Après Nous le Déluge

Climate and Gilets Jaunes

A bit too often perhaps, I open news apps on my mobile phone. I check the BBC app for new Brexit stupidities and I open the NYT app to access amazing Trump stories that no longer seriously amaze anybody. Not very useful, actually. But some days ago, two short messages not too far from each other on the same app woke me up.

Message 1: climate change is appearing to develop quicker and more seriously than previously foreseen. Huge CO2 reductions needed.

Message 2: Macron scraps fuel tax rise in face of Gilets Jaunes protests.

The Unacceptable 4 Cents

Macron’s fuel tax was a minor part of a larger agenda in the framework of climate policy. It would have been around 4 Euro cents per litre (from about €1.42 to about € 1.46 per litre). It sparked violent protests in the context of general dissatisfaction with low incomes, high unemployment, rising taxes and alleged financial advantages for the rich.  In terms of climate policy, the originally planned 4 cents are far less than what effective climate policy would require. Doubling gasoline prices would have been a more effective target. But even 4 cents proved to be unacceptable in the present French political climate.

The Official Climate Collapse

The climate change picture is looking bleaker than ever, for two reasons: the height of the emissions and the consequences observed.

“The new data for 2018, published today simultaneously in the journals Nature, Earth System Science Data and Environmental Research Letters, reveals that global emissions from burning fossil fuels are expected to reach 37.1 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2018. CO2 emissions have now risen for a second year, after three years of little-to-no growth from 2014 to 2016. The rise this year is projected at 2.7 per cent (+1.8 to +3.7 per cent). In 2017 it was 1.6 per cent.” [1]

CO2-emissions in 2018 are higher than ever measured. There is no tendency of reduction. To keep the climate in limits of 1.5 °C, a reduction of 50% of CO2 emissions is required according to official models. Recent publications show that we are well on the road to 3°C increase.

The Real Climate Collapse

But this is not all. Reality may be much more serious than what official models predict. In a recent working paper, Bendell  writes:

“Since records began in 1850, seventeen of the eighteen hottest years have occurred since 2000. Important steps on climate mitigation and adaptation have been taken over the past decade. However, these steps could now be regarded as equivalent to walking up a landslide. If the landslide had not already begun, then quicker and bigger steps would get us to the top of where we want to be. Sadly, the latest climate data, emissions data and data on the spread of carbon-intensive lifestyles, show that the landslide has already begun.” [2]

As is summarised in the same paper, climate models as published by official institutions and individual scientists tend to be conservative in their conclusions and avoid messages that suggest the imminence of disasters. Whereas climate change sceptics from industry and right-wing political parties try to make us believe that climate scientists are being paid for exaggerating climate change and its effects , Bendell convincingly argues that instead there is a systemic reluctance to even appear alarmist. We should therefore rather prepare for uncontrollable climate change than believe in the effectiveness of incremental climate adaptation measures.

Short Term Disruptions Ahead

Bendell argues that, in the face of the disruptions in human societies that can be expected as a result of climate change within less than 10 (!) years time, we need a new approach. The usual conservative approaches will no longer work. Therefore “a new approach which explores how to reduce harm and not make matters worse is important to develop. In support of that challenging, and ultimately personal process, understanding a deep adaptation agenda may be useful.”

A New Agenda, but Old Politics

It is easy to agree that we need an approach that takes the real challenge – a challenge that is much more threatening than officially recognised – seriously. But to me words like “deep adaptation agenda” are more irritating than elucidating. What could it mean? Let us go back to our French example where a minor (almost negligible) policy correction is now leading to a near-collapse of the government, not because the French people are basically against climate policy, but because serious social conflicts, caused by inequality and (feelings of) in justice are blocking any systematic policy change.  France is only one example. We can add many other European countries that are blocked by social conflict or by tendencies towards autocratic leadership (Hungary, Poland) and countries that tend to become less stable every day (UK, Germany, …). Let’s not discuss the US or Russia here.

Après Nous le Déluge

One need not be a pessimist to conclude that the conditions for some form of democratic and rationally based governance on climate issues are not there and won’t be there in time, even if Bendell is right that major destabilisation is to be expected within ten or twenty years from now.

The well-known French expression “Après nous, le déluge” (“after us, the flood”, originally attributed to Louis XV of France who did not care what would come after the chaos of the French revolution) is probably factually correct today. The flood (sea level rise, storms, poverty, war, etc. etc. as a result of climate change) will  come. Just wait.


[1] https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-12/uoea-sgi120318.php

[2] https://www.lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.pdf






Finding Happiness – Losing Control

Finding your passion …

For many people today, it’s not enough to say that they like or love something. About things that are really important, you should be passionate. They should be your passion. Apart from the fact that I am not familiar with that sort of language, I ask myself: what could it possibly mean to be passionate or to have found your passion. A short google exercise reveals that many people think that knowing and practicing your passions is key to a rewarding life. Many confessions suggest how life after discovering the power of passions has made a qualitative turn for the better. “Too many people live lives of quiet desperation not understanding what their passion is.”  “Almost three decades of my life had passed before I discovered the power of passions.”   It is often assumed that “passion” is something hiding deep in your inner self, waiting to be discovered. There are entire websites devoted to ‘discovering your passion’  or even to discover that you are pursuing ‘passions’ that appear to be no passions at all.

Passions of the authentic self …

I could fill more than twenty pages with quotes like this: “Your passions can only be uncovered from your own unique story. There are things inside of you that you may have not tapped into yet because of fear. It’s scary because when you find your passion, it pushes your limits and calls you out to levels you thought you were never capable of reaching.”

The popular idea is that passions are the expression of deep desires of the authentic self, often still  blocked by fears or conventions, ready to be freed by a mixture of honesty and courage. The message is: deep inside you have tons of unrealised potential to become the person you deserve to be and develop amazing insights and skills  you have long only dreamed about. The remarkable thing is that following or developing your passions is mainly a question of letting go: removing the blockades that have been making your life mediocre or even miserable. This should not be a surprise, as passion literally  means: being passive.

Spinoza:  ‘agere’ and ‘pati’

Many people today use the word ‘passion’ to show how they follow their deepest desires and try to be their most authentic self. However, ‘passion’ still is the opposite of ‘action’. Our great Dutch philosopher Spinoza formulated this nicely in his Ethica. In the Latin language, the difference is between agere (to act) and pati (to suffer).

“I say that we take action [agere] when something comes to pass, in us or outside us, of which we are the adequate cause, that is, when something in us or outside us follows from our nature, which can be clearly and distinctly understood through it alone. On the other hand, I say that we suffer [pati] when something comes to pass in us, or something follows from our nature, of which we are only a partial cause.”
from http://digitalcommons.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3599&context=gradschool_dissertations

Passionate people, passive people

In personnel recruitment advertising, the word “passion” is a fixed ingredient: “Is Inspiring Transformation for Businesses one of Your Passions? If so, learn how you can earn substantial income as a certified Passion Test for Business Consultant.”  It’s part of the empty business language on corporate websites:  “We are … …. To us, growth is more than a target. It’s a passion.”

The modern use of ‘passion’ appears to deny Spinoza’s clear distinction between ‘take action’ (agere)  and ‘suffer’ (pati) or ‘be passive’. People who blindly follow the (irrational) impulses of their passions are not active at all. They surrender to forces they hardly understand. If Spinoza were still alive, he would be very surprised (and worried) about the ubiquitous enthusiasm for suffering instead of taking action. He would be very surprised when hearing someone say: “violin playing is my passion”. Maybe he would say: “Do I understand well that you are not playing the violin, but that the violin is playing you?”. The same with: “Being a PWC Cyber Security consultant, is my passion”.  “Have you been converted into a PWC slave now that your work has become your passion?”.

Take reponsibility. Be active …

I don’t have the illusion that the fashionable use of the word “passion” can be eradicated. Nevertheless, it could be useful for many people to realise that, not only in the original meaning as elucidated by Spinoza, but also in its vulgarised disguise as used by amateur psychologists and management gurus, ‘passion’ means ‘being passive’ or even ‘avoiding responsibility’. Perhaps some people will change their language from “my passion is playing the violin”, into “I am working like hell to master this extremely difficult instrument.”