On Brexit and the Environment

As many, I woke up on Friday to the sad news that the UK had voted to leave the EU in the near future. As a European citizen, I felt disheartened. Although it’s hard not to admit that the European Union is full of flaws, and that some of its recent policies, especially on immigration and economy, are hard to reconcile with the political ideal of integration and openness I was always drawn to, I still feel very much European at heart.

It’s not just the fact that I am lucky enough to be able to easily travel, live and work in 27 other countries (while still being covered for health insurance, which is no small feat). It’s not just the fact that I am suspicious of the concept of nation-state, or even that I am proud the connection I feel with the other European people and cultures is made official through this institution. It’s mostly a hefty blow to one of the most ambitious peace projects of all times (lest we forget the single greatest achievement of the EU: the absence of armed conflict between countries of the EU since WW2, which is unprecedented in history).

After the initial shock and disappointment, I of course started thinking about what I think about a lot in general: the environment. See, I am worried. I am worried that we don’t take it seriously, I am worried that it is changing too fast for us to curb it, but yet not fast enough for us to see it, to feel it, and therefore to believe it. And I am worried that I am not going to like the world that is in store for us if we don’t act faster.

We do know that the EU has actually drastically helped improve the UK quality of air, protect wildlife and keep the countryside green, and that leaving means undoing years of European environmental policies in the UK (it would put “about 70% of UK environmental saveguards at risk”, according to this article). But it’s hard to know what consequences exactly Brexit will have on the environment in the long run – I mean, no one even has any idea on the actual short-term consequences of this referendum, in any area.

Yet, in my opinion, this vote does not exactly reflect the kind of political setting we’ll need to face our environmental crisis, and that’s what concerns me most.

It’s not just the fact that it might take the UK, and therefore Europe, and therefore the world (nature knows no borders, unfortunately) back a few steps when it comes to environmental action. It’s not only that it has taken our focus out of potentially more constructive discussions and plans to action for the environment, and in general has put short-term issues and calculations in the limelight instead of the big picture.

It’s also that this campaign has widely played on people’s fear of globalization, immigration, and openness to the world. Granted, not everything is good and fair in globalization. But again, nature knows no border, and we should be able to consider complex problems beyond borders. The same goes for the environment – there is no way to reach an effective point of action without considering the world in its entirety, beyond nation-states, in a peaceful setting.

Moreover, environmental policies need support from open-minded people with an ability, a will to see the big picture, to think in the long run – unfortunately, that was not what politicians encouraged in citizens during this campaign, and I am concerned that we are not prepared to face these challenges in an educated, thoughtful way.

I do believe we are stronger united. Especially when it comes to facing unprecedented, enormous crises such as climate change, which requires building ambitious policies, and changing our lifestyles and our habits in every area and on every level. I am very sad that Thursday’s referendum once again proved how hard it is to envision and put trust in a future together, beyond nationalities and borders.

On Brexit and the Environment