The Alpensymposium in Interlaken is always a meeting point for interesting people from politics and industry and offers a good opportunity to get different views from both sides. German politician Wolfgang Bosbach, a member of the CDU party for over 40 years and in the Bundestag for 20 years, and Swiss entrepreneur Viktor Meier, co-founder of the start-up Glice (which makes environmentally friendly artificial ice rinks) had different viewpoints on the influence of industry on green political decisions. It becomes clear that politicians ultimately base their choices not on what is best for environmental sustainability, but for the economy.
Supporting electric mobility
When asked about the German government’s support of electric cars, Bosbach explains that the motivation is two-fold. First and foremost, they want to promote technologies that are not dependent upon fossil fuels, since they are a huge burden to the environment. The more electric cars there are on the roads, the more we reduce the environmental impact. In addition, there is an over-production of energy in Germany, largely due to the increase in renewable energy technologies, which the country does not need. Some of this surplus energy is exported, but it can also be used to charge car batteries. This would be a sensible way of using the excess energy created by renewable technologies. But are electric cars really as environmentally friendly as believed, when the whole life cycle is taken into consideration? Read this post to find out more.
Wind power or wildlife protection?
Offshore wind parks create strong vibrations that disrupt the natural behaviour of marine mammals. Should these animals be left to suffer so that we can consume more renewable energy? Bosbach admits he wonders how silently these wind parks can be constructed, that apparently environmental protection takes a partial sidestep to allow for these parks to be built in the name of promoting renewable energies. There have and always will be demonstrations against new concepts; Bosbach remembers the anti-nuclear power activists, who insisted on more investment in the use of wind power, among other renewable energy sources. Today there is at least as much headwind regarding wind park construction as there are supporters. To find out more about the effects of noise pollution on marine wildlife, read this post from January.
Are governments not serious enough about environmental protection?
Environmental scandals seem to be toned down in order to protect the companies behind them, the government’s role in Fukushima and more recently the German automobile company, where the state of Niedersachsen holds a share of more than 20 percent, come to mind. Environmental protection is of much higher importance today than it was 15 or 20 years ago, says Bosbach. However, there are certain governments where this topic has a lower priority than in other regions. Unfortunately it is a fact that although strong agreements are reached in order to better protect the environment, as seen recently in Paris, the ability or will to observe and police the implementation of these decisions are often inadequate. Frequently decisions are made based on short term outcomes, rather than considering the long term effects, and economic influences often outweigh environmental concerns in the name of growth and stability. The wish to preserve and increase jobs predominates in order to maintain social security and needs to be financed, which is why a strong, competitive national economy is needed. Viktor Meier seems more appalled at this type of behaviour, and believes all means available should be used to eliminate it.
Reducing air pollution
A recent Max-Plank-Institute study shows that air pollution, especially from car exhaust fumes, leads to earlier deaths among 160,000 people this year. If Germany is truly dedicated to environmental protection, shouldn’t Volkswagen have been building actual green cars, after all the subsidies they received? Here Bosbach agrees that it was an industry-political catastrophe – not only for VW, but for the topic of honesty and trust. The product “Made in Germany” has lost some credibility. Germany likes to see itself at the forefront of environmental technologies, so this was a hard blow. Both American and European consumers are correct to say that they feel betrayed, and it is this loss of trust that is the real problem, says Bosbach.
Switzerland, says Viktor Meier, could easily afford to switch to hybrid-only technology or at least set extremely high standards. It might take two to three years for the economy to adjust, but afterwards Switzerland would be the new Silicon Valley of Ecotech. Meier is convinced it would pay out in the long run, environmentally and financially, and Switzerland would set an example for the whole world.
Wouldn’t it be wise to invest more in early stage start-up companies, since the lack of funds is why great ideas might actually never make it to market? Bosbach certainly agrees, but it is often hard to prioritise. Meier offers an insight into his own experience. Despite having a proof of concept, they received next to no financial support from institutes or banks. When banks proclaim “We support start-ups,” Meier says it isn’t true most of the time, so they should either stop advertising it or actually do what they say. When a company is getting started, they are so preoccupied with their product that there is hardly any time to deal with the bureaucratic process of applying for money. In his view, this needs to be simplified and increased in Switzerland.
The USA a world leader in suing foreign firms and institutes, be it banks, the FIFA, or VW. Shouldn’t we also be able to sue firms and countries whose environmental damage affects large parts of the world? Bosbach points out that the US government goes after not only foreign firms, but also national ones. Germany and Switzerland, however, have no legal foundation, as far as he knows, to sue another country. Meier, on the other hand, believes in a market economy. If air had a price, and nature had a price, and market forces were allowed to play out, then it would be evident that when nature is harmed, there would be financial damage for the earth. Hence, somebody should be liable for it. Nature cannot defend itself, that’s why we have to do something about it.