Tuesday 16 September 2014

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Oil prices are down. What is going to happen next?

Posted by on 29/08/14

June 19th saw the price of Brent crude rise to a one-year high of USD 116 per barrel. A week later, the price began to drop, eventually reaching its lowest since April last year, at slightly below USD 102 on August 19th.And all of this in a time when armed conflicts, which are far from being resolved, ravage Ukraine, Iraq, Libya and Syria, while tensions between Russia, the European Union and the United States are second only to those at the time of the Cold War. The wars have caused oil supply from North Africa and the Middle East to shrink by more than 3 million barrels a day. Our safety cushion, Saudi Arabia’s untapped reserves, is slowly becoming dangerously slim, currently offering a daily capacity of 3.2 million barrels – 700,000 above the lower end of the market’s comfort zone. What is going to happen next?

It is much easier to explain what has already happened. Markets are driven by expectations, which are in turn formed based on past events and experiences. Underpinning the process is uncertainty, which in the case of such unique events as geopolitical conflicts is very high, although not so high as to deprive us of the expectations through which we perceive real-world developments. Let us then look at the oil market as it was seen in May, before crude prices began to rise. Late-May projections indicated that Brent prices were to decline gradually in 2014 and 2015, down to the region of one hundred dollars per barrel, and that this would happen amid considerable price volatility. The decline seemed likely considering that solid supply growth in the US and Canada, unfettered by geopolitical risks, was alone sufficient to meet the anticipated increase in global demand.

However, the balance between oil supply and demand was maintained, albeit only with a relatively thin safety cushion formed by Saudi Arabia’s crude reserves. The 700,000 barrels a day separating the market from its comfort zone could soon be in jeopardy if active conflicts were to escalate or new ones erupt. Any such event, which could occur in a multitude of possible locations, would send oil prices rocketing. Although the forecasts I saw in May predicted that the supply of crude oil from Libya and Nigeria (and to a lesser extent from Venezuela) would continue to decline, they also projected a significant surge in oil production in Iraq, Kuwait and, to a lesser degree, the United Arab Emirates. The conflict in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed on Russia were both taken into account as risk factors affecting future oil supplies. However, the projections concerning the oil balance in 2014–2015 did not factor in reduced production.

This time, the drop happened in Iraq, a key player on the global oil market. OPEC’s second largest oil producer (at some 3.3 million barrels a day), Iraq is also among the world’s top potential oil suppliers in terms of available reserves. When the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) carried out its offensive in northern Iraq in June, capturing the provinces of Nineveh and Saladin and their capitals of Mosul and Tikrit, panic spread through various markets, including that of crude oil. Prices went up.

The fear premium on crude is typically at its highest at the start of a conflict. If supplies remain uninterrupted, as was the case here, the market eventually diversifies, forming different perceptions as to a conflict’s potential developments and possible hedging strategies. When on June 29th ISIS announced the formation of the ‘Islamic State’ caliphate in the area controlled by the group, concerns that the conflict would spread to southern Iraq, where current production is based, temporarily abated and the oil price began to drop.

On the top of these circumstances, a rare situation could be observed last week when all available information favoured a decline in prices. The American Energy Information Administration agency (EIA) reported that the production of oil from unconventional deposits (tight oil) in the US was higher than expected, with individual well efficiency above projected values. At the same time, the agency adjusted its demand growth forecasts for 2014 and 2015 downward, anticipating a global economic slowdown. EIA projections were consistent with Europe’s estimated GDP growth figures published at that time, which turned out lower than originally forecast. Iraq’s production prospects also improved when Nouri al-Maliki stepped down as Prime Minister, thus removing the risk of a coup from the equation.

What is going to happen next? There is no good answer to that question as it is difficult to foresee how today’s conflicts will develop. What the recent situation in Iraq has shown us is that the risk premium on Brent crude anticipated in May’s projections was too low and that we should expect higher prices in 2014 and 2015.

Although Ukraine and Syria produce little oil, the effect of armed conflicts ravaging the two countries extends far beyond their geographical borders. Sanctions imposed in connection with the Ukrainian crisis will affect future oil supplies from Russia. Hampered access to Western technologies and capital will delay production from difficult and expensive oil deposits indefinitely, which will likely result in reduced production from 2016 on. At the same time, the war in Syria has set off intense hostilities in Iraq, prompting the United States to become involved again. Libya is in a state of complete anarchy. At 1.45 million barrels in 2012, the country’s daily oil production has now halved and is likely to fall to zero. The Israeli-Palestine conflict is yet another potential source of trouble.

However, with the crude oil supply from the US increasing, there is also some good news. Rising dynamically since 2008, the country’s oil production has already more than offset the slumps in North Africa and the Middle East, ensuring relative tranquillity on the oil market. Compared to May’s forecasts, the US is now projected to produce an additional 300,000–400,000 barrels of oil a day in 2014 and 2015. In combination with global oil demand forecasts adjusted down by some 200,000 barrels a day, the new figures somewhat improve the global oil balance. In these circumstances, the price of Brent crude may stay in the region of one hundred dollars per barrel for some time or even drop below that threshold if oil prices prove especially volatile. Will this happen? Only time will tell.

 

 

 

 

The new European Commission must lead the global shift to sustainability

Posted by on 02/08/14
by Catherine Bearder MEP, Liberal Democrat, South East of England/// The nomination of Jean Claude Juncker as Commission President has been something of a bumpy process to say the least. However, it’s now time to move forward and see how to make the best use of Britain’s EU membership over the next five years. That [...]

Zingy Zeeland

Posted by on 26/07/14

In the stars

All paths led to Zeeland that weekend. There seemed to be no way around it.

First of all, I had to leave my flat for that weekend. My friend and landlord was hosting other people there for a few days and asked me to spend the time elsewhere. Second, my parents’ friends invited me for lunch and coffee to Zeeland, in the Netherlands, to their summer house on the island of Walcheren to be precise, and that’s how I decided on my destination. Third, the universe seemed to like the idea of Walcheren and conspired to find me a great host there, and that with just a few clicks on my favourite two websites, Couchsurfing.org and WarmShowers.org.

And there’s more. Fourth, it turned out my friend Irina had been on Walcheren just the week before, in Middelburg that is, and left her coat at the train station, and tasked me to pick it up; so I even had a mission. And last but not least, well, there was Susan Miller, the online horoscope lady, who seemed to have talked to my landlord, my parents’ friends, my host-to-be, and my friend Irina, and concluded that I should take a trip to a not too far away place around that same date, Thursday 12 June 2014, even though  Ascension and Pentecoste were behind us, and the timing thus not that obvious.

So, a long weekend was clearly in the stars for me, and well, the location, Zeeland, and Walcheren within Zeeland, a given as well. There was no other one.

And then a memory came back, of something both distant as from another life, and close as it had happened just last year. Or at least, I think it had, if I didn’t only dream it. At times indeed it seemed more like a dream, yet I had photos to prove it really happened. Not many admittedly as my camera had broken down back then, but enough to see that yes, apparently, according to those photos, I had already been there. To Zeeland. To Walcheren. To the towns of Vlissingen and Middelburg. Or somewhere around there. With someone who was no longer around and who therefore couldn’t confirm any of these claims.

Those memories were very vague; at the time I had just sat in a car, in a haze, and let someone drive me around, without ever consulting the map, barely knowing where we were. And indeed, I actually didn’t. Names of towns, villages must have gone by back then, but they didn’t stick; I remembered none. I remembered a few scenes instead, the beach, the place where we bought kibbeling (golden nuggets of fried codfish) for the first time and then sat down among the dunes, the place where we bought kibbeling for the second time, and then rushed off with the car, the place where we had uitsmijter (eggs dish served for breakfast) and watched the cyclists. As if from distant childhood. And I preferred to not think of them now. Pretend I had never been there. Hoping not to recognize any of the places before me, not to be reminded of that distant and yet so very recent and raw moment in my personal history.

And then it was time. Friday morning. I caught the 7:21 train from Brussels to Knokke and arrived at “my” bike rental place just two hours later. Boulevard Bikes, on Knokke’s coastline, proved to be a lucky choice as always. Olivier, the guy in charge, rented me the coolest Dutch-style Gazelle bike ever, gave me a 30% discount, equipped me with one (free) bikebag, two (free) maps of Zeeland, and lots of (free and heartfelt) tips and tricks on where to go. And by 9:45 I was on my way, feeling on top of the world.

Finisterrae

It was an easy ride from Knokke to Cadzand, the first little town in Zeeuws Vlaanderen, which this part of Zeeland is called, right across from the Belgian border. A quick stop at the kibbeling shop, and I was all set for a heavenly picnic on the dunes. When I unpacked my kibbeling (and I had vowed to eat as much kibbeling and Hollandse Nieuwe as humanly possibly on this trip), somewhere between Cadzand and Bad Nieuwsfliet, I noticed that my phone had stopped working. And that I wouldn’t be able to get it working again for the next three days until I’d get to a phone shop in Belgium on Monday morning.  Apparently, the pressure of my backpack and the rhytm of my cycling had caused it to „enter“ a wrong pincode four times in a row, prompting it to now ask me for my puk – and I had no idea. Laugh or cry.

Lucky I remembered my address for the night. Oranjestraat 10. In Vlissingen. The Netherlands. And that would have to do. This would be a truly technology-free trip then. Couldn’t remember when I last spent three full days without my phone. A real time-out, almost a Vipasana meditation with no contact with anyone from „my normal life“. Somehow, that made me all the more curious of what was coming. Somehow, as long as we have our phones, we feel somehow „safe“ and able to connect with our „own people“ in case the ones we’re exposed to on this journey turn out to be idiots. But ok, I was going to have to do without that then.

Zeeuws Vlaanderen was as lovely as ever. I had been there before, three years ago, with my friend Joey, doing the same tour, also by bike from Knokke, past Cadzand and Bad Nieuwsfliet, all the way to a small town called Breskens. Back then, Breskens had seemed like a far-away place to us, and we were happy to call it a day there and cycle back. But I still remember the sense of awe I felt at having gotten that far, at having arrived at the end of something, where the land ends, and where the Schelde opens out into the open sea. The Schelde is the river, which separates Zeeuws Vlaanderen from the rest of Zeeland, and therefore from the rest of Holland. That pier in Breskens is where big ships would have passed on their way from Antwerp to far-away countries and continents during the Dutch Golden Ages in the 17th century.

The pier was desolate back then, and I had a distinct sense of finisterrae, of this is where the world ends, and across from it where something new starts. And I spent three full years kindling the idea of going back there, to Breskens, and further, to the other side, but then never got around to it. In the meantime, I travelled to Oman, and Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon and elsewhere, but that pier in Breskens never lost its appeal to me; it was like a memory from the past, or a call from the future, or a part of myself waiting to be explored.

Now that I was finally back on that bikepath, I was somewhat impatient to make it beyond that pier this time. I swiftly made it to Breskens, didn’t see the pier, didn’t even look for it, but found the ferry, immediately, and before I knew it, I was on it – and in Vlissingen less than half an hour later. On the other side. Almost too easy. The ferry was more like a metro; it cost four euro and went back and forth 2-3 times an hour. I felt like a Canadian soldier who had been here in 1944, and now came back, 70 years later, well into old age, and in supreme awe of how easy the crossing of that stretch of water proved to be this time around. I was in Vlissingen at 13:00, about four hours earlier than expected; I had somehow thought it was going to be a full-day trip.

Déja vu

Vlissingen was lovely. A medieval town, an orange town, orange flags and posters and t-shirts everywhere. A sunny and light-hearted town, with a blue sky, bridges, cobblestones, happy people, ice cream. Awaiting the football world championship Holland-Spain match scheduled for that night. „Vannacht moet het gebeuren“, the newspapers wrote that day. Louis van Gaal, the Dutch team’s coach, would „have to prove himself that night, and make it a historical night“. A lot of pressure, I thought. How could anyone stand straight in the face of that. And then the game was against Spain, the world champions. An unlikely bet. But hey, one never knows. And people were happy anyway. I dipped into a few shops, one sporting bright orange cyclists’ t-shirts, for ladies, the kind I would wear. The salesgirl promptly complimented me on my choice, „t’is leuk“, and we both came out with the same two words at the same instant, with one voice, „voor vanavond!!“, and she burst into laughter. As in: „You’ll/I’ll at least look nice when we loose“. And I would have bought it hadn’t it been for my budget.

I went about visiting Vlissingen with some sort of greed, some sense of this is where I want to be and this is what I want to see, and to absorb and integrate into my life. I first cycled all around it in one larger circle, and then, much like a predating bird, cut through into the centre of it, and then circled around that centre, twice, just to know what I already knew, which was – that I had been there before. And extensively. I knew every streetcorner. We must have spent a lot of time there. The greeting card shop. The 1 euro shop. The icecream shop. My stomach churned somehow, and I listened, and hesitated, but all seemed under control. No crashing yet. Crashing of my soul. I parked my bike. It was sunny, it was beautiful. I was on a high after the cycling, protected by a warm and floaty feeling. And the memory didn’t assault me, which was a bit of a miracle; last time I had gotten close to a location with that same legacy I spent the next two days crying. Here I was, taking it on squarely. I even had the nerve to get an ice cream at that same icecream place. And even remembered the flavours. Zeelandse bolus, the Zeeland specialty yeast cake with cinnamon, and stroopwafels. I had been in two minds between those two last year as well, and then chose stroopwafels. And found myself doing the same thing over again.

Feeling fragile, and yet reasonably in control, I decided to spend the last half hour before my appointment with my hosts by the beach, which was at about eight minutes cycling from the city centre. And which turned out to be our beach from last year. The one we dug a hole in, and laid ourselves down in for that last hour together. Back then, in another era. And the kibbelingstand by that beach was our kibbelingstand, the one on my photo, the one from my memory. It was spooky. And here I was, feeling, listening. Would I escape, would I cry, would I shake or would I stay? I longed for a moment on the beach, in the sand, by the water. And I had time to kill. And there was no other beach around. And again, with a lot of nerve, and maybe a touch of masochism, I locked my bike and walked straight down to the centre of that beach. Sat down among pink-bikinied teenagers and screaming blond children and oversized seagulls circling right above us. Unpacked my kibbeling. Yes, I would eat lots of kibbeling on this trip. If only I could swallow it. I couldn’t swallow it. I got up to do a cartwheel instead. And another one. And another one. The beach was mine. The sky was the limit; the water my element; the horizon a promise of better times to come. I would exorcise the ghosts from the past. Cleanse the place. I felt alive. And deliciously dizzy. And when I noticed that the seagulls were eating my kibbeling, picking through the paperbag, and flying off with big chunks of fish in their beaks, I didn’t even care.

Orange

Time to go find my hosts. Easy. Oranjestrat. „Bij de Oranjemolen“ as everyone was able to tell me. Sounded like the right address for this (historical and all-orange) night. Relieved and happy when I got there. And delighted with Froukje and Paul when I met them. Turns out they are hosting almost every day. Via Couchsurfing, Warm Showers or Vrienden van de Fiets. Couchsurfers and warm shower mensen stay for free; vrienden van de fiets would normally pay 19 euro per night, but Froukje in her overwhelming generosity often lets them stay for free, too. Just to give something back to the world, hear a new story, meet a new person, give or get some inspiration. Or at least that’s my take on why they’re doing this. Clearly not for the money as they’re not making any, and it’s not like they „need“ extra company either;  they’re surrounded by good friends and neighbours, a few of which I actually met.

Froukje, Paul and their neighbours Sebastian and Frank have created what they call a cooking club. Several times per week, and often joined by other neighbours, they take turns in cooking dinner, and then eat together around a large table in the garden. On that Friday night, the cook had been Sebastian, late forties, who treated us to artichokes for starters, yummy veg and chicken as a main, and a lucky dip into a big round bowl of strawberries for dessert. Served with whipped cream, coffee and Belgian chocolates. We ate like kings. And we kletsen nooit over geld. Wow. Dutch community and garden life at its best. Gezellig. And belying the cliché of the Dutch being stingy. No zuinig and gierig for that little garden community. And so nice and easy after a long day’s work. Ik schuif maar gewoon aan. Neighbours from heaven. Like from some Italian movie. Extended family dinners on a summery terrace, all generations, and lots of straight talking. And the Dutch are straight talkers, too, but I’ve always known that.

And then there was the game. The game. The historical moment. To be watched in one of the pubs in the centre. We were late. Spain was leading 1-0. No special emotions to be detected anywhere. The Dutch are a sturdy breed. And Spain was world champion after all. And then the miracle happened. Vannacht moet het gebeuren. Just before the break, Holland scored a goal. Tonight’s gonna be a good night. At once, all those people under all that orange facepaint, hairspray and clothing were coming alive. Jumping onto tables, high fives, hugging, whooping, we are the champions. And then it was break time. A well deserved one. Time to catch our breath. And watch the hilarious ads featuring a curvy Brazilian sexbomb on Copacabana beach speaking Dutch and mocking Dutch carnaval. Oranje. Super Dutch. Hup Holland Hup. Parodies of various movies. Voor Oranje begint de strijd nu, met power, respect, teamspirit. Want winnaars verliezen nooit. LOL. I whipped out my camera, people posed for my video, the tide was high.

Then we moved on to bar number two. Around the corner of Bellamy park, still in the centre of town. There the next miracle happened. Holland scored again. And then again. And then things got out of control. Holland scored four more times in that second halftime; five times altogether. After the 3rd Dutch goal, the Spanish gave up. Later that week, a Spanish friend told me that earlier that day, the Spanish state had sold off a major public services company, hoping the people wouldn’t notice in their narcotic football craze. And just days before, the King had abdicated causing the people to demand the abolition of the monarchy. „The country is falling apart; football was all we had left“ he diagnosed.  But one nation’s misery is another nation’s fortune, or at least in football. Later that night, the Dutch commentator told everyone that „there could have been a 6th and a 7th and an 8th goal“. During the game, people behind me were all shouting: „Tien! Tien! Tien! Tien!“ Getting greedy, loosing every sense of proportion. This was beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. You could almost smell the testosterone. „Je had jouw oranje t-shirtje kunnen aandoen“ some half drunk guy lurched when I walked past. Me, who was clearly Dutch with that orange hair of mine, and orange soul beaming through my darkblue sweater. And me who obviously had a whole selection of orange t-shirts and skimpy dresses in my all too Dutch wardrobe in my all Dutch home town somewhere. Maybe I should have bought that t-shirt after all.

Still delightfully immersed in an orange cloud of Dutchness, I woke up to an all orange breakfast the next morning. Boterammen, pindakaas, hagelslag, appelstroop and (orange) plakjes kaas. Only the musjes and vla missing to complete the cliché. And there was coffee. When I was younger, I used to have a postcard featuring two deliciously inviting coffee cups before a starchy white lace curtain saying „De koffie is klaar“, which I kept on my desk for years. The Dutch have a thing for koffie. They even drink it at night, with lots of foamy warm milk, in big comforting mugs, reassuring, lulling you to sleep. Froukje, Paul and I ended up having koffie and breakfast in the garden, with the neighbours greeting us as they walked by. Gezellig.

Headwind

I eventually braved the road, with a huge delay and only a vague idea of where I wanted to go. Domburg, then Veere I thought, then somehow on to Middelburg. Bike-guru Olivier had said the best ice cream was in Veere.  My parents’ friends had cancelled last minute, but I had made a coffee appointment with Anna, a couchsurfer in Middelburg. Plus there was Irina’s jacket; yes, I had a mission. And off I went. Following the coastline, I cycled northwestwards, and thought I’d hit Domburg within an hour. But things turned out different. What would have normally taken one hour, took me four. The weather had changed, it was much colder than the day before, a stiff little wind was blowing, and I soon found myself pulling out a sweater, and then another one, and tugging my scarf tightly around my face and hitting the pedal without much pleasure. I soldiered on just for the sake of it. I had to get there somehow, there, where, anywhere. The water on my left, the inland on my right, I navigated my way through dunes and dykes and ditches, and past other cyclists, but just didn’t enjoy it that much. Strain and headwind.

Until the way suddenly opened (and yes, there was a distinct sense of opening) when the road led straight into the adorable little village of Zoutelande. Which really lifted my spirits. And I can’t even say why.  The place in itself was not even that special, objectively-speaking, but I was just plain delighted. In a physical sort of way. Almost shivering with it. With a sense of having gotten away with it, or tricked the system. As if I hadn’t been supposed to come here, or come back here, or at least not alive, and yet I had. I had never been there before, or at least not to my knowledge, so maybe it was relief at not recognizing anything, and being allowed to explore something perfectly new. Or, on the contrary, it might have struck a chord with something from the past, long lost and found, broken and mended. The place was so jolly and blue and sunny again, with scores of beachtoys and bikinis dangling in the breeze outside colourful little shops, and people sitting on terraces in the sun and eating „opa’s appeltaart met slagroom and drinking more of that reassuring Dutch coffee. (In Holland, applecake’s being baked by the granddads nowadays; the grandmas are busy writing novels and travelling the world). A summer’s day, despite the changing weather, families, the north sea, my childhood maybe.

Then more cycling again. The weather changing again. Chilly. More headwind. Onwards to Westkapelle. Where the Allies landed in WWII. On 1 November 1944, with heavy amphibious warfare on even heavier ships. The full monty. Mainly Brits and Canadians. It must have been even colder and windier back then.

Turns out Walcheren played an important role in WWII. Little history lesson: On 6 June 1944, the Allies had landed in Normandy, also known as D-Day. Three months later, on 4 September, they captured the port of Antwerp, mainly to shorten the supply lines to their soldiers advancing towards Germany. But when Antwerp was captured, they couldn’t use it, as right above Antwerp there was Walcheren, and Walcheren was still controlled by the Germans. Now, Walcheren was difficult. The Germans were heavily fortified there, and the Allies first tried driving the Germans out of Holland from the other side. But after weeks and weeks of not making much progress, British Field Marshall Montgomery had enough and gave the opening of the Schelde “complete priority without any qualification whatsoever”. All eyes were on Walcheren again.

Next thing you knew was that between 2 and 11 October, a Canadian Lt-General called Guy Simons ordered the Walcheren population by radio and pamphlets to evacuate potential strategic objects, and on 3rd, 7th and 11th October respectively, the RAF Bomber Command dropped between 8000 and 9000 tons of bombs onto the dykes at Westkapelle, near Vlissingen and at Veere. Walcheren was instantly flooded and transformed into a massive lagoon rimmed by broken dykes. A few weeks later, on 1 November, at 05:45 in the morning, Allied commandos landed at Oranjemolen in Vlissingen, right behind Froukje and Paul’s house.

Casualties-wise, „the campaign to free up Antwerp cost the Allies dear”, says the History Learning Site. “They had lost 703 officers and 12,170 other ranks killed, wounded or lost in action, presumed dead. Over half of these casualties were Canadian men.” A few survivors of the campaign still gather, every year (yes, every year, says Paul, and one of them is in a wheelchair) on 1 November to commemorate them (and yes, right behind their house). In Westkapelle, the 3 October bombings are still known as ‘t Bombardement and remembered as the day when 180 Westkapelle residents were killed and the village all but wiped off the face of the earth by the bombs and the incoming sea.

Some footage of the flooded island on youtube -the wonders of youtube- at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FAFWYM9yvQ and voor de nederlandstaaligen among us, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fg7zGo9Wy08. Even one year after the bombings, three quarters of Walcheren were still under water and the devastation breathtaking.

Luctor et Emergo

Talking about floodings, turns out that Walcheren came under water again in January 1953, and so did other parts of Holland, when a heavy storm caused the dykes to break, killing 1,835 people and forcing the emergency evacuation of 70,000 more. An estimated 30,000 animals drowned that day, 37,300 buildings were damaged, and an extra 10,000 completely destroyed. The Dutch coined a special word for the disaster – watersnoodramp- and the Dutch government set out to build an ambitious flood defence system, the so-called Delta Works, designed to protect the estuaries of the Rhine, Maas and Schelde rivers. Zeeland was particularly affected by the disaster. No wonder the province’s slogan (coined long before 1953) reads Luctor et Emergo – I struggle and I emerge – a reference to the interminable battle the province has been waging with the sea if not since time immemorial then at least for many decades. Indeed, the inhabitants of Zeeland’s small towns and villages have spent much of their history either at sea or keeping the sea away from hearth and home.

The Allied landing has left a strong mark on the island. No wonder the street next to Paul and Froukje’s street in Vlissingen is called Landingsstraat. And no wonder the tiny village of Westkapelle has its own war museum, and a monument on the dyke above the museum. When I reached that monument on the dyke that day, and admired the ironcast tank on top of a block of granite, I noticed a small figure all dressed up in a WWII uniform complete with helmet and rifle, climbing all over it. I blinked. An apparition? A wax figure? A guard? An actor enacting a scene from back then? Weird. And some others seemed confused by it, too. I looked again and discerned a little boy of maybe 8 years of age, wearing an original Allied WWII uniform, with a small Dutch flag sown onto its front. A little Dutch boy playing at war. I couldn’t help myself and walked up to the kid and asked in a playful tone where on earth he got that uniform from. In Dutch. No answer. In German. Maybe he was German and got it from the nearby museum as part of some fun historical reenactment exercise. No answer. Spreekt je Nederlands? Ja. Ok. Waar heb je die vandaan? No answer. Is die van jou? Ja. Ok. Of van je papa? Nee. Right. Ok, this is his own uniform and he’s simply – playing at war. Not sure I’m getting these parents. I was raised on „Nie wieder Krieg“ and my brother, born in 1969, kept from playing with anything even resembling a soldier. Even „action man“ was considered too violent. But maybe I’m missing something. After all, I am the granddaughter of those staunch and humourless people who dug trenches on Scheveningen beach, and who stole this little boy’s greatgrandparents bicycles. Hm.

Vlissingen has been of interest to many foreign powers throughout history. Significantly, the 44,500 people town is, despite its relatively small size, one of the few Dutch towns with names in two other languages. The French call it Flessengue and the English Flushing. Long before the Germans in the 1940s, Napoleon had laid hands on Vlissingen in far-away 1795, incorporated it into his French republic, and invested in it by building some heavy fortifications. To his mind, Vlissingen was going to play an important role in his plans to conquer England. Not surprisingly, the English didn’t like the idea and, in 1809, subjected the town to heavy bombardments.

Another 200 years before that, when the Netherlands were still ruled by the Spanish, and Willem van Oranje was slowly gaining ground in his struggle against the Spanish oppressors,  Vlissingen became famous for being one of the two first Dutch towns, which managed to free itself from Spanish rule. Oranje’s rebels rebels first captured the town of Brielle, on 1 April 1572, and then Vlissingen on 6 April 1572. These events marked a turning point in the 80 Years War between the Netherlands and Spain, and the event is still remembered today, with a rhyme for April Fool’s Day: “Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril, en op april zes verloor Alva zijn fles,” basically meaning that “on 1 April the (Spanish) count Alba lost his glasses (bril meaning glasses and referring to the town of Brielle), and on 6 April he lost his bottle (fles meaning bottle and referring to Vlissingen).” Ok, so Vlissingen has a tradition of freedom-fighting and insurgency.  Or at least it did 400 years ago.
Anyhow, I had neither glasses nor bottles to lose that day, mainly as I hadn’t brought any in the first place, but I missed them all the same as I felt my eyes water from the wind (no glasses) and my mouth go dry from a lack of water (no bottle). And I longed to arrive somewhere now.

Treats and tailwind

Next stop Domburg. So close and yet so far. The headwind didn’t help and neither did the dark clouds which were suddenly forming everywhere. Eventually I did get there, but when I looked at a clock it was 3pm. The 20km from Vlissingen to Domburg had taken me four hours. Granted, I had made a few stops, but still. Bit daunting when I thought of what was yet to come.  If things continued this way, I wouldn’t get back to Vlissingen before midnight. But first things first. I deserved a break. Time for lunch, and coffee, and cake, and a stroll. I parked my bike with a few other bikes. In Zeeland you don’t need to lock your bike to anything; just lock it „to itself“ and no one will touch it. „It’s too heavy to carry around“, says Froukje. Plus, where would they take it to? We’re on an island. And indeed, none of the hundreds of bikes I saw those three days were attached to anything. So very different from Brussels where according to some statistics they steal 75 bikes a night, and even the crappiest about-to-fall-apart bike requires a 60 euro U-lock to protect it from the bike-mob. So Zeeland really felt like a fairy tale world, or a long-lost timezone, where people and bikes still happily coexist and no one fears anyone else and everyone is getting enough.

And I certainly got enough in Domburg, too. „The beach is the main event in Domburg“ writes the Lonely Planet, but I didn’t even see the beach; it was just too chilly. That day, the main events in Domburg were clearly the Hollandse Nieuwe, the kibbeling, and the ice cream. Domburg is a quintessentially little Dutch village with one-storey houses, lace curtains and lacquered blue front doors, which has basically been transformed into an open-air tourist resort, but all that without having lost its soul. You still feel the sweetness of it. There’s a bakery, and two fish shops – one on each side of the village – and a whole array of charming little cafes and bistros in between. But the fish shops are clearly the most popular. Everyone happily munching their kibbeling. To the sound of Zeeuwse folklore music brought to us by a group of men in their 60s, all dressed up in the Zeeuwse traditional costume, standing there and playing just for our amusement. Melodious, jolly, brass. Watched by swarms of retirees and families with children, many Germans. No backpackers, no couchsurfers, few people in their 20s, 30s or 40s, or at least not many without kids. Domburg is the kind of place my grandmother would have loved. But I didn’t mind somehow, and loved being there, too.  Me who’s done Ukraine by bike, on my own, even ten years ago. Me who spent the last two summers couchsurfing and cycling through Morocco, and hitchhiking and wildcamping in France and Italy. Even I loved Domburg. And so did everyone else it seems. Olivier, the bikeguru and surfer thought it’s a „very, very, very niiice place“. And so did Irina.

My lunch consisted of three pieces of deliciously warm and fleshy (and overprized) Hollandse Nieuwe (at 2 euros a piece), met ujtjes, and a chicken piri piri pastry, which I jumped on for the sole reason that I had no idea what it was. It just sounded so quintessentially Dutch, a bit like saté kroket or bami and I just had to try it. I found a little bench in the sun (yes, the sun was back again) and indulged. And rarely has herring tasted so good, not to mention that buttery piri piri pastry. But not enough, I also had to have my appeltaart met slagroom. And two koffies. And, on my way out of town, an icecream on top. Haagse hapjes, vanilla with koffie. Just to get my blood sugar levels up all the way. Yes, I was eating myself into some kind of over-energised frenzy, which I though I’d need to master the rest of the day. Because the ride to Middelburg scared me. Another 25km, which would have been nothing under normal circumstances, but with this headwind, they looked daunting.
But then things turned out all different again. The headwind was suddenly tailwind, the sun back out, my sleeves rolled up, my spirits high – and I flew. Or my bike flew me. I barely had to pedal. And instead of taking what felt like four hours, I was in Middelburg within what felt like 40 minutes.

In between parties

While Vlissingen had been swinging with life and sunlight that previous day, and whilst Domburg had been brimming with happy people munching their all-Dutch junk food that afternoon, Middelburg – that evening – seemed dead. Not a soul on the streets, the wind blowing again, a few isolated jazz musicians rehearsing for the open air concert that night, and hesitantly striking some wailing notes, but to not too much of an audience. I must have gotten there in between parties. The football game was over, and the jazz concert hadn’t started yet.

And yet, it was a beautiful town. With an air of grandeur, or at least much more so than any of the other towns on Walcheren. Middelburg is the provincial capital after all. And an ancient one that is. Built in the 13th century, Middelburg grew into one of the Netherlands’ most important trading centres during the late Middle Ages. No wonder the town was full of beautiful architecture. Fivehundred years later, in 1940, Middelburg was heavily bombed by Germany, but rebuilt after the war, much of it in its original style. The Gothic townhouse, built in 1452, (again) a masterpiece.

The Lonely Planet calls the town pleasant, prosperous and sedate. And indeed, it had a calm, dignified, unhurried quality about it. As if this were where Dutch people go when they want to start anew in life. Like after a divorce, or a midlife crisis, or a burn-out from their hectic lives in Amsterdam, Den Haag or Utrecht. A bit like Spain or the south of France, but – in Holland. And then there’s the climate. Zeeland has a peculiar microclimate, which makes for clear skies and sunshine almost all year around. And, last but not least, there’s the dependable and obliging nature of the Zeelanders, who over the centuries have grown used to accommodating all sorts of guests and invaders. But then those stressed-out city people tend to be of an amenable and indulgent breed themselves. Which might be why they chose Zeeland in the first place. Actually, I have no idea. Purely speculating, trying to be clever. And bigtime deducing this from the handful of „import people“ I met there, who tended to be kind and generous NRC-reading, PvdA-voting social workers, civil servants, journalists and artists. But there may be entire colonies of retired VVD members dwelling on their yachts by het Veerse Meer somewhere; I wouldn’t know.

In any case, Middelburg, as pretty much every Dutch town nowadays, has a strong social conscience, or at least pretends it does, and persuasively so. That day, Middelburg hosted a festival commemorating the end of slavery, and the shadowy role the town had played in upholding slavery for many years before that. In Middelburg, there were shipyards, and those shipyards built the ships, which shipped tens of thousands of slaves from Africa to the Americas.

According to the Lifeline Expedition (www.lifelineexpedition.co.uk), an impressive reconciliation initiative launched in the UK in the 1990s bringing together the descendants of people from the three corners of the slave triangle (Europe-Africa-America), “the Dutch were among the most successful traders in slaves, especially during the 17th century.” Shockingly, and with specific reference to the role of Zeeland in all this, the Lifeline Expedition maintains that “altogether, ships from Zeeland made 672 recorded journeys transporting 278,476 slaves, compared to 173 recorded journeys from Amsterdam carrying 73,476 slaves.”  It goes on to say that “the biggest number of voyages was from Vlissingen”, and that “Middleburg and Vlissingen must have been virtual slaving communities, with a substantial amount of manpower involved in the traffic. In fact a report of 1750 confirms that Vlissingen’s only commercial branch of significance was the slave trade.” Hm. Not very palatable.

An excellent article on The Dutch Slave Trade 1500-1850 puts things into a larger perspective. The author basically suggests that, at the end of the day and compared to other European powers, the Dutch didn’t profit much from the slave trade, which in part explains why the economically disadvantaged province of Zeeland might have been more willing to get involved with it than Holland’s other more prosperous regions.

Past and present

One name I kept coming across on my journey through Walcheren, was that of Admiral Michiel De Ruyter.  Who is this guy, I asked myself, and googled him upon my return to Belgium. And well,  „BadassOfTheWeek.com“ sustains that „this dude is one of the toughest motherfuckers to ever come out of the Low Countries, and one of the most amazing seaborne murder-machines to ever pound his enemies to death with his massive (cannon) balls. In nearly 60 years sailing on the high seas during the Golden Age of Dutch Badassery, this Netherlandian (Netherlanderthal?) aquatic destruction-monger served in seven wars, led warships into combat in over forty engagements, and fought more than fifteen massive full-scale naval battles against the toughest sailors Earth has ever seen.” Right. Woah. But the text is meant to be funny and actually goes on to portray De Ruyter in a very positive light.

According to other and maybe more scientific sources, „badass“ De Ruyter was actually born in Vlissingen, in 1607, has streets named after him in pretty much every town in Holland, and played a significant role in Zeeland’s trading activities in the mid 17th century. Now, whether De Ruyter was a good guy or a bad guy is a tough one to answer. On the face of it, he’s very much a good guy; so at least all of Holland, and beyond, has agreed centuries ago. He heroically fought in the Anglo-Dutch wars of the 17th century, and is basically credited for the continued existence of the Netherlands as a sovereign country. Also, he is said to have been a kind and humble man devoted to the wellbeing of his crew, and, last but not least, to have „regularly freed Christian slaves by redeeming them at his own expense”. It appears that even in Hungary, of all places, there’s a monument commemorating the role he played in negotiating the liberation of 26 Hungarian clergymen who had been forced to work as galley slaves by the Spanish. On the other hand, I ask myself, what about the „non-Christian“ slaves? And, if he was one of the biggest traders in Vlissingen at that time, and if the main trade in Vlissingen was slavery back then – well, you do the maths. Unless, he was working to change the system from within? Or maybe I’m missing something. Other must have researched this before, no? In the meantime, he remains a hero.

And in the meantime, Middelburg concentrates on present-day slavery. That weekend, Middelburg was hosting a large-scale photo exhibition reminding people of the fact that slavery exists even today, mainly in the form of forcing undocumented migrants into 18 hour shifts for loans way below the legal minimum wages. And yes, even in EU countries. All documented on large billboards greeting me from above on my way into the town, and educating me on facts and figures. Nicely done (those Dutch!). But quite gruesome indeed.

And, talking about human rights violations (or genocide), well, just a few moments before reaching those billboards (we’re moving backwards now, rewinding the movie so-to-speak), I passed a large Jewish cemetery. Which featured a commemorative plaque honouring the Jewish citizens of Middelburg who were deported to the Nazi death damps. And surprisingly, the gravestones seemed to be chained to each other, which made me wonder whether there had been acts of vandalism. Apparently, Middelburg had quite a flourishing little Jewish community before the war, counting 131 people, says the Joods Historisch Musem website. Then, in 1940, the Middelburg synagogue was plundered by local members of the Dutch collaborationist NSB party, and in 1942, the Middelburg Jews were deported, and none of them returned alive.

Not an easy legacy for Middelburg. First that slave trade, then the ousting of the Jewish community. Driven by the German occupants of course, but possibly helped by the locals. But then, in 1994, the synagogue was restored and rededicated, and in 2004, the first Jewish wedding took place in Middelburg since before the war.  Eind goed, al goed? Minden jó, ha a vége jó? All’s well that ends well? Let’s just say yes. The town’s just too beautiful to be cross with it. By the way, Middelburg’s Jewish community goes back to the 15th and 16th centuries, when Jewish merchants moved to Middelburg from Spain and Portugal, compounded in the late 17th century by Jewish families fleeing pogroms in central and eastern Europe. So, in theory, the Dutch provinces of the Middle Ages, including Zeeland, were a land of refuge and asylum rather than the opposite.

Serendipity

I swiftly cycled through Middelburg, and straight to the train station, and the stationsrestauratie, and Irina’s blue coat. Which I found immediately. And, still inside the stationsrestauratie, I turned around and – there was Anna. My couchsurfing coffee appointment, and that without having made a real appointment. She just knew I had to pick up that coat at some point, and I was all the more delighted to see her. Sometimes things just work out.

Anna is a writer. And many things on top of that. An ex-business consultant that is. And someone hosting poetry and prose salons in Amsterdam, Den Haag and now also in Middelburg. And a woman who once travelled to Nepal to spend 12 months in Bhutanese refugee camp and then wrote a book about it. That is, about a Bhutanese refugee girl who was then resettled to the Netherlands to be precise. In her book, called Headwind, that girl experiences various difficulties as a child in Nepal and upon her arrival in the Netherlands, but then that headwind turns into tailwind and she gradually grows into a self-assured young woman. And yet, that headwind never leaves her altogether – which is probably true for all of us, refugees or not. Hardships, as facts of life, will always be there in one way or another, and it’s all in the „how we cope with it“.

And indeed, headwind had been the theme of my whole day. And Anna has had her share of headwind as well. In her life I mean. Which she’s gloriously managed to turn into tailwind. We spoke about all sorts of things, and it was refreshing to be able to go straight to the point, and talk about „what is really going on“ in our lives, in the way one sometimes finds it easier to talk to perfect strangers than to people one knows one will meet again at work the next morning. I loved Anna’s sunny take on life. I’ve made choices and changes, I’ve re-invented myself, and I’ve made it all work, could have been her line. And yes, she really has. No nonsense, down to earth, getting things done. She amused me with her tales about her upcoming novel set in the Victorian times, which has prompted her to „dress and live like a Victorian“ one day a week to get into her main character. I glanced down at her. „No, today’s the 50s“. Right. She was wearing a stiff blue dotted dress, tights and assorted shoes. The 50s, indeed. The Victorian day must be another day. Can’t wait to get my hands on that book.

After a chat in the station restaurant and a scenic bikeride through the old town, we ended up at Anna’s favourite kroeg, as in bar, or pub, and had another chat session there. That place was my kind of place, like an old sailor’s inn, on a street corner, jolly, open, and flooded with a golden afternoon light which warmed my heart and illuminated the ancient wooden beams framing the doors and windows. Anna ordered a glass of nutwine for me, a deliciously sweet beverage served with ice. A  group of young guys, just random guys from the town it seemed, in their 30s and 40s, entertained everyone and themselves with a roaring interpretation of We are the world, followed by The rivers of Babylon. One of them played the piano. Karaoke, but without the whole (silly) technology. Like in the old days. And they all knew the texts anyways. And all that over Anna’s stories.
I floated. A high. I had clearly arrived at my destination.

Eventually I said goodbye and set out to cycle back. As in, to Vlissingen. Bit tipsy, from the sun as much as from the nutwine. Not sure about my whereabouts. Somewhere in Holland, right. I asked an elderly couple cycling behind me. The road to Vlissingen? No answer; I figured they had to be German tourists. Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Ja. Die Strasse nach Vlissingen? Their reply: Immer nach rechts. With a Dutch accent though. Right. Not Germans after all then. I was a bit sceptical. Immer nach rechts sounded a bit like immer geradeaus. But this was not 1940 in Scheveningen, and I didn’t look like a German soldier who had just stolen a bike, did I. I chuckled and came out with U spreekt toch wel Nederlands. Ja, they replied, en u bent Nederlands. As in, me. A compliment, half question, half statement. Nee, niet echt, I confessed. And they liked me all the same. We smiled, she was kind, and the direction was right. And the ride by the canal from Middelburg to Vlissingen memorable. A real treat. They should prescribe this against depression. Or sleeplessness. Or ADHD.
I came home to Froukje’s and Paul’s place 20 minutes later feeling all zen and grounded and blessed. And yes, home was the right word by now. I had missed out on the cooking club that evening, but there were still some of leftovers in the fridge. Mexican tonight, all beans and veg and cheese and salad. Delicious and therapeutic after all that sugar earlier in the day.

Doen!

Two new guests had arrived that night, Vrienden van de Fiets, a father and his 16-year old daughter, a most touchingly sweet little pair. Him involved in a squatting project in Maastricht. I loved the colourful array of people I met in Froukje’s garden, and I had barely scraped the surface of it. Froukje volunteers for 1001 organisations it seems; it was hard to find anything she isn’t involved with in some way. From the cultural centre inside her building to the Refugee University Fund, helping refugees to complete their education in the Netherlands.

And then our conversations. Like in the old days, before email and facebook. When people actually still talked to each other and without keeping the TV on while doing so. But, with perfect strangers. Which maybe wouldn’t have happened back then. Before the internet gave us insight into the fact that we’re basically all the same; striving for the same stuff, struggling with the same stuff. So, I was getting the best of both worlds. Modern day internet connectivity which had allowed me to hook up with them in the first place. And old school appreciation for real togetherness and communication. And it was so easy to talk to them. I’m always curious and one word gave way to another.

About the ties we have on this planet. Family and other ties. About who our friends are. Are facebook friends friends?  The kind we do know personally of course, but communicate with only to let them know that we’ve just gotten up to a wonderful new day, purchased a new pair of glittery pink sandals, or booked a holiday to Spain? And how about couchsurfing friends? Or vrienden op de fiets friends? Are new networks replacing vanishing old structures? Are fast-paced, short-lived friendships supplanting long-lasting ones? Friendship almost as a consumer good, something we can order and book online these days? We talked about giving and taking, and loyalty and betrayal. Verbijsterend teleursgestelt are two words that I learned that day. And that I won’t forget so quickly. They really struck a chord with me. And this whole last year. As the ultimate expression of a sense of total abandon by those one had cared about, relied on and trusted most. But is anyone of us really immune to that? And what happens when that stuff happens? How do we cope? Do we cope?

Froukje had a nice book about that. Called Borderline Times and written by Leuven-based Belgian psychiatrist Dirk de Wachter who maintains that many of us no longer do. And drift off into self-diagnosed mental illness instead. „I’m unhappy so something must be wrong with me“. And then fall into the pharmaceutical industry trap. „Let me purchase a pill to sort me out“. Helped by the growing hype around „trendy“ mental disorders like ADHD in adults, bipolar disorder and borderline syndrom. And yet, de Wachter says, it’s not so much those more vulnerable individuals who feel like there’s something wrong with them and who come seek help in his psychiatric praxis that are the sick ones. Instead, he says, it’s society as a whole, which makes them feel that way, that needs to be looked at. He calls it de geluksmaatschappij, the happiness society, where we’ve all made it our personal aim in life to show the rest of the world how happy and exciting our lives are. In colour, with pictures, on facebook, or elsewhere, and every day. It’s us, the mainstream, those creating and cultivating this climate and keeping up the pressure, and increasingly hiding ourselves behind shields and layers of – well, basically hypocrisy – who are the sick ones. Or sickly ones. Suffering from borderline syndrome. Often characterised by a sense of emptiness and fear of abandon. And yes, I could see that. Again, that family and other ties question.

Froukje and Paul seem to have resolved that question for themselves by opening their house and lives to all those who can appreciate it. And by taking action, serving, advancing and not looking back much. And by trying to keep in touch. „Why don’t you come to Zeeland in a year from now, when you have a stressful job, and treat yourself to little weekends in Zeeland and in Maastricht, chilling?“ she asked me, followed by her trademark line: „Doen!“ As in: „Just do it! And not just talk about it!“ In the same way she encouraged others to try camping, to borrow her bikes, and to organise a trip around the world.“ And I concluded that Froukje’s the kind of person who should have five children and ten grandchildren and who’d be a role model to each one of them.

On Sunday morning, Vaderdag, I said goodbye to my hosts, their guests and the neighbours from heaven, and started my retreat. Suddenly it was all over. My way back was uneventful. Within ten minutes I was at the ferry, within 30 minutes I was in Zeeuws Vlaanderen again, on the other side of the Schelde,  and within three hours I was back in Knokke.

And yet, I felt I’ve had it all. Headwind and tailwind, pain and pleasure, some fear and anxiety, much good fortune and lovely surprises, a sense of disconnect, and then again heart-to-heart connections, out of the blue, „boddhisatvas from the earth“, crowds and one-to-ones, past and present, history and mystery, insights into my life and the lives of the others, intertwining and parting again, like the waves of the ocean behind Froukje and Paul’s house.

Zingy Zeeland.

 

 

A plea for a pragmatic approach to global climate policy

Posted by on 14/07/14

During the last 50 years global energy demand has risen at an unprecedented pace and is expected to continue rising further in the wake of growing world population and prosperity.

These trends are not sustainable. The energy resources (coal, oil, gas, uranium) are finite and burning them is bound to accelerate climate change to a point of no return destroying the basis of human livelihood.

Climate scientists and almost all governments on earth share this basic assessment. But while scientists urge for action to be taken politicians are wavering in the face of powerful fossil energy lobbies and industry pressing for low energy prices.

Fortunately, tenuous signs for a change are appearing in the two most polluting countries, China and USA, on which the success of any international action hinges.

China has placed the fight against energy waste, air pollution and climate change among the top priorities of its Five Year Plan 2011-15. It is determined to increase its overall energy efficiency; and it envisages stepping up research and pilot projects for carbon capture and storage which is vital for continuing to burn coal with which it is amply endowed. But though the government is to be congratulated for finally acknowledging the seriousness of climate change its actions continue to fall far short of what is needed. Chinese green house gas emissions will therefore keep rising for at least 20 more years.

USA, the second biggest emitter of GHG has made great strides under the Obama Administration, thanks to circumventing a hostile Congress by executive action in the form of technical standards. CO2 emissions have begun to fall from exorbitant levels of 17 tons/per capita, due to increasing switch from coal to gas as the major fuel in power generation and stringent fuel consumption standards for passenger cars.

Driven by concerns about their security of supply, both countries will press for higher energy efficiency, in particular in buildings, and more power generation through renewables – wind, sun, hydro and biomass. But neither is ambitious enough and postulate largely C02 free energy by the middle of the century.

Only the EU, the third biggest energy consumer and CO2 emitter, can so far boast of an established record against climate change. Until 2020 its CO2 emissions will be down by 20 per cent over 1990; and it is set to reduce them by 80-95 per cent until the middle of the century. No other country has so far announced similar ambitions. But with a share of only some 12 per cent of global emissions it does not carry enough weight for preserving the climate.

Both USA and EU owe their relative success to the setting of medium and long-term targets and taking concrete measures. That distinguishes their approach from the UN-directed efforts which continue to lack precision of the targets and fail to prescribe concrete measures. Moreover, there is no political drive without which policies cannot be conceived and implemented. This is normal for assemblies grouping some 200 states with totally different levels of energy consumption and representing fundamentally different views on the future.

In order to achieve a positive outcome from the decisive Paris Climate Conference in November 2015 participant countries need to change the modus operandi of their future negotiations. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon might have made a beginning by calling a restricted high-level meeting of heads of government from the main polluter countries at the margin of the September 2014 General Assembly.

To ensure a successful result in Paris the leaders of the countries responsible for 80 per cent of global emissions must agree on a cooperative strategy to keep global temperatures within a two degree Celsius rise over pre-industrial levels.

A group of climate and energy research institutes from 15 major emitter countries has translated the “two centigrade target” into the necessary reductions of green house gas emissions. The result will come as a shock for policy makers: average per capita green house gas emissions must not exceed 1.6 ton by the middle of the century. Only the poor, mostly African, countries can still indulge in rising emissions. Most other countries including EU, Japan, China and Russia will need to reduce them by around three quarters and some 20 countries like United Arab Emirates Canada, Australia, USA with very high per capita emissions by even 90 per cent until 2050.

This will be a huge challenge for every country and Humanity. It is therefore crucial to provide for an equitable burden sharing among Humanity, which per capita green house emissions, reflect better than any other yardstick.

At the Paris conference, the parties should focus on two conclusions:

  • All countries will reduce their green house gas emissions by 2050 to 1.6 tons per capita by 2050.
  • Countries emitting already more than seven tons per capita will present their strategy for implementation to the UN Secretary General for approval before 2020. Countries with per capita emissions of less than one ton can wait with presenting their climate strategy until 2030 or until exceeding a level of emissions of more than one ton.

The UN Secretary General will appoint a special representative for the preparations.

This procedure will replace the annual climate conferences, from which the necessary policy changes cannot emerge, due to increasing level of bureaucratisation, too many participants and lack of political commitment.

Future climate policy will be more differentiated by countries, and the UN should be empowered to fix policy guidelines and monitor implementation.

The following guidelines might inspire national and global policy makers:

  • All countries subsidising fossil fuels must phase these out by 2020. That process has started under the pressure from IEA and others.
  • All countries will have to invest heavily in much higher energy efficiency:
    • Thanks to perfect thermal insulation buildings must become autonomous from fossil energy.
    • The internal combustion engine must be replaced by battery-propelled electric engines, fed from renewable sources.
  • All countries must step up their recycling efforts, following the lead the by European Union
  • To slow down population growth and global energy demand developing countries must take appropriate measures and thereby contribute to the fight against climate change.
  • Countries with large forest areas must preserve these, which is vital for stabilising global environment and climate.
  • Countries in the solar belt must fully exploit their solar potential for electricity generation.
  • Countries like China, Russia, Australia and Canada that want to continue exploiting their huge coal or gas reserves must invest in carbon capture and storage.
  • Countries situated along the Seas must exploit their wind power potential and develop technologies for “harvesting” wave energies.

The World Bank, in conjunction with regional Development Banks must become the global financing and technical assistance agent for implementing the challenging structural changes towards a non-fossil society. To that end it should be in charge of managing the $ 100 billion annual International Climate Fund that the developed countries have pledged to establish by 2020.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 12/7/2014

UNEP: Corrupt, conflicted and woefully incompetent

Posted by on 12/06/14
When disgraced former EEA head, Jacqueline McGlade was appointed the chief scientist to UNEP, the Risk-Monger could only find one answer to this corrupt, conflicted and incompetent organisation: Shut it down.

Damned if they do: EU and US politicians grapple with commitments on climate

Posted by on 02/06/14

By Jason Anderson, Head of EU Climate and Energy Policy, WWF European Policy Office

Today the Obama administration will come out with a draft rule on power plants that represents its latest attempt to make headway reducing greenhouse gas emissions despite the failure of Congress to take action (indeed, despite the histrionic antipathy towards action among many of them).

Inevitably, it will get blasted by those forces married to fossil fuels who enjoy the sound of their own rhetoric on economics and liberty, which is best enjoyed with the oceans rising up around your ankles. But with midterm elections coming up and climate not top of US politicians’ priority list, political support isn’t guaranteed even among many Democrats.

In other words, Obama is walking into a minefield. Which raises the question, if politicians are risk-averse and sensitive to election outcomes, why would he be doing this? Is it possible there’s some meat on this bone?

EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard would’ve liked to have had the same benefit of the doubt when announcing the EU’s 2030 plan in January. Environmentalists jumped on its inadequacy. In reply, Hedegaard said that it was easy to be an observer but hard to be a politician, and invited the NGOs to go soak our heads. She claimed that the 40% target was a position requiring serious political effort, and that a more ambitious proposal would have no chance of overcoming political opposition.

Be that as it may, the differences between the US and EU situation are informative. In the US case, climate action has been hard to come by, with the last president spending eight years basically working in the opposite direction entirely. Meanwhile, the current president gets little credit for any reductions in emissions, with most people ascribing that entirely to the rush for shale gas.

In fact, according to the US government’s 2014 climate action report, the effect of current policy and trends, including increased use of natural gas, would be to see US emissions drop 5.3% compared to 2005 levels in 2020[1]. However, they have a commitment of reducing by 17%. Bearing in mind the US GDP is rising and its population grows by more than a million people per year, new policy will have to make significant efforts to close the gap, of which the power plant rule is the most important element.

In Europe, meanwhile, GHG emissions were basically stable from 1990-2004, aside from the post-1990 implosion in Eastern countries. A shift from coal to gas played an important a role initially in keeping emissions low, but, as the US is also now finding, that shift only gets you so far before much more is needed. It is no coincidence that the year the Kyoto Protocol went into force, 2005, is when EU emissions clearly took a permanent downward path – concern about the failure to dent emissions in the previous years led to serious efforts at new policy lest we completely miss our Kyoto targets.

But Europe overcompensated – we let countries and companies buy overseas offset credit to temper costs of compliance. Together with the economic downturn the result is that the EU can now either significantly increase emissions to 2020, or hold excess credits over to the following period thereby reducing real effort to 2030. The combination of policy already in place and excess credits carried over could mean that the additional effort from 2020 to 2030 resulting from the current EU debates is negligible.

Solutions to the EU’s problem include adding an approach being pursued, ironically, in both the US and Canada – an emissions performance standard for power plants, which focuses minds on the problem at hand (emissions) and not on the theoretical solution (movement of overabundant paper credits, often of dubious provenance). An EPS will play an important role in the post-2020 target Obama has promised to deliver before the UN deadline in March 2015 (cue jeering from the domestic better-dead-than-green coalition).

So, the historic bad guys are trying to make up for lost time while the historic good guys are resting on their laurels. In both cases politicians trying to get something done are lightning rods for criticism from all sides – old-fashioned industry (and their friends in government) emboldened by the death of peak oil and smelling blood around climate action, and everyone else, who worry that the outcome of the political process is generally to pitch beach umbrellas in the face of a tsunami.

But neither should we expect government to build solid fortifications on shifting sand. Whatever the deficiencies, arguably we’re finally starting to see what looks like a the foundation of real climate action – China, the EU and the US are lining up behind new efforts, along with dozens of other significant economies, right in the run-up to a new big global agreement. If politicians make the calculation that they can’t push as far as we want, then that’s an indication we’ve got more work to do on all fronts.


Why Transparency is not a Virtue

Posted by on 27/05/14
We keep talking about transparency as a social good and a basis for trust. The Risk-Monger finds this to be contradictory - the demand for transparency is indicative of a lack of trust and a social malnourishment.

MEP Ulrike Lunacek on saving the planet and embracing European solidarity

Posted by on 22/05/14

— This is the second and final part of my exclusive interview with Greens/EFA Vice President and MEP Ulrike Lunacek.  —

Lunacek, aside from being the Vice President of the Greens/EFA group in the European parliament, was the lead candidate of the Austrian Green Party for the 2009 EP election and the current frontrunner for this year’s EP election.

She is from Krems, Lower Austria and attended high school in Vienna and Boone, IA. She studied interpreting (English and Spanish) at the University of Innsbruck and became engaged in social work and other freelancing professions in interpreting and journalism.

She was a member of the Austrian parliament from 1999 to 2009 and was the Greens’ spokeswoman on foreign and development policy as well as equality for LGBT persons. She was the vice-chair of the Green Parliamentary Club in Austria in 2008 and in 2009 she was nominated frontrunner for that year’s EP election.

Below is the continuation of a lengthened exclusive interview with her. Click here to read the first part.

 

Tell us about the party’s vision of the 2030 Climate Protection Plan, since one of the things that makes the Greens a unique party is their genuine determination to protect Earth.

It’s an imperative that the EU should be the leading power in saving the planet, but what would it take for the EU to adopt a common European energy and environmental policy?

What feasible and affordable solutions are there to combat environmental challenges such as climate change?

“To stop climate change an energy transition is necessary: away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources. Europe does not only need ambitious climate targets, but a Green Investment Pact for Sustainable Development. The focus of such a pact must be on the energy policy, resource efficiency and a green economy. This pact is the largest employment opportunity that Europe has. And “Out of oil and gas” does not only make sense in an ecologically context, but also as far as human rights and foreign policy are concerned – see Crimean crisis!

Regarding the energy sector the continuation of subsidies for nuclear energy is another big issue. Instead of investing in sustainable forms of energy, nuclear power might celebrate a comeback and governments try to make it socially acceptable. The same is true for coal and shale gas. Due to the devastating effects that these forms of energy have on our environment, we Greens reject all investments in this area.

We need three binding climate targets. That is the only way we can protect the environment and strengthen the European economy. The target for renewable energy in 2020 has resulted in a positive development in the renewables industry in the EU. We must hold on to this successful strategy. However, the 30% target for 2030 is not enough. A mandatory 45 % target would be ambitious and achievable. In addition, we also need a binding target for energy saving of 40%.

Concerning the emission reductions the 40 % reduction target, which is required both by the EU Commission as well as by the majority of Parliament cannot solve our problems. We need to be much more ambitious if we want to achieve the two-degree climate target.”

What is your message to the populist parties that are currently gaining popularity?

More specifically, what is your message to Eurosceptics in and out of the Europe who claim that the European project is disintegrating due to the Union’s crisis handling?

Do you believe that we are still undergoing a continental recession or are we slowly recovering from its aftermath?

“I would tell them that the European Parliament has more competences and is hence more powerful i.e. important than ever. Apart from foreign affairs and tax issues, where it can make political statements that shape public opinion and decisions (e.g. Financial Transaction Tax, mandate for US-EU Free Trade Agreement), it is a full-fledged party in the decision-making process and therefore on a level playing field with the Council. Unlike the Council, the Commission or any other EU institution the Parliament possesses democratic legitimacy and its constitution can be influenced directly by EU citizens. Since a huge part of national law is affected by or directly comes from Brussels, waiving the right to vote in the European Parliament elections therefore means giving away one’s voice in national politics as well.

And: every vote counts! Sometimes there is only one vote difference regarding certain decisions in the EP. This consequence has to be made clear. In addition people have to know that using EP elections as protest votes has negative effects for their home country. In general MEPs from extremely nationalist parties have difficulties founding groups in the EP and therefore they have no or only little political influence and cannot make a difference for EU citizens. As far as Austria is concerned 5 out of 19 MEPs are non-attached members, which reduces their influence.

As far as the crisis is concerned, not the European Union, but the member states are the problem. They are not willing to give away power and therefore try to solve the EU’s problems at short notice convened summits. They are using “sticking plasters” and try to solve the most urgent issues but do not have a master plan.

Furthermore they are not willing to spend more money fighting youth unemployment etc. We have to show people that being on one’s own cannot be the solution in a globalised world, where crisis or climate changes do not respect borders. And we have to remind them of all the advantages of the EU we take for granted, like studying or working abroad, open boarders or a strong, Europe-wide currency.”

 

#ReclaimEurope and #VoteGreen this #EP2014! ;-)

 

Legitimizing EU Democracy and Advocating for a Federal Europe

Posted by on 21/05/14

— This is the first of two parts of my exclusive interview with Greens/EFA Vice President and MEP Ulrike Lunacek. —

This year’s European parliamentary election will commence in less than 24 hours with the Netherlands and the United Kingdom among the first nations out of 28 to vote first. Most of the member states will be voting at the weekend. This election is the 8th parliamentary election since the first polls in 1979 and the first election after the Lisbon Treaty entered into force.

Below is a lengthy exclusive interview with MEP Ulrike Lunacek, the Spitzenkandidatin for the Austrian Greens and the Vice President of the Greens/EFA group.

The whole interview goes in-depth into one of the Greens’ advocacies for Europe, such as on legitimizing EU democracy, further continental integration resulting to a federal EU, reforming Europe’s institutional structure, combating climate change and saving the planet, surviving economic crises and debunking Eurosceptics.

 

It’s a fact that the EU is suffering from a democratic deficit; the lack of transparency, the massive bureaucracy and corruption within the institutions undermine the EU’s credibility as a true leader of the world.

So what measures would the party undertake in legitimizing democracy within the EU?

Would it be abolishing some of the institutions or establishing a European constitution or something else?

“The “massive bureaucracy” is not a fact but a common stereotype. The EU, a Union of more than 500 million people, has around 45.000 officials working in the different institutions. In comparison the Austrian federal state employs 133.000 people.

Notwithstanding the above, you are right stating that the EU is suffering from a democratic deficit: The EP does not have full legislative rights and the Council is still executive at national level and legislative at EU level. I support a federal Europe – the United States of Europe, which have to have a different, more democratic structure but also different policies, aiming at social justice and ecological sustainability, among other things. Therefore a major revision of the EU treaties can no longer be avoided. As Greens/EFA group we demand that the Parliament starts (this is foreseen and possible under the Lisbon Treaty) the process for a new Convention, with broad involvement of parliamentarians and civil society.

As far as the institutions are concerned, the establishment of a bi-cameral system at European level is needed, under which the federal, regional principle co-exists with that of the nation states, and within which the Council is re-modelled into a form of second chamber of representatives of national governments and which, together with the European Parliament, comprises the legislature.”

Conservatives often argue that having a strict control on immigration is what’s needed right now. They argue that having liberal immigration and asylum policies and keeping the door open have been proven to be an irresponsible approach and that it is contrary to the citizens’ interests. What’s your response to this?

Why is further EU expansion vital and what’s the true vision of the Greens regarding a genuinely integrated Europe?

“The asylum policy of the European Union as a whole is in need of reform. First and foremost the Dublin-II-Regulation has to be repealed and asylum seekers must be fairly distributed among all EU Member States. Furthermore a Europe-wide regulation should give asylum seekers the opportunity for self-preservation with legal work. The result would be a win-win-situation: potentials and capabilities would be used and asylum seekers would be self-sufficient.

Apart from the question of asylum I am strongly in favor of further EU expansion. In late 2013 the Commission featured EU enlargement reports, which show that despite the rampant enlargement fatigue we constantly achieve concrete progress especially as far as the countries of the Western Balkans are concerned. For me, the EU enlargement is not a one-way street, but stability in the Western Balkans is in the mutual interest of the European Union and the candidate countries. Without the involvement of the entire Western Balkans, the European peace project is not completed. At the same time, EU governments are in need of strong arguments towards their citizens regarding further enlargement. Any progress in the accession process depends on the fulfillment of the criteria by the candidate countries. In this context the decisive factors are of course the implementation of the rule of law, judicial reform and the fight against corruption.”

As a staunch advocate of further European integration, your party’s vision of a “United States of Europe” is admirable, but the question remains: how achievable is a federal Europe in 10-15 years and how can the EU make it doable?

And what would a federal EU look like and what would it accomplish compared to the EU we have now?

“The United States of Europe might be a remote vision, but you have to have a concrete goal to take the first step. It is not that important whether we achieve this goal within the next 10 or 15 years, but it is important that we go in this direction. The principles that underpin my vision of Europe are to oppose the current tendency of increasingly resorting to intergovernmentalism in European decision making which amounts to nothing more than bargaining between narrowly defined national interests. I strongly believe that the only real way forward is by making decisions based on the common interests of the European Union and its citizens. The steps that have to be taken in order to make this vision come true, are:

  • Establishment of a bi-cameral system at European level under which the federal, regional principle co-exists with that of the nation states, and within which the Council is re-modelled into a form of second chamber of representatives of national governments and which, together with the European Parliament, comprises the legislature.
  • Introduction of the full right of initiative for the European Parliament to enable it to propose legislation.
  • Introduction of European electoral lists for elections to a proportion of the seats in the European Parliament, with the leading candidates on the list running concurrently for election to the top positions within in the European Commission, thus campaigning for European voters’ support.
  • Election to the Commission through the European Parliament: The Commission should be elected directly by the European Parliament. The practice of governments nominating national politicians or granting them politically-motivated ‘promotions’ to the Commission must cease.
  • Shoring up of direct democracy through accessible European Citizens’ Initiatives, and introduction of Europe-wide referenda on European issues. European citizens should be able to determine their future in a united Europe themselves. However, this should not be achieved via national referenda where domestic party-politics and power games reign, but rather through Europe-wide ones: far-reaching steps towards integration should be determined via a double-majority mechanism, with proposals requiring a majority of both EU citizens and EU Member States to be in favour.
  • A Green New Deal and social rights that really deserve that name. I am convinced that the European Union must take a decisive step towards a federal structure, starting with a community method in social justice and in economic governance, with common fiscal policies and a larger budget that makes the desperately needed investment in education, in an ecological paradigm change towards an ecologically sustainable economy with renewables and energy efficiency possible.

Therefore a major revision of the EU treaties can no longer be avoided. As Greens/EFA group we demand that the Parliament starts (this is foreseen and possible under the Lisbon Treaty) the process for a new Convention, with broad involvement of parliamentarians and civil society.”

#ReclaimEurope and #VoteGreen this #EP2014! ;-)

 

Is nuclear fusion an alternative to renewable energy?

Posted by on 20/05/14

At the risk of destroying the basis of human civilisation Humanity must find ways and means for phasing out the use of fossil fuels before the end of the century. The EU aims at reaching that objective already for 2050.

Renewable energies – wind, sun, waves and tides – can do the job provided Humanity imposes substantial cuts on its energy consumption, which should be possible through a substantial increase of energy efficiency.

Renewable energies have benefited from rapid technological progress lowering production costs and making them almost competitive with fossil energies. But they continue to suffer from their inherent handicap of intermittence which can only be neutralised by big investments in energy storage.

The focus on energy efficiency and renewable energies has overshadowed the parallel effort to develop thermonuclear fusion for the generation of electricity which has been going on for more than 70 years

Copying the sun has made it possible to produce the hydrogen bomb. Why should it not alsobe possible to tame thermonuclear energy for the generation of electricity!

What appears simple in scientific terms poses huge engineering challenges. How to imitate the sun that contains the plasma by temperatures of 15 million degrees and very powerful gravitational pressures?

The basic answer lies in compressing deuterium and tritium hydrogen isotopes into helium through electromagnetism and much higher temperatures than in the sun,

For decades scientists have attempted to generate electricity this way.

In 1997 physicists at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy have succeeded to generate 16 MW, but with an a input of 24 MW.

It is only in February 2014 that US scientists have, for the first time, been able to obtain a slightly positive yield.

The most ambitious international scientific programme for peaceful nuclear fusion ever launched, the “International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor” (ITER) grouping USA, EU, Japan, Korea, India, China and Russia aims at generating fusion energy by 2028. It is extremely complex, due to diverging interests among the participants. In the fall of 2013 it was on the verge of breaking up when the US Senate refused to attribute additional financing after delays and cost- overruns, though the costs of €15 billion are only 10 times the cost of building one 500 MW off-shore wind park kin the North Sea.

Nobody is certain that by 2028 the gigantic machine will effectively generate more electricity than it consumes. But physicists will, in any case, be able to draw fertile lessons from their 15-year long cooperation.

And one day before the end of the century, they will most probably succeed.

When they do thermonuclear energy might become a crucial component of the future energy mix and contribute to the fight against climate change. The ultimate test will, however, not be the technical feasibility of a fusion reactor but the cost of generating thermonuclear electricity compared to much simpler and safer technologies.

Whatever the outcome of that research, thermonuclear fusion is unlikely to ever replace cost-effective technologies like wind, sun and waves.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 16/5/2014

How values dictate our use of the ‘precaution’ principle

Posted by on 17/05/14
The Risk-Monger shows that if the implementation of the precautionary principle were rational, then coffee would need to be banned. Fortunately, in this case, normative reflux steps in - our values and love of the benefits blinds us to the real risks and allows us to enjoy coffee despite the evidence.

New rules on organic labelling on the way

Posted by on 14/05/14

The organic sector must engage now with the institutions of the European Union if it is to secure the right outcome for new legislation on organic food.

With all the hype around the upcoming European Parliamentary election (even though many around Europe have not noticed) one might be forgiven to have missed the release at the end of March of a new proposed regulation on organic food production and the labelling of organic food products by the Commission.

This proposal is one born of the success of the industry over the last decade or so: despite an on-going economic crisis, the organic sector in the EU has grown fourfold, whilst the amount of land devoted to organic food production has doubled. So, the Commission has decided new regulation is needed to ensure the sustainable development of the industry. And while the average citizen will probably be unaware of this legislative development, the organic sector has certainly taken good notice and is gearing up to make its voice heard during the negotiations which will take place over the next few months.

I won’t go into too much detail on the proposals themselves – such detail tends not to make for an especially exciting column – but some of the suggested changes appear to be a welcome effort to clarify and harmonise rules. On the issue of organic production, for example, the Commission is looking to strengthen and harmonise the rules removing various exemptions and derogations that are currently allowed.

Similarly, in the field of official controls the Commission wants to reinforce the risk based approach, removing the requirement for a mandatory annual physical verification of compliance of all operators and increase transparency with regard to fees that may be collected for the controls.

Alongside the proposal, the Commission has published an action plan to support the growth of the organic farming sector, setting out the steps that will be taken over the next few years. These include the publication of a document presenting the rules applicable to organic production, processors and trade; the development of a system of electronic certification for import; and the development and implementation of an organic fraud prevention policy, among other measures.

Clarity and commitment to cut down on the sort of food fraud which can imperil the organic sector’s reputation is all welcome. But, some in the EU are uneasy that new rules may be far too burdensome and there are ominous rumblings from the two big EU powers, France and Germany, that they are particularly dissatisfied.

As ever with the EU though, don’t expect too much to happen too quickly – it is unlikely that the regulation will become law before the end of 2015. After being published, the proposal has been assigned for scrutiny to the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) which will not start working on it until next July at the very earliest.  After this scrutiny process the Council, which is made up of representatives from the 28 Member States, will then have its say.

The debate will start soon, so now is the time for the organic sector to start looking at this proposed law, its advantages and its disadvantages – and how they can influence its development, maximising opportunities and identifying threats.

Despite the criticisms which have already been leveraged against the proposal, this draft regulation and action plan can be seen as a vote of confidence from the European Commission in the EU’s organic sector – and given the millions of consumers who choose to buy organic products every day in Europe, why not?

Chris Whitehouse is Chairman of leading public affairs Consultancy www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk whose Food Regulation Team advise many organisations and businesses in the specialist food product sector. He is also Director of Strategy of consumer organisation Consumers for Health Choice www.consumersforhealthchoice.com and of the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance www.essna.com.

 

Political leadership in a new era

Posted by on 13/05/14
By Kaj Embren

IPCC. Drought. Storms. CO2 levels of 400 ppm. In 2014, climate change and sustainability moved from being distinct environmental concerns to becoming systematic welfare issues. Our traditional way of looking at the world as a collection of national economies can not continue. Policy decisions at the national level must be based on a different worldview – one that sees our world as a network of cities with climate change and sustainable community development at their heart. It is time to start 'Governing for Sustainability'.

Das Fracking in Deutschland. Vorbild für Europa?

Posted by on 12/05/14

Fracking – nein, danke! Öffentlichkeitswirksam haben sich die Umweltminister der Länder heute gegen die umstrittene Methode zur Gasförderung ausgesprochen. Allerdings zu sagen haben die Minister bei dem Thema wenig. Denn Fracking fällt unter das Bergrecht und damit in die Zuständigkeit der Wirtschaftsminister. Und derzeit bereiten die Wirtschaftsminister einiger Länder – allen voran Niedersachsen und Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – durch die Hintertür einen Einstieg in das Fracking in Deutschland vor.

Hintergrund sind ganz handfeste wirtschaftliche Gründe. Ganze 600 Millionen Euro bekommt zum Beispiel Niedersachsen Jahr für Jahr von der Erdgas-Industrie für den geförderten Rohstoff. Zum Vergleich: Das ist dreimal so viel wie der Anteil des Landes an VW wert ist. Pech ist nur, dass die Erdgasförderung in Deutschland seit Jahren sinkt und damit Industriestätten gefährdet sind. Das Fracking soll es jetzt herausreißen.

Dabei unterscheidet die Branche aber zwischen “gutem” und “schlechtem” Fracking. Das “gute” Fracking ist schon seit 1961 mehrfach in Niedersachsen durchgeführt worden und soll jetzt nach jahrelangem Moratorium in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern zum Einsatz kommen. Dabei geht es darum, dass Gas aus tiefen Sandsteinschichten herauszuspülen. Dieses Verfahren ist nicht so umweltschädlich wie das sogenannte “schlechte” Fracking in tiefem Schiefergestein, weil nicht so viele umweltschädliche Stoffe eingesetzt werden. Deshalb erwarten Niedersachsen und auch Mecklenburg-Vorpommern bei ihrem Vorstoß auch längst nicht den Gegenwind wie beim Schiefer-Fracking, gegen das sich die Umweltminister heute ausgesprochen haben.

Die Erdgas Lobbyisten bedienen sich auch der Ukraine-Krise, um ihre Anträge auf Fracking durchzusetzen. Doch das ist ein Argument, das nicht zieht. Die in Norddeutschland zu fördernden Gasmengen sind so gering, dass sie ganz sicher keine Alternative zum Import russischen Gases darstellen. In Deutschland wird Fracking deshalb immer eine Randerscheinung bleiben. In den USA und Kanada hingegen hat es in den vergangenen fünf Jahren einen solchen Boom gegeben, dass das prognostizierte weltweite Aus für Öl und Gas noch 20 bis 30 Jahre nach hinten verlagert wurde.

Trotzdem ist das Manöver durchsichtig: Industrie und Politik wollen den Fuß in der Tür behalten, um die Erdgasförderung in Deutschland zu legitimieren. Und die Umweltminister haben heute zwar Reformen beschlossen; jetzt muss sich allerdings zeigen, ob die Umweltinteressen die Wirtschaftsinteressen schlagen können. Für die sehr umtriebigen Bürgerinitiativen in Norddeutschland bedeutet das: Die Fracking-Gefahr ist noch längst nicht gebannt, auch wenn es völlig unrealistisch ist, dass in den kommenden Jahren in Norddeutschland mit dem Schiefer-Fracking begonnen wird. “Fracking – nein, danke” – das heutige Motto der Umweltminister wird Norddeutschland auch noch die kommenden Jahre bewegen.

How not to beat your wife: Precaution and the Pesticides Directive

Posted by on 05/05/14
The more the pesticides industry denies safety accusations, the more guilty they look. The erosion of trust is built into the precautionary blacklist game - a game the industry will never win.

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