Brief summary of discussions on the Environment

David Ratcliff

(n.b. These notes are as accurate as my limited technical German (and sometimes helpful translators) would allow. Because of the vastness of the venue it was not always possible to determine who was speaking. DR)

Is after the crisis before the crisis?

Podium debate by Sigmar Gabriel MP (Party Chair) - Berlin
Sven Giegold MEP - Düsseldorf
Prof. Dr. Ulrich Brand, political scientist - Vienna.
Moderator: Angela Elis - Freiberg.

Ecology and Economy are linked so what type of crisis was it that erupted in 2008? It was different and not just a dip in our "organism". We need to make changes e.g. change to prioritise quality of life over global capitalism which itself must have stronger rules. We are over using resources.

In the past we have not taken things seriously enough - we cannot just point finger and it's not enough to feel shocked. There is a structural crisis and ultimately democracy could be at risk if we do not control the system.

A member of the German Green party claimed that we need to reorganise our wealth model. Amongst the European decision-makers there is a strong majority in favour of regulation. We should block toxic investments and control the stock market. It was stated that in Germany people are less afraid of debt (€82 billion in Germany) than they are of inflation.

Other speakers reminded us that we have an excessive life style. What can we do? One suggestion was a tax on investments, and not to use nuclear energy means 100% use of renewable energies.

Questions asked by the audience.
  • How can we have a life that is less demanding on nature and non renewable resources?
  • We spend billions on saving banks so why not as much on the environment?
  • How do we define progress and sustainable growth?
  • What does a fair climate policy look like?

Some of the answers.

We need reminding that there are different types of labour - not just paid for work! A redistribution of labour would help resolve the financial and ecological crisis. Private investment should be directed towards renewable energies.

We need educating to buy products that are "green". Everybody can make a contribution. But how can we apply global answers to global questions? We failed in Copenhagen. A lot of good intentions are suffocated by self interest.

What will save the climate - technology or lifestyles?

Podium Debate by Pref. Dr. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, ecologist - Emmendingen
Dr. Nafisa Goga D'Souza, Director, Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change - Visakhapatnam, India
Claudia Langer, founder - Munich
Dr. Kurt Christian Scheel, Director, Department for Climate and Sustainable Development, Federation of German Industry (BDI) - Berlin.
Moderator: Dr. Susanne Dröge, Berlin.

How can we prevent ourselves becoming more "dirty?" Both technology and changes to lifestyle are needed. Dr. W. has been in America for some years and feels that they do not wish to change their lifestyle. However if we Google "Blue Economy" (e.g. ) we shall see how changes in thinking are happening. We could become five times more efficient than we now are; e.g. cement can be made from volcanic ash; e.g. we can reach our destinations using one fifth of our CO2. We need to use LEDs more (as in this hall. In food and textiles we can often get an increase of five times.

On housing, one speaker said that various political things can be done. Use of renewable resources must be made cheaper but the state has to be sure that new developments become more profitable and hopefully become export items. We need to raise energy prices and have an eco-tax such as that in Germany from 1990 - 2003 and then stopped. Investors and Consumers worldwide must gear themselves towards sustainability. Can we become pioneers? Companies are trying to live up to their responsibilities e.g. in lighting and ventilation systems. But we must have a fair sharing of the burdens. Climate saving will cost money! The problem is that consumers often react erratically - small price increases produce no response but big ones do.

Dr. D'Souza reminded us that 56% of the population in rural India had no electricity. India need not follow the pattern of the West but they need support from us in making sustainable energy. She said that Indian politicians are looking for an annual growth of 9% GDP and that this is non-negotiable. This is what the West has followed so how can India do it without using fossil fuels? The future is bleak. Profit comes first. There is a long way to go. What happened in Germany is important. In India a large percentage of people live on less than $2 a day and these people need scope to improve their lives.

Dr. von Weizsäcker asked why we were sending experts to India on how to build coal-fired power stations when we should be sending experts in alternative energy systems? India is caught up like China in a dichotomy in its development. He also said that Europeans in the USA had a reputation for "romanticism" and talked of "the crazy values of the Germans". The USA is more concerned about the shareholders.

Claudia Langer spoke of the hard work needed to help people change. When you can fly at the cost of a taxi fare that is a political failure. Things get easier when political leaders make ecological prices viable. A step by step change is needed.

How will we ride into the future? Examples and visions of low-resource mobility.

Prof. Dr. Hermann Knoflacher, transport planner - Vienna
Dr. Rüdiger Grube, CEO Deutsche Bahn - Berlin
Prof. Dr. Heiner Monheim, geographer and town planner - Trier
Dr. Peter Ramsauer MP, Federal Transport Minister - Berlin
Maximilian Schöberl, Head of Corporate Communication and Policy BMW - Munich
Dr. Stefan Ark Nitsche, Bishop and theatre producer - Nuremberg.
Moderation: Mattias Kiefer, Munich.

Opening Remarks:

Great mistakes have been made in the past. There is much more mobility, transport and speed. There is more HP in cars - but in our heads? In Germany there are more cars and fewer children! Modesty is needed and a rediscovery of our capacity as pedestrians.

Dr. Ramsauer said that rural areas are as important as urban - there are too many small towns without railways. We do not just need high-speed trains. Public transport in rural areas needs to be tackled more aggressively. Car transport in Germany is actually decreasing and more cycling is taking place. But road transport overall is due to grow 20% in 15 years and the road network cannot cope. Mobility in the future is smart-networking. The German railway reform in 1994 was a great success. We need an overall policy for transport. "Utopia" takes many years to implement - we need long sighted strategies.

However, we were reminded that in Germany 100 million are employed by the car industry. The problem is that electric cars can currently only go 100-150 Kms. But there is no way of avoiding transportation. Everything, even food, is poisonous in high dosages including fuel. Why not in future build private car parking facilities further away from people's homes!

(Note: Sadly I had to leave part way through this fascinating debate to take part in a service elsewhere in the city.)