The heatwave in Northern Europe and elsewhere provokes many emotions. Althoug even the most conservative among us realize that something needs to change, proposed solutions largely point in the wrong direction.
While even heat-lovers like myself start to feel uncomfortable given the continued high temperatures we are facing north of the Alps, hard hit are not those that shout first or the loudest. In Germany and Switzerland, farmers have been quick to ask for subsidies given expected harvest losses. As the majority of today’s citizens understand more about smartphones than agricultural policies and given that politicians get ever more populist, farmer lobbyists make easy prey with their pretended sorrow. Ignoring that they already receive high subsidies which are sold under the framework ‘payment for ecosystem services’, they are granted special rights to pump freshwater out of already stressed water bodies and/or using areas for production that are actually meant as habitat for nature. Once again, the one paying the bill for unsustainable behaviour are not those causing or contributing to it, but wildlife and nature.
Regardless of whether new subsidies are granted to farmers or not, even the most ignorant among us feel that something must change – the big question is how? It is true that those living from agricultural production may suffer more under the current drought, but should consequences be carried by and adaption left to them only? Of course not. We all have a stake in this game; a fact that might explain why sustainable development has become such a buzzword. Sustainable development is everywhere. From academia to NGOs, governments to the private sector, everyone has sustainable solutions, be it “CO2 neutral buses” running though Bern, “sustainable produced” toiled paper at Rewe, “sustainable investment” in major banks….everyone seems concerned to save the planet with “sustainable” products.
Understanding why climate shocks are increasing despite of all the ‘good solutions’ requires some more than blind ignorance. Many solutions sold as ‘sustainable’ are pure rhetoric. The city of Bern makes a good example. The local government which prides itself for its “left-wingish” tradition is distributing pool and soccer tables in neighbourhoods pretending that sustainable cities are built on governance that compensate losers for an overly car friendly traffic policy. Counting bicycles or building new tramways for thousands of students that are too lazy to walk the 300m from the train station to the University are equal cheap and foolish rhetoric as are access restrictions in neighbourhoods that have become affordable to only a few elites. True, closing roads as a protest against motorized vehicles sounds fun, but does it really contribute to sustainable development if the local residents that deny access to other road users can resist from owning big SUVs that serves the family to pollute nature at the weekend? Is it not another example of how the world is increasingly divided into those that have and those that don’t? What makes me really hot are not the elevated temperatures but the fact that farmers shout for monetary compensation and the Swiss government talk about new irrigation infrastructure, while northern researchers and NGOs (including Swiss) have earned lots of money ‘promoting climate adaptation measures‘ such as ‘climate smart agriculture’ a in the global South. Is what we promote elsewhere too sophisticated to use in our own countries?
Luckily, the extended heatwave we are currently facing provides the opportunity to reflect a bit longer and to question concepts that have been used again and again but seem to fail repeatedly. Do we really change society for the better by closing 40km of roads for a bicycle event that draws attention only because of all the infrastructure and extra action that has been built up explicitly? No, we do not, as counting bicycles does not increase bicycle traffic. Big challenges call for truly innovative solutions, such as Sundays without motorized vehicles across the country, traffic rules that favour pedestrians and bicycles, climate and eco smart farming practices in the global North, and finally, retailers that open their shelfs for veggies and fruit that do not look perfect.
 According to current ‘retail policies’ and an arrogance that denies a connection between sustainable consumption and environmental protection.