The President of the French Republic spoke of the end of abundance, and a great commotion arose.
The first reaction occurred almost as a conditioned reflex: how can we speak of abundance in societies where chronic inequality intensifies even more, where the 1% at the top of the pyramid hoards income and wealth, where inflation eats away wages, where precariousness degrades and destroys so many vulnerable existences? And furthermore, to link that call to accept sacrifices with a senseless war that could and should have been avoided, even in extremis, in the geopolitical downhill of last winter?
And, nevertheless, those of us who are aware of the eco-social tragedy that we are experiencing, and of the very hard times that are coming, have to thank Emmanuel Macron for partially breaking the discursive consensus on August 24 that denies reality, which until today continues to be defended by the economic, political and media elites. Indeed, the energy abundance and the commercial plethora that we were told would always continue are a thing of the past. And the sooner we face reality, the more options we have to avoid the worst scenarios (various combinations of fascism, genocide and ecocide) that are currently the most likely.
There are two basic truths that, more than uncomfortable (like The Inconvenient Truth explained to us by Al Gore), are unacceptable to the prevailing worldview. The first is that global warming is rather our climatic tragedy, and does not mean a few more inconveniences for our daily lives (a little more heat in summer, a river that runs wild from time to time, a little less water for land and throats a little thirstier): what is at stake are unviable societies on an uninhabitable Earth.
And a second truth is that the energy crisis is neither circumstantial nor does it have any solution that does not involve living using much less energy, which means impoverishment of some kind. Most of what we have called “progress” and “development” over the last two centuries is due to the historical exceptionality of fossil fuels and the inconceivable energy surplus they provided (which is now over and cannot be replaced). And, in societies such as the French or the Spanish, the part of that energy wealth that touches even those who live poorly at the base of the social pyramid is above what can be generalized for more than 8,000 million human beings who want to last over time. .
It is no longer possible to think of a “good” transition to a sustainable industrial society that could, for example, conserve (let alone expand) the enormous energy consumption of current capitalism in the central countries of the system. The energy saving that France or Germany are proposing today, and that seems unaffordable to so many, is in fact behind what we would need, and that clearly points to the need for systemic change.
Are we then talking about assuming reality and the need to overcome capitalism?
George Riechmann He is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the UAM and co-director of the MHESTE and DESEEEA postgraduate courses in Ecological Humanities.
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