International Policy Digest

Bundesregierung
World News /10 Jan 2021
01.10.21

Germany: The Country of Prohibitions

The new year seems to have wasted little time in gearing up to rival the hysterics of 2020. Latest reports from the German Weather Service (DWD) that last year was Germany’s second hottest on record are sure to trigger the national political tinderbox into zealous overdrive, and with it new calls for a wave of climate-related prohibitions guaranteed to fundamentally affect people’s lives. “The scientific climate facts from the National Meteorological Service are alarming,” comes the caterwaul of the DWD via climate director Tobias Fuchs, “Climate protection is the order of the day. We must act now.”

For all his wheedling, Fuchs is certainly preaching to the choir. When it comes to climate policy, Berlin is one of the most authoritarian adopters in Europe: in order to slash Germany’s share of annual global carbon emissions- a mere 2% to China’s 27%– the government is already well on its way to banning cars, and making basic transportation prohibitively expensive for the majority of German citizens.

In what is sure to be a welcome development for those struggling to cope with the protracted coronavirus pandemic, the national motor vehicle tax for so-called high-emissions vehicles is set to rise from this year. Cars that exceed average emissions of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer will attract additional surcharges of €2 for each additional gram, with this surcharge increasing in stages. Don’t bother reaching for your calculator: even the most frugal combustion engine cars on the market cannot currently meet this latest target.

Meanwhile, the success of efforts by hardline activists to ban cars from German streets altogether has left many stunned by the impending “regulatory hodgepodge” looming over German streets, with the Mechanical Engineering Industry Association slamming driving bans as the “wrong way to solve a problem that arises in very particular locations under very particular conditions.” They’re not wrong: similar restrictions have been shown to worsen air pollution in the long-term.

That the national debate over traffic management has reached a fever pitch is hardly surprising anymore: climate change rhetoric has successfully permeated the German consciousness to the extent where a majority of people will comfortably support bans and limitations without even asking for evidence of actual climate change-mitigation effects. Still, others call for more bans on top of existing bans, as if this century was pitched forward in a grim race to create a world void of even a single iota of pleasure.

Such uncompromising top-down zeal extends to German’s food sector as well – long singled out as a particular villain by the climate warriors – with exactly the same counterproductive outcomes. Berlin recently introduced the hotly-contested Nutriscore food label in an effort to herd people toward healthier diets and lower meat consumption, in the hopes of reducing the carbon footprint of the domestic food supply chain.

In practice, however, the flawed algorithm of Nutriscore leads to the total opposite. That’s because the Nutriscore algorithm is skewed towards assigning meat products a better score due to its bias towards high protein content. The fact that this encourages meat consumption, and thus CO2-production, was conveniently overlooked by Green MEPs when they backed Nutriscore despite its environmental implications.

Less surprising is that Italy’s minister of agriculture, food, and forestry, Teresa Bellanova, slammed Nutriscore as a “reductive” and misleading” system which fundamentally fails to provide the tools to help European consumers make informed choices. Indeed, no food can be judged in isolation, but rather considered in the context of an individual’s broader nutritional needs.

Moreover, while consumers at least have a choice in whether or not they allow the paternalism of the Nutriscore system to influence their shopping choices, sweeping measures like higher meat and sugar taxes as well as marketing restrictions remain on the table. Last year, the hugely influential Scientific Advisory Board on Agricultural Policy, Food and Consumer Health Protection (WBAE) went as far as to call for a “comprehensive transformation” of the food system to promote sustainable consumption, one where consumers’ own food choices are secondary to the government’s nutritional policy.

That every policy decision being made in Germany, from the number of cars on the road to the food on German people’s plates, is shaped through the prism of climate change (or the coronavirus) is in fact a symptom of “climate hysteria,” in which politicians are readily competing to formulate the most radical and transformative suggestions. No longer is there any room for serious debate, nor consideration of the burden that German citizens should reasonably be expected to bear, nor the practical capability of modern technology to conserve resources: all that remains is the insistence that Germany alone will save the planet.

In truth, Germany’s salvation complex is deeply and culturally ingrained, and has a track record for giving rise to the kind of blind activism that typically hurts stated objectives in the end. As Chancellor Angela Merkel battles to keep the lights on for households and businesses barely coping with record-high energy prices thanks to the much-hyped Energiewende, it is clear that German’s hamfisted attempt at a speedy energy transition is the most tragic example of environmental zealousness to date.

That Germany is destined to innovate is an inarguable fact, but sweeping bans and restrictions are a far cry from the reinvention and renewal that this century demands of her.