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By Serge Latouche *
To understand how our model has caused an imbalance in this natural phenomenon, it is necessary to explain how it works.
The vast majority of solar radiation passes directly through the atmosphere to heat the planet's surface. The earth in turn emits radiation into space. However, not all of this radiation returns to space, as greenhouse gases absorb most of it. In this way, the thermal equilibrium is established at a temperature higher than that which would be obtained without this effect. The importance of the effects of absorption and emission of radiation in the atmosphere are fundamental for the development of life as it is known. In fact, if this effect did not exist, the average temperature of the Earth's surface would be around -22ºC, and thanks to the greenhouse effect it would be around 14ºC.
The so-called greenhouse gases or greenhouse gases, responsible for the effect described, are:
Water vapor (H2O).
Carbon dioxide (CO2).
Nitrogen oxides (NOx).
Although all of them (except CFCs) are natural, as they already existed in the atmosphere before the appearance of man, since the Industrial Revolution, and mainly due to the intensive use of fossil fuels such as oil and coal in the industrial activities and transportation, we burn in one year what photosynthesis produced in 100 thousand years. Our thermo-industrial system produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide every day. During this industrial age we have used more fossil fuels than in the entire history of mankind. This phenomenon, aggravated by other human activities such as deforestation, has limited the regenerative capacity of the atmosphere to eliminate carbon dioxide, the main cause of the greenhouse effect.
Climate change is the most visible element of the diseased system in which we live, so degrowth, more than necessary, is essential. There are other critical elements, such as the depletion of oil and the disappearance of living species.
Therefore, degrowth, in addition to being essential, is desirable, because this system is based on an obsession with work, contempt for human beings, and the destruction of nature. The signs of a sick society can be seen through the high suicide rate in Northern countries, and the consumption of drugs, tranquilizers, and antidepressants. This phenomenon is rooted in the pressure exerted by the system on workers to be more and more productive and efficient, and to be so they have to consume more and more drugs to cope with stress. Returning to the idea of Ivan llitch, "we could live better with less if we lived in another way."
We can't go on like this. Two or three centuries ago our society chose the path of economic growth, whose motto is to consume and produce more and more. This unlimited production leads to unbridled consumption. To maintain this economic model, the obsolescence of goods has to be accelerated, which generates more and more waste. So production does not have as its objective the satisfaction of needs, but the reproduction of the system itself. This model causes the destruction of both the planet and the human being. In a world where you are what you consume, we devalue Nature, ecosystems and even ourselves, technocrats even speak of disposable man. Everything is precarious, love, work, the human being, etc.
One of the most perceptible symptoms of the unsustainability of this model is climate change, which is being talked about more right now. The latest report from the GIEC (Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Climate Evolution) and the report by Nicolas Stern from the UK Government legitimize in the public sphere what many scientists have pointed out for a long time. This global consciousness forces rulers to take action, but these policies only seek to limit the effects rather than confront the causes. It's like slowing down a bit and stepping on the ground at the same time. We are on a racing car and we are going to crash into the wall, it is not enough to slow down a bit, we have to stop and change course. This is the meaning of decrease.
Decrease is not a model. It is first of all a provocative slogan to mark the need for a break, to impact the spirits as an advertising slogan. One should strictly speak of "a-growth", of the Greek privative "a", as "a" -theism. It is necessary to get out of the religion of growth, of the cult of progress, of merchandise, rather, it would be necessary to detoxify.
As I comment in my book: "Surviving development: from the decolonization of the economic imaginary to the construction of an alternative society", a change of values is essential, especially regarding the behavior of human beings in front of their natural environment. The idea of the Promethean man is a specific feature of the West, from which comes the famous phrase of Descartes: "the man who is master and dominator of nature." However man belongs to nature, it is necessary for man to stop his depredation of nature, and to find a way of living in harmony with nature, like a faithful gardener.
You want to replace the natural world by the artifact, that is, an artificial world. With the technique we will be able to replace the world that man has created with a world created by man. But if one looks at the planet from the point of view of the Gaia hypothesis (which would correspond to the Pachamama in Latin America), man is only one element of the entire terrestrial ecosystem. Not only does he have to change his economic and political model, but he has to change the way he views the planet and himself.
Then the reappropriation of the future of each people goes through the redefinition of the content of its general policy and this is the meaning of decrease. Degrowth is undoubtedly an anti-globalization project. But globalization is doomed in the long run, even according to people outside the degrowth movement, with the depletion of oil. Globalization is only feasible given the artificially low transport costs. With the disappearance of fossil fuels, transport costs will multiply by 10, 20 or 30, so air transport will no longer be used and land transport will be reduced. Only goods that cannot be produced in the same area will be transported. J M Keynes, a famous economist of the late nineteenth century, already said in his time, when it was not yet known what was going to happen, that ideas have to circulate freely, but merchandise as little as possible and capital for nothing. From this point of view, degrowth will fulfill the aspirations of J M Keynes.
Before reaching such a point, it is necessary to reduce land transport and consider relocation. Today, we travel all the time because we are not comfortable at any latitude, which is very bad for the planet, because we consume a lot of energy and the ecological cost of these trips is very high. As we increasingly live in a virtual world, we actually travel instead. In the future, we will have to learn to travel virtually and rediscover our roots in the territory. The answer is yes. It is simply mathematical: 20% of the world's population living in the North consumes 86% of the resources, since only 14% of these resources remain for the South. A fairer redistribution is necessary. It means that we have to restrict our bleeding in the countries of the South so that they breathe. For example, during the great famine in Ethiopia and Somalia, these countries continued to export food for the pets of the northern middle classes.
That happens because of a change in our food model, we eat too much meat, fat, sugar, salt ... 50% of young people in the United States are obese, in Europe 30%. Here the irrationality of such a model is glimpsed. 40% of cereal production is used to feed livestock. But 30% of the meat found in supermarkets is thrown away, it is a huge waste. The production of meat in Europe is based on the use of a territory 4 times greater than that of Europe in the form of the import of pomace cake, soybeans, corn, etc. for livestock.
I always say that I am not going to propose to the countries of the South to undertake degrowth when they have not yet experienced growth. On the other hand, if degrowth means building a different society from Western society based on unlimited growth, then it makes sense at the same time for countries that have not yet taken this path, that still have a heritage to preserve. And for those who have already taken this path, it is still possible to change paths. It would allow them to break with economic dependence, which is exercised through "l’Etau de la dette" (Aminata Traoré), but also through economic structures. Added to this economic dependence is cultural dependence.
They have been deprived of their own illusions to live, 700 million Africans no longer want to live in Africa, but to come to Europe. Through the new media (internet, mobile phone) they have their head in the "global village" and "their feet in the African shit." The phenomenon of immigration, as we know it today, is only beginning, it is not enough to oversee the borders with retaining walls and submachine guns, but that is what is being imposed right now. It is we ourselves who have created this desire, because they did not have it before. 20 years ago Africans did not think of leaving, while today they just want to leave.
I don't care about Africa. De-globalization will be easier for them than for us. Their economic system already works mainly outside the market, they are already used to living in very difficult conditions. With the bankruptcy of the system, they will no longer be able to export their speculative crops, as has happened in the past. They will eat better because they will begin to diversify their crops, they will grow products for their own satisfaction. An immense country such as the Central African Republic, sparsely populated, would have to sink out of abundance, but it has a very weak organization as a result of the colonization and imperialism of the countries of the North. This organization results in a standard of living that does not allow increasing agricultural production that would make it possible to supply the urban population.
An example of an alternative could be that of Cuba, which, as a result of the embargo, was able to build an ecological agriculture, which promotes an abundant and healthy diet.
If the countries of the South could manage themselves, they would find a solution. Surely it would not be the solution we are thinking of, since they are themselves the actors of its change.
For you, what was the role of NGOs in this continent? NGOs participate to a certain extent in the export dynamics of the development imaginary. After the failure of the States' development policies in the 1960s, Christian-Catholic groups, which until then played a modest and more charitable role than that of development, began to take charge of bilateral cooperation that prolongs colonization. As states discharged themselves from this 'technical assistance' role, the role of existing small associations expanded, and then a real market emerged for NGOs that began to multiply.
Among NGOs there is the best and the worst, and above all the worst. But it is clear that social transformation will have to go through organized groups and not just individuals. I think there is a myth about the NGO acronym, which is used for everything, hides very different realities. The word NGO is quite funny because an African family of 300 could be considered an NGO.
Africans realized that whites like to cooperate with organizations that have the same way of acting and with white people. It is a good way to raise funds. For a part of the young unemployed population with long studies, this phenomenon constitutes a great opportunity and so they created NGOs that, thanks to a westernized discourse, manage to raise more funds. And that is sad knowing that many of the alternatives promoted today by Northern NGOs are recoveries of existing mechanisms in Southern countries. For example, microcredits in Africa were called "tontines." It was a very old institution, but with very different objectives, since it was not focused on economic development, but on the organization of family ceremonies (weddings, funerals, etc.). From the moment it is titled "microcredits", it is a recovery of an African creation, of an original culture, to be introduced into the white man's project. The same for fair trade, micro-enterprises and / or cooperatives, which already existed through informal organizations based on the clan system.
It is a smokescreen because development is not sustainable. Development is just a word, which carries a whole imagination and a story. It is the story of unsustainable growth. Today growth is nothing more than a quantitative and not a qualitative transformation. The term "sustainable development" is a nice find from the advertising world. According to my sources, it would be Henry Kinsinger himself who, during the Stockholm Conference in 1972, pushed for the term “eco-development” to be replaced by “sustainable development”. Indeed, lobbies in US industries found the term "eco-development" too green. It is a discovery at the same time political, advertising and technical, that is, the improvement of the smoke screen. It is to promise people the gold and the moor, to save the planet without changing anything. I remember a conversation I had with a businessman who told me: “we want to save business and the planet”, but it is business that is destroying the planet, so you have to choose. For this reason, the word "degrowth" aims to mark the break, while "sustainable development" marks a continuity. To such an extent that the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the most powerful lobby group on the planet, is made up of all the major polluters on the planet, which are: Monsanto, Novartis, Total-Elf-Fina, etc.
* Interview with Serge Latouche by Audrey Boursicot and Audrey Dye
Published in Entrepueblos / Entrepobles / Entrepobos / Herriartea - Translation Yannick -Hélène de la Fuente