Cultural Perspectives: French Environmental Initiatives that America Should Take Note Of

Cultural Perspectives: French Environmental Initiatives that America Should Take Note Of

By: Madison Mantz

At the beginning of the Summer, I ventured across the pond to the rural city of Privas, France, located in the heart of the French Alps. My sister is currently teaching English there, so I decided to go and visit her. There were some things that I expected on this trip… for example, the winding hillsides and vineyards were captivating, as expected… the language barrier was rough, as expected (I got yelled at by Train Security and had not a single clue what they were asking of me)… and it was full of adventure, as expected (long story short, but Megan convinced me to hitch hike). Something I was not expecting, however, was the extent of environmental awareness embedded in the French culture. I gleaned this from the fact that every individual I encountered was waste conscious; from the types of energy efficient cars they drove to the types of all-natural food they consumed. This sparked my interest to learn what large-scale green initiatives have encouraged this societal mindset. I discovered three unique legislative enactments that I think the US should consider replicating: the Green Roof decree, Government funded monetary incentives, and a Waste Management Law.

One thing that can definitely be said of the French is that they like their Independence. Within the realm of energy, this fact forces them to be creative since their land produces little oil and gas.[1] Instead of being reliant on Middle Eastern Countries, they have turned primarily to utilizing Nuclear energy and other alternative energy sources.[2] One such alternative source of energy is harnessing solar energy through panels on commercial buildings. Although you might be thinking that this isn’t very novel, they actually gave this idea the force of law. In March 2015, the French Parliament passed a decree, requiring “all rooftops on new buildings to be either partially covered in plants or solar panels”.[3] Utilizing these “green roofs” as they are called, decreases the amount of energy needed to heat the building in the winter, cool it in the summer and it has the added benefit of retaining rainwater. Collecting rainwater lowers the problem of runoffs and promotes biodiversity, as birds have a place to nest in an otherwise busy, urban area.[4] Not too long ago, I observed the Solar Eclipse from the rooftop of Louisville’s Fiscal Court Building and I remember looking around and observing all the plain, vacant, surrounding roofs. It’s hard to imagine preferring an ordinary roof after learning about all of the pleasant environmental effects that accompany the “green roofing” movement. This is one trend that US cities should definitely keep on their radar.

“Bribery”…, “encouragement”…, whichever way you slice it, this next initiative involves the French government actually paying people to be more energy efficient. As a disclosure, I am not actually a proponent of replicating this in America because I think that considering the host of problems we are currently facing, it is not the best use of tax-dollars. However, it is a unique, radical program that is interesting to know about. In September 2017, France’s Environment and Energy Minister Nicolas Hulot, submitted a proposal for the 2018 budget that includes an allotment of subsidies and incentives for car owners to switch to vehicles with low carbon dioxide emissions, as well as for home owners to transition to renewable energy heating systems.[5] One of the provisions provides “all car owners who switch to an electric vehicle will receive a 2,500 euro switching incentive on top of a 6,000 euro subsidy if the measure is approved”.[6] This may seem like a pretty radical method to employ but decreasing their carbon footprint is something the French clearly prioritize. Plus, when you tax your citizens for enjoying the commodity of television (yes, this is a thing), you are sure to find the revenue for such an incentive.

Lastly, in 2016, France implemented a Waste Management Law that bans supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them instead to donate to charity or food banks.[7] Apparently the latter part of this law refers to the fact that some stores were locking their binned food in warehouses prior to collection, as well as dousing food with bleach in order to deter foragers from dumpster diving.[8] Under this law, supermarkets will have to enter into contracts with charities or face penalties of €3,750.[9] Now, America is no stranger to food waste, in fact, studies suggest that America leads the world, throwing away a staggering “60 million tons (or $160 billion) worth of produce annually”.[10] Pair this statistic with the alarming fact that 41 million Americans suffer from hunger annually and you realize that there is a grave problem with our societal priorities. Speaking of food priorities, one that has contributed to this waste is our focus on aesthetic food.[11] Just the other day, I heard someone talking about what a great deal they got on fruit from the “ugly food” section at Kroger. I had no idea such a section existed, but after thinking about it, I realized I too am guilty of being the occasional food snob, steering clear of the ones with minor dents and bruises. With this in mind, that we are actively wasting such a needed product, I think laws compelling food donation should be paramount. America must not only take note of this law, but there should be reforms to replicate it. Without this kind of enforcement, as is seen in America where donating is voluntary, stores will continue to toss and too many people will continue to go hungry.

These are just a few of the many unique measures the French government has adopted to build a more self-sufficient, sustainable infrastructure. They have instilled these values in their citizens in an effort to become a full circle society; one that consumes, but also one that replenishes their resources to combat this consumption. In America, a country that prides itself on opportunity and advancement, it only makes sense to follow suit.

[1] John Palfreman, “Why the French like Nuclear Energy”, Frontline, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/readings/french.html (last visited Oct. 16, 2017).

[2] Id.

[3]France Decrees New Rooftops Must Be Covered in Plants or Solar Panels”, The Guardian, (March 19, 2015) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/20/france-decrees-new-rooftops-must-be-covered-in-plants-or-solar-panels.

[4] Id.

[5]France plans new incentives to phase out polluting vehicles, Reuters (Sep. 18, 2017)”, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-autos-tax/france-plans-new-incentives-to-phase-out-polluting-vehicles-idUSKCN1BT0PZ.

[6] Id.

[7] Angelique Chrisafis, “French Law Forbids Food Waste by Supermarkets”, The Guardian (Feb. 4, 2016), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/04/french-law-forbids-food-waste-by-supermarkets

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Adam Chandler, “Why Americans Lead the World in Food Waste”, The Atlantic (Jul. 15, 2016), https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/07/american-food-waste/491513/.

[11] Suzanne Goldenberg, “Half of US Food Produce is Thrown Away, New Research Suggests”, The Guardian (Jul. 13, 2016), https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/13/us-food-waste-ugly-fruit-vegetables-perfect?CMP=share_btn_tw.