Standing or Sitting
The fourth installment of EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) took place the week of March 22, mainly in Brussels but with satellite events throughout many of the 27 EU Member States. To this observer from Washington, the week's program evoked the old saw, "where you stand depends on where you sit." Brussels and Washington, sitting or standing, are definitely not in the same place.
Most intriguing this week have been the policy discussions, which were remarkable for their focus on practicality, hard-headed realism and general lack of polemic. This is not to suggest that policy differences are absent among the various EU constituencies (the European Parliament, the European Commission, the individual Member States, the various political groupings, industry sectors, etc.). Rather, it’s the underlying terms of reference for the policy debate itself — which seems geared toward "making Europe ready for more tomorrows instead of more yesterdays" as opposed to the exigencies of a 24-hour news cycle.
Thus, the discussion of renewable energy was premised on reducing Europe's vulnerability to imported energy (particularly natural gas from Russia), on seizing the competitive high ground in the low-carbon economy, and on creating jobs well beyond the current 550,000 renewable energy jobs. Energy efficiency was positioned as not so much a "green" agenda item as a social and economic well-being one. That is, research shows that workers are more productive, children learn more effectively, and everyone is healthier in energy-efficient buildings. Oh, and they save energy, reduce costs, and create jobs. Not much soft-hearted sentimentality there. Similarly, the climate change discussion is not about polar bears and weather. It’s about increasing desertification that could affect up to 250 million people in Africa and put additional demographic strains on the EU, which already faces manifold challenges in weaving its existing immigrant communities into the fabric of Europe.
This week in Brussels also featured a meeting of the European Council, the gathering of the 27 heads of national governments. There the discussion was centered on implementation of the EU's ambitious 20/20/20 goals (i.e., 20% greenhouse gas reduction, 20-percent of energy from renewables and 20-percent efficiency gains by 2020). With these initiatives generally on track, much of the buzz in the EUSEW meeting rooms was about upping the goals to 30% and planning more far-reaching goals for 2030 and 2050.
Another small, but telling, indication of how perspectives differ across the Atlantic can be found in the emergence of a new acronym in Europe – YIMFY. YIMFY ("yes, in my front yard") denotes widespread acceptance of distributed renewable energies. Although public opinion polls consistently show similar high levels of approval for renewables in the United States, we tend to hear only NIMBY and BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything), never YIMFY.
"Take a week to change tomorrow" is one of the logos for EUSEW, and it does nicely capture the spirit. Standing or sitting, it's an interesting view.