19 december 2019

[4C Note: The following column, tranlated by us, appeared in the Dutch business daily Financieel Dagblad of December 19.]


René ten Bos, Financieel Dagblad, 19 December 2019

Last week we were again shocked by large numbers. Frans Timmermans’ plan to make Europe climate neutral requires 100 billion euros of investments. Somewhere I even found an amount of 273 billion. I never know what such amounts signify. Figures with a great many zeros are alienating.

Predictably, there were vivid reactions to this Green Deal. On the one hand, people were saying that something was finally happening and that Europe was getting moving with something it should have begun yesterday or the day before yesterday.

On the other hand, some are saying that the European administrators are a bunch of dangerous crackpots who want to control our lives down to the smallest details. They maintain that the ecological utopia that is promised us will degenerate to an ecological dystopia. And: pretty soon we’ll all be ecorexia patients: as unhappy as we are sustainable.

It reminds me of former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. When asked about the importance of sustainability in the 1980s, he replied that it could not be the goal of civilization for us all to live as cave dwellers.

That all this climate stuff is divisive is clear. But it continues to amaze me how such large number take discussions hostage. A hundred billion! But whoever thinks that €100 billion or €273 billion ia a lot ought to look at the investments in the fossil fuel industry. The largest investment banks put far more intothe further exploitation of oil and gas fields than the amount cited by Timmermans.

In October, The Guardian cited an amount of €700 billion. This was only the investments of the banks. What the industry itself, or the governments, put into new techniques is much more.

At the beginning of this month, the Global Gas & Oil Network published a report which asserted that in the next five years, the industry itself planned to invest more that $1400 billion. If I’m not mistaken, that 12 times what Europe wants to invest. So comparatively, Timmermans’ Green Deal is small beer.

A glance at these amounts makes you pause at the real power relations in our world.

If it true that the planet is on fire, as some stubbornly assert, then Europe is sending a miniature fire engine to deal with it. The investors, in a continuing seizure of pyromania, prefer to throw more oil on the fire.

And Timmermans, according to this logic, is only a miserable and inadequate fireman instead of a totalitarian monster.

René ten Bos is Professor of Philosophy at Radboud University in Nijmegen.

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