Climate Change Divides Europe

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Parisians and tourists cool off near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Photographer: Martin Barzilai/Bloomberg

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At the end of June 2019 three people died in France as a heatwave known as the “Sahara Plume” brought exceptionally high temperatures across much of Europe.

The deaths were three distinct incidents and not related in any way apart from being caused by the extreme heat. A 70-year-old man is suffered a heart attack induced by shock as he encountered cold water, while a 62-year-old woman and a 75-year-old man died in separate locations by the sea.

It has long been advised that it is highly dangerous to plunge from hot air temperatures into cold water as the extreme temperature change experienced by the body can cause “hydrocution”.

As temperatures soared in France to 45.9°C or 114.62°F, schools were closed and special care was counselled for babies, small children and the elderly.

The concern over the rising temperatures was such that the transport ministry in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt imposed speed limits of 100 kph (62 mph) on several stretches of the autobahn (motorway) as a precaution against heat damage as the tarmac showed signs of melting.

Climate considerations motivate the youth of today and a few politicians have been considering the views of the 16-year-old Swedish school pupil, Greta Thunberg who has been mounting a protest in front of the Swedish parliament almost every Friday, over the past year.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg takes part in the school strike demonstration Fridays. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

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She states:

“The climate crisis doesn’t go on summer holiday, and neither will we,”

So, she is set to continue her weekly protest that has gained a global following, with students walking out of schools in well over 100 countries.

The idea that the heat could lead to speed restrictions on the autobahn has seen German Chancellor Angela Merkel heap praise on Thunberg and the students for taking action. After initial reluctance, her government has joined the European efforts to adopt an emission target for the European Union (EU).

Even in the U.K., who wants out of the EU the parliament has declared a climate emergency and adopted new emission targets, partly in response to the protests.

Despite these extremes, the EU is not united on the topic as to how the issue of climate change should be approached.

In the Czech Republic, the parliament debated the subject, however, this only lasted a few hours, and more than half of the deputies left the chamber at its start. The advocates of climate action felt they were ridiculed and ignored.

The EU plan to address the issue of climate change and global warming as rejected by three other member states, namely Poland, Estonia and Hungary. They all exercised a veto as they questioned why the EU in 2019 should be seeking to decide what should be happening in 2050?

Much of the inaction is down to contrasting economic fortunes as the level of GDP per capita is far higher in the more liberal countries of Western Europe, than in the East.

In U.S. Dollars:

Germany 46,250 France 42,560 Czech Republic 19,860 Estonia 18,800 Hungary 13, 490 and Poland 13,650.

The current European divide over climate policy is an illustration of the frustration that runs through many countries where the youth feel disadvantaged. Their nations, after decades of Soviet domination are at a much earlier stage of their economic development than the nations in the west. A direct result of that is that the nations in Eastern Europe do not have the same level of industrial diversification as those in the west and to start imposing tough targets aimed at a desired carbon neutral equilibrium in 2050 will seriously impede the economic prospects of the EU’s eastern flank.

Even after the strong showing of the Greens in the recent European parliamentary elections the challenge for climate change policies is that they involve a high, present cost and may offer an uncertain and distant benefit.

The age-old problem is that politics is about being elected and/or re-elected. That is therefore about what sells to gain votes. If the overall European economy were cruising at full throttle then the issue of climate would receive a more favourable reception. Right now, when growth, jobs and wages are an issue in the east, the veto will be exercised.

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