A European Déjá vu?

green-germany-zones-2Today begins our series of the winning essays submitted to Dean of Freshmen, Fred Siegel.  These freshman were selected from over 300 of their peers to attend a dinner with Dean Siegel and a very special guest.

Our first featured essay is by Alexander Schaper.  Born and raised in Berlin, Germany, Alex brings a unique perspective to this discussion because his mother is American and his father is German and he was raised in a bilingual, bi-cultural environment.

At a recent visit to my grandparents in Wolfsburg, I came across the following headline in a German newspaper, which translates: “ US Government invests 2,4 Billion in Electronic Cars”.

Wolfsburg is home to one of the largest car manufacturers in the world, Volkswagen. The surrounding villages and towns are dependant on the company’s revenue. My grandmother likes to say, “ If VW coughs, we catch a cold.“ Volkswagen owns more car companies than any other car manufacturer in the world and therefore carries an enormous economic, political and, most importantly, ecological responsibility. At the time of my visit Volkswagen was just about to launch the new VW Golf – the most produced and sold car in Germany. The advertising slogan simply read, “3.3 liters/100km. 87 g/km CO2 emission level”.

The add seemed like a direct response to two the eight main suggestions mentioned in “Hot, Flat and Crowded”. The first which was to “double fuel efficiency by of two billion cars from 30 miles per gallon to 60 mpg” and the second which aimed to “drive two billion cars only 5,000 miles per year rather than 10 000, at 30 miles per gallon.” However, the VW technology was developed years before the two measures to reduce the emission of carbon dioxides were made public.

This example with VW, mirrors my reaction to the book; the technology to drastically reduce CO2 emission exists, and so it is a question of time until the world’s population realizes, especially industrial nations, that we have to make the right, green choices. European governments, people, and industries have long understood that reducing greenhouse gas emissions implies much more than avoiding climate change.

The EU’s climate change policy is far from perfect because an intergovernmental structure only allows for the smallest common denominator possible. Nevertheless, much of Friedman’s suggestions and observations, such as the correlation between the price of oil and that countries’ measure of freedom, are already mirrored in the European environmental strategies recently adopted by the EU member states.

As a German and therefore European citizen I felt a sense of pride reading passages that applauded European efforts and used them as green role models. Having both a German and US citizenship and growing up in a bicultural environment I am constantly comparing. After researching the EU’s policy on climate change and reading Friedman’s call for action, I felt for the first time that Europe demonstrated greater a greater flexibility to adapt to a global challenge. For the first time Europe is leading the way and the USA is following.

One of the key strategies of the EU policy reads to “better integrate EU energy markets, i.e. moving towards more competitive, Europe-wide electricity and gas markets.” Friedman offers the US alternative of that key point by stating that the US must break its dependency on foreign oil and invest in renewable energy sources. One of my motivations to study in the US was the American mindset that everything is possible, if you put your heart to it. I agree with Friedman that some of the greatest innovators and entrepreneurs of the century developed their ideas in the USA. I am eager to see if the US will adapt European strategies, translate them into an American code green and help to avoid the emission of 200 billion tons of CO2 by 2050.

So reading the article about the US government’s largest investment ever in hybrid technology, seemed like a belated response to the recent climate development. However, it sparked some hope. After reading Hot, Flat and Crowded, I wouldn’t necessary argue that all Americans must drive hybrid cars – Volkswagon’s new Polo suffices. I would argue, similar to Friedman, that we as Americans should rethink political issues such as national security and come to the uncomfortable understanding that our current lifestyle poses a threat to national security and a secure American future.

In light of Friedman’s observations and the EU’s climate policy, I think that the  “Energy-Climate Era” provides a historic opportunity for a novel transatlantic, integrated energy market of shared resources – a possibility for security, peace and stability in a globalised world.

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