Is economics corrupting politics in environmental decisions?

In the late 1970s, the Bavarian Ministry for the Environment was formed as a result of public pressure. It was the first environmental ministry worldwide, and made Bavaria a pioneer in environmental law and the establishment of environmental standards. Much has improved since, yet now more than ever, industry is influencing politics when it comes to environmental issues.

Environmental catastrophes not prevented by politics

The Deepwater Horizon and Fukushima disasters are great examples. Two of the largest environmental catastrophes resulted as a consequence of political inaction. In the case of Deepwater Horizon, drilling was approved under the condition that proper equipment and knowledge was present in order to fix a potential oil leak. BP however lacked the appropriate equipment, and there was never an inspection to confirm its presence. Investigations following the catastrophe uncovered that the national supervisory authority had waived the need for an emergency plan.

Not only Swiss Re, who declined to insure Fukushima, but also the Japanese government knew that the nuclear power plant was unsafe seven years prior to the accident. Yet the security measures were not improved. Both accidents have had a worldwide effect on our oceans, their inhabitants, and consequently on us.

Germany is no better

That Volkswagen, of all companies, whereof the state Niedersachsen owns 20%, is responsible for a worldwide emissions scandal, fuels just as little trust in German environmental policy as does Sigmar Gabriel’s attempt to promote electric vehicles, which primarily benefits energy suppliers. The growth in renewable energies leads to intermittent overproduction of electricity which, if it wouldn’t be charging car batteries, would be sold below market value to neighbouring countries. The fact that this surplus often comes from offshore wind parks, whose enormous rotor blades create noise and vibrations that adversely affect whales and dolphins, appears to be unimportant.

Two who should know better

As German politician Wolfgang Bosbach commented at the Alpensymposium in Thun, environmental protection is of high value in Germany, but in other countries, it sits lower on the priority list. “As seen recently in Paris, powerful agreements to protect the environment are reached, but the ability or will to observe and police the implementation of these decisions is often inadequate.”

“In Germany, we have a situation of moderate economic growth, something that was very different in the past,” Bosbach adds. “We don’t want to strangle the economic power. The desire to preserve and increase jobs predominates in order to maintain social security. This needs to be financed, which is why a strong, competitive national economy is needed. Politicians understand this.”

The environmental activist and lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., when asked why he never wanted to run for a political position, answered that he would then be indebted to everyone who supported his campaign, to the point where he wouldn’t be able to act responsibly anymore.

Since 1998, the oil industry, especially the Koch brothers, who own an oil and chemical consortium, has spent up to one billion US dollars on commercials and campaign donations in order to convince people that climate change does not exist, says Kennedy. That’s why the Republican candidate is sure to argue that global warming is not caused by man or industry.

Environmental protection, quo vadis?

Dr. Alfons Goppel said in 1970 that the bundling of environmental protection into an independent ministry is necessary. Only this would ensure the greatest effects of environmental efforts to unfold.

Today, the reverse appears more accurate: environmental policy is being dictated by the industry. This seems especially true in the United States, a country portraying itself as the big fighter of worldwide corruption, despite allowing nepotism and corruption within its own borders. And most likely not only in environmental issues.

Read the original article in German in BILANZ

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