During our remaining days in Copenhagen we met with the head of the climate unit for the city Lykke Leonardson. She spoke with us about the impacts of climate change on Copenhagen, and how the city is adapting to these challenges. Copenhagen is experiencing a large increase in the frequency and severity of storms, and is threatened by sea level rise and storm water flooding. In the summer of 2011 the city suffered severe flooding, resulting in approximately $1 billion of damage. This event brought lots of public and political attention to climate change, and was a catalyst for changes in legislation and infrastructure. Lykke stated that there is no "quick fix" to a problem of this scale, and the city is now redesigning all of its infrastructure. For example, they have adapted roads that were natural flow areas for stormwater to retain runoff and delay it's release into the sewage system. They have also created 'green and blue' landscaping in some parks to retain stormwater during high runoff, but act as parks during regular flow times.
The Vesterbro nature school, made from an old public washroom!
However, we feel that these top-down approaches to climate change adaptation are not enough to achieve long term sustainability, and people like environmental educators Felix, Anja and Frank who we met in Copenhagen provided a valuable bottom-up approach through environmental education programs. By engaging kids at a young age, the idea is that they will become more compassionate and understanding of the environmental and climate change issues in Copengagen and therefore be more willing to make a difference. Teaching kids about the connection they have to nature, and breaking the binary between the natural and urban world, is vital in changing the mindset of the population in the future. For example, Felix explained the importance of allowing kids to engage in meaningful action, like building a garden, so that they feel like their actions are valuable and they are making tangible changes.
The class gathered around Felix, environmental educator at Vesterbro nature school as he teaches us some valuable lessons about sustainability.
There are some challenges with environmental education in that it is often seen as informal and illegitamate compared to our traditional education system. For many children, nature schools like the ones we visited are their first encounter with wild nature. We feel it is important to recognize the realities of an urban greenspace versus a natural landscape, and the limitations that come from a regulated environment.
Overall, top-down and bottom-up approaches both have benefits and drawbacks, and we feel a collaboration of the two could result in meaningful change. A supportive government combined with a well informed and engaged public could create a productive dialogue and make Copenhagen a more sustainable city.