Rhein on Energy and Climate

Mankind is exposed to two mortal addictions: smoking and burning fossil energy.

In recent years Europe and other industrialised countries have started coming to grips with them while emerging countries have seen both addictions worsen.

Germany is a case in point for a successful campaign against the two plagues.

Within two decades the number of cigarettes sold has halved from 150 to 76 billion. This stunning development is attributable to civil society campaigns and a doubling of excise taxes.

People have progressively realised that smoking is mortal. Advertising for cigarettes has been prohibited. Teenagers can no longer admire their film stars smoking on the screen. Smoking has been made practically impossible within closed doors; after initial opposition from bar and restaurant owners everybody now seems happy with non- smoker establishments. Non-Smoking has become “cool”.

Something similar is happening with fossil fuels. Becoming “green” has become fashionable, and massive public financial support has reinforced this trend. Talking about technologies for improved heating insulating buildings has become common. Germany, Denmark and Spain, have become the trend setters

But it has taken three decades to see positive results, which is normal considering the complexities of the challenge.

We should draw three lessons from these developments:

  • It is possible for societies to liberate themselves from their addictions.But it takes political will and a lot of time and effort to do so.
  • Only a combination of social “persuasion” and financial incentives will do the job. Citizens have to understand why they should burn less fossil energy and stop smoking
  • Heads of government should reflect on these simple lessons when doing their homework for the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015.

Brussels 27.01.2015 Eberhard Rhein


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