Union has shut down its airspace to commercial and private Russian airplanes and committed, along with several member countries (including non-NATO Sweden and Finland), to arming Ukraine. And perhaps most astonishing of all, Europe and the United States (joined even by perennially neutral Switzerland) have put together a package of economic sanctions far more severe than anything anticipated prior to the outbreak of hostilities. There’s now a very real possibility Russia could be plunged into a catastrophic economic tailspin.

Last Sunday Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was putting Russian nuclear deterrence forces on high alert due to what he called “aggressive statements” Western nations were making against Russia.  Yesterday he went a step further, calling all those who wanted to interfere with his peace mission, dangerous attackers of his state, to which he will not shrink from counterattacking. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen her call for promptly opening EU membership talks, Putin considers as a war declaration.

Elon Musk came to help Ukraine maintain internet access as it fights a Russian invasion. Musk’s private rocket company SpaceX has deployed thousands of Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit, establishing a network over the last three years to beam high-speed internet service to users from more than 100 miles up. The service can work in parts of the world with limited conventional internet infrastructure. Since Russia invaded, Ukraine has experienced internet disruptions, so Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, asked Musk to send Starlink terminals.

Russia’s central bank on Monday hiked a key interest rate from 9.5 percent to 20 percent to fight inflation and depreciation of the ruble, after the Russian currency fell by 30 percent to a record low against the dollar as Europe and the U.S. imposed harsh sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The move came after the United States, European Union, Canada, and the United Kingdom over the weekend announced plans to cut off some Russian banks from the SWIFT financial support network, a global payment system connecting international banks. The allies also said they would take steps to thwart the Russian central bank’s attempt to boost Russia’s economy with its more than $600 billion in reserves, part of an escalating push by the West for Moscow to negotiate peace.

Ukrainians are fleeing en masse to clogged borders of European neighbours, with the biggest share heading to Poland while smaller numbers try to reach Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, and Romania. More than 500,000 Ukrainians have left for Europe since Russian forces invaded on Thursday and Europe expects this going to grow to 1,5 million. Over previous weekend, one crossing into Poland had a line nearly nine miles long. The exodus has been the biggest Europe has seen in years, with some authorities bracing for a humanitarian crisis like the one that occurred in 2015 when more than a million refugees arrived from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries. Many European nations were hostile to the refugees who arrived in 2015, but so far they have said they would welcome Ukrainians.

Big question for Europe is now how long it can stand at the sideline.

Switzerland has edged away from its long-standing tradition of neutrality. Finland is not comfortable with Putin’s aggressive expansionism, which may also have its eyes on several of Russia’s neighbouring countries. It is on the cusp of asking for admission into the NATO alliance after decades of standing to the side. Germany, after a nearly 80-year break from militarism, is suddenly beefing up its defence budget and sending arms to Ukraine.  Previously, neutrality for countries like Finland and Switzerland had benefits to those countries — and to the world at large, but in which way is a neutrality tenable?

 

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Europe’s catastrophic flooding was forecast well in advance – what went so wrong?

Almost 200 people dead and many others still missing. Billions of euros’ worth of damage. Communities devastated. Thousands of homes destroyed and their occupants traumatised.

Hannah Cloke  advises the Environment Agency, the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts, the Copernicus Emergency Management Service, local and national governments and humanitarian agencies on the forecasting and warning of natural hazards. She is a Council member of the UKRI Natural Environment Research Council, a fellow of the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts, a fellow of the Centre for Natural Hazards & Disaster Science in Sweden and is also affiliated to Uppsala University in Sweden. Her research is funded by the UKRI Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, the UKRI Natural Environment Research Council and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

I am a flood forecaster who helped to set up the forecasting system that was used to predict the recent floods in Germany and surrounding countries. I saw days in advance that they were coming. I read reports of rainfall and river levels rising. And then I watched with growing horror as the death toll surged.

The European Flood Awareness System (EFAS), which I helped to set up, is part of the EU’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service. It provides early information on flooding to national and local authorities across Europe. I work closely with people there in my role as an independent flood scientist at the University of Reading to improve and analyse EFAS data. I don’t work in the team that issues early flood information to authorities, but looking at the data with colleagues, I could see early on just how serious the floods looked.

Forecasts on Friday July 9 and Saturday 10 for the Rhine catchment, covering Germany and Switzerland, had shown a high probability of flooding that would begin on Tuesday July 13. Subsequent forecasts also showed the Meuse in Belgium would be affected. The forecasts in the following days showed that there was little doubt that a major flood was coming.

EFAS sends out bulletins of early information which are designed to be read, understood and acted on by experts. They are not directly available to the public. Public flood warnings come from the national and regional weather, environment and civil protection agencies, and EFAS information needs to be used by these authorities alongside their own forecasts.

The first EFAS bulletin was sent to the relevant national authorities on Saturday July 10. More updates continued over the following days as more precise predictions became available. Formal flood notifications were issued to authorities in Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg, as well as the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) of the European Commission throughout Monday and Tuesday. As the event neared and uncertainty in the forecast shrank, the predicted start of the flooding was pushed to Wednesday for smaller rivers and Thursday for the larger downstream rivers. Around 25 individual warnings were sent out to parts of the Rhine and Meuse.

The German weather service, DWD, had independently forecast extremely high rainfall too and issued warnings for more than 200 mm of rain in the same areas several days ahead of time, saying that flooding was possible. Regional warnings were also issued, for example by the Environment Agency in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, one of the areas hit particularly hard by flooding.

The floods that did happen matched the scale and distribution of those that were forecast several days before. I was very surprised, therefore, that so many people died, given that authorities knew about the event and had sufficient warnings to get people to safety before the floods began.

Where flood warnings fail

Clearly, tragically, the whole system designed to save lives by ensuring people act on warnings before floods arrive, did not work as it should have done. It may be that individual parts of the system worked exactly as they were designed, and it is certainly true that forecasts were accurate, and there were some warnings issued through official channels. In some areas, many authorities did act in time, to evacuate people, erect temporary flood defences, and move vehicles to higher ground. But this clearly did not happen everywhere.

In the middle of an election campaign, some German leaders in national and regional government still seemed to defend the locally-devolved nature of disaster management in Germany, insisting that the warnings were adequate and agencies did their work well. It is like claiming that the maiden voyage of the Titanic was a success because 99% of its engineering worked perfectly throughout. While their arguments may be true on an individual scale, unless those in power admit that the system ultimately failed, they risk failing to learn lessons and put others at risk in the future.

Science, in large part, is about helping people see the invisible. What is the use of a perfect forecast if the people it is supposed to warn cannot see the danger they are in? Effective flood warnings require people to be able to see into the future and imagine their house full of water, to assess the likelihood of that happening, and to see the multiple paths they could take to keep them, their family, and their property safe.


Read more: Report from Europe’s flood zone: researcher calls out early warning system gridlock amid shocking loss of life


I recently took part in an exercise encouraging scientists, from senior professors to school pupils, to trace the path of water in a river through time using just their imagination. Weeks later, we are seeing what happens when people cannot visualise the threat of a river ripping down their street, or a lake appearing in their house. These are the elements of flood warnings that must improve.

As climate change increases risks from heatwaves, fires and floods, we need to not only slash emissions but prepare ourselves for the problems we already have in store. Even with sufficient decarbonisation measures – which we are still yet to see from any major government – there is no avoiding the consequences of a hotter, more turbulent environment.

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Suggested further reading

McEwan, L., Garde-Hansen, J., Holmes, A., Jones, O. & Krause, R. (2016). Sustainable flood memories, lay knowledges and the development of community resilience to future flood risk. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 42, 14 – 28. https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12149.

Alexander, M., Priest, S. & Penning-Roswell, E. (2017). The risk of ill-informed reform: The future for English flood risk management. Area, 50, 426 – 429. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12393.

Forrest, S., Trell, E. & Woltjer, J. (2018). Civil society contributions to local level flood resilience: Before, during and after the 2015 Boxing Day floods in the Upper Calder Valley. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 44, 422 – 436. https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12279.

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Sensitive trees for insensitive man

even, dense and old stand of beech trees (Fagu...

even, dense and old stand of beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) prepared to be regenerated (watch the young trees underneath the old ones) in the Brussels part of the Sonian Forest (Forêt de Soignes – Zoniënwoud) in Belgium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For years already, I claim we should treat plants and animals as subjects but also as living beings created by the Divine Creator, who has given them for our use but not mis-use or maltreatment. I always claimed they too have feelings and ways of communicating. In the 1970ies I followed many scientists who tried to proof and did proof how plants also have feelings and communicate with each other.

Though at regular times people seem to be reminded of it. Because too often man forgets that he is not alone having feelings and able to communicate with others of their own sort properly.

It is long known to biologists that trees in the forest are social beings. They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbours; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the “Wood Wide Web”; and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.

The German Peter Wohlleben studied forestry and spent over twenty years as a civil servant in the forestry commission. For him trees are his life and for that reason he also gave up his job by the state forestry because he wanted to put his ideas of ecology into practice. He now runs an environmentally friendly municipal piece of woodland in the village of Huemmel, holds lectures and seminars and has written books on subjects pertaining to woodlands and nature protection so those interested can accompany him through the forests of his homeland and the whole world.

The Hidden Life of Trees describes how trees are like human families. We as human beings only think of ourselves being able to make a nice family, though many make a mess of it, and when watching Danish television series I even wonder if there are normal Danish people walking around in the North, who can have a normal family life. In the series we come to see they all seem to be unfaithful.
In nature we see better build ups. Tree parents living together with their children, communicating with them, and supporting them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warning each other of impending dangers. With their newfound understanding of the delightfully complex life of trees, readers will never be able to look at a walk.
English: The deep dark forest One of the track...

The deep dark forest One of the tracks through Pantmaenog Forest. There are prehistoric tumuli marked on the map here but they are difficult to find among the dense conifers. The trees here were planted after Bellstone quarry closed in 1908 and some of the old quarry workings are also concealed by the forest: human beings making their mark on the landscape in a variety of ways. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since it first topped best-seller lists last year, Mr. Wohlleben has been spending more time on the media trail and less on the forest variety, making the case for a popular reimagination of trees, which, he says, contemporary society tends to look at as “organic robots” designed to produce oxygen and wood.

Though duly impressed with Mr. Wohlleben’s ability to capture the public’s attention, some German biologists question his use of words, like “talk” rather than the more standard “communicate,” to describe what goes on between trees in the forest. But no matter how you want to call that communication we should come to understand that it is really communicating, no matter if you want to call it talking or something else.
It is also different with human beings who think they communicate and are on social media, thinking they have so many friends, but in reality do not have many friends nor comrades and do not really have any real communication going on between all those people. We did not mind to run around in that what God had created us and did not have to hide anything for others, always able to keep faithful to the one we loved and where we choose for. But to day they want to shine and glitter in fashion clothes but are fast to take those cloths of in the hidden to do things we would have found inappropriate when there was not a strong connection with each other. But to day they seem to change of girl like they change of underpants, and often there is not much conversation going on and lots of time it is just a one night stand with no further communication at all. They have become worse than animals. (Are am I looking at it too pessimistic?)
Whilst I do believe those trees have much more communication going on than their human counterparts who are not afraid to kill more and more of those air-cleaners, not seeing that they are polluting more and more their own environment, making it poorer and poorer. Even those Germans who are reputed to have a special relationship with the forest are a kind of a cliché and it can well be that those Germans do not love their forest more than Swedes or Norwegians or Finns.
When I lived and worked in Germany, for relaxation I went into the woods around Köln and went swimming in open air. Then I could encounter many like minded nature lovers who wanted to be one with it and, like me searched for ways to respect it and to make properly use of feeding us in a clean and appropriate way. No chemicals, no additives, all pure whole grain and pure natural food.

Young musicians living in a shared community in Amsterdam.

Though when I look at how enthusiast we where in the 196070ies and had so many dreams, being called ‘flower power‘ people, many not understanding our idea of sharing and love and making a collective community, kibbutz or commune, many of them have gone far away from their idealism and the last few months we see many things we fought for, being undone in a very short time.

Though might we see somewhere some light shining in the dark, perhaps getting back some younger ones again being interested in nature and how we should behave in it? Can it be that there are again seeds planted for people willing to reconsider our human behaviour in the big universe?
For sure it is high time that people are going to understand the need of forests and green spaces around our busy roads and living estates. Yesterday it was again on the news that in the Kempen 122 ha of woods has to be offered for sand-winning, as if it is nothing. Man also thinks it is alright to artificially space out trees, but forget that shall not give the same intensification as wooded areas. The plantation forests that make up most of West Europe’s woods ensure that trees get more sunlight and grow faster. But, naturalists say, creating too much space between trees can disconnect them from their networks, stymieing some of their inborn resilience mechanisms.

Intrigued, Mr. Wohlleben began investigating alternate approaches to forestry. Visiting a handful of private forests in Switzerland and Germany, he was impressed.

“They had really thick, old trees,”

he said.

“They treated their forest much more lovingly, and the wood they produced was more valuable. In one forest, they said, when they wanted to buy a car, they cut two trees. For us, at the time, two trees would buy you a pizza.”

But where are all those very thick trees gone, I wonder. In Belgium some years ago you could find also many places where you could enjoy the view of masterly or kingly majestic trees. The last two years , in the region where I live now (Leefdaal, Flemish Brabant), we have seen hundreds of trees being cut and not replaced.

English: Deep in the forest something stirred ...

Deep in the forest something stirred Go Ape, a series of aerial walkways, swings and zip slides in the forestry land north of Aberfoyle. Note – human beings included for a sense of scale. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mr Wohlleben had also difficulties with the ministry of forestry but it turned out that Mr. Wohlleben had won over the forest’s municipal owners. 10 years ago, the municipality took a chance. It ended its contract with the state forestry administration, and hired Mr. Wohlleben directly. He brought in horses, eliminated insecticides and began experimenting with letting the woods grow wilder. Within two years, the forest went from loss to profit, in part by eliminating expensive machinery and chemicals.

We should enjoy those trees going to grow in all sorts of shapes, creating all sorts of designs in the air. When we look at ourselves, we should see that we also do not have a life going in straight lines. We also not all grow up straight. Why should trees have to grow up in those particular straight lines indicated by people in the office. The same as the right 25 cm cucumbers, the bananas with the drawn out moon shape, the tomatoes and apples which may not be too big or flat… everything should be according to the book and numbers indicated,  … but life is not according the book of man … but should be according the Book of life …. with not everything exactly the same, and not always according to the books of man….
When is man going to see we should come back to being close to nature and to be part of nature again? And when is he going to understand we do need much more green around us … to have a colourful life full of health and joy?
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Please also find to read:

  1. World Agenda for Sustainability
  2. Welfare state and Poverty in Flanders #1 Up to 21st century
  3. 2nd Half 20th Century Generations pressure to achieve

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