Environmental follies in France

"To arms, oh citizens! Form up in serried ranks! March on, march on! May their impure blood / Flow in our fields!" When it was first heard in 1792, the chorus of La Marseillaise, France’s national anthem, left no doubt whatsoever about the determination of French revolutionary troops to win the war their national assembly had just declared on the King of Austria purportedly in the name of freedom. The same kind of Jacobin take-no-prisoners approach has been favored by latter-day French authorities in their latest revolutionary expedition against environmental damage. Too bad if Baby Freedom is being thrown out with the bloody bath water.

The war on environmental recklessness started back in February 2005 when then President Jacques Chirac, otherwise known as a peace-loving world leader, convened all 907 French deputes et senateurs in a special parliamentary session which was held, of all places, in regal Versailles and in which a so-called Charter for the Environment was ratified almost unanimously as an amendment to the French Constitution. Representative government can undoubtedly work wonders when a majority might produce a different outcome at the ballot box in a referendum.

Anyway the charter duly strikes a balance between the singular right of French citizens “to live in a healthy environment” (Article 1) and their plural duties to protect the earth (Articles 2, 3, and 4). Just as importantly, the document democratically goes on to point out in Article 8 that “education and training will have to contribute to the fulfillment of the rights and duties described in the Charter”. Mercifully no mention is made of reeducation camps for recalcitrant green fellow travelers -- but those in France who still believed that representative government and propaganda did not mix have now been warned to think again.

Whether these skeptics like it or not, even French meteorologists will patriotically make sure they put on their green thinking cap by “educating” and “training” viewers, at the end of their televised forecasts, about the various potential environmental dangers of turning on the heat when it’s cold or the air-conditioning when it’s too hot, of performing prolonged ablutions and cooking gargantuan meals. (Now you know why the French are so slim!) For good measure, the democratically naïve will afterwards be treated to three or four segments in the nightly news on environmentally-friendly anchors for fishing vessels, writing materials for school children, and preposterous whatnot.

Of course, French environmental education would not be complete without fiscal illustration. Since November 2006, the French have had to pay a new euphemistically called “eco-participation” (read, “eco-tax”) to help with the costs of recycling electrical and electronic waste.

Finally, early this week, even President Sarkozy, Jacques Chirac’s successor, “trained” his fellow countrymen by lambasting his new American friends with words to the effect that while the U.S. once (can anyone remember when?) couldn’t resist the temptation to use force unilaterally, it now “unfortunately” does not show the same kind of unilateral commitment in the war on global warming.

There is one little inconvenient truth in all this, though. French authorities have actually been too doctrinally successful in their green revolutionary drive. Indeed, this has been one of the coolest and wettest summers in France in almost half a century, and French citizens have apparently been voting with their feet lately: record numbers of them traveled abroad in July and August. The most popular destinations? Sun-drenched resorts.

Time to close the borders?

Note: "Paoli" is the pen name, or should we say nom de plume, of our French correspondent, a close student of European politics and a well-wisher to us Americans. He informs us the original Pasquale Paoli, 1725-1807, was the George Washington of Corsica.