Quite often, I find it challenging to comprehend our current situation. Despite mounting evidence of our detrimental impact on our environment, we are faced with an array of voices that attempt to downplay the severity of the issue. Some offer reassurances of "tremendous innovation", others claim that radical solutions are undesirable because people resist change. Some even outright deny the reality of the human-made disaster unfolding before us, citing past instances of extreme temperature rises as justification.
Most of us are quick to acknowledge the problem of climate change and the need for action, but it it is very disheartening to witness the subsequent lack of concrete policy measures and the inaction of governments, companies and consumers. The reliance on the current system that brought us to this critical point is part of the problem. The belief that innovation and markets alone will provide solutions may be comforting to those content with their current lifestyles and appealing to vested interests in polluting industries, but it is fundamentally flawed. It is akin to a bedtime story, providing false comfort while the true horrors of climate destruction are not confined to distant regions but are lying right under our beds.
And then, some 'objective' commentator comes in and explains that we are dealing with 'prophets' (who declare that we need radical change – often misspelled as doom) and 'wizards' (who put all their trust in innovation as a solution and think everything is too alarmist), referring to Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet. Nicely black and white, so easy to understand.
However, reality, as Charles Mann's book also emphasises, is quite different. I am a staunch advocate of innovation and solutions; humanity's progress is a testament to our drive for advancement. But it is crucial to recognise that not all the innovations we conceive will solve our pressing problems, either because they lead to other issues, or simply because we conceived them too late.
Moreover, I find the lack of progress disheartening, especially in areas like protecting biodiversity and reducing overall energy consumption in the economy. While renewable energy sources are undoubtedly a step in the right direction, they currently serve as an addition rather than a complete transition. The increasing demand for energy necessitates more comprehensive and transformative changes to address our environmental challenges effectively.The outlook for biodiversity appears even bleaker: the lag in our ecosystem's response means that the most harmful consequences of our previous actions are yet to fully manifest.
An important reason is that we depend too heavily on market-driven policies while we neglect crucial challenges such as phasing out industries, reducing profits, and promoting demand reduction. This approach overlooks the Jevons paradox and so-called circular rebound, wherein innovative solutions may lead to increased consumption rates. This is, of course, the essence of markets: always searching for ways to make profit in the most efficient way, without any regard for sustainability objectives.
By understanding the pitfalls of market-driven approaches and reassessing our assumptions, we can pave the way for meaningful change and sustainable solutions to secure a brighter future for our planet and future generations.
In 2006, Al Gore released his movie "An Inconvenient Truth," yet many still struggle to grasp its crucial message. Despite numerous warnings from scientists, the UN, and even more scientists who genuinely understand our planet's state, we deflect inconvenient truths by fixating on minor details and dismissing alarmist voices. Regrettably, our policy discussions often prioritise the interests of the privileged (that means: most of us in the rich, Western world), leaving us in a perilous state of environmental vulnerability.
To navigate these challenges effectively, I firmly advocate embracing a strategy of radical pragmatism. Radical in calling for a systems change that leads to a prosperous life for all people on a thriving planet, now and in the future. Pragmatic in acknowledging that achieving significant change will demand time, compromise, and inclusivity to accommodate the diverse needs of our society. If being labelled a radical pragmatist or an alarmist means I can contribute to promoting arguments and solutions that challenge the status quo and pave the way for humanity's better future, I wholeheartedly accept that role.
The truth should be evident to all of us – there are no easy ways out of the environmental crisis we face. We need wizards and prophets to work together. We can either engage in a futile game of hide and seek, avoiding the truth, or confront ourselves with the stark reality and engage in meaningful discussion about viable solutions. For my part, I have made my choice and am committed to playing an active role in fostering these vital conversations and driving positive change. Pragmatic, inclusive, with experimentation, failure, and resilience. If innovation succeeds and our economy can grow and solving the ecosystem crisis at the same time, that's fantastic. But since we don’t know if that is the case, I'd like all solutions - even radical ones - on the table to take pragmatic steps forward.