It is depressing to see and hear people verbally pound one another into the ground when debating environmental issues. Neither side has been ready to even entertain the possibility of compromise. It requires leaving behind the phase of mutual denial, Indrek Kiisler says in Vikerraadio's daily comment.
Let us start with environmental activists as the clearly more vocal group. The main problem of many representatives of the green mindset is completely ignoring the other side's economic arguments.
A good example of this is when Estonian Green Movement advocacy expert Uku Lilleväli slammed the Reform Party (link in Estonian) for its admittedly unexpected about-turn regarding the subsidized burning of waste wood in Eesti Energia's Narva Power Plants.
The main argument of the wood burners is the need to ensure Estonia's power supply security and affordable heating for Narva residents. Lilleväli simply did not deem it necessary to address these points. What is there to be said about a dialogue?
Another example. During a recent deliberation of a matter of national significance in the Riigikogu, the floor was given to a person who sees the solution to the green turn people going back to live more or less like our ancestors did 200 years ago. Everything one needs is built by hand as people busy themselves in an ascetic society. A dystopia a la Estonia.
They said that climate change has become so urgent that no more time can be wasted on waiting for science and technology to catch up. Estonia needs to be climate neutral by 2035 and change needs to be enforced at all costs, with even debating the price tag seen as unethical. Why talk about electricity prices when planet Earth is about to catch fire?
A part of climate activists resemble Luddites who seem to think that simply closing sawmills, power plants and car factories will do the trick. Let us close everything that pollutes. While what comes next is no longer our responsibility. Stop cutting down trees and that will be that!
However, people who stand to lose their work and income want to hear about solutions down to the very last detail. Moving harvester drivers to Finland or Sweden where they can work in peace is not a solution. Not to mention Estonia missing out on hundreds of millions in tax revenue.
Environmentalists' rather general recommendation to stop consuming is an even more abstract solution. Companies are undoubtedly fueling unnecessary consumption in the conditions of market economy. Everything will be just the opposite in the future where we will be told which needs we don't have. For example, one does not need a car where a bicycle will suffice. Cutlets made of meat are also unnecessary where dumplings made of dried stalks will serve.
Now, onto the other side. People who benefit from the processing of natural resources also feel nothing but contempt for those worried about the environment. Some forest owners regard it as their sacred private property they can use any way they see fit by letting it rot or turning a hundred-year-old oak tree into a pile of pellets if the fancy takes them.
While this might even be the case as far as the law is concerned, anyone who does something like that is a sociopath. Forests, fields, marshlands and lakes are not just entries in the land register.
Some entrepreneurs still seem to think that life continues based on the same principles it did last century when new technologies served the sole purpose of extracting prosperity from the environment faster as opposed to making as little use of the natural world as possible as sparingly as possible. The company has been operating the same way forever, while every new environmental regulation or restriction only sends entrepreneurs into a blind rage.
Everyone pointing to senseless waste and pollution of the natural environment is labeled a tree hugger and brainless, not worth being given the time of day.
While it is impossible to credibly paint environmentalists as lacking sense, it is claimed that the green agenda is pursued out of personal ambitions for power or its advocates accused of having shady funding. Things have even gone as far as suggesting Russian influence activities. Because some business people seem to find that sincerely worrying about a livable future is decidedly impossible.
Ordinary Estonian people
That is why we lack all manner of dialogue between the two camps. Online forums are full of verbal abuse and public meetings turn into head-on collisions between people on the verge of hysteria where one side is talking about the end of the world arriving tomorrow while the other only sees persecution of normal business activity.
In the middle of it all is the ordinary Estonian person who wants to feed their kids and for the forests to remain standing. The average person who needs a car to live in the countryside and who cannot even dream about an electric vehicle costing the better part of a hundred thousand euros. Who definitely wants their children spared the aftermath of climate change but also needs everyday comforts and a means to cope.
That average person cannot understand what is going on. Will my job be there tomorrow? Why is power suddenly so expensive? How long can we still keep pets as every living and breathing mammal keeps adding to those damn CO2 emissions? The questions are piling up.
Between them are politicians some of whom are simply collecting populist bonus points. It gets even worse when someone's seemingly environmentally friendly decisions turn out to hide basic business interests. For example, I very much doubt that Estonian pellet fuel manufacturers were thrilled to hear about the decision to burn even more wood chips in the Narva furnaces.
And who is offering us simple answers? Of course, it is the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) as the only one to have said out loud that climate change is speculation and all this green mumbo jumbo needs to end. And sure enough, people who are afraid of getting caught in the gears are lining up behind the national conservatives.
At the same time, support for the Estonian Greens came to 3 percent in the Thursday poll published on ERR in a situation where protests against excessive felling have become almost daily. The rating speaks volumes of the party's ability to offer people tangible solutions for the future.
No easy way out
There is no easy way out of such radical opposition. What about stepping into each other's shoes and trying to understand where the other side is coming from?
Blatantly destructive economy will end sooner or later. Hopefully sooner. It would be simpler for everyone if it happened by following a thoroughly discussed and agreed path as opposed to an overnight shutdown. And the ordinary person needs to be boldly told its price and what will change in terms of their everyday life.
On the other hand, for as long as there are people, resources around us will find use. I hope that forests as a renewable resource will be felled in Estonia 100 and 200 years from now. And the instinctive drive to live prosperously and even more prosperously will never leave us. Whereas market economy remains the best system we have.
I believe we have conducted enough tragic experiments of mechanically creating societies that try to enforce rules that are unacceptable for human nature.
These are all things to keep in mind moving forward, while the first step should be leaving slogans behind. Above all, we need more concreteness and openness. A very unfortunate example in this regard is the cowardly move by the coordination committee to classify felling volumes in the Estonian forestry development plan.
We can also point the finger at the press where some journalists have clearly picked a side. There are those who go to great lengths to stick it to State Forest Manager RMK, while others blatantly deny climate change even exists. It is probable the press as a whole has underestimated environmental issues, while I believe that will not remain the case for long, considering the importance of the topic and the extent of social anxiety.
Editor: Marcus Turovski