Czech President Vaclav Klaus: 'Environmentalism As Bad As Communism'

BUDAPEST - Czech President Vaclav Klaus has offered fresh warnings that environmentalism and measures to curb climate change are a threat to human freedom.

BUDAPEST - Czech President Vaclav Klaus has offered fresh warnings that environmentalism and measures to curb climate change are a threat to human freedom.

The President's most recent and controversial statements came when replying to questions sent to him by members of the U.S. House of Representatives energy and commerce committee which had requested his views on climate change.Klaus is known for calling climate change "a false myth" or a "nonsensical fiction", and he opposes the Kyoto Protocol on limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Vaclav Klaus was one of the leading political figures of post-communist Czechoslovakia and was prime minister of the Czech Republic between 1993 and 1997, leading the newly independent country in its economic transformation. The old Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia Jan. 1, 1993.

An enthusiastic supporter of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan's policies, Klaus was founder of the Civic Democrats (ODS), a neo-liberal party now in government.

The U.S. congressmen were asking how humans contribute to climate change and how these changes should be dealt with in legislation.

Another high-ranking figure whose views were heard was former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, one of the leading voices calling for changes in human behavior to avert an environmental catastrophe.

Conversely, the Czech President asked the congressmen not to yield to pressure from environmentalists and abandon the principles of free society: "the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity at the beginning of the 21st century is not communism or its various softer variants. Communism was replaced by the threat of ambitious environmentalism."

"This ideology," Klaus said, "wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central, now global, planning of the whole world."

The Czech President is strongly opposed to environmentalism, which he calls a "religion based on political ambitions rather than science," and accuses environmentalists of using "sophisticated methods of media manipulation" to spread "fear and panic".

Klaus also reminded environmentalists, in a text charged with economic jargon, that "policymakers should protect taxpayers' money and avoid wasting it on doubtful projects," and that each measure "must be based on a cost-benefit analysis."

Klaus fears environmentalist policies could set "artificial limits" and have "devastating" effects on national economies, harming growth rates and "the competitiveness of firms on international markets."

In the opinion of the Czech President, climate change is an unavoidable and natural consequence of "exogenous and endogenous natural processes," and that "no government action can stop the world and nature from changing."

While most Czechs are by now familiar with Klaus's radical pro-market views, he managed to surprise many when claiming that "while some deserts may get larger and some ocean shores flooded, enormous parts of the earth" could become "fertile areas able to accommodate millions of people."

Vojtech Kotecky from Friends of the Earth replied by asking Klaus whether he thought "people from flooded Bangladesh or dried up Africa should move to Siberia only to allow obsolete industrial forms to continue emitting pollutants."

Environment minister and chairman of the Green Party Martin Bursik said that the President had ridiculed himself and the country.

"The congressmen gave Klaus the opportunity to express his favorite clichAf(c)s and ideas," Jan Drahokoupil, an analyst at the Czech Economy and Society Trust told IPS.

"He has been active trying to prove climate change is a myth, organizing conferences and even helping fund translations of books supporting this view. He draws resources and funding from like-minded American foundations," Drahokoupil said.

The President's text was criticized for being simply ideological and lacking any evidence, examples or statistics, but several scientists and other Czech personalities were especially enraged by Klaus's comparison of environmentalism to communism.

"He relies on the anti-communist card because anti-communist sentiments are very strong in the Czech Republic," Drahokoupil told IPS. "It's a very powerful tool in politics and media to compare something to communism; Klaus uses it against anything he doesn't like."

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, a member of Klaus's ODS, initially refused to comment on the President's views, but later said he had the right to his opinion and that some of his ideas were close to him.

But Topolanek has had to accommodate some environmentalist views as he was forced to include the Greens in the cabinet he formed last January. In spite of their belonging to the same party, Klaus was unhappy about Topolanek's choice of coalition partners and did not make an effort to conceal his criticism.

Many in the ODS are unhappy with the Green Party pushing through its energy policies, which ODS first deputy chairman Pavel Bem considers as being "way off mark". Bem also warned that disputes within the governing coalition were likely to escalate.

Nonetheless, the Prime Minister, who considers climate change "a big business," called on the right to start acting before "the Socialists" take the initiative and "start allocating very valuable public resources in a wrong way."

On Mar. 9 Topolanek agreed with other EU member states to curb climate change by partially harmonizing the organization's energy policy with the goal of reaching a one-fifth share of renewable energy production by 2020.

The Czech Republic, presently not ranking among the most renewables-friendly EU states, was part of the small group of countries that found the goal to be unrealistic. A compromise was eventually found allowing member states to reach different shares.

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