“If you invest two Euros in a bike, you get five in return,” says Karl Reiter, Austrian environmentalist and expert in transport and mobility. He is convinced that investing in cycling means lower healthcare costs, reduced road congestion and faster public transport. It may even save the future.
During European mobility week, as is appropriate, after more than twenty years I actually tried out a new bicycle. And so, on a rainy and windy car-free day, I tried to set a good example to my six-year-old daughter, and we both ended up constantly having to get out of the way, mostly of cars. Some people just do not care. I can understand them, because in reality there are many people who on this particular day only pretend to care.
Days dedicated to this or that are mere gestures – take part in it and everything will be forgiven! And when these days are over, we go back to our bad habits with no guilty conscience, use extremely wasteful electrical devices, burn tens of litres of petrol, drive obsessively to the closest shop and back, waste too much water, buy without restraint and too much. And finally, besides the other filth we produce every year, every Slovene throws away around 86 kilograms of rubbish, much of that food.
And then we are surprised by the weather, floods and terrible forecasts for the future.
In the past, people have often fought for a better future: against occupying forces, authoritarian rulers, misguided systems and fictitious enemies. Last weekend, the streets of metropolises like London, New York, Berlin and Brussels, as well as Ljubljana, were full of protesters who wanted to encourage world leaders to start a more determined fight against climate change.
Climate change is today the world’s number one enemy. That the voice coming from the streets should be listened to and considered was mentioned even by American President Barrack Obama on Tuesday, when he gave a speech to high representatives at the United Nations Climate Summit. The fact that this summit would not bring any dramatic changes was expected. But fortunately, Leonardo DiCaprio, the newly appointed UN Messenger for Peace, in thespian style made some painful points, among them that he pretends for a living but that the present leaders of the world do not. Obama added, in a similarly dramatic tone, that we are the first generation to face the consequences of global warming and the last generation who can do something about it. This is of course all true, but where does climate change actually come from?
For the last twenty years, climatologists, meteorologists, ecologists and other scientists have been pointing out that people have managed to change the planet more in the last fifty years than they did during many past centuries. After the industrial revolution, everything developed with the speed of light, but rapid technological progress also has a dark side. While today one part of the world enjoys accumulating material goods and lives in an ivory tower of blind security, the other part of the world is going through rough times. Because of drought, war, oil, water…
The Earth is calling for help. Greenhouse gases are causing global warming, melting ice in the Arctic and consequently changing the sea level and temperature. As early as the 2050s, we might see new mass emigration from flooded areas. We will be faced not only with a great ecological but also with an unimaginable humanitarian crisis. If there are no significant changes.
After a decade of applying measures to reduce the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, introducing renewable energy sources and encouraging energy efficiency, the level of carbon dioxide emissions is still increasing. Environmentalists are concerned that we might not be able to keep the global temperature increase under two degrees. Under pressure from the public and industrial lobbies politicians accept compromises that bring problem-solving efforts to a standstill. And at every downpour, people become extremely frightened because it is said that worse is yet to come.
In the European Union, climate change is discussed in all areas, but despite the fact that this topic will be a priority for a number of years, there is no particular department dedicated solely to this issue. In the new European Commission, two interdisciplinary related fields (energy and climate change) were merged into one in order to facilitate logistics and in the hope of reducing disagreement. But its stated priorities are not approved by everybody, including the Green 10, a group of the leading European nongovernmental environmental organisations, who wrote a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker criticising the new European Commission structure, which does not comply with Europe’s obligations to fight climate change. They are concerned about the fact that the priority of the new Commission will be the Energy Union. The definition of this is not yet completely clear, but it is likely that the vice-president of the European Commission for the Energy Union will also or in particular have to deal with the issue of climate change.
No matter what the structure of the Commission is, in Brussels, everything revolves around climate change and the new energy policy. These are some of the goals to achieve by the end of this decade: reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared to 1990, produce 20% of energy from renewable sources and improve energy efficiency by 20%. By 2030, greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by 40%, if we want to reduce them by at least 80% by 2050. Will we have then won?
Unfortunately, these ambitious goals are not everything. In the plans for 2030 (which will supposedly be discussed at the EU summit in October), one of the most important goals for Europe is to gain energy independence as soon as possible. Some of the EU members depend on Russian gas and in these troubled times, anything can happen. But none of us can even imagine what the world will be like then. For that reason we have to become independent and ensure safe, stable and – lest we forget – above all, green energy.
A few days ago I completed a survey in the newspaper European Voice. My answer to the question as to whether energy security should be higher on the EU priority list than the goal of reducing emissions by 2030 was of course negative. It is imperative to first reduce greenhouse gas emissions! I think globally.
But we should also act locally. An exchange economy, complete waste recycling, car sharing, the local production of fruit and vegetables, better and more efficient public transport, solar and wind energy. There are so many little things that everyone can start doing today, instead of waiting for the miracle that is predicted for the next Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015.
Changes are already taking place. Not only concerning the climate, but also changes in the way we think and act. The internet offers a selection of alternatives. Join them while you still have electricity.
Can we today even defeat climate change without the internet?
Sculpture by Isaac Cordal in Berlin: Politicians discussing global changes (photo via The Sierra Club FB).
The author: Barbara Kužnik, journalist, sociologist, mother, born in Trbovlje and raised in a polluted but creative family environment between the stage and the microphone. For ten years, she was looking for reasons for explanations on the Slovene radio station Val 202. Then along came Berlin, propagation, bloom and rebirth. She is a critical observer of the world, describer of events, people, relationships, and for the last five years an enthusiastic reader of fairy tales. She lives with her family in Brussels, speaks Slovene at home, dreams in German, writes applications in English and on the street often pretends to be French.
Title photo: Sculpture by Isaac Cordal in Berlin: Politicians discussing global changes. Source: The Sierra Club Facebook.
Translated by: Valentina Rebec.