Acting for the climate
Do people have a clue what they really mean ?
(I previously had just this little text on the climate topic;
then considered the need to write this much bigger one. I usually never dare to give my readers any advice.
Here will be a kind of exception, as, you know, we have no Planet B...)
I once joined a meeting of a local branch of the Extinction
Rebellion international movement, that seemed to be their first introductory, organizational
meeting there, as, of course I consider it crucial to be deeply concerned about climate change, as
anyone should, that is a huge flaw in the way the world is currently working, that would urgently need
some kind of big fixes, and at first sight that seemed to be what they were trying to be all about.
I just listened for a long while to what they were trying to organize. But, waiting and listening, left me
the deep feeling that something crucial was lacking about their explanations. Then came the
time of questions. So then as came my turn to speak, I expressed my concern. Not easy to say.
I logically had to start with the disclaimer that maybe the problem is all because they just did
not have the time to address those points of my concern, which would require some much more
lengthy discussion. Then I tried to express these. Roughly it is just one big thing, but which I
expressed in the following two main ways.
My first point, or aspect of the point, could be expressed as kind of a vocabulary
problem: over and over again in their discourse they were taking about "action". But
what kind of "action" were they talking about ? None of all the specific "actions" they
were effectively describing, could seem to fit into the name of "action" in my dictionary.
Instead, they were all about demonstrating, communicating, doing strong or spectacular
things, that kind of stuff. That reminded me about that very strange use of vocabulary
in the French media, following its use by the concerned self-called "activists":
using the expression "day of action" to mean a day of strike, that is,
a day where some people decide to not go to work, or even, to block other people from
going to work, and/or to block trains from driving, blocking roads, etc. So, my problem:
if all their "actions" are purely focused on impacting the minds of people, then in which
way will the CO2 outside in the atmosphere, ever be concerned ? as it is not in the
heads of people that the troubling greenhouse effect is actually taking place. Now, do they
have in plans, any other action with any more directly, concretely environmental target to
My second point, or aspect of the point, is the following. All the time they spent
being obsessed with their desperation over what they claimed to be the lack of concern for
the climate from the part of the government, so they were all about trying to undertake desperate
actions for the purpose of getting the governments to finally take the problem seriously and so on.
But then what ? here was my question, my challenge to them. Can you make this simple
thought experiment. Let us imagine for a minute that you are the government. Now which
measures for the climate are you planning to take ?
To these questions I could not get any answer, nor any indication or reference of answers
which they could have ready to read on the web or wherever. The only kind of slightly more concrete
stuff I then heard in final discussion : they would have a scientific committee to study things and
have files of facts ready to contradict some misinformation which might appear in any mainstream
media or politicians declarations...
Finally after the meeting, I noticed the link to their reference web site... as a
supposedly international movement with many national branches, I must say that their volume of
reference literature (I only explored their main international site and then the site of the
French branch, but...) seems miserably small. In guise of main reference with their most
extensive stuff, they have a video... a format I see typical of superficial, thoughtless people.
Looking through that video, my questions remain with no answered.
Later looking again, and letting aside all the fuss about how to make a lot of noise, organize the
organization of the organization of activism to multiply the number of activists,
and to push for new politics of political organization, I noticed they actually give some more
documentation, which can be found browsing links well enough,
and there. I
still have to analyze these in details... I can't agree with everything, in particular not with the idea
of printing money under the excuse of emergency.
LeadershipOne of the problems with expectations of government actions, is that
governments are currently supposed to be in control of what is happening, but are they really ?
Remember: for a huge lot of time, at least in France, the main "concern" of governments and
political parties of all sides of the political spectrum has been the strive against unemployment.
Yet, and despite the alternating political sides of governments with supposedly different
methods, unemployment came growing with no decrease. This suggest that, despite some
people's expectations, having the government "concerned" about an issue may not help this
issue to be effectively resolved. But, is it really surprising ? I don't think so, for several reasons.
Let me explain.
Let us come down to the basics. Having zero clue and therefore zero belief about their own
individual or collective ability to directly impact the atmosphere, these climate activists expect
all effective action there to be done by governments. But what is a government ? Actually, it is
just an abstraction. Looking at the increase of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere as a vague,
global, mysterious problem, somehow elementary like a single quantity (just like the overall
statistics of unemployment) much more powerful than themselves, they look for "solutions"
of that kind ; seeing governments as also matching these characters (being also a
global, huge and mysterious entity...), it seems to them as if both mysteries had to be
fundamentally related. By necessity, by lack of any clue what other culprit or kind of
solutions one should run after.
Authorities. Leaders. But what, exactly, is a leader ? And how do people conceive this ?
Something comes to mind. A famous, popular understanding of what a leader is, the one I heard of
(I am not familiar with studies of public administration and political science, sorry):
Toastmasters International: WHERE LEADERS ARE MADE".
That is, the main quality of a leader consists in the ability to make good speeches without hesitation,
on any topic, sometimes a topic of his choice, but other times to improvise on a surprise topic:
the ability to make speeches so as to gather the enthousiasm and support
of the audience, looking like an expert on any topic, regardless that one actually isn't.
Well hiding the vacuity of what one has to say there.
Indeed, that is a main "quality" of a politician, what will lead him or not to power: the skill
of making great speeches to convince voters to elect him. The actual content and possible
effectiveness of his future actions are of very little concern in this process. Somehow we
might say politicians are mainly there to play a kind of role of movie actors to appear
well on TV. So, if some "powerless" people act spectacularly, there is a little chance it might
influence politicians into responding... with verbal support. All right, this still does not
mean that they won't take any more effective action beyond speeches, as somehow
they can. They have some effective power. Yet the road remains long until the CO2
concentration in the atmosphere will be affected.
On the sincerity of politicians intentions
One question is, whether governments will really care. Either sincerely, or for the sake
of being re-elected. They might feel directly interested in the future of the planet.
However, insofar as each one only "controls" a single country (at best), it is hard to
feel directly impacted by the influence of one's own country on the planet, when the
effective result to be suffered is only a matter of the total sum of
contributions of all countries, most of which one has no control over.
The potentially sincere interest of politicians looks clearer in the case of the strive against
unemployment, obviously : the better the employment rate, the more people of their country
will be happy to reelect them, and the bigger total amount of taxes will be raised.
Aren't governments sincerely interested in this ? Yet it appeared to not suffice for resolving
the employment problem. Because, except for the case of employment by public services
and administration, employment is basically a decision of private employers having to
deal with the necessities of efficient production.
Something which governments are most often quite far from properly understanding.
Maybe, the problem will be the same with climate change. We shall come back to this later.
Specifying the policy
Here is THE question: if you want to express disapproval with the current policy, so
you want the government to take action, now which action do you want him to take ?
If you want the government to care about your disapproval of their policy, and you tell
it very strongly, well, nothing ensures they will really care to satisfy you. Because
accepting to satisfy you just because of your strong methods, might be interpreted
as a weakness towards strong methods, making it advantageous for you or
whoever else to use strong methods to try to influence them. It would actually be
neither their interest, nor the interest of society in general, to somehow reward some
kind of use of force in politics. Who knows what it would lead to.
But we actually know... more comments later.
But putting this aside and admitting for a moment that the government would be
inclined to satisfy your request. Now what should they do to satisfy you ???
Which way of judging them will you choose : either by the result (the reduction of
CO2 in the atmosphere), or by the concrete decision taken for that end.
It would be hard to judge by the result, since even with the best efforts, the CO2 is
likely to keep increasing anyway. The result is a global and long-term one, while
governments are national. Making the effort to reduce the CO2 emission by the
industries of one's own country may be hiding the fact of moving the faulty industries
in other countries, so that the nominal result may be an illusion.
Now if you want the government to be concerned about you judging them for their
actions, then you need at least to be clear about the criteria by which you will
judge their actions. Because if you don't know the criteria by which you threaten to
judge their actions, then are you expecting them to know these for you ? Also, your
criteria need to be satisfiable by at least one possible policy - it would not be
useful to request something impossible.
That is their other claim aside climate concerns. Now is there any logical articulation
between both concerns or not ? If they want, as people, to participate in political
decisions, then, well, it is not yet clear whether this request will be satisfied, that is,
that the political decisions process will change as to become inclusive of the
people's views on what should be done. However, a participatory democracy process
roughly takes two steps: the first step is to gather the expression of people's will, then
the second step is to implement its conclusions into concrete action. The hard problem
is, or at least is supposed to be, to get the second one go through. The first step,
however, would seem a priori much cheaper and independent of the government's
acceptance. It would be just a matter of the people's decision to debate together
and synthetize their views on what needs to be done. Mysteriously, I could hardly
find any trace of such process. Which raises the difficult question: what the heck
are the people waiting for, if participation is what they seemingly want ?
The art of debating
In order for such a synthesis of collective views and wills to proceed, there is actually
one difficulty : people would need to practice some kind of debate together.
But, do they actually know how to debate ? Hmm... I would not dare to suggest that I
would know better than them how they should do. Rather, I'm a little curious about how
they may view this issue. Unfortunately, in spite of my exploration of a number of events
and organizations, I fail to remember any precise elaborate view or practice of debates
around. Except this
one, which seems by far the most famous.
It is conceived as a game, where participants first formed 2 opposing teams of 2
people each, then the organizer reveals the topic of the debate in the form of a simple
yes/no question "Should... ?" and assigns to each team the side they will have to
support. So: nobody is here to sincerely defend their personal opinion but only
have the duty to keep supporting to the end a position which some organizer above
them decided for them, regardless anything; they are not supposed to have any
particular interest in the topic, as they should just be ready to debate anything ;
topics therefore must be trivial enough to fit this format; they are not supposed to
work on developing some imaginative solution of how
some complex concrete goal may be acheived, but the strategy is only there
to promote a trivial candidate concrete decision that is fixed in advance.
Unfortunately, it seems, the complex kind of question that would be needed for
the above purpose, that is "Let us try to invent a policy which could work as the best
strategy to protect the environment, reducing climate change" is light years away
from the kind of format that would make it a possible object of so conceived "debates".
Looking for debates in other web sites, the process seems to be a bit more serious,
still it usually remains of the form for/against a claim or a proposal that this very easy for
everyone to understand.
The Yellow Vest movement
Meanwhile, the Yellow Vest movement has risen, starting from France. A number of
deep similarities can be found between the Yellow Vests and Extinction
Rebellion: both are grassroot movements, undertaking strong "actions" in the streets to influence
policy. Both want a change in the political system, in particular for more direct democracy, as
direct citizen initiative referendum is among the requests of the Yellow vest movement.
Yet I see two main differences between them: a big one and a small one.
The big one is that the Yellow Vest movement is much more popular, and thus automatically has much stronger
influence on policy, regardless whether it is through street actions as now, or through a participatory
democracy in an hypothetical future.
The small one is that they put their opposition to rising taxes on fuel as top priority, while their
environmental concern is present only in last priority after that of popular initiative referendum.
The irony is that the very goal of the rise of taxes on fuel was the environmental concern: to try
to deter people from consuming fossil carbon. Looks like something I previously noticed for another example: people requesting
the policy to pursue a goal, yet rejecting the necessary means for that goal. Which of the requests
should the government actually fulfill then at the expense of the other : follow the goal or abandon the
Yet, of course as some people noticed, there is a subtlety here: that precise policy of rising tax on fuel
was not the perfect way of pursuing the goal, as it is "unfair": it focuses on taxing the "fuel of the poor"
(used in cars and road transport), while still leaving untaxed the "fuel of the rich" that is kerosene and
mazut (used in planes and sea transport). Of course a good environmental policy should put the tax fairly
over all kinds of fuels proportionally to their carbon footprint.
However I wonder
whether this explanation really accounts for what was bringing people to the streets, or whether it would
be a mere good excuse by some intellectuals to rationalize a movement which effectively only cared to
oppose the rise of tax on fuels, ignoring environmental concerns.
Unfortunately, the real need of the planet with respect to the risk of climate change, would be to stop
all fossil carbon emissions, or at least give a limit to the total amount that is emitted, while the
temperatures would still keep going higher because of the delay in reaction. Just slowing down
the speed of consumption without an ultimate limit of total amount only gives a little delay on the
coming disaster, not ultimately preventing it; an only thinkable advantage of slowing it down
for the long term would be that maybe by being given more delay some species would have more
chances to adapt, and there is a little hope this delay letting more time for technological progress
to go on compared with the speed of CO2 emission, can help lead to a technological
environment in which we can live without fossil fuels, so as to finally end the total
release to a smaller amount. But this argument remains quite speculative.
Now what do people think is wrong with only taxing the fuel of the poor ? It is that it "puts the
burden of the effort" of the green policy on some of the poorest, namely those who work in the
countryside and for whom the use of cars is a necessity.
Sorry, effort of what ? The thread of the logic seems to have been lost here. The principle of the concept of
carbon tax as a tool against climate change, was to serve as an incentive to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
That means, people would protect the environment by reducing their payment of the tax through a change of
habits ; they are not helping the environment directly by paying more taxes.
Now if the people's claim is based on a conception of this carbon tax in terms of a "burden to bear" that would
only consist in the "sacrifice" of paying more taxes, ignoring as a priori unconceivable the idea of the
sacrifice of changing one's method of living to consume less fuel, then the planet is in serious trouble.
Indeed, if the definition of the poor must be that they are people who anyway cannot afford or consider to
reduce their use of fossil fuel no matter the tax that is put over it, then who can be bold enough to define the
rich as people who could no more afford to pay their own other fuel if only it was taxed at a similar rate per volume ?
(for a more accurate picture I wish to know the proportion of currently taxed vs. untaxed volumes of consumed
fossil fuel, say, for French use or European use, and don't know how to find this figure).
Developing renewable energies
That is a good slogan for some people expecting the governments to care about the planet. But how to put it into
practice, and with which effectiveness ? Should we destroy the rainforest to make room for the farming needed
to grow the plants which are then used to produce biofuels ? Probably not. Yet this is what is actually happening
as a result of some "green" policies.
Many people think that governments should subsidize the research and development of renewable energies. Because
without these grants, such development would not be profitable enough... in competition with fossil fuels, whose
use is too cheap... because it is not taxed up to its real harm. So, if only the use of fossil carbon was taxed to
a sufficient level, it would provide the incentive (competitiveness) needed for the development of alternatives...
hopefully, if such technical possibilities exist at that level of cost.
Thus, the idea of subsidizing renewable energies is raised just because we could not dare taxing fossil carbon
to a sufficient level, in the face of opposition. Now can this be a good substitute ? I'm afraid not, for the following reasons.
A general problem is that whenever incentives are put not following the exactly adequate policies
in conformity with the proper logical understanding of how it would lead market
mechanisms to naturally optimize things in the intended way, then
it will lead to a sub-optimal result. Such as, money invested in an irresponsible manner into projects which
look like they are contributing to the green transition, but this may be a mere illusion given for the eyes of
public administrators who, managing public funds instead of their own, will provide the grants
following some bureaucratic criteria offset from proper measures of long-term usefulness for the stated goals.
A precise resulting trend here comes from what it logically means to subsidize renewable energy instead of
properly taxing the use of fossil resources in hope to reduce it : the difference is that it generally favors an increase
of total consumption instead of deterring it. The result ? that should not be surprising. We already know it,
as a result of the policies of subsidizing renewable energies that were already undertaken.
The surprising thing is why is anyone surprised.
The result, of course, is that the total amount of energy consumption keeps increasing : the use of renewable
energy does increase as a result of subsidies, yet the use of fossil resources does not decrease. Why should it ?
A big hope is, of course, to develop solar power plants, especially in deserts,
but some obstacles need to be overcome.
At least a movement with a meaningful sense of effective action. While they do also make actions of communication
in the streets, their expectation of result has the remarkable merit of being clear,
independent of any superstitious assumption of workability of some endless chain of speculative, widely
assumed but never justified political mechanisms.
Namely, their action consists in showing shocking videos from slaughterhouses and other industrial farming facilities, and
giving arguments, to invite people to become vegan. One of the main reasons is, of course, that meet consumption
involves much more of the Earth's resources than vegan food.
Their goal ? "To get 5M people to take veganism seriously by 2025".
Problem: according to wikipedia, "Global human population growth amounts to around 83 million annually". So, around
2025, are going to be about 50M more people on Earth than now. If we succeed getting 5M of them to become vegans,
we are still left with 45M additional non-vegans. So, this still seems far from from sufficient as a global solution,
Reducing the human population
I once joined a meeting about global concerned where an idea put forward was that the main threat is overpopulation, so that
we should petition the UN to put this concern as priority. The man was hoping for millions of signatures to this petition because
overpopulation really is among the main causes of the coming disaster; that the UN had to respond when a petition is
massively signed ; and that the UN is currently the most powerful structure to take action. One of the remarks also was
to deplore the fact that many people are influenced to make a lot of children by their fundamentalist religiosity.
Unfortunately, while I do agree that overpopulation is a major cause
of troubles and that anything possible should in principle be undertaken to reduce the world's population (at least until some future
technological and other progress will provide greener means of living, but still anyway this will only define a higher limit to not
exceed either), I do not believe that significant numbers of people in the world can be logical enough to grasp and support this.
Moreover, what can the UN actually do ? It has already recognized climate change as a major problem and it is not resolved. In many cases
the resolutions voted there have been ignored or its effects have been insignificant. It has often just served as a dialectical playing ground
for countries to push forward ambiguous resolutions just so as to pretend something and then play on ambiguities in order to not
let these resolutions mean anything effective.
Some people believe we should pray the Virgin Mary to pray for us sinners.
Some others rather think that we should pray the United Nations to pray for us over-reproducers. Some are even angry at the
government for not taking effective action against climate change. Me too, just like I can be angry at Jesus-Christ for his crime
of not actually existing.
Seriously, what could the UN do against overpopulation ? Control what the people are doing in bed ? Eliminate some
fundamentalist religious beliefs currently pushing many people to have a lot of children, therefore contradicting its declaration
of "right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" ? Ending many humanitarian programs currently
working to save lives from starvation and diseases might be more effective for the real global welfare in the long run. But it would also
be highly controversial. The only easily acceptable and therefore necessary measures would be to provide worldwide free means of
contraception and sterilization; the next step, which remains controversial (I'd say for not well calculated morality reasons, since
overpopulation is a much more serious threat in the long run than the concerns of individual lives), would be a worldwide defense
of abortion right (to Christians who are fanatically opposed to that right, I wrote a response here). More ideas on
what could be done are detailed in the dedicated page.
So what can be done ???
In the face of all above described obstacles, it is actually hard to find any hope of an effective solution to work for. So many ideas
of possible actions can rightly be dismissed as superstitious for a reason or another. Some people dream of deeper change of civilization, but without very clear definitions and methods of how the
world of their dream might actually work well enough for people to accept it, such dreams
remain probably just other superstitions as well. Then, if most conceivable actions turn out to
be superstitious, what can still be thought of that could still be non-superstitious ? that is the question,
to which I will now try to propose answers.
Now if you want a short answer, as short answers are what people usually expect in reply to any issue, then I'd say the primary need is
The Patience of Making Long Enumerations
A problem with multiple causes, requires a multiplicity of solutions. The effect of global warming and other environmental
damage is a result of multiple actions, with multiple responsibilities. Some of the damage is due to diverse aspects of
government policies ; some come from the operation of industries and other corporations; some just come from the
sum of behaviors of large numbers of people; and of course in many cases, the responsibilities of these diverse kinds of
actors are entangled. But in order to be really serious about the whole problem, I think... requires to make a lengthy
enumeration of as much as possible of all of these. So many they are, that, I'm sorry but I'll only be able to scratch the surface of these here.
By necessity I must make some arbitrary and anyway not well justifiable selection of some aspects of the whole problem, which
I will point out in the below rest of this text.
So, let me choose to describe first how I think some wide ranges of aspects of individual responsibilities
could be addressed.
I want to invite people to inquire into the following questions:
I wish to see people writing books full of answers to these questions. A work in which many people should participate.
Indeed people are diverse, with diverse needs and diverse reasons to take decisions to consume things in diverse ways.
If you cannot analyze what is your own impact on the planet, what is driving you to it and what might drive you
otherwise, then can you expect anyone else to know it for you ? And how might you better know the reasons
for other people's environmental footprint ? And if you don't really understand the causes of anybody's environmental
footprint, or don't care to share and formally explain them in written form to put the diverse contributions together
into a more complete picture, then how can you understand the responsibilities of the actual result, and properly
pressure into wise, useful change, the rest of the world: both other people, and governments
whose members may have themselves such radically different living standards that it can be hard for them to
figure out the main features of the needs and behaviors of people like you ?
- Which are the many ways in which
you think your actions, and those of people you know, participate in the damage to climate or other aspects
of the environment (or protect it) ?
- Which circumstances of life do you see pushing you (and these people you know) to that behavior ?
- Which conditions can you imagine, if that is possible, that a hypothetical but reasonably conceivable better
organized civilization should fulfill, in order to prevent or at least reduce the risk or frequency of these circumstances,
so that in such different context your participation to the global environmental harm would be lower ?
Many of the needed details would develop this question : why are people consuming so much, and how could they do otherwise ?
Many ideas in the right direction have already been explored by the Degrowth movement : the general idea of reducing both
production and consumption, therefore choosing to enjoy the growth of productivity more in the form of taking more free time,
instead of the widespread trend of keeping oneself always busy working hard to consume more and more. Among these ideas,
I would often see more relevance in the general ideas of self-chosen simple living, than in any ideas of political action
and system change, as I see the free decisions of individuals usually much more relevant and powerful than any government's
actions in matters of discerning and revising one's own needs and modes of consumption which can be appropriate to those
needs. In other words, I see as often futile the idea of trying to blame the economic and political
system, and expect changes to come from there, as if it was the main factor responsible for the issue. Sometimes it
does play a role, but not necessarily in the ways that people assume.
Driving or not driving
I never tried passing a driving license, as I don't see the need to drive. Why should I ? I understand that some people need it,
and I am not trying to criticize them if they do. I just want to point out that not all people need it, and it is very possible to live
without it. To explain why I consider that I really do not need it, for those who would have troubles to understand.
I might not need to explain this to fellow Europeans, for whom it is usually accepted as normal to live without driving, but
rather for people living in the US, because that may be not a very hospitable place of living for non-drivers, as reported in point 13
of this famous list of cultural clashes between the US and Europe:
just by being used to driving and living in a country that turned out to be optimized for the assumption that everyone can drive,
can let people lose sense of how it is possible to live without driving. Well it can become much less of a problem just if you
leave the places that are now making it a problem.
do I see it ridiculous and useless wastes of money to buy a car and fuel for it, but:
Without a car, I usually manage going to places either by foot, or by public transport depending on distance. Occasionally of course,
I can also be driven by relatives or use carpooling.
- Driving requires a long training and a constant care to avoid the risk of accidents. I have much other things to think
about instead of spending time in such training, and, being naturally absent-minded, I just do not want to mess with any duty
of absolutely keeping constant attention for long periods of time to stay safe against the risks of accidents.
- At any accident I might cause, I would have lots of troubles to recover from guilt feelings. I just refuse in advance such risks.
- I guess I would be much too often embarrassed about where might I park a car when I don't need it, and if I parked it
somewhere and then for any reason moved elsewhere without it, why should I bother going back to pick it where I left it. That looks
much too complicated.
- To travel long distances, the best way is clearly flights; but it is not possible to bring one's car there in one's luggage.
Driving to work vs telecommuting
But of course, there are also many people who really need to drive anyway for professional reasons. Yet there are different
Some have it as a job to drive, either for cargo or passengers. In particular farmers, as mentioned above. Of course they
directly suffer a rise of tax on fuels for this reason. But the goal of the tax then, is not to directly make them poorer, but
to push the economy towards a different equilibrium, where some of them would have changed job, while remaining ones would
have their higher tax balanced by the higher market value of their work which comes from this resulting relative scarcity.
Others only need to drive in order to commute between home and working place. On this topic I once saw a little comic in
a degrowth magazine, with two parts : in one, the man says "I don't like to drive but I need it to go to work" ; in the other "I don't
like to work but I need it to buy my gasoline". Of course it is a caricature, as work should bring much more money than the one
spent on gasoline to go there, hopefully. Yet the idea can draw attention on possible absurdities in ways of managing things. Which
may turn out to be more acute once gasoline would be paid at its real cost including that of its environmental footprint.
In this issue, I roughly see 3 questions:
What makes people keep a long distance between home and work ? Maybe that is unavoidable... still in some cases
the average commuting time may be reduced by sometimes sleeping at working place and then going back home for longer
Why not telecommute instead ? Depends on technologies that might someday let more and more jobs be done at distance,
depending on the progress of man/machine interaction and remote controlled robots, which may develop further in the future.
Why do people need to work so much in a lifetime, for which they so commute ? The general management of life and any inefficiency
there may need to be questioned. Any alternative way of managing life which would reduce the global amount of working time needed
to earn the means of living that one needs, could be therefore also a chance to reduce one's use of fuel, if that use is due to the need of going
to work. At least, if the time freed from the necessity to go to work is not then replaced by a similar use of fuel for visiting places of leisure,
which may be tempting for some.
In particular, telecommuting technologies can also be useful to reduce some people's amount of needed work to earn their living, by living in
cheap places (countryside with low housing cost) or countries, while working for well-paying clients or companies of richer places.
As already explained, overpopulation has a heavy share of responsibility in keeping many people "poor" and obliged to spend so
much time of their life working in spite of the continuous growth of work productivity which makes wealthier the average of the world
and thus more precisely the rich owners : it is both what keeps food expensive (price of land), and what
takes so much of people's income in the form of renting expenses in cities. At least for those who insist to keep competing against each other
for living places in city centers, while others can prefer to live in suburbs for cheaper housing but therefore may need to commute longer.
Degrowth and education
Existing education systems have lots of troubles. One aspects is that
it behaves like everyone must abandon the idea of free time in life and dedicate one's life to working, working, working. As if
it was not, then what would that huge sacrifice of youth life be for ? Since everybody so had to give up life and breath for
an absolute commitment to work, then by the force of this conditioning, everyone keeps assuming that they must keep working
all the time of their life, to earn whatever money they will earn, but never take the time wondering whether or not they really need that.
The idea of degrowth would first need to be applied to education itself, as it is currently, in many cases, a big waste of efforts
for not much valuable purpose (as it may be only "useful" to select people instead of making them actually more productive than they
naturally were). Or for purposes which might be as well served in fewer efforts.
Then, the idea of students having to be physically present in class and so often passing exams, thus requiring many of them to use
a lot of transport, can also be questioned, versus the possibility of MOOC.
Finally, we may consider the idea of degrowth education, that is to re-orient education to give more consideration and assistance
to the idea of orienting one's life towards degrowth. Namely, learning how to consume less may be finally just as useful
for one's life, in the sense of helping for the balance of one's budget, as learning how to produce more.
For degrowth like for other educational purposes, there are those for whom this may go naturally without help,
and others who need some teaching for it. I personally don't really understand the people who think that they need a lot of money,
so I don't understand either the need for them to be taught how to reduce their expenses. But I admit that it may exist.
Then comes the question to specify what such a degrowth education should contain. That is where the above mentioned long enumeration
should be useful. That is, to notice the list of cases where, well, the supposed need to consume turns out after examination to not have
any real reason at all, but simply occurred just because the individual failed to pay attention to the fact that it was not really needed :
it can then be considered the role of education to draw attention to this fact.
Once again, the question of the content of the desired policy needs anyway to be addressed first, before worrying about whether or not
one might succeed to convince any government to implement it. Because, if you do not know in advance what should really
be contained in the degrowth education policy that you want to request the government to adopt, then are you expecting the
government to know it for you ?
Now if you seriously undertake the writing of such an educational book, then you might face some difficulties...
Challenging some social taboos
Many of the causes of waste are actually deeply rooted in social habits. Let us start with a very symbolic example. One day
I was walking with someone who claims to be very "spiritual", he new I was depressed... at one moment he picked a little flower from the ground
and gave me. He intended to be nice. But this made me upset : Please don't damage Nature for me !!!
I see many people making large mixtures between environmental concerns and "social" concerns, I mean the ideas
of economic egalitarianism, welfare and redistribution, almost as if being an ecologist and being a socialist meant the same thing.
Of course, naively they seem related, as... unregulated market mechanisms leave the environment unprotected...
waste of resources at the expense of future genrations is a greedy thing... socialism is associated with generosity
and regulations for common good issues...
However, just because ultimately environmental protection is a moral issue and the waste of resources is
an evil greedy thing, still does not mean that focusing on "being nice", and pushing for a new socialist revolution
rejecting (the understanding of) the laws of market, will automatically result in actions that protect the environment;
I would dismiss that as just another superstition.
To debunk this illusion I would refer to the MBTI
classification of personality types, which I commented elsewhere :
To tell things even more harshly : since all the troubles suffered by the environment come from the presence of
humans, in the absence of which there would be no trouble, in other words, humanity is objectively the worst
enemy of Nature... maybe we must admit that being good to humans automatically makes you an enemy of Nature !!!
- Socialism is correlated with being a Feeler = looking at people rather than thing
- But the natural environment, which we need to protect, is made of things, rather than people ; we need to be sensitive to these things, and this sensitivity can only be reached by reason (being Thinker) rather than by feelings
- Social actions are usually short-sighed (S), focusing on compassion for people we personally know; however,
environmental concerns are global (N); for them we do need to care about details, but with a proper, often non-trivial
understanding of how the details articulate with the whole.
Maybe, we need to recognize that humanitarian actions trying to save lives from wars, starvation and diseases,
is actually irresponsible as it contributes to feed the overpopulation which is itself the root cause of both environmental
destruction and economic inequalities.
What about the practice of making gifts ? That is, buying something as a surprise for someone,
who would probably not have made this purchase spontaneously. Isn't it a high risk for this expense
to be at least partly a waste ? So many people turn out to resell their gifts on online markets ! At the
risk of looking like an awfully insociable person in the eyes of my relatives (parents and sister) I
actually hardly took any participation in this widespread practice of "goodness" which looks quite
nonsensical to me. I am actually such an introvert person with such different interests from the rest of
people that with my own relatives (parents and sister) we had to conclude that we just can't guess each
other's tastes. They can't know what kind of gifts I'd like as there really was hardly anything I liked
(except for chocolates), and I could not figure out what they'd like either, no matter how surprising
this may look.
Other examples of usual practices usually seen as cool but actually forms of waste,
are given in the same article of cultural
clashes already linked above : "7. Wasteful consumerism" and "16. Unhealthy portions". I will still
give further examples at the end of this page.
So when genuine, exhaustive concerns for the planet turn out to conflict some widely accepted
rules of social correctness, what do you think should be done : keep them or challenge them ? That is the question
that you have to face if you want to be serious when writing the educational books which you need to write
before petitioning your minister of education to include it into the new school curriculum, to teach the
next generation how to better protect our planet. If you have not the courage to seriously face these questions
and give clear, coherent case by case answers in the face of the world, a prayer to the United Nations won't help you.
There are surely lots of examples of bad policies which contribute to harming the environment, such as financial support to
coal industries, and the absurd idea of carbon market which actually results in giving the financial reward of
monopolistic advantages to the worst polluting industries, while only taxation is the effective method... somehow it may
be argued that the full resolution of the "one problem" that is the environmental concern, requires a global solution including
that of other problems as well : any internal conflicts (contradictions) of our societies:
- mismanagement of public funds into wasteful "big projects"
- abusive income and
"professional expenses" of the ruling class,
- and any unfairness in carbon tax between the rich and the poor,
But for a serious exposition, exhaustiveness would be needed, which means giving hundreds of further, seemingly small examples,
many of which would not naturally come to mind but require some kind of special attention to notice, just like
so many aspects of daily life which people spontaneously follow as they assume necessary without
paying attention to the environmental impact.... things that, metaphorically speaking, can be standing on people's noses but
which they keep failing to see... I won't invest myself into the research of so many things I currently don't know about.
I'll just mention one random case I stumbled on.
- a waste of natural resources,
- a taxation pressure which keeps the rest of people in poverty
(and the resulting vicious circle of hurry, driving to go to work and wasting their life going to
wasteful academic studies for fear of not finding lucrative enough jobs...),
- and excuses for people to reject
the whole range of reforms that the planet would actually need.
Diverse countries in the world have diverse visa policies, ruling the conditions for foreigners to enter their territories, and for how long.
Some time ago, requirements of costly visa formalities were commonplace. The simplification offered by visa-free policies is of course welcome.
However in many cases, these come with strange requirements. Namely, the right of visa-free visit is often limited to a certain time period.
These may be indeed nicer than putting absurd obligations of complicated formalities (and I don't understand why formalities need to be complicated,
since all information on identities at border crossing is digitally available to authorities, and if some kind of residence tax is decided, why
not make this simply payable at border control or local police office...). But two formal conditions are still often required:
However the rationality of these two requirements remains unclear. As an extended presence of tourists is actually good for the economy, why
still put any obstacles ? Who or what can be considered disturbed by such an extended presence ? If a limit is given to the total amount of staying
time per year, as with the case of Ukraine, the rationality of this requirement remains unclear, but at least it has some kind of coherence.
But other countries do not put such a limit, so that the simplest way to extend a stay there is to make a round flight to somewhere else, which
results in restarting from zero the count of staying time (which can be longer in the case of a flight than in the case of a land crossing, but why ?).
Now the rationality of this obligation of making a round flight abroad is very unclear. Which logical purpose does it serve, if not the purpose of
wasting kerosene for the pure pleasure of wasting kerosene (and possibly making local airlines and airports a bit wealthier on the way) ?
- The period of right to stay under visa-free regime has a limit such as 1 month or 3 months, which cannot
be exceeded unless fulfilling some special cases to make a visa...
- This law is "enforced" by conditioning the right to enter the country by the condition of providing a
proof of outbound flight which must be booked in advance.
The rationality of the second requirement is also very unclear, especially when the period of stay is longer, as, what is the sense of obliging
people to decide in advance the day and destination of their next flight ? Such a requirement can be very unpractical, as life can have a lot of unknowns,
the reasons to choose one or another destination, or to prefer a day rather than another, may depend on many things which often cannot be known
in advance, such as discovering some info about interesting events, or even the weather... airlines have a system of modifying the price of tickets
depending on bookings for the precise purpose of balancing the load of passengers between the different flights: early bookings at
specific dates induce a price signal that is an incentive for other people to book for other dates where more places remain available.
This system is actually an ingenious way of forming compromises between the decisions of people who have a priori imperatives on
dates, and those whose travel plans are more flexible. But obliging people to make very early bookings for specific dates when they
actually had no personal need for this, introduces artificial additional rigidity into the system, making it sub-optimal (with the possible
consequences of making flights more often either full or very incomplete, thus a larger total number of needed physical flights for the same
number of needed tickets).
But a very odd thing is that for people who really need flexibility there is a known way around : there exist companies whose job is, for a rather
cheap price, to take care of booking a refundable outbound flight that will be valid for travelers to show to border control at their day of crossing,
and then cancelling it. This can be useful for people who decide to not decide their next flight long in advance indeed. So a kind of
flexibility is restored at some moderate cost, but what remains of the rationality of the legal requirement of "giving a proof of outbound flight"
What I do for the planetIn a sense I don't have the impression of doing much for the planet, but yet behave
much better than most others... who seem to be doing much against the planet and I don't understand why.
Beyond accommodation I seldom buy anything. I most often just walk to go to places. I only exceptionally buy
clothes when I really need to change something, but that is usually second-hand only.
I even sometimes found nice clothes abandoned in the street or in a trash.
My food expenses are also small. I rather bought discounted pastries at evening times, when buying them
was the way for these to not be trashed, and usually re-using some plastic bag I carried from outside instead
of using a new one. But I also often find a lot of good food in trashes. I don't understand people who put so
much good food in trashes and so few of them pick these from there. For example I don't understand why so
many people may keep queuing for minutes waiting for the opportunity to buy food when some good free food
can be directly picked in the nearest trash. By the way for the same reason, I also don't understand why people may
love going to restaurants where food is not only overpriced but also require to wait for 10 or 20 minutes before being served.
People don't understand me either. Sometimes someone wants to give me something, but no I'm not a beggar,
I'm not pushed to that by poverty. So thanks but no thanks, do I need to insist : the trash is rich !! If I needed something
more I could buy it but I don't, so people's gifts have no reason to be better for me than what was already there.
I'm not going to make a list of the food I could find in trashes, as it is so diverse, it is such a great opportunity
of discovering a diversity of good things and get balanced nutrition (smaller portions of diverse things in larger
number instead of getting bored finishing one big thing), without having to bother caring about it (to buy a
similar diversity of things would require to search for new things and wonder what can there be and how
good it can be). If I don't like something I can just drop it without regret. Many times I found some ice cream,
and while I must admit Nutella pancakes are usually not found in trashes, it did happen.
I am aware that such a way of doing is not generalizable to significant extents, as just doubling the number of
people doing like this would quickly result in shortages there, but well for now, the situation being as it is, I just fulfill
my little bit of responsibility for the planet's sake and do not feel responsible for the role of others.
One day I had the surprise to find an internet cafe which displays prices per number of hours of internet but customers
are not allowed to just pay that price for that time: they are also required to buy a drink to stay there. Because, well, it is
like in a bar, one needs to buy a drink as a justification to stay.
A parenthesis about bartending
The latter case is very common indeed but I
would already see it questionable: if the goal is for the bar to make money, than rather than consuming a drink,
why not be allowed to just pay a smaller amount of money only for staying without drink ? The question comes as
a logically obvious question, however it looks as if nobody thought about it earlier...
(except that there are otherwise some
"anti-café" that precisely make people pay per time instead of paying per thing bought. I guess the optimal solution
would be in between this, adding up a price per time with a price per things consumed, but that this double counting would
just be too much of a trouble for people to bother managing it. )
Surely people could think about it, but since they are not doing it, there hould be a reason, or is there ?
We can understand that there are some possible complications: the actual "cost" of staying would not be near zero
most of the time as there are available places so that it does not disturb, however if it was free then then space might
become occupied by such people, not leaving place for the rest of people, and... it would be a little bothering then
to just come and say: "hey, can you please leave because some people would wish to buy a drink to stay but the space is lacking"...
Or maybe, just pay when it happens but this would be too complicated as well...
but of course a main reason is that buying a drink gives some profit, to the owner, who is looking for profit when letting
However we may wonder : in the price of the drink, how much is the real cost and how much is the profit ?
I suspect, the drink itself may be about 10% cost only, and the rest for profit, which may not mean that it would be unjustified,
since of course, ifever owning a bar was itself a jackpot then more bars would open than there already are...so the "profit" must
have a kind of justification, that, apart from taxes, is likely to be shared between the income of the barman and the renting
of the place (if it is rent). The share of the place is clear, but that of the barman is more interesting to comment further. That is,
we have the following problem : to run a bar we need a barman and he needs an income to work. There needs to be enough
of them to avoid most of the time having any significant queues of customers waiting to be served, but it also implies that for
much of the time there is no queue at all so that the barman must stay idle (unless there is something else to work on...).
And the problem with having a barman stay idle is that he needs to be paid anyway. So, while it may be okay for a little while
to welcome a visitor who is not thirsty to just sit as long as the barman is busy serving the thirsty ones who are queuing,
sooner or later the queue will end and the barman is going to suddenly start crying for a job, and logically put the guilt
of this lack on any present person who failed to give him one.
We can understand that people at jobs may not only
not like to stay idle, but they may even dislike to be paid for doing nothing for someone who is there, as they need the
feeling of doing something useful for someone, even if it is an illusion as the need they serve is not real.
So, if the visitor of a bar must buy a drink, it is mainly because the barman just needs to be paid this price for being there,
while the drink itself is but a symbolic little gift by which the barman altogether thanks the client for this contribution to
his salary, and gives to himself the impression of being there for something, but whose actual cost plays no significant
role in the story.
This only, as far as I can guess (sorry I have no experience in that profession, does this need correction ?)
can form a rational explanation of why the natural forces of market, while logical in themselves towards some approach to a
kind of optimization, may remain actually inefficient in the job of limiting the waste of natural resources.
Back to that internet cafe
So what was strange in that one is that, to form the real price they wanted for people to stay on computer there, they
decided to write this price as looking like a sum of 2 parts: one being the official price of internet time, and the other being
the price of a drink. Surely, the idea is to give the impression of a smaller price for internet than it really is, as the
complement, in the form of the price of a drink, will look like it is normal just because the price of this drink remains
in similar range to the price of drinks in other bars. Many clients who usually go to bars and buy drinks while doing nothing
interesting meanwhile, may feel interest in rather going to that internet cafe where they can altogether have the same
pleasure drinking, and better occupy themselves with computer while slowly digesting their drink.
The cost management problem of this kind of place is actually similar to that of bars, as there is also a receptionist
who needs to be paid and often suffers idleness, and the space takes a cost to rent. However there are differences, as follows.
There already is a price of stay in the form of the price of use of computer per time, and we can consider that a price of stay
for a time means the whole use of an individual place : a chair+a computer.
The logical solution, therefore, would be to express the price of the use of space and the working time of receptionist as price of
internet time, while making drinks cheaper. But, it turns out he does not like to make drinks cheaper, but still "needs" the price,
and for this, since it is often easy to make the needed profit from clients who come and buy drinks by giving these drinks usual price,
profit in large part coming from the price of those drinks whose cost is small, the manager decided to maybe put a relatively smaller nominal
price of internet than needed (?) but make consumption of drinks compulsory.
Internet cafes can be expected to be more regularly occupied along the day, than usual bars whose business is usually concentrated
at evening times.
The calculation of the price per space and per time is clearer and more rational in an internet cafe (one computer per client) than
in bars where each table can be occupied by variable numbers of people for unclear lengths of time.
As the price is paid for computer space, with a little bit of table which can anyway be needed to put some paper or a smartphone,
adding a drink does not form a significant additional use of space.
While I understand that reasons for going to sit in a bar with no intention to buy a drink may be considered a little strange,
that is not the case with people coming to an internet cafe for the purpose of only using a computer.
As I consider it shocking to face such an obligation to consume something I do not need, less as a matter of price than as a matter of
principle (waste of natural resources) which would financially contribute to a business which practices this compulsory waste with
its clients (making many of them consume something they would not spontaneously
buy), after asking again a few times for the possibility of buying only internet time without drink and again getting the
request to also buy a drink because I "must" in guise of reply, I decided to refuse the deal and go away.
Now my question is : how many people would be educated enough to do the same ? I dream of an education system which would
make students to expatiate on this kind of topic as a written test of civic education : "Imagine you enter an internet cafe
only intending to use computer but the guy says you must also buy a drink for this, what do you do and why" without explicit hint
that they are supposed to remember about environmental issues, and see if they spontaneously do ! that could be fun.
Usual discourses about the abuse of natural resources blame the "law of market" and that businesses are "driven by profit". Of course
the exact causes may depend on cases, so a long review and case by case analysis of different kinds of ways in which
business can take profit in environmentally harmful methods would be needed. Let me just finish with this example, which somehow
enters the category of profit-driven decisions of businesses resulting in a waste of natural resources.
So how can we understand the causes which led to it, and which kind of change in people or policies might fix the problem ?
Of course we might fight the small business dictatorship of waste by the force of a big dictatorship that would outlaw it.
But would that be a reasonable, appropriate solution ? I'd rather leave this question open, and focus on other dimensions of explanation
and possible works towards a resolution.
Maybe I'm dreamer, but I do wish many people behaved as I did, in the sense that, among the times someone would wish to go there
without buying a drink, this "obligation to consume" would result more often in refusing the deal than in accepting to buy something
one did not need. I believe it is an educational gap when people accept such a deal, which would need some kind of educational fix
(and just like other educational issues, I mean an issue that is only educational for those not having the natural skills to do things
spontaneously right with no need of teaching...).
Yet I cannot be sure of the exact situation, so I cannot exclude that a last kind of possible source of trouble may be at play: failures in
the field of business education. I mean, a trouble actually made of a pure logical failure, kind of like the logical loop
of Christian faith, where people have the faith that in order to be saved (or to be good people, or to be happy) they need to follow
the faith that in order to be saved they need to follow that faith, as I explained elsewhere in terms of divine corruption.
So my fear here, is that the business culture might have so much hypnotized itself with its own obsession of
marketing, and marketing of marketing, and how to advertise your stocks to sell them at a higher price than
the realistic profits of your company, by trying to present your own marketing activities as if they were more
powerful at the art of fooling people than they really are... that it is not even clear whether the "profitable waste" is done
only insofar as it is really profitable, or would it also sometimes be done just because its managers
assume it so, even though it really isn't profitable ? Just look: for a long time Monsanto behaved as if its decisions were good,
until legal troubles sent down its stocks...
Not being in a position to answer, I'll leave this question
of business education open and end here this presentation of my invitation into a huge field of questioning
that I could only barely sketch here.
Back to main page of the series: On the world's failures to
steer itself properly