The Sceptic in the Castle - Climate Change and Vaclav Klaus

Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

The Czech president Vaclav Klaus is notorious for outspoken views on climate change. He calls global warming a "false myth" and ambitious environmentalism "the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity". He takes particular offence at those he believes are making political milage out of global warming and is involved in an ongoing feud with the Nobel Prize winner Al Gore. But do Czechs really share their president's opinions on global warming? And if they don't, then does it matter?

Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
The excitement is high as Russian cross-country skier, Nikolai Morilov, sprints to victory at Prague Castle in the Tour de Ski. At the end of last year, the Czech presidential seat was transformed into an unlikely race-course, lined by hundreds of cheering Czechs. President Vaclav Klaus himself can be made out in the crowd.

The only thing missing? Snow. Over 2,000 cubic metres of the stuff had to be shipped into the capital to make the race possible. It took a fleet of lorries two days to get the job done. It’s a far cry from the crisp winters of yore, and many Czechs have been left asking ‘where are the snows of yesteryear’?

Their president, Vaclav Klaus, does admit that the planet is warming up ever so slightly, but he utterly refutes that this is because of human activity. Here he is talking to the BBC:

“I don’t believe global warming is caused by man. And the attempt to find a pseudo-correlation between the increase in the Co2 emissions in the atmosphere and this global warming is really, I think, not a serious theoretical approach.”

What’s more, he rails against those like Al Gore, who think it is up to our politicians to do something. He sees scary similarities between today’s green politics, and the red, communist politics of yore:

“It is a new collectivistic, anti-individualistic ideology, which puts something else at the top of its priorities – not human freedom and democracy. For me, it is another very dangerous ideology, endangering human freedom.”

Mr Klaus’s views are far from being the accepted ones as far as climate change is concerned. But do they reflect those of the average Czech? Jiri Pehe, a political scientist, says many disagree with their head of state.

“Most Czechs think that global warming is a serious problem, and they don’t identify with their president on this issue at all. In fact, I think that many Czechs see Vaclav Klaus as having odd views on this particular subject, and I think they would prefer him to be a bit less outspoken on this issue.”

In need of more proof, I hit the streets, and asked some passers by whether they were worried about climate change, and what they thought of Mr Klaus’s views:

“I think it is a problem, and I think that it is a matter for experts to discuss, and not for our president.”

“I think it could well become a problem, and I wouldn’t undermine it. Our president is very often defined by his views on the matter, and I wouldn’t say I share them entirely. I think he may well be underestimating the influence of our society on the climate, but I do think it is important to look at these things from different perspectives. I’m obviously never going to be able to agree with every single opinion that the president has, but despite his views, I think Mr. Klaus is a good president.”

“Our president – I think he knows what he is talking about.”

“I think that when you are president, your view on global warming doesn’t matter that much. There are more important problems than global warming, so it’s a big problem, but not the main problem.”

It seems that a large number of Czechs don’t agree with Mr Klaus’s views on climate change. But it also seems that they are happy to overlook these views as long he performs well as president. Here’s Jiri Pehe again:

“He is an important politician, probably the most talented politician in this country, and has been for the last 20 years. People think ‘well, we don’t have anyone better to represent us’. This might be a misguided notion, but that is what many people think.”