As the lies of corporations and the European political class regarding climate change become ever more massive, so will the reaction of concerned citizens, especially European youth.
Mathew D. Rose is an Investigative Journalist specialised in Organised Political Crime in Germany and an editor of BRAVE NEW EUROPE
Germany’s future chancellor, Armin Laschet, and his retinue having a good laugh as the German president offers his condolences to the families who lost members in the recent flooding
Whenever the European Union or a European government considers new laws and policies to contain the climate crisis the interests of corporations win out. This is nothing new. For decades Germany has egregiously watered down or manipulated car emission requirements of the EU to protect its automobile producers, even providing the loopholes enabling the diesel cheating devices. It is almost always the same story: business interests win, we and the environment lose.
While the EU political class gives ever more effort to appear to be making dramatic advances, recent court judgements in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Germany have revealed that they are not even fulfilling the laws and programmes they themselves have already adopted. And who remembers the thousands of “climate emergencies” spectacularly declared by European nations, cities, and local governments a short while ago? How is that going?
As the reality of climate change becomes more dire, so too do the lies and prevarications of the political class and corporations. In January 2019 France’s president Emanuel Macron launched a “Grand Debate”, mass consultations to give French citizens a voice in climate crisis decision-making. He repeatedly promised that the measures proposed by the citizens’ climate convention would be adopted “unfiltered”, either by the government, the parliament, or the electorate. When the government finally published its proposed climate bill at the beginning of this year, it included only about 40% of the citizens’ proposals, and has been further eviscerated by the French parliament. Or the EU’s Green Deal (the “New” was removed so as not to effect the EU’s neo-liberal economic and social policies), which then became a lacklustre “Fit for 55” programme and has been turned over to corporate lobbyists who will deliver a fossil fuel friendly “Brown Deal” to be passed into EU law with the obligatory fireworks and rendition of the “Ode of Joy”.
The EU, not to be outdone in faux direct democracy by Macron. Bemoaning that the contact with the EU demos is not in the best state, the EU inaugurated almost a year after Macron their own pseudo citizens’ convention, the Conference on the Future of Europe. This 11-month consultation centrepiece will be citizens’ assemblies throughout the Union. According to the German EU president Ursula von der Leyen citizens will “play a leading and active part in building the future of our union”. Many EU member states have already made clear that the Conference should not create legal obligations, nor should it duplicate or unduly interfere with the established legislative processes.To avoid things getting out of hand, the Conference has been packed with EU politicians and technocrats. In its first consultation in Strasbourg in June of this year, purportedly only one quarter of the citizen contingent was present. Time to order more fireworks and hire another orchestra.
The best metaphor for the attitude of the European political class with regard to climate change occurred during a television speech by Germany’s president offering official condolences to the families of the over 130 Germans who lost their lives in recent flooding. The candidate for the chancellorship of the conservative Christian Democrats and successor to Merkel, Armin Laschet, did not know he was visible in the background. While the president held his official peroration concerning the grief of the nation, Laschet was telling jokes and laughing hysterically in the background. This gap between political show and reality has reached unknown proportions.
Things are not going to get better. In a recent article by Branko Milanović he raised an interesting point. Norway, which has the reputation of being one of the most enlightened and progressive nations in the world, has accumulated incredible wealth: a 1.32 trillion dollar wealth fund through the sale of oil and natural gas. In the first quarter of this year alone the fund produced a return of 45.7 billion dollars or 8,500 dollar for each of Norway’s 5,5 million citizen. This does not include new fossil fuel revenues expected to be round 17 billion dollars in this year. It produces almost all of its electricity with renewables and two thirds of its total energy needs. If there is one nation in the world capable of a green revolution, it is Norway – even if it stopped pumping oil immediately and started phasing out gas production. Yet as Milanović points out, “the government has recently decided to expand exploration and production of gas and oil in one of the areas that the very same government acknowledges are most sensitive to climate change—the Arctic Circle”. To demonstrate just how absurd political reality had become in Europe, Norway proudly announced at the beginning of this year that it sold all its fossil fuel investments in its wealth fund. At a time when the world needs courageous leadership, capitalist greed and political prevarication, like climate change, are increasing.
The mood is however evolving on the ground with regard to the climate crisis, especially among young people. It is not only the younger generation that demands change, but they are certainly the most vociferous. This should not come as a surprise, as many have serious and justified concerns about their future lives on this planet. For whoever wishes to look, the current climate crisis is very threatening here and now. Science is telling us this. Natural disasters and rising temperatures are telling us this. Unfortunately the corrupt – and no other term explains their policies – European political elite is still in neo-liberal mode, being supported in this by corporations and those European citizens who financially thrive under the current economic regimen.
These young people have still not been made impervious to reality from years of being bombarded with fake news by mainstream media. They are asking for results and receive – well – more fireworks and renditions of the Ode to Joy. For them climate change is existential, for the political class and those that they serve, it is instead a chance to enrich themselves still further. Expended government funds to stop climate change permit politicians and corporations to help themselves to government subsidies, bribes, and emoluments, while degrading the environment and increasing inequality at the cost of most of the rest of us. We have already witnessed this during the Covid crisis. No wonder. The leaked third part of the new IPCC report explains that the upper ten percent of emitters globally, who are also the wealthiest ten percent, contribute between 36 and 45% of emissions (the top one percent account for 50% of aviation emissions). They are living the good life and see no reason for change.
This does not mean that it is a them against us situation. Few Norwegian citizens are demanding government policy change with regard to fossil fuel production. Consumerism has produced a mentality where most people believe they are threatened by scarcity. Furthermore, after witnessing the rapid increase in inequality created by governments in the past decades, they no longer trust governments to do anything in their interest. Reform no longer has a positive connotation as it once did, but is a harbinger that they will still again be the losers.
Thus the European elite – corporate and political – is constantly on the offensive to assure that it is possible to maintain the status quo while avoiding a climate crisis, always appearing to be active while doing nothing. As already mentioned, lip service is paid to programmes to stop climate change, but these are all market oriented and will, as feared, burden mostly those who can least afford it.
This policy is useful in two ways: it furthers the process of inequality that pervades the EU and it provides those wishing to prevent climate programmes with ideal propaganda ammunition. Already they are attacking climate programmes as unfair, claiming that the financial burden is being placed by the political elite on those who can least afford it. This point, by the way, is exactly what most of those demanding climate action cite as a priority regarding climate policy: it has to be socially just. This strategy of the neo-liberals is what we know from Brexit. Utilise a social position created by progressives, and better yet, blame the progressives for the unsocial policy that has been created by the political elite. Whatever the outcome, neo-liberalism wins. They can continue their rapacious capitalist policy and any measures that might be adopted will be paid for by everyone else, as has been the case in the two past financial crises.
In June we saw the result of this polarisation in the climate referendum in Switzerland where 51.6% of voters opposed changes to the nation’s climate law. This was an innocuous package of financial incentives, investments, and new technologies to reduce the nations CO2 emissions. Among other measures were increased taxes on polluting activities such as driving and flying, but many other high CO2 activities as well. The revenues were to be ploughed back into the economy via green investment and social subsidies. Two other referenda aimed at reducing the use of pesticides and fertilisers were also rejected.
We are currently seeing this in the current German election campaign as the establishment parties claim that the Greens are threatening German prosperity with their programme for CO2 reductions, instead promising illusory technical fixes that will allow the environmental destructive consumerism party to barrel forwards. In social media many unavoidable restrictive measures with regard to flying, speed limits, cutting fossil fuel production, and consumerism are being branded as “Nazi policies”.
With regard to technical fixes, most of these have been debunked. Hydrogen produced using liquid gas, a fossil fuel, produces large amounts of CO2. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is not economical and has made little technical progress. The earth does not contain the necessary raw materials necessary to convert to electric cars as a mass consumer product. The idea of creating carbon sinks appears to be failing as fires and environmental damage due to climate change, not to mention corporate rapaciousness, are reducing the number of trees. CO2 free flying is not on the near horizon. Nor do we see any of those incredible technologies that will somehow draw C02 out of the atmosphere. Yet all of these are included in government CO2 reduction calculations, receiving massive coverage in mainstream media.
In short, the European political class in Europe and corporations are expending much more energy towards preventing effective measures to stop climate change than they are towards enacting effective measures to save the planet.
The question – and this is an extremely important question – is how long young people are willing to respond to these lies and the deteriorating climate situation with symbolic non-violent protest. A climate uprising will come. Rest assured. And what will be the response of governments? Let us not forget that the third element of neo-liberalism after hollowing out democracy and economic inequality is totalitarianism. It is already there for those willing to look. EU governments will come down hard on these protests. We have seen this in France and in Barcelona in conjunction with the Gilets Jaunes and Catalan independence movement.
We shall soon not only be confronted with a climate crisis, but with a major social crisis as well.