Just recently the DiEM Citizens’ University Amsterdam offered a first round of exchange on the topic ‘A Green New Deal for Europe’. Here a quick recap of who spoke about what.
A New Deal to reconstruct Europe
Menno Grootveld, currently working as a translator, helped us clarify where the term ‘New Deal’ comes from at all. In a journey taking us from the Wall Street crash of the 20’s and the 1932 US presidential election to French farms losing their battle on water supplies to Chinese companies today, Menno made the clear point that, just as during the Great Depression, the solution to the crash did not come from the markets. It did not take technocrats but politicians to get back to an age of prosperity. Indeed, this could not apply better to our current situation: daring to change the mandate of the ECB and let it care about other things than inflation only or having a more active approach towards the economy and stop austerity policies are examples of political actions. For they do not act within a rigid set of rules, rather they change the rules – for politics is, among other things, the power to set and change the rules of the game.
Lifeblood of the economy: net energy, financial solvency and sustainability in the 21st century
Andrew Ringsmuth, a young photosynthesis researcher at the VU Amsterdam, gave his view on how he thinks an energy transition could look like in the present time. He also reminded us of previous energy transitions; the observation there is that it roughly takes 80-100 years to fully adapt the societies in which we live to a different source of energy. Interestingly, this has been a rather robust pattern. Moving froma wood-powered world to a coal-powered world to an oil-powered world took roughly the same amount of time regardless of whether we went through economic depressions, (two) World Wars, massive population growths, etc. Moreover, we shifted from a low-quality energy source to a high-quality energy source in each of those steps. In the case of solar,however, Andrew rightly pointed out that we would be forcing ourselves to move from high to low quality energy source within an extremely short time window; and, so Andrew: “this requires an unprecedented amount of social and political will”. One of his take-home messages: 80% of the global energy demand is supplied by fuel rather than by electricity. We need to solve a much bigger problem than only our burning light bulbs!
A brief overview of the tech that will drive the green transition
Vincent Friebe, now finishing his PhD in Biophysics also at the VU Amsterdam, displayed an amazingly simple back-of-the-envelope calculation to help us understand how much energy we consume in The Netherlands every day. And it involves light bulbs: in average, each person in The Netherlands burns 160 40-Watt light bulbs 24 hours a day – non-stop! Also, he insisted in the fact if “you want to go green, you have to think about sacrificing part of your GDP” and he backed this with hard data from the International Energy Agency concerning the natural gas production of The Netherlands. It was particularly striking to learn more about the earthquakes caused by drilling companies in the region of Groningen! All in all, Vincent painted a broad landscape of technological strategies and challenges we all ought to think about when it comes to profoundly changing our energy consumption. Artificial photosynthesis, dye-sensitised solar cells, nuclear fusion and other ‘dream’-techs all share one thing: they need investment!
Europe, Democracy & TTIP
Jurjen van den Bergh, now leading the anti-TTIP campaign in The Netherlands, prefaced his contribution with a quote of Czech economist Tomáš Sedláček: “Our troubles with Capitalism began at the moment when they lost their rival”. Jurjen reminded us of a brief period of time in The Netherlands around 2008 where we did have a debate addressing questions such as: should we not revisit our priorities and look not only at economic growth but also at environmental and social standards or how well people get educated? or even challenging the very idea of monetising everything instead of also valuing non-marketable things that are an important driver for the society, nonetheless. However, as soon as 2009 the American Chamber of Commerce and BusinessEurope among others came up with the narrative of trade deals. Jurjen put earlier trade deals into context: investment protection, trade areas where barriers would be lifted and so on. But he insisted in trade deals such as TTIP, CETA or TiSA clearly being about much more than only trade. Indeed, we find mechanisms in them that hold citizens back from deploying their private actions against corporate interests or even, in certain aspects, overwrite National Law, European Law and/or International Human Codes. Obviously, a threat to democracy! So, in the context of a Green New Deal being put forward by citizens, the fact that our representatives are negotiating these deals is no less than a bitter irony.
Digital democracy – the participatory challenge
Coby Babani, passionate activist currently working on Oview, a new digital tool to vote on relevant issues, shared with us his to-be-released-soon project. An app we would use to vote on questions that reflect what citizens genuinely care about. Coby explained at this point that we live in democracies where the issues we hear about in most of the media are decided for us. Indeed, many Dutch citizens felt puzzled about why they were asked to vote in a referendum concerning Ukraine. Although there is no doubt that many other Dutch citizens were concerned about a trade deal being signed without their consent, the Ukraine referendum raised questions about why citizens are asked about some things, and not about certain others. Besides, the referendum cost ca. 42 Mio. euros! Coby thinks that Oview could solve this problem. In a very inspiring talk, he addressed difference in opinions, biased media, meaning of democracy, empowerment of people, statistics of polls transparent to everybody: politicians, journalists and regular citizens alike. How would elections’ outcomes be affected if you realised that your previous gouvernment actually listened to what you had to say only, say, 5% of the time?
Looking forward to the next seminar!
The DCU Amsterdam