Greetings from Berlin, Germany. The weather here is very much the same as conditions in Wyoming when I drove to Denver International Airport on Friday evening. Unlike my trip to China in 2009, I do not stand out in a crowd here, and neither does my last name. When I attempt to communicate using my poor German language skills, the jig is up. Two years of German language study in high school and a half-semester in college doesn’t go very far; das tut mir leid. But it’s good enough to order a beer and a plate of fish with boiled potatoes and scalloped carrots.
I’m here at the invitation of the American Council on Germany, which also funded my trip. They’ve arranged a very ambitious five-day “study tour” of German and international energy policy.
Why should Wyoming care? Because Wyoming’s energy resources are tied to international markets and policies. Powder River Basin coal is making its way to China (perhaps just as much a function of the lack of U.S. energy policy as international demand). A Russian-controlled company has controlling interest in a company that owns vast uranium interests in Wyoming, including an operational mine in Campbell County.
Companies active in Wyoming, like ExxonMobil, are active throughout the world. ExxonMobil, which owns and operates the Shute Creek natural gas processing plant in Wyoming, is making moves for shale gas in western Germany. The same horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology unlocking oil and gas in Wyoming and the rest of America could help European countries become less dependent on Russian-controlled natural gas.
The more Wyomingites understand about international energy policy and markets, the better they can understand how to shape good state policies regarding energy industries and their role in Wyoming life.
To kick things off on Sunday evening, we heard from Ralf Fücks, president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. He talked about the rise of the Green Party and the green economy in Europe. He said the Green Party has steadily made gains in Germany and throughout Europe because of its bipartisan appeal to the middle-class on job-creation and energy security.
I asked Fücks how much support for the Green Party comes from concerns about climate change and limited conventional energy resources. Fücks said those are not fundamental drivers.
“It’s not about nature. It’s about quality of life,” said Fücks.
Germans don’t question climate change to the degree Americans do (an understatement), and they feel that impacts to the environment can be minimized; Many believe they can be fully mitigated, according to Fücks. Instead of environmental concern, support for the Green Party — particularly in Germany — comes from a history of scarcity and crisis. The Green Party movement is more a function of social justice and global democracy, said Fücks. Plus, conservation and energy independence are organic elements of German roots. Whereas in the United States, “There’s this culture of no limits … of infinite possibilities,” said Fücks.
Several attendees of the conference, including William Drozdiak, president of the American Council on Germany, said that support for renewable energy and conservation in the U.S. seems to be held up by a dysfunctional two-party political system. The U.S. must first face a crisis of government before it can get to the hard work of addressing a crisis of energy and the environment.
I sense this may be a central theme of our discussions this week, and it makes for good blogging. I intend to post several blogs throughout the week, then drill down deeper into these issues when I return to the Cowboy State. Stay tuned.
Contact Dustin Bleizeffer at 307-577-6069 or [email protected]