The history of the struggle against climate change has been a succession of failures. Since the Kyoto Protocol was signed with the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels, we have seen a continuous rise of them. Today, we are emitting 40% more than on that date. The problem is even more worrying because climate change is only one of the symptoms of the great biosphere crisis that 25 years ago 1,700 scientists denounced in the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity and that, in 2017, was repeated in terms still more alarmists for more than 15,000
It is time for us to question why all attempts to tackle global environmental problems fail. In that sense, it would be very desirable that we take a look at the solutions proposed by the first sustainability studies carried out in the 70s, because at almost 50 years, we see that the diagnosis they made has been successful, but we have not dared to implement the solutions that those pioneering works recommended.
These studies yielded very clear conclusions: to avoid serious problems of emission of pollutants and depletion of resources at the beginning of the 21st century, the technical improvement was insufficient: zero growth was necessary to stabilize the economy and the population. The truth is that, if one analyses the problem with a systemic view, it is difficult not to reach similar conclusions. The dynamics of economic growth, which tends to increase exponentially, ends up exceeding any attempt at stabilization through improvements in efficiency or renewable energy.
Stopping economic growth, however, is not an easy task. The economies of almost every country in the world follow the capitalist model, addicted to growth as few. The growth, in addition, is due to a very powerful dynamic that we can describe as genuine economic warfare. The competition between large companies, capitals and nations is, in short, a global war that makes it necessary for all actors to strive to grow so as not to be relegated. Therefore, the only way to curb economic growth and prevent the collapse of the biosphere – and, with it, of human societies – would be the signing of a true global economic peace treaty.
A few weeks ago, a friend told me that the people who really rule the world are starting to buy large estates in Latin American countries where climate change is not going to feel too much like climate bunkers. He also said that, what worries these elites right now, is to be able to ensure the loyalty of the military to which they will have to entrust their defence. All this reminds me greatly of the paranoia of the 70s with the cold war between the US and the USSR. In those years it not strange to hear about people who built a bunker in the garden of his house as a prevention against nuclear war. Fortunately, those who ruled the world at that time realized that there was no bunker capable of protecting them from an atomic war and signed a great agreement that reduced the global war to a series of military skirmishes (within the framework of the economic war underneath).
With that nuclear agreement, they did something enormously unusual. They gave up something present in human history for thousands of years: the open war between great powers. This was a really unusual fact and we can consider it an insignificant evolutionary advance that shows that the human being, even as a collective, is able to limit himself when his survival is at stake.
Perhaps we can have certain hopes that at this moment humanity is capable of doing something similar to what it did in the 70s. We are still in time to prevent the biosphere crisis from causing us to collapse if those who now govern the world realize that there is no bunker capable of protecting them and, in a scenario of environmental chaos, they will not be able to ensure the fidelity of their paramilitaries. In that sense, the popular riots that are emerging all over the world can serve to tip the scales when it comes to convincing them.
I would not rule out that in the coming years we can see something similar to a great pact of non-aggression that puts an end to capitalist competition. In fact, González Reyes and Fernández Duran in their book In the Spiral of Energy suggest that the successive negotiations of the COP are nothing more than failed attempts to establish this great pact. It is difficult to predict what kind of economy could arise from a similar pact, but most likely it would be similar to a feudalism that, though it could be sustainable, is not a democratic or emancipatory society.
We cannot be so naive to think that just by applying more political will within a New Green Deal we will get the old recipes for sustainable development to work. Decades of failures and scientific research prove that the transition to renewable energies, being necessary, is very short to when solving our huge sustainability problems.
We need to develop an economic system alternative to capitalism and it would be desirable that we begin to think about it from all social perspectives so that the resulting alternative is not only a return to the feudal past –at best– or a trip to a cannibal ecofascism –at worst.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Margarita Mediavilla has a PhD in physical sciences from the University of Valladolid (Spain) and is an associate professor of systems engineering and automation at the School of Industrial Engineering. She is also a very active in awareness raising about the limits of economic growth, participating in all kinds of publications and conferences in the Spanish-speaking world. Her personal blog is Habas Contadas.