This was originally published on 25 August 2010 when the European Commission was slow out of the starting blocks in even pretending they were going to address climate change. A decade later and their climate comb-over is still ridiculous and unfashionable. Sadly little of the content of this blog needed to be changed two Commissions later: the rhetoric is still resolute, actions incoherent and only the names have changed. The incoming European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, has made tackling climate change her main priority. Really? Time for a trip to my hair salon.
I consider climate change like my receding hair-line. Every morning I look in my sink and see more hair. It concerns me as I know something bad is coming, but a quick reassuring check in the mirror tells me that things are still fine and any crisis is still far off. Of course, if I woke up tomorrow and half of my hair were in the sink, I would indeed feel more compelled to act. But more than being afraid and acting irrationally in a state of urgency and panic (literally pulling the rest of my hair out!), what could I then do?
When facing massive catastrophic hair-loss, what solutions are there?
The Elton John Solution
Hair science is promising solutions which could give me hope, but in the end are inadequate, too early, cost too much and could worsen the overall situation.
The Snake-oil Salesman Solution
I could try to take special foods and use tonics or oils to slow the rate of hair-loss. This would make me feel good that I am doing something, but the effectiveness of the remedies are debatable and my vulnerability can be easily exploited.
The Comb-over Solution
I can pretend I am doing something about it just by moving hair around, but in the end, I am only trying to deceive others in the hope they will not look more closely.
The Bruce Willis Solution
I could be strong, accept it and crop my photos (please don’t go to my About page) or shave my head and call it sexy while spending my time worrying about things I can do that can actually make a difference.
Let’s be like Bruce
On climate change, the Bruce Willis solution makes the most sense. We have to face the facts that as the planet is on a warming trend and, for whatever reason, we should do our best to adapt to the coming changes. I think Bjørn Lomborg is one of the few taking the proper path here.
Western developed countries can adapt to the potential climate shifts more easily (some economies may actually benefit from a warmer climate) so we would need to do the most we can now to help poorer, more vulnerable regions to develop and become stronger. But we are not channelling any significant amount of money to help poorer countries. In most cases, I fear we are doing less now than when we were not afraid of climate change.
Instead, we are funding projects to try to stop the sun and oceans from warming. Man is declaring war on climate change – yes, man is going to stand up and save the planet – throwing everything we have at the sun and the oceans. This has the makings of either a Greek tragedy or a comic farce (given that man is represented by the United Nations, I suspect comic farce is more apt).
So rather than Bruce Willis, we have the Elton John solution.
The reality is that most of man’s clever and expensive ideas (electric cars, photovoltaics, battery technologies …) in most cases emit more CO2 cumulatively than they save. If these attempts to rescue the planet and stop the sun had been looked at rationally and from an economic perspective, (and contrasted to our using these funds instead to help alleviate poverty and disease in developing countries), we would have looked more like Bruce and less like Elton.
Then there are the snake-oil salesmen, preying on the vulnerable and afraid who will try anything to find a solution. By putting the word “green” in front of nouns like industry, chemistry or economy, fly-by-nighters come in and try to make a quick kill before we catch on to the shallowness of their solutions.
We feel good showing off our green trinkets and consumer items as others, usually poorer people, pay for our “environmental concern”. Can computers or cars ever really be sustainable or climate-friendly? I have been looking for a good definition of sustainable, but I am lost as every noun it modifies is usually something quite unsustainable: sustainable energy, sustainable firewood, sustainable tourism…
Sustainable snake-oil is what we have, given that our fears of cataclysmic climate change leave us vulnerable to market predators. I think the European Commission should set up a DG or create a unit in SecGen to police the market exploitation of ‘green innovations’.
The EU’s Commission’s Horrid Comb-over
Instead, the European Commission has decided to take the comb-over approach to climate change – pretending to do something and hiding as much as possible. The problem I have with people who opt for comb-overs is not the sadness of their pretending, but rather, that they think others are too stupid to notice.
So we see Commissioner Hedegaard’s team – no evident climate scientists or technology experts, but many secretaries and drivers (Drivers??? Surely they mean Cuistax drivers!). The Climate Change website has been under revision (SINCE FEBRUARY!) as has Hedegaard’s site. (RM note: This blog was written in 2010 almost a year after Hedegaard was proposed as the Climate Action Commissioner.) Then there are cute games and links to other sites. This is pretending at its finest. The people who decided to call the DG “Climate Action” must have looked in the mirror and thought this comb-over was well done. Are we that stupid?
The European Commission then has chosen the comb-over approach; European industry is finding new markets for snake-oil; and we have chosen the Elton John approach of spending a lot and often making things worse. The only thing that everyone agrees on is that man is powerful enough to take on the sun and oceans.
No one has the courage to be like Bruce. I guess it is Yippie-Ki-Yay for developing countries.
Cover image: American Hustle