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Discussing societal solutions  

Between falling (crashing/collapsing) and remaining intact, there is usually a razor-thin event. The banana peel is a strong example, but most accidents can be traced back to something completely trivial. However, if you take a closer look at such a situation, you tend to see certain conditions within the decider that prevented him from avoiding the peel. Those preconditions are numerous because why and how did one get there? My curiosity is mainly about why at such a moment one could not be patient, or did not take more leeway, to dodge or clean the mess (like getting rid of the banana peel).

Power (= resources) plays an important role in that rush. My father often told us: Money is easy but at the same time that's the problem. Because with a lot of money in your pocket, you figure you can get yourself out of anything, so you loose sight of caution. Caution is asking questions, and thus explore what can go wrong. With plenty of resources your controllability is not constrained, and you are able to cut off every wrong going. So you unlearn to take your losses and run away in time. Some things just can't be done, and other things need time and attention, and you have to have that if you don't want to screw them up.

Why do I bring this up: All around us we are currently seeing a worldwide rush to make our energy consumption zero-emission by means of a mega-investment wave, with the main condition being that our flourishing lifestyle (freedoms, etc.) should not be substantially limited by this technology switch. This rush undoubtedly emerges from the coincidence of the shock of the pandemic with the increasingly alarming climate and biodiversity news.

The most pressing question now is: Do we have enough time? And don't we have too much money to possibly back out (i.e., take our losses) and, by giving up some of our affluence, get emissions under control? I honestly don't see that last mood blossoming anywhere.

On the contrary, as soon as policy intentions start to smell of it, the heels go in. People are used to having immediate access to all the information, goods and services on earth via mouse movements, and every violation of this is perceived as a personal attack on this comfortable position. Observe the viciousness with which Baerbock of the German Grünen has recently been depicted by the lobbying organization INSM (financed by the German Metal and Electrical Employers Association) via full-page advertisements ("Wir brauchen keine Staatsreligion") as the modern Moses (who introduced the Ten Commandments), because she has suggested a few lifestyle-restricting proposals.

That stiff-neckedness in not wanting to dim an inch vis-a-vis the climate collapse, is a very bad sign. A sign that we are totally (obsessionally) trapped in a thinking bubble that blocks our access to certain ways out.

Unthinkable solutions

I still think a strong example of how being caught in a particular game makes a clearly visible banana peel invisible, is what happened between radio man Phillips (of the Titanic) and radio man Evans (of the Californian) one hour before the Titanic hit an iceberg. Evans reports to Phillips that there are many icebergs nearby, and that the Californian has gone to a halt to await the rising of the sun. Phillips' reply, "Shut up, shut up! I am busy; I am working Cape Race!", and does not pass the message on to the bridge. After being barked at like that, Evans probably thought 'drop dead' and went to sleep. It has subsequently become clear that Philips was then busy sending unimportant telegrams from wealthy passengers to station Cap Race (Newfoundland) for onward transmission to New York City. Fifty minutes later, the Titanic crashes full-speed into an iceberg and sinks.

Last week we (i.e. Afwendbaar) received an email from Bill McKibben. In response to our "Current plans are crap" article, he asked us, "You propose very interesting ways out, but how do you plan to organize it?" His question suggests that the unthinkability of that organization within our current thinking bubble should shape our view of the banana peel, ain't it?

I don't share that view, because as long as the climate movement continues to seek the solution in the lane of the wealth-defending mindset (and social-economic playing rules) of the possessors, I don't think we need to organize anything at all anymore because that lane is a dead end street. We have seen the current alarmist drive and ambition in those ranks come along in waves for 25 years. The stance of aviation thinker Sadiq Gillani who dares to claim that aviation, with its current bag of dreams (more fuel efficient aircraft, alternative fuels, new technology, carbon capture and carbon offsets) and energy consuming accelerated innovation ("Ein wesentliches Instrument zum Klimaschutz im Luftverkehr ist die schnelle und kontinuierliche Erneuerung der Flugzeugflotten") is finally listening to Greta Thunberg (and Fridays for Future) is a prototypical empty shell. This is pep talk to get the crowd to fly again as soon as possible, nothing more. If aviation had really listened to the Thunberg family, the entire aviation fleet would now be buried deep in the ocean or stood sagging at the Mojave desert airplane cemetery.

Anyway, we did answer Bill – whom I hold in high esteem – in a proper way of course. As follows.

Reply to Bill

The race to ever more ambitious reduction trajectories in national emission plans are all going to combine to create a huge wave of investment in new technology and infrastructure. That huge mountain of investment is going to drive global manufacturing processes to unprecedented levels over the next five years.

But that frenetic pace is completely at odds with what the earth acutely needs right now i.e. tranquility and zero-emissions. And so: in the coming years, ppm's will spike even harder (crossing 450), cause more social despair, generate even more hasty engineering policies, and meanwhile, climate fatally goes out of control.

There is only one possible salvation, which is to massively switch back the production and consumption to the basic necessities through a local low-tech way of life. Even among modelers and physicists, more and more voices are calling for deeper examination of mitigation pathways through superfast social transformation. So the climate movement should endorse that option 100%, drop high tech, and turn against it. International flows (aviation, shipping, highways, internet traffic) need to go down deeply, and innovation to practically zero.

However, how do we get society (or at least the climate movement) to want to sink their teeth into such a social fix. Here we are getting to McKibben's main worry. He mailed us: "That kind of political organizing always seems as important to me as having the right plan"

But in my perception of the current case (of being totally deadlocked with the way we are dealing with each other and nature) is having a right reliable plan the chief concern for the moment. In my opinion 'the right plan' has still not been cooked up.

Why is a right plan so crucial in this case?

We are on the brink of extinction, so can no longer afford to make a mistake, and it is clear that the Way Out that is still open to us, will not be particularly in harmony with the way we have allowed ourselves to slip to this edge, otherwise would we have looked in that direction earlier. It was not obvious, was unthinkable even.

So the right plan is going to get a very drastic appearance to everyone involved. And so of course the implementation (political organizing) will then be an awful job − on that point I'm in complete agreement with McKibben − because nobody wants to change, not even to get into it, although it will increasingly help that now we have become so deeply entangled in the climate chaos and more and more blood is gonna drip from the walls, fewer and fewer people will think that we will be able to get out of this in one piece and unscathed. Governments, companies and individuals are already becoming much more flexible in their predictions, expectations and policy intentions.

Meanwhile, we (climate movement) need to know damn well where we ultimately want to go. If you take a herd of cows to the barn to hibernate you have the same problem. They don't want to go in there for any price. It doesn't matter. Give them a few days, bring them a little closer each day with a ration of hay, the cold will do the rest and make them more and more receptive to it.

A right plan then

First question: what did we do wrong since we noticed the fatal breakdown of essential climate conditions (Kyoto)? What way of doing things has caused us to exceed dangerous limits? Only with that answer can we make a climate plan right and reliable.

The trouble is that the youth (and most older people even so) fails to perceive the ignition that continues to inevitably drive our economic acting to cross dangerous human, social, and ecological limits. What's more, we are so tightly ruled by this detonator that we cannot imagine a reality without it. We are caged in a game that is going to get us killed.

Let us identify that detonator in there.
Economy is about efficient management of scarce resources, and thus concerns how a population organizes the exchange of (or competition for) scarce assets, goods and services. It's all about scarcity. It's about things that many people want (need) and don't have easy access to.

This inter-competitive struggle to get access to assets, products and services actually runs completely on the fear (= sensing of eventualities) of all participants that they might not be able to get enough out of what is available (i.e. get insufficient access to). In that fear resides the ignition of the dynamics of the whole game, and especially of unlimited expansion (growth). Because? Where we need to compete, we keep trying to outdo each other (through innovations), we never get enough (because no matter how high we rise, competitors keep threatening us), and so we keep collectively intensifying and expanding that exchange.

The deadlocking nature of that growth compulsion due to limits (environmental variables) has been pointed out many times. Proposals (e.g., degrowth, gemeinwohl-ökonomie) have been made to escape it, but in those proposals one has not gone to the ignition (trigger) of the inherently expanding dynamics of all exchanges that are based on competition.

So, a right plan should at least include

Suppose it soon turns out that the current tech-fix keeps generating more emissions continuously. We will then have to reduce economic activity dramatically in the very short term. For that to happen, two things are needed: (a) you have to shift to a local and much simpler lifestyle to get energy demand down sharply, and (b) you need to disempower the competitive way of satisfying certain essential human needs, otherwise you won't get the fear of not being able to obtain a fair portion – which triggers expansion – out of the minds of everyday people.

Then, in order not to slip into a full-scale plan economy (with high burdens because of civil servants, much alienation, and no freedom), I propose to disempower only the competition for assets i.e. houses, land and resources are no longer traded (or inherited) but allocated. Thus I propose (see also the triple jump in the kindness-article)

  • to take assets out of circulation;
  • and allocate an equivalent habitat to everyone (i.e. young adults for the duration of their active life, non-tradable but mutually exchangeable);
  • where they can provide for their basic needs in many aspects (space, food, water, shelter, love, clothing) in an integrated multifaceted way (balance between manual and intellectual work), quite independent of others. There, of course, many mutual exchanges remain possible (mutual aid, reception of apprentices, exchanges, intercourse) and necessary (marketing, and joint care of the elderly).

This socio-economic structural fix is for the moment rather unthinkable, and cannot be realised without an uprising, it is true, but there is fertile ground: a significant part of the population is getting quite sceptical about the uncertainties surrounding the current tech-fix, and there are many back-to-basics and off-grid initiatives by young people going on. If the anticipated climate situation starts to look much worse and more inexorable, and we are more cornered, there will undoubtedly be a huge uprising.

There are facts (and suppositions) that need no lobby, no pressure, no IQs, and no media to penetrate the soul of every human being at lightning speed. Flesh wants to live, at any cost, and will not wait to call. Everything becomes thinkable when your feelings start asking for it.

Jac Nijssen, 2021
This article has been written June 2021.
A Dutch version was published on  27 june 2021.
See also this pdf with a French version, and adjusted to French degrowth models of societal change (sept 2021)




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