On the Government Doing Enough About Climate Change

I am not sure about how this works in other countries, but here, we are getting closer to the term finals period. This is the time when if you are even remotely involved in academia as a student or a professor, you will get loads and loads of questionnaires from students doing research for their term papers or dissertation projects, and sure enough I got a bunch of them myself. I really enjoy seeing that most of the research done both by undergraduate and graduate students is focused on issues actually relevant to our current predicament(s), but then again, identifying the problem is but one step. How one goes about the solution is just as important, if not more so.

One of these questionnaires I was particularly intrigued by had the issue of climate change as its focus. Quite naively, I was asked in the questionnaire if our government was doing enough about climate change.

The implicit assumption being, of course, that it does anything at all. The suggested solutions were the usual suspects – investments into green energy startups, taxes on carbon emissions, mandated individualised contributions and restrictions, the usual liberal talking points and market-based approaches being discussed in much of Western media. No word on who will ultimately pay the taxes or fines, or on the fact that even if it will be the corporations that actually do the emmitting that pay them, the greenhouse gases still go up there to cook or drown us along with the rest of the biosphere.

Just to be clear – I do not mean to pick on these colleagues' work. On the contrary, I would like to help, ask questions, raise awareness of our implicit biases and of the falsehoods we believe and don’t question. Doing research, any research, is already one step towards that goal. More people should do it, not fewer. Yet I aim to point out these falsehoods with reference to anything I find suggestive – and that includes my peers' output. After all, if the questionnaire stares into you, it is only natural that you stare back into it.

However, here at least, all talk about state actors combatting climate change is meaningless when situations like the one in Bucharest are typical. Many experts in the field now recognise that district heating technologies, properly implemented, could be our greatest weapon in the fight with climate change [1]. The greatest concern cited:

Unfortunately, a major obstacle to DES (District energy systems – my note) is the significant initial capital investment required for building the system even though there are financial benefits to be gained over the life of the system.


Well, seems we are in luck, as we just so happen to already have one of those in every major city, including Bucharest. However, our Soviet-era district heating system, in place and operational since the 1950s, is slowly being privatised and decommissioned in favour of individual thermal units (separate boilers and AC units installed in each apartment). Last winter for instance, there were weeks on end during which district heating was turned off due to leakages and other incidents, rendering thousands of homes in Bucharest uncomfortably (or sometimes even uninhabitably) cold. The situation got so bad that the current (neo-)liberal mayor based a huge chunk of his campaign around promising to fix the system – for the winter.

Hot water

We promise you: hot water*

*We can’t believe either that we have to promise you something like this

USR-Plus political slogan of the incumbent General Mayor Nicușor Dan

To be clear – I do not mean to invoke any conspiracy of a causal relationship here. The local councils in major Romanian cities do not plot to switch off the heat in order to force you to install an individual heater. But the catastrophic state of the district heating systems is to be expected after 30+ years of neglect, lack of funding and speculation from its ownership and executive management, which mostly consists of a nebulous and often-invisible class of career public servant-entrepreneur-mafiosi. There are increasingly loud arguments for its full retirement in favour of individual heaters – the arguments being standard neoliberal fare: shrinking the government, putting choice of provider “back” into the hands of individual households, families should be able to elect to use heating only when needed etc. It’s nonsense, all of it – even though district heating was in many cities sold off years ago into private hands (well, not exactly, and not everywhere – the actual arrangement is Byzantine to an extreme. My understanding is that a series of partially council-owned public companies buy thermal energy from private, mostly foreign-owned producers that operate on a Business to Business model exclusively, as well as each other, then sell it at council-subsidised prices to end-users [2][3] – this warrants further digging), it is in a worse state than ever; as for individual heating units, a masive government bureaucracy has been formed to deal with permits, inspections and such, one which probably rivals the state-owned companies even in their heyday a couple of decades ago (not to mention the potential for government corruption this allows, since it seems to be fashionable to blame everything on corruption nowadays).

Individual heating might make more sense in the states since there, individual, single-family homes are the norm, and have been for most of US history.

50s Suburbs

But what sense does it make in Bucharest? Is it even feasible to put one in each apartment, in each one of these?

Bucharest Cityscape

Similarly, a large number of apartment blocks in certain cities (I know for a fact that they exist in Cluj and Arad in western Romania) have been equipped since the 80s with solar panels. They are currently rusting away because no one really wants to take responsibility for them.

Solar panel


Not to mention the potential of the Cernavodă nuclear power plant, of whose five units only two are operational (one dates back to Ceaușescu’s time, the second was completed in the late 2000s). Obviously nuclear power is not “green” and is woefully suboptimal – its production of extremely dangerous radioactive waste is a touchy topic, especially in a country prone to earthquakes and flooding and thus ill-suited to long-term storage. But it’s something we already have and could use to buy time until proper energetic infrastructure can be developed and built. Note that these reactors are not Soviet-supplied RBMK-derived ones either, like the ones in Chernobyl (if they were, the EU would have made us dismantle them long ago, as they did with Ignalina in Lithuania [5]) – they are modern, safe and efficient WesternTM designs.


In a way it’s like totally abandoning the idea of even making an effort to fix the problem. That is why some people are already planning on leaving the planet, no matter how delusional that idea might seem on closer inspection. There is a saying in Romanian that I quite like. It goes something like this: “There is no fool from which one cannot learn a wise thing” [6] – and that is certainly the case with the infamous Varg Vikernes, who I feel described this whole pseudo-futurism best:

The idea of planetary exploration is like the atheist version of the Christian paradise in Heaven. It’s the need for the impossible. And their Jesus – their salvation – is high technology.


So my question comes to – why not invest in what we already have? Why sink public money into the market in hopes it will deliver that which we all silently know it won’t? Is not the task of maintenance, though thankless, exponentially easier and cheaper than the task of building from nothing on a shaky foundation? Even here we must be cautious – we must project the future, even demand it, no question – but this false futurism, an almost religious hope that despite all evidence to the contrary, that which does the damage can also deliver the solution, even if it has no incentive whatsoever to do so – must be abandoned.


  1. Haas, Arlene (2018) The Overlooked Benefits of District Energy Systems, https://www.burnhamnationwide.com/final-review-blog/-benefits-of-district-energy-systems
  2. Copilas, Emanuel (2014) Țara lui Iohannis Vodă (in Romanian), https://www.criticatac.ro/ara-lui-iohannis-vod/
  3. ELCEN, the company that sells power to Termoelectrica
  4. Ziarul de Cluj - Panouri solare (in Romanian)
  5. Ignalina nuclear power plant
  6. Nu există prost de la care să nu ai ceva de învățat - literally “There is no fool that you cannot learn something from”
  7. ThuleanPerspective - Space Travel, the Mars Mission & Star Wars