We recently spent an extended weekend in beautiful bourgs within easy driving distance of Brussels: Freiburg, Germany; Strasbourg, France; and Luxembourg (capital and country of same name). For climate change negotiators in Copenhagen, a visit to these three cities near the Rhine and the Moselle rivers could help point the way to a post-carbon future.
None are car or carbon-free, and all are just as over-the-top Christmas-decorated as any typical Germanic town this season (photo: Strasbourg's Place Kleber and its 100 foot-high century-old pine tree). But their approach to public transportation specifically and urban planning in general would be worth cloning worldwide.
Strasbourg, a city on the Rhine and the object of French and German invasions, occupations, and liberations before a united Europe put an end to all such turf-battling, is built on and between canals, rivers, and water courses of all sorts. Which didn't keep city authorities from building a beautiful ultra-modern tram system that links downtown with its outlying suburbs. If only Strasbourg could lick its problem of New Year's Eve car burnings (the young hoods who set fire to their neighbors' cars are not motivated by any extreme green politics; they're just hoods out to attract attention thanks to eager TV cameras)...
Across the Rhine, Freiburg im Breisgau (official website; not to be confused with nearby Fribourg in Switzerland) is a Green Mecca. Predictably, its mayor is a Green Party member. Not so predictably, he rules with a conservative CDU deputy. Environmentalists from the world over flock to Freiburg to see its Vauban neighborhood, which is known for its sensible use of alternative energy sources and low-carbon footprint. The city nestles in the foothills of the Black Forest, and with vineyards close by, has an almost perfect setting for a mixed economy that points the way to a sustainable future.
Back to reality in Brussels, where we watched an evening devoted to Copenhagen on French TV (France 2). One of the documentaries showed Adelaide and its surrounding region, with drought-induced water shortages changing the lifestyles of urban and rural Australians alike. And yet, in today's Washington Post, you can read about ""A Lingering Pool of Disbelief," Blaine Harden's report on climate change denial in one of the countries hardest hit: "despite a decade of record drought, Australian farmers refuse to buy into climate change."
Maybe they are taken in by the Saudi skeptics, the "ClimateGate" conspiracy theorists, and the Bush dead enders who think it's all in our fervid imaginations. Tell that to the Alpine or Himalayan mountain guides who hike through dried scree where there used to be glaciers thirty years ago, or to the Bangladeshi families who have had to move yearly to escape the rising rivers downstream. Maybe the deniers have their own aquifers, their own micro-climates, maybe their own survivalist militias with limitless cans of pork and beans for when climate refugees start to head north. Maybe it's all in their imaginations - the pipe dream that somehow they can escape from the wages of their profligacy.
For those of us who have a firmer footing in reality, heed the burgs - Freiburg and Strasbourg - that are set to thrive in a post-carbon future.