This is a debate article. The opinions expressed are the writer’s own.
DEBATE. In Swedish research and development, there is today a casual approach to “green technology”, writes Jessica Stegrud, EU parliamentarian (SD).
Both political actors and the market demand what can be described as environmentally friendly and thus “green”. Funds for research and development are distributed based on the projects’ presumed significance for the environment and sustainability, but we do not see much of independent follow-ups and impact assessments.
A decade or so ago, Sweden plowed down billions in biofuel projects in Gothenburg (Gobigas), Örnsköldsvik (Sekab) and Piteå (Chemrec). The projects were sold as “green” but turned out to be based on pure wishful thinking.
Sweden is instead a major consumer of biofuels from the world market, which is not without problems. High demand for energy crops in many countries poses a threat to biodiversity, when natural biotopes are displaced. Awareness of this is significantly greater in the European Parliament than in Sweden, where the government plans for even higher involvement of imported biofuels.
Electric operation is considered to be environmentally friendly and has its advantages, but the production of batteries is still dependent on large amounts of cobalt. More than half of the world’s cobalt comes from southern Congo, where mining takes place under appalling working conditions and causes heavy pollution. Child labor is widespread. It is therefore not entirely obvious to increase the use of batteries too quickly until this problem has been solved.
With regard to the production of electricity, the agenda of the Left, the Green Party and the Center Party have been accepted in many places without deeper analysis. Solar and wind power are considered “sustainable” types of energy, but not nuclear power. Therefore, the expansion of weather-dependent electricity production has been favored in various ways, while nuclear power is being counteracted. It costs money and puts the whole system under pressure during weather changes. In addition, the construction of thousands of wind turbines constitutes indisputable interventions in nature.
I see several general problems. To begin with, many unprofitable or unrealistic projects are funded under the pretext that they would be good for the environment, without actually being so. Secondly, one tends to turn a blind eye to goal conflicts in environmental policy, as the examples above show. Thirdly, there is a one-sided focus on fossil freedom, as if it were the only environmental issue.
If you move the discussion up to EU level, everything naturally becomes much bigger, but the problems are similar. When the breathtaking sum of 750 billion euros, the so-called recovery package, is to be distributed in the future, 30 percent will be distributed based on what can be considered climate-friendly.
Climate policy is “big business” simply and when these enormous sums are to be spent on “green” activities, unhealthy incentives for green washing arise. Unfortunately, researchers and engineers are not always neutral in this discussion, as they naturally act as ambassadors for the projects they are associated with.
In this context, let me point out that we in the Sweden Democrats have an environmental policy that looks at the whole in Sweden and globally. In no way do we oppose an effort towards a lower dependence on fossil fuels, regardless of whether it concerns Sweden, the EU, or the whole world. We advocate high-quality basic research and investments linked to our basic industries. Of course, the state must also fund strategic research on energy, climate and the environment, but it must be possible to have a discussion about the quality of the projects.
Problems also arise when fossil-free within a generation is to take precedence over everything else without a proper impact assessment, which risks resulting in ill-conceived solutions and creative accounting. It undermines public confidence in politics and is neither good for the environment, the economy nor society in general.
Jessica Stegrud, EU parliamentarians (SD), Member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy