Marcel Wissenburg FM Focus
Marcel Wissenburg FM Focus

Climate goals have strong philosophical foundations in liberalism

Climate change: according to Professor of Political Theory Marcel Wissenburg and Political Science alumnus and Member of Parliament Silvio Erkens, in particular climate change deniers and climate activists dominate the social debate. This is a shame, they think: the conversation should be about solutions and how we are going to implement them. They themselves are ambitious yet realistic when looking at climate and energy issues. And they find solutions that fit seamlessly into the tenets of liberalism, which can both strengthen the economy and make it more sustainable.

Erkens: ‘I have been spokesperson for Climate and Energy for the VVD (People's Party for Freedom and Democracy) in the Lower House for two years. In all honesty, climate policy in the Netherlands often irritates me. It is either too expensive and too nonsensical and we should do nothing with it, or we may not do anything and we all lose out. However, I’m much more interested in discussing how we are going to take steps together as quickly and effectively as possible.’

Wissenburg agrees with the volatility of thinking in politics. To encourage thinking and reflection, in addition to being a professor at the Nijmegen School of Management, he is also active at the Telders Foundation, the VVD’s scientific thinktank. ‘If I look at everyday politics, politicians are just getting by, day to day and problem to problem; in that practical approach, they almost never ask themselves the question: why am I actually doing this? As a result, discussions quickly fall back into caricatures.’

Marcel Wissenburg

Freedom and responsibility are not infinite 

In a recently published essay, Erkens and Wissenburg linked the liberal tenets of freedom, equality, responsibility and justice to climate policy, to explain to their own supporters and other parties that climate policy also fits into the tenets of liberalism. Erkens: ‘When liberals encounter problems, they believe in solutions stemming from human knowledge. On the other hand, that freedom of self-responsibility is not infinite. Owing to climate change, we can now see that we are harming future generations’ right to live on this planet safely. This means we need to do something about it.’ Wissenburg: ‘I also try to make supporters aware of how deep that relationship between concern for nature and the environment and liberalism actually is. Making freedom as great as possible means protecting the planet - from biodiversity to the climate - to realise the widest possible array of individual lives.’

Portretfoto Silvio Erkens

A sustainable country and economic growth

According to Erkens and Wissenburg, the route to sustainability lies mainly in using market instruments to encourage industries to transform themselves sustainably. As far as they are concerned, prices, subsidies and standards can ensure that clean alternatives are made cheaper than polluting ones. Erkens: ‘It's this range of policies that can ensure the country is sustainable on the one hand and growing economically on the other, which no longer comes solely at the expense of the planet.’

On these terms, Erkens and Wissenburg are in stark opposition to those who advocate consuming less. Erkens: ‘I believe that achieving sustainability by taking steps backwards is unacceptable. Because if there is less money to spend, we also have less money for things like healthcare and education. And if we want China and India to agree to our sustainability targets, we won’t convince them with a narrative about economic contraction. However, we will convince them if we show them that we can combine prosperity with respect for the living environment.’

Interdisciplinary perspective

Erkens is campaigning for liberal climate policy with a roadshow throughout the Netherlands. Wissenburg: ‘There is now a narrative about a serious and consistent climate policy, which needs to start materialising, and Silvio is working hard on that currently. If we need to reflect, we seek each other out again. Taking a moment to stop and think about what you are doing is valuable.’

Erkens: ‘Nijmegen’s interdisciplinary perspective, which I also got through Marcel as a Political Science alumnus, really helps with this. If you look at climate issues, you can quickly fall into the trap of only looking at the climate. However, if you add six other different perspectives, you arrive at a more refined picture and solutions that are more widely supported. Citizens also appreciate it if politicians are more concerned with substance and nuance instead of getting at each other. This is not always apparent if you look at the papers or on social media. However, I get the feeling it’s what society wants. And it gives us the confidence to continue.’

Text: Annette Zonnenberg

Photo: Duncan de Fey

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