The German Advisory Council on the Environment is a body of experts convened by the Federal Republic of Germany to advise the state on matters of environmental policy. I’m grateful to @tomdabassman on Twitter for drawing attention to its recent and deeply creepy 200-page report on ‘The obligation of policymakers: facilitating environmentally friendly behaviour‘. It abounds in remarkable and revealing statement, and I’ve spent a good part of the day studying it for a longer post that I hope to write in the coming weeks.
For now, I want to draw your attention to the introduction, which is bad enough. Its authors depart from the premise that the state currently lacks “policy measures… targeting environmentally relevant behaviour”, and join others in affirming that it is the job of the state to nudge individual decisions in the right direction. Tellingly, both the pandemic and the sanctions-induced European energy crisis play a very large role in their thinking:
Although the key environmental crises, such as loss of biodiversity and climate change, are less directly visible and tangible than the energy crisis and the pandemic, environmental policymakers can learn from the sometimes painful but also important experiences of recent years: Behavioural changes in the population can be a part of the solution to crises such as these, and it is possible to adopt and implement policies aimed at changing behaviours.
For example, Germany introduced a series of measures in mid-2022 to alleviate the energy crisis. … These measures targeted the behaviour of citizens. In addition to general calls to save energy, building owners were obliged to optimise their heating systems, employees had to accept lower room temperatures at work and it was forbidden to heat private swimming pools. …. Earlier, Germany imposed far-reaching pandemic measures to contain the spread of Corona. For example, since 2020, the stated adopted and imposed various lockdowns and social contact limitations. Both highlight the contribution of behavioural changes, whether in energy consumption or social behaviour, to the project of combating a collective problem…
The aforementioned measures doubtless demanded a lot from people and in the specifics of the necessary extent of the restrictions, they proved controversial, as also in their unequal impact on different social groups. Nevertheless, the two crises show that political measures to carefully restrict the behaviour of citizens are possible if the threat is correspondingly great and the importance of the protected good – in these examples, health and energy – is recognised. The state has succeeded (even if not in every individual case) in devising measures such that it achieves its goal while maintaining proportionality. It is also clearly possible for these policies to be designed and communicated in such a way that the majority support them.