Extreme Temperature Diary- Sunday December 17th, 2023/Main Topic: Insight into Politics That May Stop Europe’s Green Transition

Opinion | How to Stop the Biggest Threat to Europe’s Green Transition – The New York Times (nytimes.com)


How to Stop the Biggest Threat to Europe’s Green Transition

For years, the European Union has been laying the foundation for what may be the world’s most ambitious climate policy: the European Green Deal, which puts Europe out in front in the global fight against climate change. This formidable bundle of policies steers countries to build renewable energy resources, find ways to improve energy efficiency and significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

But now, the Green Deal is in peril as a school of thought that frames the green transition as an elitist plot against ordinary people gains followers in Europe. It’s a political strategy that is potent in the moment but is bound to fail in the long run.

In Italy, the hard-right government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has called the Green Deal “climate fundamentalism” and is trying to soften it. In Sweden, a center-right minority coalition dependent on the hard-right Sweden Democrats has cut the climate budget. The autocrats in power in Hungary who have long battled Europe’s green policies have much in common with ultranationalists in Slovakia, who tried (but failed) to appoint a climate-change denier as environment minister.

And in Germany, members of the hard right and conservatives recently forced the beleaguered Green Party to accept much-diluted legislation to phase out home heating systems that run on fossil fuels. The hard-right Alternative for Germany, alongside the Christian Democrats, impugned the Greens’ “impoverishment program” as a “heating massacre” that would force Germans to sell their houses. The cacophony was no doubt music to the ears of Germany’s gas lobby, which is worried about new subsidies and rules to encourage a switch from gas heat and air conditioning to heat pumps that may eventually make the gas grid unnecessary.

These setbacks for the Green Deal can in large part be traced to the influence of the hard right’s campaigns against climate measures in Europe and beyond. And the arguments seem to resonate in part because the climate provisions unnerve people facing high living costs and turbulent times.

But the assault underway on Europe’s climate strategy would be unthinkable were it not for middle-of-the-road conservative parties, many of which previously stood behind environmental legislation. For example, the European Parliament’s conservative European People’s Party, once an advocate of rigorous climate policies, recently voted with the hard right to scale back new standards for commercial farming and vehicle emissions and to weaken a law to restore nature. Today, conservatives across the region believe there’s more to be won obstructing climate policies alongside the hard right than supporting them.

In part, this shift in European conservatism is a response to a vibrant hard right that has managed to tie climate legislation to effete, urban liberals. In France, for example, President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a “European regulatory break” on climate issues was a reaction to the hard-right National Rally party, which has attacked climate policy to woo rural voters.

Mainstream conservatives are aligning themselves with the hard-right movement to coax back disgruntled voters. Conservatives are also betting that there will be a political payoff in fanning a fear of change in the form of new laws that require the government and citizens to invest in climate-friendly technology. They’re right that anxiety exists. Even in my progressive circles in Berlin there is plenty of apprehension about the financial implications of Germany’s heating law.

But the conservatives are wrong about something. In the longer term, they have nothing to win and much to lose in obstructing the hard-won progress in Europe on climate protection. A 2022 study found that mainstream parties’ adoption of more authoritarian-nationalist positions doesn’t curb the hard right but strengthens it. And one need look no further than immigration to see that borrowing from the hard right can not only popularize its feckless positions but also propel those parties in elections while its centrist imitators bleed votes. The hard-right Alternative for Germany, for example, has surged when the democratic parties ape its jingoism on immigration. And when the hard right’s conspiracy theories and tactics prevail, they render democratic politics — and thus a sensible conservatism — unviable.

There’s plenty of room for establishment conservatives to make a fundamentally conservative case for the Green Deal and other environmental policies, such as the protection of biodiversity. Christian conservatives could, as Pope Francis does, drive home the point that this planet and all of its inhabitants are God’s creation, that humans have no permit to ravage. The idea that we must act with future generations in mind, rather than just in our own immediate interest, is thoroughly conservative. If conservatives feel that Europe’s climate action is flawed, then they have to do it better, not assign themselves to irrelevance by protesting from the sidelines.

And, lastly, conservatives should come to grips with the fact that climate breakdown is already changing our lives and will do so more palpably as temperatures creep up. If we act now, we can soften and adapt to those changes rather than suffer through them. One way or another, change is coming: The more we manage now, the less we and our children will have to in the future.

Conservatives would be wise to join democrats of all stripes against the hard right to make the case that we possess the science and technology to stem global warming. We don’t need a miracle but rather accelerated action on the Green Deal, the new agreements coming out of COP28 climate talks in Dubai and other plans around the world. If, however, mainstream politicians want only to score cheap political points, it will undermine our chances of halting the planet’s collapse.

Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based writer.

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