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Reign of the Eco-Gauls

The French government’s new number two, the ex-criminal Alain Juppé, is in charge of a new Ministry of Ecology and of Sustainable Development and Planning. Is this a reminder of his Canadian exile–Quebec boasts a “Ministère du Développement durable, de … Read More

By / May 29, 2007

The French government’s new number two, the ex-criminal Alain Juppé, is in charge of a new Ministry of Ecology and of Sustainable Development and Planning. Is this a reminder of his Canadian exile–Quebec boasts a “Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs”? Will Juppé soon be placed in charge of parks and sandboxes?

While those questions may actually be interesting for the amateur of French politics—Juppé is, after all, an ex-Chirac groupie whose interest in Nicolas Sarkozy has been rather delayed—there is a larger value to his nomination. Juppé, a former prime minister, is not a specialist of the environment in any way.

Juppé is, however, a “heavy weight” on the French political scene, and his nomination at this new post sends a strong signal of Sarkozy’s desire to make good on electoral promises to place ecology at the centre of his concerns. It may even be that his quip that the main battle to be fought is that against global warming, and that while waiting for the U.S. to lead this war France will be the standard-bearer, is in fact a way to distance France from the war on terror and at the same time satisfy the native anti-American instinct.

Whether this is a cunning political maneuver to keep his party on the political board before the legislative elections or the reflection of a genuine concern for humanity, Sarkozy is hitting the nail on the head. If California remains a flagship of environmental protection, the U.S. as a whole is not doing so well, especially considering its leadership position in terms of technology and of scientific research.

A recent special issue of Science highlighted the need for fundamental research in energy production, while lamenting the decline in funding for that area. The issue touches every American, starting of course with the car. How do you fuel it? Ethanol seems like a bad idea, making Castro apparently right for once. Something along the lines of solar energy seems to hold the greatest hopes.

In his Perspective column in the aforementioned issue of Science, Nathan Lewis notes that “[m]ore energy from sunlight strikes Earth in 1 hour than all of the energy consumed by humans in an entire year.” We need to work on a cost effective way to capture and store this energy if we want to get anywhere.

Eco-activism should not come at the expense of development and funding of scientific research for true, durable, answers to environmental problems. As Daniel Clery notes, “Ultimately, it will be politics at the highest level that will dictate the fate of energy research.”

At our humble level, it is necessary to remain informed of the efforts of researchers, and to lobby for government support of basic science. Or else, we might risk losing our leadership to the French, and wouldn’t that be truly appalling?

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