Latvia's Agriculture Minister: "I wish you luck in saving the world"

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Latvian Agriculture Minister Didzis Šmits (United List) is unconvinced that human actions are having a significant detrimental effect on the climate, according to evidence presented by the Re:Check fact-checking project, based upon Šmits' own public statements on the subject.

Šmits made his position very clear in a recent discussion of green issues (video below).

"I wish you luck in saving the world. But among other things, you know the Sun will go out someday, yes? The world is not eternal and the climate has never been constant," Šmits said during the 'Green Barometer' discussion with environmental non-governmental organizations on climate, nature and environmental policy.

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Towards the end of the debate, the representative of the Latvian Nature Foundation, Baiba Baltvilka, asked the Minister of Agriculture: "Can you name two or three sources that form your understanding of climate change in the world and the crisis of biological diversity?"

Šmits in reply cited his source as "common sense".

"I think it's common sense. I think we've entered some kind of era of arrogance where we imagine we're determining the climate of the globe. Seriously, us? That's like an ant in a forest thinking it's in charge of the Baltic Sea ecosystem," said the Minister in what might have been a sarcastic allusion to the Gaia Hypothesis.

"To think that there is some kind of constant climate that we can protect, I think it's arrogance bordering on a little bit of insanity, to be honest. It's not science, it's religion," the Minister claimed.

Asked during the Green Barometer discussion if he was really against the views of 99% of internationally recognized scientists regarding the reality and impact of climate change, Šmits countered with another dose of his take on common sense, saying: "99% of scientists once said that smoking is healthy and said that the ozone hole over Antarctica will collapse [...] all that was left were blind sheep and sick scientists. Beliefs are good things. But to call it science and exaggerate the role of humans, in my opinion, is the road to nowhere."

Soon after the Green Barometer discussion, Re:Check contacted Šmits for further clarification of his beliefs on this important issue. The Minister passed the request on to his advisor, but no answers were received to written questions.

Šmits' dismissive position with regard to climate change is likely to prove embarassing for the government, which includes climate and environment as among its priorities. The government's declaration adopted in December 2022 says: 

"In the global fight against climate change, a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and a fair implementation of the European Green Deal must be achieved, consistently continuing the path to climate neutrality."

The government declaration also explicitly calls on climate policy to be "science-based" rather than common sense-based, saying:

"We will comprehensively and socially just implement the European Green Course, moving towards achieving climate neutrality by 2050, the goals set in the European Green Course package and the implementation of the "Fit for 55" climate goals, taking into account the national development goals and social security, prioritizing Latvia's competitiveness in the region and the development of a balanced and sustainable economy.

We will ensure science-based decision-making, regular public participation and mechanisms for tracking public funding in achieving the goals of the European Green Deal."

It goes further still, setting up an entirely new Ministry of Climate and Energy and promising: "We will provide support for research in order to achieve the set goals of climate neutrality, including increasing funding for research that develops and creates climate neutral products and technologies."

"We will actively work on preventing the consequences of climate change and mitigating the causes, we will support municipalities in preventing the risk of floods and the erosion of river and Baltic Sea shores... Considering that knowledge and people's education are the guarantors of green thinking and management, we will finance research for the development of activities or technologies that improve the quality of the environment, we will develop innovations and technologies in the fields of climate neutrality and environmental protection," the declaration adds.

Indeed, specifically with regard to agricultural policy, for which Šmits now bears responsibility, the government declaration says a priority is "ensuring the meaningful achievement of environmental and climate neutrality goals".

European Union partners in particular are likely to be surprised at the position of Latvia's Agriculture Minister, not only because his laissez-faire attitude to climate change appears to run counter to the EU's position that climate change is a matter of urgency but also for one additional reason. Šmits was elected as a candidate of the United List political grouping, which is itself made up of several smaller parties. Of those parties, Šmits is actually a member of the Latvian Green Party.

The party's program states: "Climate change affects all areas of public life, all living conditions on Earth, and raises the potential for new global conflicts" but like Šmits, slightly equivocates when it comes to scientific evidence, saying: "Although science has not yet given a final verdict on the causes of climate change and the role of increased carbon dioxide emissions in these processes, LZP believes that one of the basic principles of ecology - the precautionary principle - forces us to act immediately. The threat of climate change must be taken seriously and all possible causes contributing to these processes must be eliminated."

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