Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo held a meeting yesterday with key representatives of the mainstream media to exhort them to provide more instruction to the public on “green gestures for everyday life”, according to Le Parisien. With the Grenelle entering a new phase as the working groups have turned in their proposals for the summit due end-October, we are now witnessing a media blitz on the environment. “60 million ecolos? The French all want to save the planet”, declares the Parisien on today’s front page. This refers to a recent survey the daily carried out which showed that 93 percent of the population say they are ready to change their own behaviour to save the planet. It seems that green has finally gone mainstream in France. But is there substance behind all the buzz? Hard to tell. For a start, the revamped Environment Ministry started out with the ultra-cerebral and highly competent Alain Juppé, who had his wake-up call on the environment during a year he spent in political exile as a professor in Quebec. Juppé however bit the dust after the legislative elections when he lost his seat in Bordeaux and had to step down, paving the way for Borloo, who swapped over from Economy and the Budget. Borloo perceived this reshuffle as a demotion and was widely reported to have been depressed over the summer. He’s back now, with a vengeance, and is all over the press talking about saving the planet.
Less knowledgeable and probably less interested in the environment than Juppé, he is nonetheless admired as a skilful and relentless negotiator.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was not rated highly for his environmental awareness during the presidential campaign, was voted in by 53 percent of the French on a pro-growth platform. At the United Nations earlier this week, he called for a “New Deal” on ecology and the economy. Juppé laid out a vision for France in an editorial published in Le Figaro in January. “We must first define the objective. The goal isn’t to produce less, to consume less, to move around less… but to produce differently, to consume differently, to move about differently. It’s not “décroissance” that we have to organize, but another type of growth…an ecological growth which is accompanied by the reduction of waste and the depletion of non-renewable resources. We have to create a large chain of initiatives, from the local to the global.” Décroissance is an interesting word which refers to a growth slowdown and is a big taboo in the political sphere. The closest equivalent in the Anglo-Saxon world is the simplicity movement. In France, décroissance is associated with extremist vegans and anti-globalization action figures like Jose Bové.
The convergence of the public will to accept change and the high political stakes associated with the Grenelle (Borloo still hopes to be prime minister) creates an alchemy which is both fertile and optimistic. More in the coming weeks.