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Doing Kyoto From the Car Pool Lanes

February 23rd, 2007

I found two items of interest this week, the first, an opinion piece from The Economist magazine, attempts to explain champagne socialists (or gulfstream environmentalists, if you prefer).

THE European Commission’s recent proposals to limit car pollution, and the climate-change debate in general, are revealing a cultural divide in Europe: nothing less than a continental rift over what really constitutes political leadership.

The northern view (for want of a better term that embraces the Swedish and the Dutch) is that the responsibility to set a good example is part of a politician’s job. If a new leader decides to change his party’s policy to make it greener, as David Cameron did with Britain’s Conservatives, it is incumbent on him to be seen going to work on a bicycle (even if a car is following with all his papers). Equally, if the European Commission wants to legislate to reduce car emissions, the commissioner responsible must promise to swap his gas-guzzling Mercedes for a puny Toyota Prius—even if that offends Germany’s mighty car lobby. He and the commission must, after all, set an example.

the southern (or Mediterranean) view is that public authorities should make and enforce the law, but not otherwise nag on about personal behaviour. Hence, the French left has always rejected criticism of champagne socialism (gauche-caviar) on the ground that what matters are the policies, not the lifestyles, of Socialist leaders.

This holds even though the environment commissioner himself is Greek, not Swedish or Dutch. He is supposed to take on the ethical and moral characteristics of his portfolio. He inherits, as it were, the view from Europe’s Protestant north that personal behaviour is central to political leadership.

There’s much more, and it’s an interesting piece. It also explains Stephane Dion’s shuffling around in a limousine. Granted the story is about his limo driver’s hotel bills, but shouldn’t Kaptain Kyoto get out of the limo? Shouldn’t the greenest Liberal since Ted Kennedy at the Carter inauguration find a more fuel efficient car? If I can drive a Neon, why can’t the man who knows beyond all doubt that we’re doomed unless we all drive Neon’s? or Priuses


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