The forthcoming international meeting on the Green Deal in Sofia on October 15 provokes thoughts about the future.
Over the last twenty years or so, we got used to such thoughts being rather gloomy. This was not surprising, given the circumstances: financial crisis, debt crisis, migrant crisis, populists, pandemic, forest fires, floods… In Europe there was talk of a “leadership deficit”. European leaders were being unfavourably compared to their illustrious predecessors of the second half of the 20th century. Prophecies about the “end of Europe” proliferated, helping along various anti-European politicians roaming around the Old Continent.
There seems to be such a thing as inaction fatigue. To everyone’s surprise, cornered by the COVID-19 crisis, united Europe did not react in the expected lacklustre and ineffective manner. On the contrary. Something happened “at the top” and, for the first time in a generation, we witnessed the European Union react in a clear, decisive and – let’s be honest – courageous way. The Green Deal was pitted against all crises that undermine the meaning of the Union, and invested in it not only various solutions to various challenges, but such a solution as to open the gateway to a more decent and comfortable way of living.
In essence, what we are looking at is a revolution in the lives of the Europeans or, as the European Commission would put it, “a transformation of the EU economy and society to achieve climate goals”. This is impressive for anyone who has followed European affairs long enough. Until recently, we all remember, the reaction to most crises was: “We will implement policies that will make your lives worse, but that’s how we’ll solve the crisis.” Today we witness the opposite logic: “To solve the climate crisis, we will implement policies that will save nature, and at the same time, they will make everyone’s life better.”
The goal of the EU’s Green Transition is clear: to make Europe the first non-polluting continent by 2050. The proposed path to this goal is interesting. Instead of the usual fines, production and income cuts, the continent intends achieve its goal by launching a third industrial revolution. This is the revolution, under which production will no longer destroy the natural environment by plundering it of resources and dumping waste back in it. One example would be taking water out of a river for industrial needs and then dumping polluted water back into the same river.
The unexpected decisiveness of the Green Deal enjoys the support of the majority of the Europeans because, unlike previous policies, it is based on common sense – on things that are obvious to the general public.
What, for example, is difficult to understand in the intention to achieve a “fully electrified industry”? It’s clear – the point is that the energy will not be produced from fuel oil, diesel or coal, but from electric engines. It is also clear where the electricity will come from, so that it won’t pollute: from the sun, wind and tides. Half of Europe already uses such “clean” electricity, including households.
Such measures not only generate new jobs, but also a more comfortable life for the workers. They, unlike several generations of Europeans, will enjoy clean water and clean air. They will feed on healthy soil products, and their children will be able to grow up enjoying nature, building up resistance against future pandemics.
What I believe is extremely impressive is theGreen Deal’s ambition not only to reduce pollution, but to turn it around – to begin, within a relatively short time, the restoration of the natural and, therefore, human habitat.
For two generations, the sign of a rich society was thought to be the conspicuous waste of resources. If you return glass bottles to the grocery store, then you live in a poor society. If you do not return them – then you are rich. Violating the principles of the “circular”, i.e. common sense economy, has led to outright absurdities, threatening the lives of people who see themselves as part of a rich society. What, for example, happens to the mountains of biological waste generated by millions-strong herds of domestic animals? In the circular agriculture, which the EU wants to restore today, these mountains turn, after a series of procedures, into fertilizer for agricultural crops. In the last decades, however, this waste has simply been dumped in nature, poisoning everything around it. Instead of organic, chemical fertilizer is used, and its production causes additional poisoning of the natural environment. The chemical fertilizer depletes the soil and destroys the bees, which in turn puts future crops at risk.
Where is the logic in such a waste? There are two logics: financial (it is cheaper, or so it seems) and elitist – it looks “wealthier”.
People gradually have gotten used to the fact that elitist logic is no logic at all. They already accept the logic of the Green Transition. The situation is more complicated for industrialists, and this is where the EU comes in, offering them huge funds so that they can switch to circular production without loss of revenue.
This is pure common sense, shaped by EU institutions into understandable policies with a clear goal: better life in a healthy environment. This time, as it is not a panic reaction to a crisis, but a thorough strategy of change, the European Commission has declared a guiding principle that is to be implemented in all policies: “No one will be left behind”. There will be no victims and winners, as there have been for too long. This time, it’s about real policy that serves the common good, the good of all.
The spirit of Europe is being revived by the courage not to hide from crises, but to use them as opportunities.
Where are we, the Bulgarians, in all of this? For now, we look at all this with apprehension. Although, for example, thousands of households and companies are already switching to their own production of electricity from solar panels, on the national level there is seems to be some political determination to keep the coal-fired power plants and the mines that service them. The Green Transition is presented as an impending danger, as lurking poverty, instead of focusing on the opportunities for systematic improvement of the quality of life. There are even calls to boycott the Green Transition in order to remain wedded to coal in the shadow of coal chimneys typical of the 19th century.
At the beginning of the 20th century, horse carriage manufacturers reacted similarly to the appearance of automobiles. They protested. They boycotted. They published appeals and manifestos. Today, however, we do not drive horse carriages, but cars. And more and more of them have electric engines.
It is worth noting that in general, before political talk intervenes, Bulgarians are ready to take part in the Green Transition. In the last decade and a half, study after study has demonstrated this. Answering the question “Do you support the protection of Bulgarian nature even if it is at the expense of economic growth?”, between 70 and 85 percent of the respondents say “Yes”. That is to say, the majority of the people want “green” policies, even if such policies lead to a deterioration of their living standards. Today, this is not even the case. Exactly the opposite is the case: a restoration of the natural environment concurrent with an improvement in people’s lives.
This underlying “green” attitude of Bulgarians must be mobilized once the plan is presented and the implementation of the policies of the Green Deal begin. The fact that Bulgarian politicians, statesmen, public figures and the media have not yet done so is a sign of a great lack of responsibility.
Let this conversation – the conversation about a better future for all of us, for our children and our children’s children – begin now.