Did anybody outside of Germany and perhaps Canada notice that the Environment Ministers of the G8 countries met in Potsdam near Berlin, at all? When preparing for this blog and trying to find some English language references around the topic my searches on timesonline returned zip, and so did the search on nytimes.com. Googling returned almost exclusively German language comments and one Canadian article triggered by Greenpeace’s criticism of Canada.
Is then all the talk about climate change in recent weeks a purely German phenomenon?
That would explain why the politicians of some other countries can play the issue down without having to fear the voters’ reaction. There is this country among the largest polluters in the world that stubbornly refuses to act on its resposiblity. The Environment Minister can disclaim any special need for the supposed superiority of the technology for environment protection that the country provides. You cannot but wonder what they are doing with that technology then, though.
This time, however, I can be a little more balanced in my criticism (though the German government needn’t have taken that extra pain to offer me that opportunity.) Germany, the country presiding both the G8 and EU at the moment and recently highlighting the climate change issue a lot, is just as quick to give in to whining corporations. When a couple of weeks ago the EU wanted to strictly limit the emissions of greenhouse gases allowed for new cars, the German minister of economy was the first to claim that exceptions and waivers are needed or otherwise thousands of jobs would be endangered. And guess what, Germany managed to make the proposed law much milder than originally planned. There are now various levels where larger cars are allowed to emit more than smaller ones, etc.
Now why do we need that? This means whoever is rich enough to buy a 100K $ car can also pollute more freely. What kind of a political message is that? And why do politicians listen to whining industrialists so readily? In this case the German minister was even blowing their horn more loudly than they did themselves. In my personal work life, my employers have always been whining, except perhaps during the dot-com boom. It is part of the definition of the industrialist that he needs to whine about the government because there are always laws to make, that would allow him to increase his profit. Now, if Mercedes, Volkswagen, BMW, and Porsche have slept through the years past, by not investing in new technologies as seriously as they should have (and Toyota appears to have), it is high time the government made a clear statement that they had better done something about that and presto. Or if, as some people claim, Mercedes and all the rest have the technology readily available in their drawers, then they had better get it out of there, now. And if you want to sell big cars with a high margin, then you should invest even more research to make those cars environmetally friendly. What is more, I cannot see why it would necessarily endanger jobs if those companies were required to get their act together and invest in new technologies.
At least, it appears Mrs. Merkel has realized that the current visibility of the issue in Germany means that her actions around it have some considerable impact on the voter’s opinion. Otherwise, she might have continued along the lines of the above, or many other examples (like forcing the large oil companies to mix in fuel from renewable sources, which sounds good at a first glance but kills the individual market for that fuel and leaves the power to regulate prices in the hands of those who wield that power today.)
I think there is a native interest of the economy to attenuate the predicted effects of Global warning. So they should actually step back from selfish and short-term demands. But the more you cannot make most companies think past the current quarter, the higher the responsibility of the governments of the world to care for more than just providing a comfortable playground to the economy.
One small ray of hope is that today there is hardly a way to deny the effect itself anymore. The evidence is now to tangible that you need to close your eyes to try and not see it. Not only did we have like five (not sure about the exact number) of the most extreme summers or winters since the beginning of weather records in the last decade. Not only have the apple farmers on the isle of Mainau in southern Germany ripped out all the old apple trees of the German traditional apple boscop and replaced them with apples from New Zealand long ago. Not only is the Rheingau in central Germany no longer the most northernly region for growing Riesling. You can grow Riesling in Denmark, now, and the Rheingau is becoming too hot and dry for it, more suited for Bordeaux. So at least, when we discuss this, from now on, people can no longer just disclaim the truth of the matter.