Does Europe need a re-think to address the climate crisis?

Does Europe need a re-think to address climate crisis?

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Interview with Philipp Blom, author and philosopher.

We are living through a time of systemic change and many say that we might need a new way to interpret the world. One of the bigger thinkers in this space is Philipp Blom, an author and historian. Together with our friend Wouter van Noort, a journalist at the Dutch newspaper NRC and author of the visionary blog Future Affairs, we had the pleasure of discussing many different ideas with Philip for an unforgettable hour.

Philipp Blom specialises in trying to identify historical patterns that may help for interpreting present and future developments. In one of his recent books (Nature’s Mutiny: How the Little Ice Age of the Long Seventeenth Century Transformed the West and Shaped the Present), he does this in a beautifully lucid way, comparing the current issues to some of the ones humanity faced during the last Ice Age in the 1600s — also known as the ‘Little Ice Age’.During that time, the temperature fell by two degrees and this was accompanied by poor farming conditions and a rise in social unrest. People struggled to deal with the rapid change this entailed, as they relied on the tools and interpretations of the past – mainly on prayers, processions and witch burnings – in an attempt to resolve these newer, contemporary challenges. For this reason, the period is often characterised as a time of violent scapegoating – particularly in Europe.

It was only with the dawn of empirical sciences during the 16th and 17th centuries, which made way for new ideas, that a way forward was found.

Omega Phase

In his work, Philipp makes the link to our current age, where we are being confronted with other drastic changes — such as human-led climate change. Yet we find ourselves, once again, holding onto the frameworks of the past to resolve these novel challenges: “more liberal markets, more capitalism, and so on”. He calls this the “Omega Phase”.Philipp makes the point that if we are “Rudderless in the present, hopefully reference to history can also give us some direction”. Europe can also play an important role in the current challenges, he argues, but only if it is able to re-invent itself.At the core of the current system, the European Union came about as a reaction to the Second World War. It started out in 1952 as the ‘European Coal and Steel Community’, which aimed to pool strategic resources, lift welfare and create interdependence so as to prevent any return to bloodshed and destructive war. Increasingly so, that objective now seems to have been achieved and could be slipping into the annals of history, Philipp argues. “A family trauma lasts for about three generations. Europe was a reaction to the trauma of war, but now the 3 generations are up. Redistributing taxes and avoiding war — that generation is now largely fading out of European politics”.At the same time, Eastern and Southern European welfare levels have risen rapidly and we are moving ever closer towards European cooperation at an unprecedented level, as can be seen from the reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Climate change

The new challenge of climate change could help the European Union retain its legitimacy. But avoiding “more of the same” will require strong, visionary leadership. This, in essence, means not continuing to subsidise environmental laggards, actively choosing frontrunners and making political choices to harness the mega-trend called sustainability.

The EU’s Green Deal is a great start, but during its rollout, we can already see signs of it being watered down — often by lobbyists. In that sense, lobbyists can be seen as catalysts for change – or not! The advisory sector has the ability to help push forward the EU’s sustainable mission or, by lobbying for the same old status quo, risking to erode its legitimacy altogether.That’s serious business! And we hope that lobbyists and other advocates can help to bring forth new ideas, solutions, and narratives, ones that can accelerate sustainable change and improve the bloc’s global competitiveness. Or, as Philipp says in our talk: “guys like you at #SustainablePublicAffairs have an important role to play”.

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