Saturday, 26 March 2011

Is Environmentalism Really Working?

The Germans are a famously and frighteningly obedient race. Whereas most British people outside of the Guardianista brigade maintain a healthy scepticism about environmental issues, and acquiesce only reluctantly to government manipulation, it seems that Germans have embraced eco-living with gusto.

For example, according to a recent article in Der Spiegel,
The Germans are obsessed with saving water. You won't find many countries north of the Sahara that are as water-conscious as Germany. They save water while washing dishes (a modern dishwashing machine uses only six liters per cycle), while going to the toilet (many toilets have a setting that allows only a brief flush), and even when washing their cars.

The Environment Ministry recommends that people turn off the tap while they're brushing their teeth. Saving water, the ministry's web page strongly hints, helps poor countries to irrigate their paddy fields.
Yet Germany is one of the world's most water-rich countries -- it could theoretically consume five times more water than it does now. Furthermore, it's impossible to transport tap water over thousands of kilometers, so German thrift [doesn't] help Vietnamese rice farmers [one] bit.
I recently wrote about the unintended consequences of recycling. Most government interventions have unintended consequences, but they seem especially common and dramatic when motivated by environmental concerns. This is partly because the biosphere is a complex system that is still poorly understood, and partly because the quasi-religious nature of environmentalism precludes rational debate.

The Spiegel article has many examples, including the impact of German tap discipline:
water conservation in Germany can be harmful -- particularly when it comes to the sewage systems beneath German cities. The lack of waste water flowing through the canalization means that fat, faeces and discarded food aren't getting flushed out enough, and are corroding the walls. To compensate, utilities are forced to pump hundreds of thousands of liters of fresh water through the system to keep it operable.
Good for a chuckle. Until you think about what these zealots would impose on the rest of us. According to the article, "EU authorities are considering setting water flow-through limits in shower heads". We can't expect any sensible resistance from the German politicians. The article explains that "all the serious political parties devote large parts of their policy programs to environmental policy":
There is no issue that produces such unanimity among the parties. A proposal to increase tax credits for employees led to weeks of political debate, while the 2009 European Union ban on conventional light bulbs was approved without a single debate in parliament. As soon as the word environment is mentioned in any policy initiatives, all discussion becomes redundant.
With Cameron's Conservatives bending over backwards to appeal to indoctrinated young eco-freaks, we face a similar situation in the UK.

The entire Spiegel article, though imperfectly translated, is well worth reading. It is written by environmentalists who remain concerned about such totemic issues as carbon emissions and nuclear power, but who have come to question the naive, knee-jerk approach that has characterised environmental intervention so far:
The frequency with which environmental policies backfire should give pause for thought. Biofuels were meant to protect the environment and combat global warming -- in fact it destroys rainforests and causes greater CO2 emissions than conventional fuel.

Saving water was meant to protect natural resources, but it just drives up water bills. Banning the light bulb was seen as a milestone on the path to carbon neutral living in Europe -- but China has been cranking up its mercury production to satisfy demand for the alternative energy saving bulbs.

In the fight to protect the environment, it may be time to pause and ask oneself: what is really helping, and what isn't? And to admit at times: sorry, we were wrong. But it doesn't work like that. Environmentalism knows no doubt. The idea is never wrong, the problem is always in the implementation.

And so it will continue. Additional rubbish containers will be introduced, for different types of rubbish. The EU will ban the stand-by function on electronic appliances to reduce energy consumption -- even though engineers know this reduces product lifespans.

At some point, only electrical cars will fulfil environmental requirements, but the electricity will have to come from somewhere -- maybe French or Czech nuclear power stations?

Ordinary people will put up with all this patiently, what else can they do? It all serves the environment, and no one can object to that.

No comments:

Post a Comment