Shale gas, GMOs, here are some topics that usually arouse the worst fears in public opinion. With a certain efficiency, the European continent has managed to ban its production … which, paradoxically, does not prevent it from importing it. How did we get there?
Europe: new global store of fear of progress
If we were asked to define the European specialty in terms of new technologies, without a doubt, the fear of scientific and technical progress is becoming the main attribute of the old continent. A quick overview will convince us of the validity of this intuition:
- Germany has given Hans Jonas, the philosopher designer of the heuristics of fear, an approach that calls to be systematically suspicious of scientific progress;
- It was in Italy that a Scotsman and an Italian met for the first time to create the Club of Rome  which will be at the origin of the Meadow report on stopping growth;
- France is one of the only countries to have introduced the precautionary principle in its constitution and has a real talent for anti-science activism (we will think of volunteer mowers, for example) and more recently, it is Frenchmen who invented a new discipline called collapsology which studies “the collapse of industrial civilization and what could succeed it”;
- Sweden is the homeland of the now famous Greta Thunberg who wants “to be afraid”;
- Finally, England has just brought the group Extinction Rebellion to the forefront, which has quickly emerged as an international model for civil disobedience …
This list is not exhaustive, but it is enough to give us a little insight: philosophers, committees Theodule, NGO, new discipline “scientific”, whistleblowers, prophets of the apocalypse, zealous politicians, effective lobbies … Diversity actors of the progress of fear illustrates the creativity of the business model and demonstrates that it is now an activity in its own right. Maybe one day there will be on our continent a socio-professional category “fear of progress”.
One thing is certain: Europe is the world spearhead of the challenge to the model of the Enlightenment civilization that, paradoxically, it has created and which is at the origin of all the advantages we have known for more than 200 years. years old . And the effectiveness of all these actors is formidable because as we will see, they managed to ban on the continent of Europe some technologies … Here are two examples from the recent news.
Shale gas: exploration prohibited in soils, in ports
Yesterday it was learned that imports of shale gas had tripled in Europe. At the beginning of the 2010s, there were still questions about the exploration of European soil for shale gas. For example, in an analysis on the subject: ” In Europe, unconventional gas and oil deposits are spread over several basins: in the North ( Sweden, Denmark, England), in the center (Germany, Austria), in the East (Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania) and in the South (France, Spain). Several European countries are already exploring and / or exploiting their deposits while others have frozen any action pending scientific assessments and impact studies .  In 2012, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that the European Union could produce nearly 80 billion cubic meters of gas by 2035, enough to meet 10% of domestic demand. But after a few years a stop will be given to its surveys in almost all European countries, except England which intends to continue the explorations  .
While countries like Poland have embarked on exploration without finding the expected sources  , in 2016 this country was condemned by the European Commission, which found that Polish legislation violated the EU directive on education. environmental impact. In France, it was in 2013 that the Constitutional Council validated a law banning the exploration and exploitation of shale gas by the technique of hydraulic fracturing. As read in a Reuters dispatch, ” The legislator pursued a general interest goal of environmental protection ”  . Undoubtedly the environmental pressure played a fundamental role in this abandonment. Thus, following the condemnation of Poland by Brussels, the NGO Friends of the Earth was pleased: ” This is a great success of the hydraulic anti-fracturing mobilization. We must now wait for the Court’s decision, but given the evidence of the offense, we are probably close to seeing the highest European body issue a binding legal precedent on hydraulic fracturing. 
A European who has seen the film Gasland  and will be convinced of the dangerousness of hydraulic fracturing will be happy not to have a well in his garden, but he will face a sad reality: while Europe does not dig its soil, it has never been so dependent on other continents. As it was recalled in the introduction “American shale gas floods Europe”  and “the United States has tripled its deliveries in Europe and France from 2.7 million tonnes in 2018 to 7.6 million in the first nine months of 2019, in order to compete with the Russians. “We do not explore our soils and therefore we do not give ourselves the chance to exploit the raw material that could be there, but during this time we have never imported so much … a situation for the least paradoxical.
GMO prohibited in the fields, allowed in the plates
Also yesterday, ISAAA, the International Service for the Acquisition of Biotechnological Agricultural Applications, published its annual report on the global crop of genetically modified plants for the year 2018  . This is the 23rd report of its kind, knowing that the first field crops date back to 1996. Since this year, 2.3 billion hectares of GM crops have been cultivated worldwide. By 2018, 26 countries (including 21 developing) have grown 191.7 million hectares of biotech seeds. According to the authors, all these excellent results are green biotechnologies, the technology that has had the fastest adoption rate in the history of agricultural seeds  . 17 million farmers planted biotechnology-derived plants, 95% of them small farmers. Year by year, this technology is being adopted worldwide, even though there are still many countries that are refractory. As the movie Food Evolution shows , many other farmers would use biotech crops, particularly in Africa, if they were allowed. At the time, hybrid maize had also aroused opposition, but who still talks about it today? Will the GMPs, which have so much hit the headlines and aroused “alarmists”, in future they will be more frowned upon than the fiercest opponents?
Nevertheless, Europe, which was once on the cutting edge (especially with France, which was one of the pioneers in terms of field trials) is now at the bottom of the pack in terms of crops. . Only Spain and Portugal grow BT maize (resistant without pesticide treatment to certain insect pests) … all the other European countries are content to import it. Here again, we are witnessing a paradoxical situation in which the European citizen does not want to hear about genetically engineered crops but is rather indifferent to its importation. Thus, more than fifty GMOs are authorized for import into the EU. All this as we know is legislated by the very cumbersome Directive 2001/18 which was still talking about it a year ago compared to new technologies Crispr, because some would like to strengthen the legislation on plants resulting from mutagenesis . The cultural exception  that we once defined as a political choice to counter technological change seems to be growing stronger in Europe, where research on green biotechnology has lagged considerably behind rest of the world, and culture – as we have seen – anecdotal. There is no need to dwell on the causes of this situation. As we know, the opponents played a considerable role. Note also that “the fear of GMOs” was born on the old continent and that thanks to the formidable efficiency of European activists, this feeling of fear has spread worldwide. This illustrates once again our ability to export the fear of progress.
We see it through these two examples, Europe finds itself little by little in a situation of dependence, for having refused the development of certain technologies. And these are just two examples, we could find a lot more. The prerequisite that America innovates, China copies and Europe regulates every day is a little more realistic. One could review by the yardstick of this observation the set of technologies. Why did we get there? Without a doubt, it comes from the efficiency – dare the term – of the economy of the fear of progress of which we have painted a quick picture. Without the involvement and talent of all these actors things would probably have been very different. Still, our continent is visibly suffering from the NIMBY effect  (Not In My Backyard, or “not in my backyard”). We do not want to develop certain technologies, but we still consume their by-products. Incidentally, we are becoming totally dependent on other countries that continue to develop these same technologies … And while other continents are investing in technological progress, we have chosen to throw all our strength into fear progress. The future will judge.
 Shale gas: overview of the situation in Europe https://www.actu-environnement.com/ae/news/gaz-de-schiste-europe-15371.php4
 “Biotech / Gm crop area increased ~ 113-fold from 1996, the world’s fastest growing crop technology”
 The Quarrel of GMOs (PUF 2006)
This post is also available in: FR (FR)