When talking about environmental issues, climate change often dominates the conversation. A recent book published by Guillaume Sainteny called Le climat qui cache la forêt (‘The Climate which Hides the Forest’) presents some of the flaws of current environmental politics.
Sainteny writes of a hierarchy within the debate, using three examples (biodiversity, air pollution and soil erosion) to demonstrate how climate change has a disproportionate place in discussions. Not all environmental problems are attributed the same importance.
This was supported by looking at how the French government funds environmental issues. In 2015, the ‘Loi de Finance’ (or Finance Law report), set the budget and tax expenditure at 3.5 billion euros for climate change. This was compared to 37.1 million euros for air pollution and 859 million euros for biodiversity and landscape combined.
Without entering into the intricacies of these budgets, Sainteny adopts an interesting angle to show how climate change not only has a significant place within the conversation, but also within government funding.
One could argue that climate change is a general term encapsulating these areas. A large budget for climate change doesn’t rule out the possibility that a portion of this money goes towards biodiversity or land conservation. Nonetheless, we are able to differentiate between budgets.
When environmental problems are discussed, the focus tends to turn to rising temperatures, sea levels, droughts, extreme weather. These are relevant and serious threats that need to be addressed, but leave other issues marginalized.
The threat to our biodiversity is due to climate change, but it is also a result of urbanism, overfishing, deforestation, air, soil and water pollution. It must be understood that these topics are intertwined. It also means climate change isn’t always the root of the problem. Perhaps people connect more with the idea of cities sinking or uncontrollable fires and less with disappearing bees. There’s a danger of summing up environmental problems with one general term – climate change.
The idea here is to bring these concerns up to the same level of importance. Not necessarily financially; expecting all environmental sectors to be awarded with a 3.5 billion euro budget would be unrealistic. Certainly, at the moment, the margin is excessive. More political action and campaigns to sensitize the public could be organized. As the environment becomes of increasing concern, it is important that the right questions are followed by the right funding.
Guillaume Sainteny, Le climat qui cache la forêt, L’écopoche, Paris, 2015
République française, Lutte contre le changement climatique, document de politique transversale, annexe au projet de loi de finances, 2015.
République française, État récapitulatif de l’effort financier consenti en 2014 et prévu en 2015 au titre de la protection de l’environment, annexe au projet de loi de finances, 2015.
F. S. Chapin, E. S. Zavaleta, V. T. Eviner, R. L. Naylor, P. M. Vitousek, H. L. Reynolds, D. U. Hooper, S. Lavorel, O. E. Sala, S. E. Hobbie, M. C. Mack, S. Díaz, Consequences of changing biodiversity, Nature, 2000, 405, 234-242.