The Risk-Monger

It is June which means the circus has come to Brussels in the form of Green Week – four weird and wonderful days where the environment is fêted (and man is condemned for his wasteful ways). This year the theme is biodiversity (2010 is the UN year of biodiversity) so I had been preparing for a good dose of homo-aggressus.

Approaching the Charlemagne Centre (the most eco-unfriendly building in Brussels), I spied people in white decontamination suits doing a CSI-style crime-scene enactment (drawing chalk marks around dead species). Great, I thought, Greenpeace is out in force to hammer home a point. It turned out that these were people from the European Commission, DG Environment. More decontamination suits were inside handing out papers about the conference.

Has DG Environment become an activist organisation? Their biodiversity website is called a “campaign” website – so we are no longer talking about regulations or consultations and stakeholder dialogues – the DG is running campaigns to raise awareness and tell us how we have to change (somewhere Margot Walström is smiling from ear to ear). I didn’t know such radicalisation was part of the remit of a Commission Directorate General. I was doubting my interpretation until I saw their campaign video, proudly introduced by DG Environment Director General Kurt Falkenberg. It was a sort of Laurie Anderson meets Ashok Khosla mix of human ingratitude for all nature has tried to offer us, and how evil man is to just lie back and watch his consumerism and modernity destroy the planet. It ends with a warning: Tomorrow it could be you. Chilling.

I am not sure it is a good idea to use public money to campaign so aggressively – that is why DG Environment gives so much money to environmental NGOs. Perhaps they were radicalising and campaigning so hard to try to woo back the main NGOs who have abandoned Green Week in recent years. Birdlife was the only member of the Green-10 to set up an exhibit this year although WWF has a big PVC eco-balloon in front of the Berlaymont (I was delightfully reassured by the WWF person that the PVC plastic was sustainable).

WWF's sustainable PVC plastic eco-ball
WWF's sustainable PVC plastic eco-ball

What if we disagree with the Commission’s campaign on biodiversity? (I’ll post my views about this in a later Green Week blog.) DG Environment has closed the debate, left no room to listen to other views and have taken to doing street theatre in decontamination suits. In his opening address, Commissioner Potočnik was still sober about using sound science for developing environmental policies, but how long will it be before he sheds a tear at a press conference?

Tomorrow (Wednesday) the Risk Monger is bringing a group of students from his ongoing Risk Communications class to Green Week. It should be a good learning experience for them.

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