State of the Union 2021: Column by Heleen Ekker
29 Sep 2021 - 17:13

European Green Deal or Dream?

Column by Heleen Ekkers, Climate and energy journalist at De Nederlandse Omroep Stichting (NOS)

Many younger colleagues have asked me the same question in de weeks since the presentation of the latest report of the UN Climate Panel IPCC: can you still sleep well, when you are always busy with topics about the climate? My answer is always the same: as adults we have a duty to be optimistic.

And my youngest daughter said to me a while ago: Mom, are you stìll dealing with that climate? Haven’t you fixed that yet? Why is so little happening?

Of course I sometimes ask myself the same question. In a few weeks I will leave to Glasgow, for the climate conference. It will be my sixth worldwide COP-climate conference as a journalist, since 2009. En ever since then Green House Gas Emissions have been rising, except for a small dip because of Covid last year.

The solution to the climate problem fits in only one short sentence: greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to zero, and quickly!

Which brings me to the observation that politicians often do not communicate well enough about this theme. On the one hand, politicians say: it is a huge problem, there is a climate emergency, a climate crisis. Many climate experts agree with them. Off-the-record, they regularly talk about their concerns to me. They are often disappointed in politics and the lack of effective measures. And they are very concerned about the possible irreversibility of the effects. Such as an ice-free North Pole, the accelerated melting of the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica, or the increasingly extreme weather. Other politicians tend more to downplay the problem or to point out the costs and effects on companies.

Sometimes I think politicians are making the problem more complicated than it is, strangely enough. Because… the solution to the climate problem fits in only one short sentence: greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to zero, and quickly!

But then, of course, it only begins. Because everything we see around us, even now, the desk where your computer is located, the chair you sit on, all the stuff around you, everything is made with fossil fuels. Mankind therefore has to reinvent itself, some people say. And quickly!

When I think of my three daughters, who I hope will have reached the age of fifty, as I have now, halfway through this century – when the goals of the climate law and the European Green Deal have been achieved, then I see a world in which life …

… actually just looks like it does to us. They will drive in an electric car (my husband and I have been doing that for a year now), and – all right - flying is no longer an option except for essential flights. Their houses have thick windows and are comfortably well insulated. The facades and roofs are covered with solar cells, and there are perhaps as many windmills in their field of view as electricity pylons now. They don't eat meat anymore – but at the age of now 15, 19 and 20 years old, they already are vegetarians; as moreover is my 91-year old father already his whole life is (I am not).

And then they work with computers, they buy stuff, hopefully fall in love and possibly have children, all just like us. The items are only produced in a different way, but they don't notice that themselves. My youngest daughter then says to her old mother, I imagine: your generation spoke so very complicated about that ‘climate-thing’. And anonymous tweeps will say on twitter: just like about that hole in the ozone layer, you don't hear anyone about the climate anymore. You see, it was all one big hoax!

I hope that by then 'the duty to optimism' becomes a ‘voluntarily belief in optimism’

So I sometimes think: politicians should communicate better about climate change, and about stopping emissions as soon as possible, pro-actively from the Haque and Brussels; explain well and frequently why it is necessary and how it can be done.

Because if there's one thing that has surprised me so much over the past 15 years, it's how politicians at the global climate summits where I were, keep passioned speeches about the climate, and continue to support the fossil fuel sector when they return home.

Not for a short while, for a short clearly defined transition period, but for years, for decades. And the implicit message that this emanates to a large audience.

Someone from our audience, the audience of the NOS, wrote to me this summer: ”If it really was as bad as science says, then the government would have taken action long ago.” He responded to the report of climate scientists that there ìs a link between the floods in Limburg, Belgium, Germany and the climate.

So yes, politicians have to fix this. Europe has its Green Deal. And can go to Glasgow with a good story. Thinking logically, the problem will certainly be solved, because we cannot leave this earth. New floods and other nasty developments may first be needed – and I heard the Dutch politician Jan Terlouw saying on television recently: hopefully these will only be minor disasters, - but in the end everyone who matters will take action, I am convinced of that.

And I hope that by then 'the duty to optimism' becomes a ‘voluntarily belief in optimism’.

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