A Baltic View


Just back from a Baltic Sea cruise that provided an interesting perspective on “Green” Europe.


Passing through the Kiel canal in northern Germany — which shortcuts Denmark by linking North Sea shipping traffic to the Baltic – one is immediately struck by the forests of windmills. While Germany hasn’t had an official state religion since the 15th century, the presence of windmills is evidence of the strong union of Green Church and state.


Interestingly, this throwback to state religion has also brought a return to the European skyline of yore: horizons peppered with windmills. Yes, the new models are sleeker than the old wood variety, but they are a symbol of how deeply Germany is in the grip of Greens who want a return to a “pre-industrial nirvana.” Germany has been operating under a national renewable power standard since 1990 with the goal of forcing 12 percent of electricity generation from wind by 2010 (an RPS model that many U.S. states are adopting).

The mandate was supposed to make wind more affordable – but the industry is still heavily subsidized to remain viable. (Anybody stateside listening?) And, as in this country, some German Greens have soured on wind power as the windmills have multiplied, eliciting complaints of blocked views and shredded bird populations.


The windmills died out as our ship made its way to the Baltic coasts of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. These states have well-developed hydro resources to fill their renewable portfolios. But make no mistake — these countries are Al Gore’s nightmare.


The Baltics experienced an initial sharp decline in CO2 emissions after independence from Mother Russia in 1991, as they transitioned to more efficient market economies. But now that the free-market — and flat taxes – are producing galloping 10-percent annual growth rates, their CO2 emission trends have reversed.


Estonia’s GHG emissions, for example, are accelerating at 11 percent a year in an economy 60 percent dependent on domestically produced oil shale for its electricity. The country — a member of the EU and a Kyoto signatory – is now protesting the draconian targets those organizations have set for it. Newly independent from Soviet central planning, the Baltics appear cool to adopting the EU’s green vision.


Meanwhile, Estonia’s vibrant economy is pulling diesel-powered ships like ours through the Kiel Canal as tourism and industry expand. The Kiel Canal may have been lined with windmills – but it was also choked with bumper-to-bumper diesel ship traffic.      


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