This is the third part of three-part series exploring the German Energy Transition or Energiewende, by David Ravensbergen. In Part 1, The Land of Wind and Solar, Ravensbergen describes how decentralized, small-scale changes can amount to a broad energy revolution. In Part 2, Is the German Energy Transition Everything It's Cracked Up to Be?, he takes a closer look at the promise and the reality of the German response to climate change along with energy researcher Tadzio Müller. In this third and final installment, Ravensbergen asks what the German experience can teach North Americans looking to make the transition away from fossil fuels.
In Canada, hopes of implementing a national strategy on climate even remotely equivalent to the German Energiewende are continually sabotaged by the federal government’s unwavering commitment to propping up the fossil fuel sector. For Canadian climate activists struggling against the expansion of tar sands pipelines and Harper’s Paleolithic energy policies, one big question looms: how do the Germans do it?
According to Tadzio Müller, the explanation is simple. “What the German government has done was the result of 35 years of social struggle by movements.” While it may be tempting to chalk up the change to a healthier public discourse or more reasonable elected officials, Müller insists it wouldn’t have happened without the tireless work of activists. “The laws that were passed were fought for by movements. The government has done only what it has been forced to do.”
Nowhere is this lesson more visible than in Chancellor Merkel’s 2011 decision to completely shut down German nuclear power in the wake of Fukushima. Müller notes that Merkel’s government at the time was “a conservative-neoliberal coalition that had being in favour of nuclear power as one of its key brand elements.”