Impressions from a Month in France and Scotland

Climate and Resilience Issues Are Being Addressed in Impressive Ways

Credit: Courtesy

This summer’s heat extremes in Europe have set new temperature records, spread wildfires, and created public health issues. Fifteen thousand people died in France during the August 2003 heat wave. This summer, with even higher temperatures, no one has died in France. Big numbers have died in other southern European countries where there have not been the same kind of measures taken to protect citizens. The French government has created a comprehensive heat emergency plan as part of a larger scheme to address climate change and boost climate resilience. 

Swimming pools, bathhouses (dating back to the period before many French had bathrooms at home), and parks are open daily and with hours extending to almost midnight. Misting machines in parks, plazas, and other public spaces, often tied to fire hydrants, are set up to cool these areas and create fun places for children to play. “Heat wave kits” are sent to parents for their children and to older, at-risk people.

There is also a push to ban cars in French cities and make public transportation free during temperature spikes, but this has not turned into official policy yet.

The heat island effect makes French cities as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the rural hinterland. To counter this phenomenon, streets and sidewalks are being made more porous, thousands of urban trees are being planted, and roofs are being transformed into green, vegetated coverings. According to Le Parisien, a national newspaper, the temperature can differ 90 degrees F between an asphalt-topped roof and a green roof.

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In Britain, railway engineers were painting iron train tracks white to reduce temperatures by 10-15 degrees F and minimize buckling. 

Circling back to climate change, Scotland set a target of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2020; they hit 97 percent. Wind generators contribute the major component of this renewable power, 66 percent of it from offshore wind farms. Although wind towers dot the Scottish countryside, careful siting prevents view corridors or protruding above ridgelines. Perhaps because of Scotland’s long history of civic involvement, the Scots have done better than the French in taking aesthetics into account when locating wind turbines. 

Scotland is finalizing a development formula by which local communities will get a percentage of the returns from wind generators and other renewables for education, health, and affordable housing budgets. One sees almost as many solar panels in Scotland as in Southern California, despite their far north latitude. Ocean current, tidal, and bio waste also factor into their clean energy mix.

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