Sunday, March 11, 2012

Freiburg Call for Action

During this weekend, 63 environmental prizewinners met in Freiburg for the 1st International Convention of Environmental Laureates preparing Rio+20. This will be the follow-up of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also called the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro where it was stated: All States and all people shall cooperate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, in order to decrease the disparities in standards of living and better meet the needs of the majority of the people of the world.

The two American participants in Freiburg's convention were Jeremy Rifkin and David Schweidenback. Rifkin the economist, writer, public speaker, political advisor and activist gave the introductory talk: The Third Industrial Revolution. Schweidenback was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador in the late 1970s and is president and founder of P4P (Pedals for Progress), a foundation distributing used bicycles to developing countries. Germany was represented by, among others, Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker*, holder of the German environmental prize. On the evening before the convention he gave an interview to the Badische Zeitung stating that energy must become more expensive and continuing that our world needs an increased environmental consciousness and clever engineers.
*He is the son of physicist Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker and the nephew of former German Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker

Weizsäcker spoke from my heart for I have always been of the opinion that energy is so cheap that people have no incentive to economize. Some of them will possibly kill me for saying this when looking at the price for gas that had reached an all time high of 1.68 Euros/liter (8.30 U$/gallon) last week causing a dramatic increase in the number of fill-and-run drivers in Germany. Over the last twenty years I started saving energy replacing nearly all of my incandescent light sources with economy bulbs and lately some with LEDs*. Nevertheless, I refuse, being an old man, to reduce the light output following Goethe who on his deathbed is supposed to have said: More light, more light. I drive only 6000 km per year and following my doctor's advice walk most distances within a 3 km radius from home. Otherwise I take the streetcar. For longer distances in Germany I love to take the train. When I moved to Freiburg I lived in an apartment built in 1903 with outer walls 60 cm thick and a room height of 3.20 m but in 2007 moved to a more modern flat with just 20 cm walls but 40 cm thermal insulation and 2.60 m room height cutting my heating costs by 50%. I don't eat strawberries from South Africa at Christmastime or grapes from Chile in March and prefer Kiwis from Israel to those from New Zealand.
*So far those clever engineers have not come up with an acceptable LED replacement for the low voltage spotlights

In his interview Weizsäcker mentioned two developments undermining the Rio 1992 statement. One is the rebound effect, the other the disturbed alliance between states and capital. Since Rio any progress in energy efficiency has been eaten up by more consumption. During the Cold War capital had come to stabilizing arrangements with the Western states the latter being the bulwark against communism. With the lifting of the iron curtain and the fall of the Berlin wall capital eventually became loose maximizing its profits e.g. in moving production to low wage countries and enlarging on sub prime credits producing one financial bubble after the other (dot-com in 2000 and US housing in 2007). Capital has recalled its alliance with the Western states.

Under these circumstances will it be possible to reconcile environmental problems and development programs, when the fight against poverty, hunger and for fair access to energy resources and raw materials cannot be ignored? In addition the demand of developing countries for economic growth must be weighed against global environmental objectives.

Apparently all these issues found their way into the Freiburg Call for Action. When asked about the importance of this declaration Helen Caldicott from Australia, laureate of the Nuclear-Free Future award, said: We save the world. Will they?

Freiburg Call for Action with handwritten changes (Sonntagszeitung).
So far I have not found the officially released version.

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