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On September 19, 2018, in Louvain-la-Neuve, a round table was held bringing together, as part of the Maintenant!Festival, Annabelle Jacquet (Lampiris/Total), Vincent van Steenberghe (SPF, DG Environment), Alain Dangoisse (House of Sustainable Development), Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (UCLouvain), Thierry Boereboom (OLLN Schools Energy Transition Platform), Tanguy Boucquey (City of OLLN), Hugues Ronsse (IBA/Alliance-BW), and Beatrice Delvaux (Le Soir). It was entitled « Decarbonizing the economy to meet the climate challenge », and its pretext was promising:  » The climate indicators are going crazy and, in response, multiple actions are being organized to meet the Paris Agreements: to stay below the 1.5/2°C rise in the earth’s temperature. The answers are not quick, because the obstacles are more institutional and cultural than economic or technological! And yet, the economic spheres have a crucial role to play in meeting the climate challenge. In this race against time, what could be the impact of carbon pricing, renewable energies and citizen collaboration? At the local level, an initiative like « OLLN Energy Climate » contributes to the city’s outreach strategy, « through information, experience sharing or collaborative projects, towards a significant reduction in emissions. ». « It may suffice to quickly review these different sentences, which very precisely announced the tone and content of the interventions. 

1.  » Climate indicators are going crazy and, in response, multiple actions are being organized to respond to the Paris Agreements.  »

It is thus explicitly assumed that the indicators in question are univocal, that the theories that systematize them are coherent and applicable, and it is implicitly concluded that we should all be right to panic. Fine, but what exactly is the problem? We won’t find out. The statement closest to the heart of the problem was: « There is an erosion of biodiversity  » and it went completely unnoticed. To put it plainly: nature is dying; we are experiencing the sixth mass extinction of species in the history of the planet. So what? The Westerner has long since forgotten that he is part of Nature, and he is no worse off for it than he was before. Since the Industrial Revolution, progress has been on the move and it obviously benefits the whole of society, as well as the developing countries. You have to be an indecisive conspiracy theorist to claim otherwise. However, we would have liked a minimum of clarity on these frightening stakes, especially since they are extremely simple: climate disruption is about to cause a break in the food chain, i.e. a famine as globalized as the economy is globalized. We are coming out of 6 months of drought. How many bad crops can we afford? But famine means riots, civil wars, epidemics, migrations, state wars… and so on. If any semblance of a political structure can survive such trials, it will be a strong totalitarianism. In the same way, if it is a question of trying to manage this risk a priori, it is necessary to set up a totalitarianism which will not necessarily say its name, or else in an Orwellian way. In short, the danger is oblique, immediate («  Clear and Present Danger « , wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, in 1919, in circumstances that are not entirely unrelated to our problem) and, at the same time, it is totally nebulous. We find the idea of a phantom threat that is associated, by pure coincidence, with the idea of terrorism. 

2.  » The answers are not quick, because the obstacles are more institutional and cultural than economic or technological! And yet, the economic spheres have a crucial role to play in meeting the climate challenge.  »

We have here two complementary proposals of very great magnitude. On the one hand, the problem is institutional and cultural. The political climate, in the broadest sense, is not conducive to solving the climate squaring circle. Our institutions are not adapted, i.e. market democracy is chronically inefficient. And no new grand narrative is proposed to guide the institutional change that is needed. On the other hand, the solution is economical and technological. Not only are capitalism and its technical factotum in no way responsible for the collapse we are told about, but they are the solution. To simplify with the help of the contemporary vulgate: even more tertiarization, financialization and digitalization would guarantee a real sustainable solution. In other words, an imaginary fox terrier will be used to kill a real rat(1).

In short, it would be imperative to change our cultural framework and all its political ramifications; and, since the solution is already ready, it would be enough to finally let the market do its job and technology its duty (or the reverse). 

3.  » In this race against time, what could be the impact of carbon pricing, renewable energy and citizen collaboration?  »

So we are holding the line. First of all, decision-makers must realize, if they have not already done so, that climate change is the economic opportunity of the century (just ask Albert Gore, known as « Al », like the other one): carbon pricing is an irreplaceable tool, investing in renewables is profitable, creating jobs, meaning, direction, and so on. Unless I am mistaken, the question of energy has not been addressed head-on, in the sense that, in the current configuration, nuclear power is irreplaceable. What does that mean? On the one hand, the religion of growth does not formally prohibit waste; on the contrary, it irresistibly encourages it (it is enough that it is irrational consumption). On the other hand, the 1.5°C dogma has been masterfully recuperated by the nuclear power lobby. As in 1972, nuclear power is necessary to preserve what we used to call democracy. Negawatts are tacky. Finally, the citizen issue was the subject of the presentation of some local and concrete projects. Faced with this practical mosaic, a question had however, from the beginning, been highlighted: the enlightened intellectuals who address you today deplore the obscurantism of the popular masses; they denounce the work of undermining which is realized by the lobbies (much more so in the USA than in Europe, but that’s all the more reason); and they wonder, with the greatest pathos of circumstance, if what we need, today, and urgently, is not a form of citizenlobby to represent the general interest and counter the lobbies that relay the interests of particular groups. 

In fact, we obtain a double observation: on the one hand, the effectiveness, I should say, the power, of lobbies and other sacrosanct non-governmental organizations is recognized and deplored, which is equivalent to stating that democracy is bankrupt. For the benefit of the distracted, democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people (Lincoln). On the other hand, it is kindly suggested that citizens federate their interests in appropriate lobbies and thus contribute to the sound and just governance of the city. Here again, the observation is the same: democracy does not work if it has to resort to such lobbies. Those who doubt that this double stumbling block seals the death of politics should simply remember that democracy presupposes public deliberation on matters of general interest. Lobbying , however, is precisely about acting in private, that is, for the many enthusiasts of the genre, conspiring to advance a particular interest. Let us add that, by definition, technical issues must be either absent from the political discussion itself, or strictly subordinated to it(2).

 » Decarbonizing the economy to meet the climate challenge  » demanded the organizers.  » Decarbonizing the climate to meet the economic challenge  » would therefore be the answer of the shepherd to the shepherdess. If the discussion did not advance an inch, the participants probably all concluded that only economists and climate scientists are capable of properly informing politicians on the issues that should mobilize them and on the communication that should be implemented with citizens in order to save, in order, capitalists, technocrats, competent citizens and the planet as a human resource. The cosmetic adjustments that will have to be made to representative democracy will occur by themselves, in all transparency. Besides, as long as the paratroopers are not in the streets, there is absolutely no reason to worry. 

Michel Weber

Notes et références
  1. A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality [1929], corr. Ed., 1978, p. 228.
  2. Voir « Le changement climatique est politique », in Kairos 11, janvier/ février 2014, pp. 12–13.

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