Editorial 2018 English


We need a narrative

In today’s fast changing context, we need a narrative, a story that can account for both the rapid changes we are experiencing and the long-term evolutions in history. We favor the narrative of the industrial revolutions and the shocks that they provoke. Following the work of the economist Joseph Schumpeter, we define an industrial revolution as a period of accelerating innovation and creative destruction, two fundamental characteristics of capitalism, particularly in the fields of energy, communication and transport.

A centennial movement

The industrial revolutions appear curiously, by historical coincidence, in the 70s. From 1770, begins the first industrial revolution based on the steam engine and coal. From 1870, initiates the second industrial revolution based in particular on the combustion engine and oil. From 1970, appears the third industrial revolution based on digital technology and, potentially, on renewable energy.

The industrial revolution is therefore a centennial movement! It is a narrative that reflects both clusters of radical innovations and long-term  history. It is a movement of great violence, which then settles in the long run. It results in a radical transformation of production modes, ways of consuming and lifestyles.

Head-on collision with the biosphere

Based on the systematic use of fossil fuels, industrial revolutions, including the third revolution in its current beginnings[1], emit very high emissions of greenhouse gases, especially carbon, which completely deregulate the climate. They also multiply the damage to biodiversity and consume excessively natural resources.

On the climate issue, the Paris agreement of December 2015 defines for the first time a global framework for combating climate change. But everything depends on the future contents of the climate roadmaps of each of the signatory countries.

France: an ambitious climate roadmap

In July 2017, the French government defined the main lines of its climate roadmap that will be broken down by sectoral and thematic plans throughout the five-year presidential term. The goal is very ambitious: to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. This is the goal of Sweden and the Netherlands. Norway hopes to reach it by 2030.

The carbon tax will go from € 30 per tonne in 2017 to € 44 in 2018 to reach € 86 in 2022. It should exceed € 100 before 2030.

Three sectors are essential: real estate, transport and agriculture. A key issue is the building stock, the total of which should reach in 2050 the performance of the current thermal regulation of new buildings, which is currently one of the most ambitious on the planet! The car will have to be less individual, more occupied and more electric. Diesel and petrol taxation will be harmonized by 2021 and there should be no more gasoline and diesel cars from 2040. Food should undergo a strong evolution, with less meat and milk and more local products.

The objective is the development of a circular economy. The current economy is linear: we extract, we manufacture, we consume, we discard. It results in a waste of resources and a large production of waste. The circular economy removes the very notion of waste, which becomes a raw material for industry. All production is recycled.

Resistance of lobbies

Such a climate roadmap provokes strong resistance from the lobbies of the second industrial revolution but also those of the third.

The fossil fuel lobby is hit hard. It simultaneously opposes the process and invests in renewable energy. It plays for time on the length of the transition, relying on gas.

The nuclear lobby has a strong argument: the electricity it produces is carbon-free. But the security risks are high, and especially the price of nuclear kWh has become higher than that of renewable energies.

The automobile lobby is resisting. It gradually abandons the diesel, invests in the electric vehicle and plays the watch on the length of the transition with the gasoline car.

The air transport lobby acts mainly to escape the carbon tax, because the solar plane is not for tomorrow.

The agricultural lobby will withstand for a long time because replacing the productivist model with an ecological model is a real economic, technical and cultural revolution.

The digital lobby is not in the logic of the roadmap: it consumes a lot of energy and the smartphone, manufactured under a strong international division of labor and designed to be unrepairable and quickly obsolete, is a counter-model for the circular economy.

Force of habit

Beyond logical actions by the lobbies, the roadmap shows a profound transformation in the lifestyles of the population in all areas: food, housing, transport, consumption, work and leisure. This change will be complex and difficult because of the force of habit.

But the movement has already begun

This movement is particularly active at the local level, in some regions, cities and villages. The driving force is in the local territories. Let’s conclude on two very contrasting examples.

The city of Paris has set itself the goal of carbon neutrality in 2050 and has begun to influence, by provoking lively debates, the ways of life of the Parisians[2].

In Alsace, the village of 2,000 inhabitants of Ungersheim has set up an ambitious plan of 21 actions for the 21st century around three interesting ideas: intellectual autonomy, energy independence, food sovereignty[3].

The movement is underway, with the game of powers and counter-powers, experiments, mistakes and first results.

[1] The International Energy Agency reports that in 2014, fossil fuels account for 81% of the world’s primary energy mix.

[2] To listen to the radio chronicle on carbon and evolution of Parisian lifestyles, click here (in French).

[3] To listen to the radio chronicle on the interesting case of Ungersheim, click here (in French).

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