Updated: Mar 22
How to check "Save the World" off your bucket list?
Welcome to Chapter 16 of Planet Republyk!
This is the third chapter of the third and final part of the Planet Republyk project.
If you were to read or listen to only one part, it would be this one.
Chapter 16: The Mirage of the Hummingbird
It is therefore urgent to set up a supranational institution with sufficient powers and independence to ensure global security. But it is not on the initiative of governments that we can expect this decisive achievement. Only the unshakeable will of the people will be strong enough to break radically with outdated political habits.
The warnings and alerts in the media have not produced the desired results. We can't keep sharing depressing content about the state of the world on social media to people who look like us and think that's enough. We need to take it to the next level.
We cannot continue to hope that the sum of all the beautiful citizen initiatives, that we see blooming all over the world, and that are going in the right direction, will be enough to give the necessary push to save the planet and the humanity. Too many living beings would be left behind with these initiatives alone.
One of the many responsibilities of "politics", frequently despised by the supporters of this type of citizen action, is precisely to protect the weakest. It is true that politics as currently practiced is often far from this ideal. However, this ideology tends to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This disgust for everything that is remotely related to "politics" is unfortunately quite counterproductive.
To better illustrate it; this apologue :
For the daily sports activity hour, a group of 20 students have to play a team game. The first 5 minutes are used to decide collectively and democratically on the game, to establish the rules.
The game is then played in a tournament between teams of 4 players for the remaining 55 minutes. The members of the winning team win the honors and a double ration of snacks.
After a few weeks, 4 teams (16 of the 20 students) ask to meet with the playground supervisor. They complain that it is always the fifth team that wins the honours and, most importantly, the coveted double snack ration.
- Are they better than you? More determined, more energetic? asks the manager.
- No, the 16s say, offended.
- How do you explain that? How do you explain it?
- They determine the game and the rules, for the first five minutes we don't participate. Then we play.
- Why do they do that?
- They made the process too complicated, too aggressive, too repulsive. It disgusts us. So we let them do it. They told us they were the best at it; to let them do the dirty work, that it made them happy.
- And you agreed? ... They may not be better, more determined or more energetic, but they are certainly smarter than you.
-We are well aware that we are at a disadvantage in the games. We prefer to fight harder for victory. We are on the side of justice; of morality. We tell ourselves that with courage and effort, we will win.
-And it is because this strategy has paid off that you are standing in front of me right now?
The leitmotiv "Think global, act local" is long gone; its record, given the magnitude of the challenges to be met, is rather poor. It is perhaps time to move on to a "global thinking, for a global action"; to leave the "micro" era to collectively reappropriate the "macro" that we have left for too long in the hands of arsonists.
You know the native fable of the hummingbird that gave its name to the movement initiated by Pierre Rabhi, Isabelle Desplats and Cyril Dion?
During a forest fire, all the animals are petrified. Only the hummingbird is active. He draws the few milliliters of water that his beak can hold and exhausts himself in endless trips back and forth between the lake and the blaze. When the other animals ask him why he does this, he replies, "I'm doing my part!"
Current environmental activism tends to value the hummingbird's action. Unfortunately for this movement, the real lesson of the native fable is not the apology of individual voluntarism. Far from it. At the end of the story, the hummingbird dies of exhaustion, without, of course, having succeeded in putting out the fire.
This hummingbird would have been much better advised to try to mobilize the animals of the forest to a collective reflection on what could be done. In fact, to try to set up a form of governance to maximize the strengths of everyone. Using powerful animals to dig trenches and carry water would have been much more productive than the few drops that this brave hummingbird managed to sprinkle on the blaze.
Although commendable, these micro actions have as their main utility the moral clearing of the most conscious of us in the face of political inertia. The feeling of guilt that inhabits some of us, anguished by the announced apocalypse, is salutary. However, it should be channeled towards the search for and implementation of structural, profound and perennial changes.
The sum of no individual action, of small or large collectives, will ever be able to counter the planetary phenomena of the Anthropocene (which our distant descendants might wish to rename, with good reason, the Anthropobscene...).
The rise in the level of the oceans; their deoxygenation (a 2% decrease in the level of oxygen between 1960 and 2010)[i], warming and acidification; the sixth mass extinction of species; the appearance of pandemics such as zoonoses, epizootic diseases; the increase in forest fires, droughts or violent meteorological episodes; the impotence of existing antibiotics to counter new superbugs; the use of robotics and artificial intelligence for warfare and population control; the swords of Damocles represented by genetic manipulation, nuclear, chemical and bacteriological weapons; the great enterprise that dictates the pace of implementation of new technologies in our societies: all these threats, to humanity and to living beings in general, require universal measures, regulations and laws.
Survivalists and colapsophiles of all kinds will have to create, all over the planet, self-managed ecovillages respecting all the precepts of participative democracy and collectivism; villages in energy and food self-sufficiency, derived from an organic agriculture respecting the strictest rules of permaculture, agroecology and even biodynamics: when the successive waves of droughts, to be expected all over the world, do not degenerate into fires decimating their crops, they will cause almost permanent drying up of surface waters causing water shortages as experienced, for the first time in contemporary history, a major city on the planet, in this case Cape Town, South Africa, which in April 2019[ii] came very close to total depletion.
And Cape Town is far from being the only one to see its large drinking water supply basins dry up due to reduced rainfall. Cities in Italy, the Netherlands, Morocco, Spain, Iraq and India have experienced similar anxieties[iii] in 2019.
When pollinators, which are the most endangered insects,[iv] or earthworms[v] have disappeared from the face of the planet, it will no longer be possible in these communities, as elsewhere, to eat anything. Now, if by some miracle these communities manage to produce some foodstuffs, it will be the almost annual pandemics, the infestations that the loss of biodiversity will bring about, or the starving disinherited people that the social chaos will make swarm, which will threaten the cultures and the communities that will then have to be defended by arms.
When nations can no longer find the path of reason alone, it is up to each man and to all men to save their own destiny.
Jean Bruller known as Vercors
Don't get me wrong; I am a strong advocate of individual commitment and action; of a less voracious decentralization of goods production to a more local, more human, more sensible scale, but; this cannot be our only game plan.
Without global politics, there is simply no future for anyone. And as long as pirates steer the ship that is the planet, it will continue to sink inexorably.
A study[vi] commissioned by Carbone 4, an independent consultancy specializing in climate change adaptation revealed in October 2019 that individual citizen efforts can only contribute 5% of the total potential carbon footprint reduction. 25% at best, if all citizens of a given nation were to make an individual commitment described in the paper as ''heroic.''
The study also specifies that at present in France, less than 1% of citizens are committed to this "heroic" level of reduction of their personal carbon footprint; 20% of citizens are seriously committed; 60% are rather inconsistent and the last 20% are viscerally recalcitrant to any changes in their lifestyle.
We can risk extrapolating these figures to all OECD countries...
The Paris Agreement stipulates that in order to stay below a global temperature rise of two degrees, we should reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. Individual actions will be largely insufficient. It is therefore imperative to initiate a profound socio-technical reform of companies and states.
In light of these data, don't individual initiatives seem more like a form of desertion than a real commitment? I have even come to consider them as a nuisance rather than a benefit, because they absorb the active forces of activism in microgestures, presented as panaceas, while these actions never address the substance of the issue. They thus contribute to disseminate an energy that needs to be focused on a purpose beneficial to the whole biosphere.
The current system of governance has only allowed us and will never allow us to put on band-aids. Everyone, humans, communities, nations trying to put out cabin fires while the ship is sinking.
To solve its collective problems, homo sapiens sapiens will have to reappropriate the tool that it has itself created to tackle them: politics; in the cardinal sense of the term: the management by all, of what belongs to all, for the benefit of all.
In order to do so, it will be necessary to deconstruct the neo-liberal indoctrination of the last fifty years, which has taken great care to reduce the citizen's commitment to his or her right to vote and to individual responsibility. To disalienate ourselves from the mantra that has been hammered into our heads: "it's all my fault personally; the paradigm is perfect; it works very well for some of us...".
The eco-socialist, Ian Angus, eloquently sums up my point on the issue of air pollution:
Individual consumption is only a small part of the problem, compared to the massive emissions produced by mega-corporations, agribusiness giants and the biggest polluter of all, the US military. Linking climate change to individual behaviors blinds us to the fact that this is a systemic crisis that calls for global and systemic solutions[vii].
Barely two dozen[viii] fossil fuel companies are responsible for more than a third of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity. Less than a hundred of the world's largest multinationals are responsible for more than 70% of these emissions[ix].
Another illustration of this willful blindness of the elites: the electrification of transport is presented by many Western governments as "The" panacea to climate change.
However, this intentionally ignores the fact that coal combustion is still the main source of CO2 emissions in the world, ahead of oil and gas, and that its global extraction, in order to satisfy the appetite of thermal power plants, is still increasing[x] in 2019.
And that... CO2 itself only accounts for 2/3 of the effect[xi] of anthropogenic warming gases, while methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and fluorinated gases (HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3, CF4), which are tens, hundreds and even thousands of times more warming than CO2, continue to increase in absolute numbers.
The only way to correct these kinds of distressing realities is through binding international legislation adopted by an enlightened, legitimate and sovereign global governance.
That's it for Chapter 16!
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[i] International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) website, "Ocean Deoxygenation", https://www.iucn.org/fr/node/32543
[ii] Jean-Philippe Guilbault, "Cape Town to become the first major city in the world to run out of drinking water",Radio-Canada Info, January 26, 2018. https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1080250/cap-afrique-secheresse-penurie-eau-potable
[iii] Charles Iceland, Tianyi Luo, Gennadii Donchyts, "It's Not Just Cape Town: 4 Shrinking Reservoirs to Watch", World Resources Institute, April 11, 2018.
[iv] Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, Kris A.G. Wyckhuys, Ibid.
[v] Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD France), "The first global mapping of earthworms reveals unsuspected biodiversity threatened by climate change," Press Release, (CIRAD France), October 28, 2019.
[vi] César Dugast, Alexia Soyeux, "Doing your part? Pouvoir et responsabilité des individus, des entreprises et de l'État face à l'urgence climatique," Carbone 4, Paris, June 2019. http://www.carbone4.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Publication-Carbone-4-Faire-sa-part-pouvoir-responsabilite-climat.pdf
[vii] Interview by Ian Angus with Fabien Deglise from the article "Face à l'anthropocène: unir écologisme et révolution", Le Devoir, March 10, 2018.
[viii] Matthew Taylor, Jonathan Watts, "Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions," The Guardian, October 9, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/revealed-20-firms-third-carbon-emissions
[ix] Alexandre Shields, "More than 70% of GHGs emitted by a hundred companies," Le Devoir, July 11, 2017.
[x] Global Carbon Project, "Carbon budget and trends 2019," CO2 Emissions by source, December 2019, p.20. https://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/19/files/GCP_CarbonBudget_2019.pdf
[xi] James H. Butler, Stephen A Montzka, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (U.S.) NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) (2018), Figure 4. Radiative forcing, relative to 1750, of all the long-lived greenhouse gases. https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/aggi/aggi.html