Flawed environmental policy: smoke signals from the future

The Australian firestorms should warn us. Measures announced for 2020 fail to materialize or are postponed.

Warning from the other end of the world: bushfires in Australia Photo: dpa

The horror images from the flaming inferno of Australia generate fear: Not only because people and animals die and even a modern industrial society is powerless against the force of nature. But also because we suspect that these fires at the beginning of the twenties of the 21st century have more to do with us than we would like. They show where it leads when we put urgent environmental problems on the back burner.

Nature is not fighting back. She doesn’t have a battle plan, she doesn’t take revenge. It responds to physical conditions. The hotter and drier it is, the stronger the winds become and the more fire-prone the forests, the more devastating the bushfires become. We have seen this in recent months with the firestorms in California, the Amazon, Siberia and also in Brandenburg. The word "pyrocene", the "age of fire", is already making the rounds.

But this age is not coming upon us as if we were powerless. We are conjuring it up ourselves through our burning of coal, oil and gas. Forest fires cannot be avoided. But we can prevent them from becoming disasters. If we enforce rules to prevent the next disaster.

That’s called politics. And it is precisely in this precautionary environmental policy that the year 2020 holds up a mirror to us in Germany. The picture is not pretty: Germany and the EU are failing to meet their own targets in almost every area: climate, species protection, air, water protection. Major progress announced for 2020 is either not happening or is being pushed back. A record of broken promises.

The fires in Australia are smoke signals from the future. There and everywhere, the important thing is to prevent disaster with clear targets – and then to implement them seriously, even in the face of opposition from politicians, lobby groups and industry. This is called day-to-day politics. This is all the more urgent at the beginning of the twenties: If you believe science, this decade will determine whether we get climate change halfway under control. But to do so, global CO2 emissions must be halved by 2030.

This cannot be achieved with the current policy of sitting out these problems: formulating high targets, then doing little to implement them. Those who define the solution of "environmental problems" as a luxury, as the federal governments have done for a long time, are suddenly faced with burning questions. And then not even the fire department will help.