Katrina's Trans-Atlantic Waves: German Minister Stands Behind Criticism of Bush
German Environmental Minister Jürgen Trittin remains stolid in his assertion that Hurricane Katrina is linked to global warming and America's refusal to reduce emissions. He may be right, but the timing of his tirade is way off.
In an article in the Frankfurter Rundschau, Jürgen Trittin, wrote, "Greenhouse gases have to be radically reduced worldwide. The US has, up until this point, had its eyes closed to this emergency."
Germany's Minister of the Environment, Jürgen Trittin of the Green Party, on Tuesday unleashed a firestorm of criticism in the United States over comments he made in a newspaper column directly linking the natural catastrophe in the American South to global warming. After Hurricane Katrina bashed America's Gulf States and left New Orleans a sunken wasteland, Trittin wrote an editorial lashing out at US President George W. Bush for "closing his eyes" to the dangers of global warming. The polemic began with the line, "Recently in the theaters, now in real life," and went on to compare the scenes of Hurricane Katrina to Roland Emmerich's Hollywood blockbuster "The Day after Tomorrow."
He also said that if something is not done soon -- in other words if Bush maintains his current stance on global warming and continues to reject the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions -- America and Europe can expect even more storms like Katrina in the future. American readers reacted with a vengeance and their angry words filled our in-box Wednesday here at SPIEGEL ONLINE. Essentially, they were outraged that in the middle of a crisis, a German minister would turn to America and -- instead of reaching out a helping hand -- virtually point a finger and say, "You asked for this."
Yet, despite the uproar he has caused, Trittin remains unrepentant. On Wednesday, his spokesman Michael Schroeren even said that he "can't understand ... at all" why Americans are upset. Trittin's comments "are true and he wrote what he meant."
Carsten Voigt, who coordinates German-American relations for the German Foreign Ministry, attempted to smooth over any hard feelings on Wednesday, by stressing Germany's concern for America's Gulf Coast states and suggesting that Trittin's comments -- albeit accurate -- were badly timed and somewhat misplaced, given the scale of the catastrophe.
"I agree with what he said, but of course, the way it was said is another matter," said Voigt. "The main point though is that climate change is an issue that needs to be put on the table. ... I think that at this point, given the circumstances, one should be a bit more diplomatic than Mr. Trittin was, but there is general consensus in Germany that climate change is a major issue. It has nothing to do with who is in power (German Chancellor Gerhard) Schröder or Bush. It is not about Kyoto. The most important thing is that we do something."
He also said that though he does not see Bush or American policy as to blame for Katrina, he does believe that the hurricane "was stronger because of climate change." Global warming, he said, is a "long-term question" but it is "certainly true that when a land is so highly developed as the US, it has a responsibility to work against climate change. When the US has a better plan (than Kyoto or anything else currently being suggested), then please," we'd like to hear it, he said.
Voigt also took pains to stress Germany's willingness to help America and American victims in any way possible. Indeed, Interior Minister Otto Schily offered up as much aid as America needs. An upper-level government spokesperson told SPIEGEL ONLINE that, "the Foreign Ministry is in constant contact with its American partner agencies" and is following the aftermath of Katrina "with concern." The bottom line though is that America -- which has one of the most sophisticated rescue operations in the world -- almost certainly won't be asking for assistance.
"We only send things when our help helps," Voigt said. "Right now, this is not about money. It is about solidarity with our American partners. And we certainly feel that."
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