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How can children teach us to solve climate change?

For this blog post, we talked with Lars Nørgård Holmegaard – CEO of the water utility of Lemvig, Denmark. This is a fireside chat recorded at World Water Congress 2022, in Copenhagen.

Welcome to the Urbanista blog where we discuss water management challenges of Nordic cities. From safe drinking water distribution and stormwater collection, to building sustainable urban living environments. The Urbanista blog is based on the Urbanista podcast episodes. This post is based on the interview with Lars Nørgård Holmegaard – CEO of the water utility of Lemvig, Denmark. This is a fireside chat recorded at World Water Congress 2022, in Copenhagen.

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What is the situation right now in Denmark regarding innovation and what are the water suppliers doing to try to innovate?

We have such a problem with the rising water, there is always more and more. So, what should we do? Over the last 25 years the groundwater has risen more than one metre and there is more and more rain; over the last 40 years it has rained 25% more so we have a huge problem because of climate change and we have to do something. How can we be safe here in the world in the future?
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You can really see that the water is rising in Denmark. So, what can we do?

Yes, the coastline is getting closer and closer, so we have to do something.
Because of these problems we started a place called Klimatorium back in 2015.  It’s a non-profit organisation with the goal of real solutions for climate problems. And we built this beautiful building and used the good architecture to get the world to look at us. But the goal was not just to make a beautiful place, but a place where we could work together, and here people come to help us with the problems.

Can you elaborate on the work the Klimatorium does?

We feel that the universities have the solution to all the climate challenges, but only 30% of the solutions are ever realised. We want things to be done for real.
We have established a place which we call a quadruple helix where we all work together. We find the problems and connect with new knowledge from universities. We find companies that can offer solutions, and we find people who live with the problem, e.g., schoolchildren, and when we connect them together, we find good solutions.


How has the response been from the public utility companies?

When we started it was a more a cry for help, because no one had been to the west coast and seen the problems we have. But, because of the Klimatorium, it became much easier to connect with the government, universities, and companies. So now everything is moving much more quickly. Everybody can see the problems, so it is easy to do something.


So, it’s about collaboration? Finding the common ground and political will?

Yes. But another thing we see, is that if we speak to children, they have very good ideas. When we started, we realised that if we communicate in a language that children can understand, they go home and help their parents realise how they can also help. Our children are educating us.


Why do you think this is so appealing to children?

Well, because they might fear that the world will not be there when they grow up. And they could be afraid. But when we ask them, they have so many good ideas and by discussing them, they are no longer afraid.
Also, sometimes we, as engineers, find ourselves working with children as young as 12 who come with good ideas, and we help them find a way to realise them.

How have other Danish water companies reacted to this initiative?

We see ourselves as a lighthouse for water technology. We are working to find the problems and connect them to the companies. This way, we can bring other water companies into the process, helping to find new solutions. At this moment, we have 48 companies involved.

Can you tell me about the example regarding the fishing nets?

We have so many fishing nets in the seas. We could take them up and burn them for energy, but the amount of Co2 released would be like burning all the forests in the world. But what if we could reuse the plastic? We found some Danish companies that know how to separate the types of plastic and then we can repurpose them.
On the other hand, we have all these pipes. 1/3 of the Danish economy is essentially invested in underground pipes. So, if every time we took a pipe out, we could replace it with one made from recycled fishing nets, the Co2 would now be in those pipes.

A good example of the circular economy.

Yes, a good example of how we work with companies in the Klimatorium. When we started that case, we thought it would be too expensive, but because of the rise in global oil prices, it is now cheaper to reuse plastic.
I think in the future we will see more and more products from reused materials. We have to take care of the resources of the world.

What can other countries learn from Denmark?

Start speaking with each other. And speak with the children. If you can help a child to understand the issue, it will be easier to communicate with other adults.

What is the next step in Denmark?

Well, now the crisis is water, but soon it will be phosphorus, because we use it in the wrong way and we need to take care of how we use things.
I’m not afraid of the future because humans find a way to continue living, that’s what we do.


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