Green revolution underway in France?

French president calls for ban on genetically engineered crops and energy wasting lightbulbs

Feature story - 26 October, 2007
Nicolas Sarkozy, France's President, yesterday called for an environmental "revolution". Among other measures, he promised to outlaw energy wasting lightbulbs by 2010, ban commercial growing of genetically modified food and feed crops, and use the precautionary principle for all future government decisions. If yesterday's words become laws, and those laws become deeds, it could be the spark that changes the world.

Greenpeace activists hang a 12 by 3 metre banner reading “Ban GMO’s NOW” on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris urging the French government to ban genetically modified organisms. The government is expected to decide in the next few days on the future regulation of genetically modified, or genetically engineered, crops.

Genetically engineered crop ban

France - the EU's biggest agricultural producer - is the sixth government in Europe to ban genetic engineered crops. (Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Poland are the other five.) The only genetically engineered crop currently grown in France is Monsanto's genetically engineered maize (MON810).

It's not clear if what was announced is a permanent ban, or a temporary measure.  Sarkozy did cite three good reasons to avoid growing genetically engineered crops:

  • Doubts about their usefulness.
  • Doubts about their benefits for health and the environment.
  • Concerns about their uncontrolled dissemination.

"We're calling on other governments inside and outside of Europe to follow this positive example," said Greenpeace campaigner Geert Ritsema. "And to put the interest of citizens and the environment before the interests of a handful of multinational corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer, and BASF that produce and sell genetically engineered crops."

Saving energy

Lightbulb manufactures themselves are calling for an end to energy wasting lightbulbs in Europe by 2019.  Sarkozy scores considerably better with his target of 2010.  

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs use one-fifth the energy of traditional incandescents lightbulbs.  Switching to energy saving bulbs in the EU alone, would save 20 million tonnes of CO2, equal to shutting down 25 medium-size dirty power plants.  

Greenpeace campaigner Sharon Becker said, "We hope that this measure will open the eyes of other EU countries and that the energy efficiency standards needed to ban these bulbs, will pave the way for a broader spectrum of standards, for example for electronics and appliances."  

Sarkozy also called for more use of train transport, and better fuel efficiency for cars.  Following through on the promise of cars which emit on average 120 gram of CO2 per kilometre by 2012 would have a knock-on effect globally by fully commercializing existing technology.

Nuclear - lack of progress

Although Sarkozy gushed about renewable energy, it's clear France is not quite ready to give up its nuclear addiction.  France has 59 operating nuclear reactors, and is building a new one based on what is called the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) design.  

France is also marketing its nuclear technology to countries like the UK, US, China, Canada, Brazil and Morocco.  Already there is an EPR nuclear plant under construction in Finland - years behind schedule, over a billion euros over budget and plagued by more than 1,000 documented quality problems.  

"It is good that Sarkozy agreed to phase out energy wasting bulbs," said Greenpeace campaigner Jan Beranek.  "But by saying A he should also say B, which is that thanks to plans for improved efficiency, there is no need for additional reactors in France."

Sustainability first

From now on in France, the burden of proof must be placed on ecologically destructive activities, according to Sarkozy.  Rather than environmentalists having to show that there's a better way, companies and people proposing ecologically destructive decisions need to prove there is no other choice.

This is probably the most important idea put forward by Sarkozy.  It's very similar to the precautionary principle championed by Greenpeace and other environmental groups:

The precautionary principle is a moral and political principle which states that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action.   

(Source: Wikipedia)

Following the precautionary principle is the route to sustainable economies and a healthy planet for future generations.  Applying it thoroughly would be a true revolution.

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