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Green Is Ugly: Style Problems Plague Clean Energy Push

Germany is a world leader when it comes to green energy. But while its windmills and solar panels may be cleaning up the atmosphere, they’re also sullying the landscape.

Green Is Ugly: Style Problems Plague Clean Energy Push
Ulf Poschardt

Is staying happy and healthy as long as possible worth it in an ugly world? Or will old buildings disfigured by insulation material, landscapes spoiled by windmills and dull living rooms barely illuminated by energy efficient light bulbs end up being more unpleasant – and unhealthy – than polluted air?

As of now, the green zeitgeist has not made Germany any more beautiful – just more plain. The first solar power users destroyed with almost missionary fervor the houses they inherited from their parents and grandparents. With the exception of a few avant-garde architects who build exclusively for the über-rich, the solar panel roof is an architectural abomination.

Ask a proud owner of an old building about their solar "lumps," and you will mostly hear about the wonders of self-made energy. These people have little tolerance for superficial criticism. Just like any moral zeal, the ecological furor, too, relies on internal values that accept the most awkward of packaging.

There is no end in sight to the green success story. The state of Baden-Wuertemberg recently elected a Green governor, and in a couple of years a Green Party member could reign in Berlin, the capital. The Greens won 6.7% of the vote in the 1998 elections, and 8.6% four years later. Nowadays, they're three to four times as powerful, which is exactly why it makes sense to anticipate in detail how corresponding policy changes will affect the country.

Subsidies for the solar panel and windmill industry have already had a lasting aesthetic effect on the country. On both the federal and state level, we're also seeing some of our cultural traditions evaporate.

Recent speeches and interviews by Green Party leaders offer insights into their plans for the future: speed limits, higher taxes and lots of regulations. Fans of fast cars will still be able to enjoy their rides, but not at the expense of the greater good of the people. Introduction of the planned speed limit would kill the one place where Germany is less regulated than the rest of the world, the Autobahn.

The Greens are hoping many people give up their cars altogether. Their re-education efforts – aimed at turning Germans into eternal bike riders – demonize the highway in order to glorify the bike path.

The intellectual cue givers for this planned policy shift leave no doubt about the drastic nature of the change. The government's environmental advisory council demands nothing less than the reconstruction of civil society.

"The house of mankind is rotten and needs to be repaired urgently," says climate scientist and advisory council member Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. "We need a sustainability revolution."

Oh great, another revolution! The current insulation craziness is the responsibility of a coalition government of CDU and FDP. What would happen to our living spaces if they fell into the hands of more serious revolutionaries? A Sunday paper recently called insulation the Burqa for the house. Chances are it could soon become the standard.

The term "creative government" – something Schellnhuber longs for – is a concept that is at once innovative and authoritarian.

So far, the current eco-revolutionary avant-garde has not shown any expertise in the realm of the beautiful. Artist Joseph Beuyes has not found a successor within the Green Party. Now, the lifestyle trend that confuses fair-trade products with luxury, colorfulness with elegance, pettiness with minimalism, and IKEA with Scandinavian design, threatens to take over.

"The ‘creative government" and the pioneers of change are the central actors for change," according to Schellnhuber's study. "The ‘creative government" provides a free space for those pioneers of change and actively supports them." There's only room, in other words, for like-minded people.

The Greens must take the aesthetic dimensions of their ideas seriously if they want to do justice to their growing responsibility. Otherwise the German special path could cease to be an ecological roll model and turn into a bad example.

Maybe the Greens can try out their new strategies on the corners of the country that can't get any uglier. The future of design, architecture and mobility is, after all, green. It needs time and space to develop and yes, it does require a creative society. What it doesn't need are government prescriptions.

Good intentions alone are not enough. Beauty exists because it is treasured and preserved. That's not the case with energy efficient light bulbs and hybrid cars, which too often are just a placebo for a pure conscience.

Read the original article in Germany.

Photo - Skywalker/Flicker

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