Indrek Kiisler: EU green turn will never be realized in proposed form
The green turn will not materialize in the form proposed by Brussels. I have seen too many empty documents and how they eventually end up in the trash in my day. In truth, things on this planet are improving even without massive programs and campaigns, Indrek Kiisler writes.
Does anyone still remember the Lisbon Strategy? It was agreed in the capital of Portugal in 2000 that Europe will be the most competitive and knowledge-based continent by 2010.
As a journalist, I remember festive speeches delivered in Lisbon, Brussels and member state capitals. The people were promised cash, change, cooperation and reforms to execute what had been agreed. The year is 2021 and the Lisbon Strategy long since forgotten, with European innovation still training USA and nascent Asian powers.
Why did this happen? Because real life made some changes. The fact of the matter remained as true then as it does now: while politicians find it pleasant to come up with slogans and make promises, realizing said goals in real life is damned difficult.
It was believed then that common rules and directives can help create something like the Silicon Valley in the entire European Union. Basically, a bunch of politicians thought that what they decide will happen because they decided it.
The Lisbon Strategy fell apart as a result of differences between member states, political currents, funding disputes and the 2008 financial crisis. It surely included some things that proved useful later. However, we are gradually moving toward a more knowledge-based society even without grand documents. By the way, the development of Silicon Valley also did not start with declarations.
As a journalist, I probably have a much closer view of how both national and international decisions are made, how interest groups, politicians and officials shape initial desires and goals into something that has nothing whatsoever to do with where it all started.
I can also see established principles thrown carelessly overboard because of unexpected obstacles, different short-term goals and daily life having their effect. Course is also changed to meet the expectations of the public, that is to say voters, which is also a part of democracy. And this is in no way characteristic solely of Estonia. That is how it works everywhere in the West.
Estonia's protestant background where exaggerated slogans come off hollow makes deciding matters easier than in many other countries. Brussels, infused with the French spirit, will always be alien to us.
The European Commission unveiled its challenged for a total turn toward climate neutrality in 2020. Of course, who does not want to live in a less polluted environment? Leave their children a cleaner planet? No one enjoys extreme weather as it sows death and chaos.
All of it is understandable and simple. The aims of climate neutrality are more noble than the largely continent-centered Lisbon Strategy. It is a plan to save the planet, while its execution is set to take place in one corner.
But the European Commission's initiative in its current form will soon be gathering dust on a shelf just like the Lisbon Strategy. Because we once again have a predominantly political framework document where the undersigned believe what they decided will happen because they decided it will.
Politicians decided that by 2030, European roads will mainly be used by electric vehicles, never mind scientists saying that a suitable solution for switching to electric mobility is nowhere to be seen. We have no suitable solution for mining enough rate earth metals, mass battery production, while the prices of electric vehicles have hardly come down in recent years. However, such promises without solutions are made in almost all walks of life.
What will really happen regarding what the heads of the EU and member states are promising? Sooner or later there will be domestic pressure, whereas whether it comes from political forces, interest groups or ordinary people whose subsistence is threatened is ultimately inconsequential.
The price of electricity in recent weeks should be seen as a simple lesson of how high-sounding goals are abandoned as soon as push comes to shove. We can already see ministers rushing headlong into the fray, promising consumers and manufacturers new billions.
No one wants to hear about plans to expand the quota trading system anymore, with member states rather demanding the Commission put the brakes on carbon emissions price. Therefore, the first layer of dust has already settled over the climate plan.
But it is child's play compared to all matter of protests, "yellow jackets" movements and difficulties reorganization would cause for a lot of people. One peculiarity of democracy is people voting for those who offer tangible results as opposed to fancy dreams by 2050.
The people have always voted for the carrot over the stick and still do in the 21st century. Elections will favor those who turn their backs to the Commission's plan the fastest. Looking at the polls, the first signs can already be seen in Estonia.
To add insult to injury, life on the other side of EU borders continues much as it has, especially in the U.S. and China. And that is a challenge the European Union will not be able to rise to. The EU will unfortunately become a less influential economic area over the coming decades and one that will find it increasingly difficult to push its noble rules on others.
On the other hand, it is simply impossible to make a wholesome soup by throwing bouillon cubes made at a chemical plant in one end of the pot and adding organic carrots in the other. Whatever you end up with will still taste like instant soup.
I'm not an environmental expert and proposing solutions is above my pay grade. But I take solace in knowing that things are gradually improving on this planet even without colossal programs and challenges. People should also not think the green turn is beginning now. It started several decades ago.
I remember an astrophysicist relative telling me, around the time of the Moscow Olympics when I was still a child, that mankind has hopelessly polluted the atmosphere and that the Earth will be lost in a few decades' time if we carry on like this. Back then, the fear was that the climate would cool too much as a result of atmosphere pollution.
And Estonia really did look depressing at the time. Every chimney and vehicle spewed thick black smoke, oil products residue was simply dumped somewhere and the burning of vehicle tires was often the highlight of Midsummer's Eve celebrations.
The Matsalu Bay was overgrown with reeds from wanton overuse of mineral fertilizers, the Emajõgi smelled of waste as Tartu simply lacked waste treatment facilities. To say nothing of Ida-Viru County where the famous Stalinist maxim according to which man does not need handouts from nature but takes what he needs was put into practice.
The Estonia of today is definitely something else. Despite grumblings by people worried about felling, the relative importance of woodland has grown, with the landscape rather reminiscent of central Finland soon. The only chimneys emitting black smoke are those of passenger ferries. Not to mention fundamental changes in industry and households. Perhaps the biggest change has taken place in our heads.
Will it be enough to save the planet? I do not know. Perhaps we will see the green turn in a far more radical and severe form once everything is either sinking or on fire. Perhaps we will see the continuance of the recent gradual switch to cleaner production and more environmentally sparing way of life, and perhaps it will be enough.
I don't know. However, I am convinced that the green turn as envisioned by Brussels will not happen. Because I have seen too many empty documents and how they eventually end up in the trash.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski