Energy and global warming
We already know that the cause of global warming is burning fossil fuels, but we are still unable to recognize that the only solution to stop or at least mitigate the climate crisis is to spend less energy, and we deceive ourselves, believing us the alleged experts who deny that it is necessary and who assure that technological solutions will be found that will solve it and that will prevent us from having to give up the bulk of products and services we enjoy.
The illusion that renewable energy will replace fossils in a few years contributes to this deception, an illusion created among other reasons by efforts such as the conversion of the automotive sector to make electric cars, or the marketing of many companies that issue optimistic messages based in the so-called green and sustainable economy, but the truth is that this is nothing more than an illusion.
Because today’s Western civilization is very dependent, (in fact addicted) to abundant and cheap energy, it needs a lot to be able to produce and distribute the enormous amount of products and services it constantly consumes, and the bulk of the energy it uses comes from fossil fuels: oil, coal and natural gas. And this despite the fact that during the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, other energy sources have been developed with more or less success: nuclear and also renewable ones, formerly wind and hydraulic, and more recently. especially the thermal and photovoltaic solar and the new wind.
Although they allow us to produce more energy every day, these renewable sources will never be able to completely replace fossils if there are no radical changes: right now we need more energy every day, because the products and services we “need” continue to increase: for some, few, which we give up thinking about the environment, we add others that nullify the effort. And fusion nuclear power and the new generations of fission nuclear power, after decades of promise, for now are just that, promises of a future that seems ever farther away.
The result is that, despite the deployment of renewables, the use of fossil fuels continues to increase.
Anyone who has any doubt should inform himself with works such as Petrocalipsis, by Antonio Turiel, which explain with a lot of data and a lot of rigor that it will never be possible to get as much energy from renewables or current nuclear as it has been extracted from fossils fuels, and make it clear that to state the opposite is a chimera, because it goes against the laws of thermodynamics, that is, against nature.
We are drug addicts
In this sense, it can be said that right now the whole of humanity is behaving like someone who has already begun to accept his addiction, but who still denies that it is a serious problem, and tries to convince himself that he has the situation under control, like the drug addict protagonist of Extremoduro‘s song “Me estoy quitando” («I am leaving it»), or those of the documentary promoted by El Gran Wyoming of the same title.
All this generates rather optimistic speeches that political leaders take advantage of to convey reassurance to citizens. But these discourses are fantasies, because they are based much more on desires and hopes than on facts and realities, they are equivalent to what drug addicts tell themselves to convince themselves. They are just a sedative that helps endure the general discomfort, a forward flight that denies the dimensions of the problem.
In face of these optimistic discourses are the pessimistic ones, those of people who for years and decades have warned that climate change is a reality that is causing a planetary crisis with enormous and unpredictable consequences. But they have done so and do so mainly from more or less radical and ecological leftist political positions, and that is why the vast majority of people have not felt challenged, and have rejected them and reject them as aliens or as extremists.
Also because many of these speeches have focused on denouncing capitalism as responsible for the situation, describing this economic system in its worst version, as a kind of furry demon, thus reinforcing the rejection of many citizens, who perceive it as an update of outdated ideological positions that, with the climate crisis as an excuse, have been renewed to attempt a new assault on hegemony.
The Greta Thunberg phenomenon
All this has wasted and waste the efforts of scientists and climate activists to explain the dimensions of the threat posed by this crisis, because it has condemned them to a relatively minority spread and have had little impact on political and economic discourses and therefore in the decisions that are made. And perhaps this is the reason that, when a powerful discourse such as that of Greta Thunberg’s and the movement set up by her, Fridays For Future, which carefully avoids aligning itself with any concrete ideological position, has burst into public space, the hegemonic discourse has started to change.
Thunberg and FFF focus their message on accusing world leaders of not taking action against the climate crisis and limiting themselves to giving reassuring speeches that say action is being taken. This puts significant pressure on these politicians, who are forced to seriously question what they are doing, but the message materializes in a simplistic and rather Manichean story, in which the bad guys are politicians and big business. because they are the ones who pretend to act without doing so, and the good ones are the citizens in general, who are powerless in the face of this.
This shifts the bulk of the responsibility upwards, exonerating “normal” citizens from what they may have, and helping to delay the changes they may make in their daily lives to mitigate the problem without having to wait for major political-economic changes. to start acting.
Because, make no mistake, the changes involve giving up much of the comforts that enjoy those who have enough financial resources, such as exotic or not so exotic products produced or manufactured around the world, travel around the world, closer or further away, good heating and good air conditioning at home, etc, etc, etc. There are many things we can begin to give up right now.
Because, in fact, there is always and will always be the danger, the temptation, or whatever you want to call it, that many people, groups or entire countries, wait for others to start changing, or refuse to change, with the excuse that the action of a single person, a single city or a single country is not decisive, and so, the majority of humans continue to act as if nothing happened and everything gets worse each again, that is what has in fact been going on for decades.
Thus, public space is occupied by opposing discourses that contradict each other, and the result is that individual and collective routines and habits are not changing at the pace needed to really curb the problem. It is the same thing that happens in the minds of drug addicts, who are blocked by contradictory discourses that tell themselves, and are passively dominated by the habit that is harming them.
What exit or exits are there to this situation? Will they have to start really big things happening for humans, collectively, to react? It is true that big things are already happening, but they are natural disasters similar to those that have more or less always happened, and most people do not just believe that they are happening more often and with more intensity than before, that the crisis has already arrived.
Also, these big things often happen far away and reach us only on TV or the internet, and they hardly challenge us to make big changes in our lives, maybe we will just settle for sending some money to help the victims and enough. And we will secretly wish that, when the serious problems will come near us, they will affect us as little as possible.
Progress and its children
But it is not an individual problem, which affects people one by one, it is a collective problem, a planetary one, and it is the fruit of an inertia that does not depend only on the presumed Machiavellianism of the capitalist forces, but above all of the power of the ideal on which virtually all current political programs are based, whether right-wing or left-wing.
This ideal is that of PROGRESS, created by the French and Scottish Enlightenment during the 18th century and which in the early 19th century became the carrot that Western civilization has pursued for over 200 years to improve the lives of citizens. And it has succeeded quite a bit, but at the expense of generating new problems that have already been seen to be as or more serious than the ones it helped to solve.
Other ideals has been built on this, that of development, which has dominated much of the twentieth century and is still hegemonic, and also that of economic growth, which is the dogma that has driven and continues to drive the world economy moving forward in a presumably “rational” way, but which, in fact, is thoughtless and insane.
Because the “classical” economists had said and say that we cannot stop growing because it is what keeps the economic machinery running, and that if it slows down, there will be recession and chaos and everyone will suffer. And they have embarked on a new illusion, sustainable development or sustainability, to make people believe that they can continue to grow and at the same time “save the planet”, that is, save civilization as we know it now.
And the bulk of political and business world have signed up enthusiastically because it suits them to maintain this illusion, and they spread it and make it grow in a way that, while it may not seem it, is also thoughtless and madness.
Because the truth is just the opposite: if we do not make rapid changes in a more or less orderly way to stop “growing”, then it will be the planetary limits that will slow down growth, in fact they are already doing so, pushing us towards real chaos.
Is there an alternative?
The alternative, therefore, is to focus on rebuilding the whole socio-economic life around the radical reduction of energy use, which will lead to many changes, some of them towards worst life conditions, but if it is done in a conscious way and with constructive will, it does not necessarily have to lead to a radical worsening of people’s lives.
All this implies that the whole of humanity must act as if it were energy poor, because in fact it is right now, if we compare it with the decades we have just lived. The problem is how to distribute this “poverty” so that it does not end up aggravating social differences to limits that can be catastrophic, as well as very unfair.
If we manage to do it, most likely in a few years or decades humans will look back and be surprised that our species would have arrived at the beginning of the 21st century making such irrational use of the energy and resources of the planet in general, both mineral and biological.
But in order to do so we must succeed in abandoning the ideal of progress, which is now clearly an unattainable myth and that its program, “development” equally upwards of all humans, is a chimera which leads us to the depletion of the biosphere. And our end will be similar to that of a cancer that ends up dying because it has devoured the body of what it was fed.
Retroprogress, candidate for substitute
The surest thing, however, is that we will need a new ideal to guide us in this “reconversion” of our civilization, with the aim of really adapting to the planet and forgetting the fairy tales that claim that in the coming centuries we will be able to “conquer space” and become “a multiplanet species,” in the deliriously recent expression of tycoon Elon Musk, in line with the disproportionate optimism of twentieth-century science fiction works. which led to the belief that walking around the galaxy from planet to planet would be imminent.
This author makes a modest contribution: the substitute for the ideal of progress may be the concept of RETROPROGRESS, proposed by the philosopher Salvador Pániker almost 40 years ago, and which every day seems a better candidate, because it allows to break the unilinear nature of the ideal of progress, of a single path to the future, in a sense, almost of fatal destiny.
In case you are interested, I leave you below the link to an article on this concept and its feasibility to become the ideal for the new stage of humanity:
Josep Maria Camps Collet