(CN) — The European Union, the world's green deal pioneer, has a new big green problem: It's not climate denial, but “climate delay.”
Across Europe, backlash to Brussels' groundbreaking European Green Deal, unveiled in 2021 by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as Europe's “man-on-the-moon” moment, is being felt as governments, including at the level of EU institutions, and large segments of society resist the slew of new costly and radical environmental laws and rules.
The justifications for the backlash are varied.
Some argue saving livelihoods – especially at a time of war and crisis – trumps saving the planet. Others profess fantastic new technologies – hydrogen, solar, carbon capture – are around the corner, so don't worry, no need to dump fossil fuels overnight.
And some say “Whoa!” to the canvassing of Europe's beautiful landscapes with wind turbines and solar panels because they too are destroying farm life and nature.
Climate activists call what's happening in Europe an example of new tactics and impulses to thwart or slow down efforts to stop burning fossil fuels: In the jargon of green politics, it's called “climate delay.”
“The old war was 'outright denial'; the new war is 'deception, distraction and delay', including deflection of threats and division of opponents,” wrote Michael E. Mann, a leading climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, in his 2021 book, “The New Climate War.”
Europe's anti-green mood is no surprise and can be seen as a reaction to a series of global shocks.
“It's understandable in a time of crisis – the energy crisis, the cost-of-living crisis – that it becomes more challenging to implement ambitious climate policy,” said Alina Averchenkova, a climate policy expert at the London School of Economics.
The pushback is knocking the EU off balance.
In Germany, the coalition government – a combo of Socialists, Greens and pro-business Free Democrats – is teetering in the face of public anger against its expensive green policies.
Polls show support for all three parties has fallen off, but it's been particularly bad for the Greens, whose successes in the September 2021 federal elections now seem like a distant memory.
Many Germans are furious over a proposal to make it mandatory for homeowners to rip out old gas-heating systems and replace them with pricey electric heat pumps. In poorer eastern Germany, heat pumps can cost as much as half or more of the value of many homes.
Backpedaling, the government is now redrafting the law, but toxic infighting is testing the stability of Europe's most important economic and political power and its commitment to lead on green policies.
Even before the heat pump fiasco erupted, many Germans were seething at EU rules to ban the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines by 2035. Germany is, after all, home to Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, BMW, Opel and Volkswagen, among the most prized automobiles in the world. Finance Minister Christian Lindner, the race-car-driving leader of the Free Democrats, tried to veto the legislation from passing in Germany, but ultimately backed down.
In Berlin, the clash over climate action has even become physical.
For weeks, climate activists calling themselves the Last Generation have been gluing their hands to roadways to block traffic and demand urgent and immediate action from the government.
And it's gotten ugly: Angry motorists have dragged and pushed protesters off the streets and police have spent hours removing protesters' glued hands. In at least one incident, police needed a jackhammer to get a glued demonstrator off a roadway.
Fed up and alarmed, last month German prosecutors and police raided homes and offices of Last Generation members and accused them of being a criminal organization.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron, mindful of the violent anti-fuel tax protests of the “yellow vests,” has showed little interest in climate policies and last month called for the relaxation of environmental regulations in a big push to propel France – and the rest of Europe – into what he's calling a new age of industrial output.