Belgium fossil-fuel free in nine … err … ten steps

While looking for more information on the fossil-fuel free in nine steps campaign (see previous post), I encountered a similar looking campaign: ten measures to ban fossil energy to the past. It was similar because nine of the ten measures/steps were identical in both campaigns, though they were placed in a different order. Unlike the webpage of the nine steps campaign, this page was actually dated. The ten-measures list was published on November 17, 2016. A week after the US elections.

This made me curious about the relationship between the nine- and the ten-steps campaign. Did the nine-steps campaign came first and was one step added in order to come to the ten-steps campaign? Or did the ten-measures campaign come first and did it morph it into the nine-steps campaign by one measure being tossed out? I needed to find the date of this nine-steps campaign.

Then I got the idea to look into the source of the page. Some webpage generators write the publish date into the meta data of the header, maybe this was also the case here. Looking into the page source, it became clear that they use the WordPress Wunder theme and, yes, the creation date was in there.

The creation date of the page is November 16, 2016 at 12:28.

November 16?!?!

So this nine-steps campaign is published only ONE day before the ten-measures news page (November 17, 2016 at 10:59). Until then, I was expecting that it was the other around.

They probably realized that they forgot something in their first campaign and quickly added it the next day. But at that time they already had a campaign running with a petition and a video in it.

They managed to include two grammatical errors in the description of that newly added measure, so not only the initial nine-steps campaign seems to be a rush job, but also this ten-measures list.

This was the newly added measure (translated from Dutch, grammatical errors corrected):

  1. The government gives the good example: starting from 2018, energy and CO2-neutral buildings are chosen for construction or major renovation of public buildings. No new buildings that are still connected to the natural gas network or that are dependent on other fossil fuels are planned. This measure applies to all levels. The Brussels region showed us the way.

    Belgian houses are among the worst insulated, most energy consuming in Europe. Our homes consume more energy than those in the cold Sweden. Annually, sufficient renovation investments must be made to provide the necessary momentum to realize the energy-saving advantage of our houses. To make this possible, we set up a large-scale and extensive renovation program.

    Everyone must get to work in order to make their house as energy efficient as possible. Starting from at the latest 2018, the nearly zero-energy standard applies for all new houses in Flanders. Our buildings are no longer heated with fossil fuels, but by a combination of heat pumps, solar water heaters, heat networks, geothermal and other environmentally friendly heating systems. From 2018, no new heating systems on fuel oil will be installed, by 2025 also no boilers on natural gas will be installed. The Brussels region showed us the way.

This is overlapping point five of the previous campaign (no heating with oil or gas), but adding better insulation of houses and that our government should give the good example. In both cases they claim that Brussels is the example how to do it.

Having better insulation is in fact not a bad proposition. Better isolation of houses in our climate is a no-brainer, even if one doesn’t believe that CO2 is the control knob of the climate.

I am not sure whether the Brussels region is actually comparable with Flanders. The Brussels region is much smaller, more urbanized, less inhabitants actually living there and vast amounts of commuters working in offices from all kind of (international) organizations, governments and so on. In that sense, Brussels is a rich city. But also, some of the poorest communities are located in the Brussels region. So, it is not a big surprise to me that the Brussels government is “giving the good example”, it is one of the few ways it can do something in this situation.

Flanders doesn’t have the same dynamics that Brussels has, so I don’t think that Brussels is a good example for Flanders. Stating that Brussels “showed us the way” therefor seems a rather hollow claim to me. It is the special situation of Brussels that is the reason for Brussels taking the lead over its inhabitants and that is not working in the same way in Flanders.

This newly added measure is in line with the other examples from that list. Just as the example of Brussels, the other examples in the list were chosen for their (sometimes even the expected) achievements. For example, Denmark has a large share of renewable energy and France is heating primary with electricity. What they didn’t take into account is that:

  • these achievements came from a very specific situation in that country. A large coastline and neighbor countries with huge amounts of hydro-energy in the case of Denmark. A huge share of nuclear energy in the case of France (a surprising example because the greens don’t want nuclear energy in Belgium).
    Belgium doesn’t have the same resources or opportunities, therefor bad examples for what they are trying to illustrate
  • the countries in the list were cherry picked for only ONE achievement (with the exception of France that was mentioned with two achievements) while the Flemish greens want Belgium to achieve EVERYTHING in the list.

This shows that they didn’t think their propositions through. However, this is not how the newspapers reported on it, for example this and this. Both articles from different newspapers are completely identical, so these journalist probably didn’t write it themselves, but got it from a common source. Since the source was not given, my guess is that it was the Green party itself.

Those two articles called the items of this list “concrete propositions” and they also claimed that:

Examples from abroad
For the ten measures that Groen came up with, there are examples from abroad.

This would have been correct if they referred to the nine-steps list. All the examples on the nine-steps list were from abroad. But they referred to the ten-measures list for which this is not true (last time I visited Brussels, it was still located in Belgium). To me, it looked like this article was originally written for the nine-steps campaign and later adapted to the ten-measures list. This again shows me that it was a hurry job.

That these nine or ten-step lists are concrete propositions is utterly ridiculous: these are just a bunch of loose ideas/dreams that were lumped together in a hurry. Probably motivated by the presidential election result of the USA that took them by surprise.

That is an indication that these newspaper journalists didn’t read the campaign page of the Flemish greens. Otherwise they would have seen that these were NOT concrete propositions and the examples didn’t prove their case. There wasn’t even a link to the campaign page in the newspaper articles.

It does sound nice of course: ten concrete propositions. As if they figured it all out. Yet when looking somewhat closer, it is not the thoughtfully constructed plan that it is presented as and it really shows how weak the arguments are. They are very lucky that they have the mainstream media, eager to report uncritically on their campaigns.

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