Klimaschutz ist kein Nebenjob

Die Klimakrise stellt junge Menschen vor eine schwierige Wahl. Wer verstanden hat, dass die Klimakrise nur durch einen globalen Systemwandel gelöst werden kann, muss dies auch bei der Karriereplanung berücksichtigen. Es macht keinen Sinn, tagsüber für eine Ölfirma zu arbeiten, um dann am Abend am Klimastreik teilzunehmen. Abgesehen davon, dass Ölfirmen eher schlechte Zukunftsaussichten haben.

Die Frage ist, ob ein potenzieller Arbeitgeber als Teil der Lösung oder als Teil des Problems gesehen werden kann. Eine Marketingfirma mit dem Ziel, den Konsum anzukurbeln, ist Teil des Problems. Das Gleiche gilt auch für Hersteller von SUVs und für Fluggesellschaften, um nur einige Beispiele zu nennen. Es gibt aber viele Firmen, die auch etwas Positives bewirken wollen. Einige davon findet man bei den Mitgliedern von swisscleantech. Diese Firmen setzen sich auch aktiv für die Annahme des neuen CO2-Gesetzes ein, das notwendig, aber sicher nicht hinreichend ist. Es werden weitere Massnahmen erforderlich sein, aber es geht im Moment darum, das eine zu tun und das andere nicht sein zu lassen. Oder wie die Amerikaner es sagen: You’ve got to be able to walk and chew gum simultaneously.

Leider bilden viele Hochschulen immer noch Menschen für die Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft von gestern aus. Sie wollen gut geschmierte Zahnrädchen für eine veraltete Maschine produzieren. Für junge Menschen ist die Aussicht auf einen gut bezahlten Job mit Dienstwagen vielleicht verlockend. Viele stellen sich vor, zuerst 10 Jahre Karriere zu machen, um Geld zu verdienen, bevor sie sich dann einer sinnvollen Tätigkeit widmen. Diese Überlegung ist aus zwei Gründen gefährlich: Der Ausstieg ist meistens schwieriger als man denkt und in 10 Jahren wird es zu spät sein, den Planeten zu retten. Der britische Journalist George Monbiot hat mehrmals darüber geschrieben, wie junge Menschen für sinnlose Tätigkeiten ausgebildet werden, die bald überflüssig sein werden:

Die Digitalisierung ist ein gutes Beispiel dafür, und das Urteil des Wissenschaftlichen Beirats der Bundesregierung in Deutschland hätte kaum härter ausfallen können:

Im Großen wirken Digitalisierungsprozesse heute eher als Brandbeschleuniger bestehender nicht nachhaltiger Trends, also der Übernutzung natürlicher Ressourcen und wachsender sozialer Ungleichheit in vielen Ländern.

WBGU, Unsere gemeinsame digitale Zukunft

Das Problem ist, dass die Digitalisierung hauptsächlich von gewinnoptimierenden Grossfirmen vorangetrieben wird. Damit ist nicht gesagt, dass sie keine positiven Auswirkungen haben könnte. Das Gleiche lässt sich aber über die Kernspaltung sagen.

Für junge Menschen, die etwas Positives bewirken wollen, gibt es aber genug Möglichkeiten. Hier meine Empfehlungen an die Jugend von heute:

  • Seid laut, kritisch, unartig und politisch aktiv. Damit die notwendigen Veränderungen schnell genug passieren, muss ein enormer politischer Druck aufgebaut werden.
  • Lernt etwas, das auch in einer post-fossilen und post-kapitalistischen Welt Sinn ergibt. Es ist zwecklos, sich für die Welt von gestern auszubilden.
  • Wählt ein Studium, bei dem die Dozierenden und die anderen Studierenden auch etwas Positives bewirken wollen. So macht es mehr Spass und der Lerneffekt ist grösser.

Es freut mich natürlich, wenn unsere Studierenden dies auch so sehen. Das Statement von Cornelia Haueisen zum Studium hat mich sehr beindruckt.

Weitere Videos zum Studiengang Erneuerbare Energien und Umwelttechnik an der OST sind hier zu finden. Ein Kurzbeschreibung des Studiums befindet sich auf unserem Blog.

Avoiding a Ghastly Future

An open letter to the authors of “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future” by Corey J. A. Bradshaw et al.

Dear authors:

I would like to thank you for writing this concise and yet comprehensive summary of the challenges we face. The article is mandatory reading for anyone interested humanity having a future, such as everyone having or planning to have children. Given that we only have one planet and human survival depends on it, elementary risk management dictates that we should only consider the worst-case scenarios. Viewed this way, our future does indeed look bleak.

Unfortunately, the conclusions of your paper seem strangely disconnected from the rest of it. We are not going to solve the sustainability crisis by being concerned, analyzing, or talking about it. George Monbiot recently wrote an article about the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic titled “Clueless”. It starts with the following sentence: “Here’s the chilling, remarkable thing that should be inscribed on everyone’s minds: there is no plan.” Unfortunately, the same is true for sustainability in general.

As the German author and journalist Philip Blom recently pointed out, the collective intelligence of humanity corresponds to that of a yeast cell. We gobble up all available resources, thereby destroying our environment, and then we die. The reason is not that humans are stupid and unable to understand what is going on. The problem is that we are trapped in a self-destructive economic system which forces us to act against our own interests.

None of the problems described in your paper can be solved within a global economic system built on competition. The reason is simple: no country is prepared to voluntarily sacrifice its competitiveness to save the environment. Everyone understands this. Some people therefore cling to the absurd idea that sustainable technology will make us more competitive and powerful, thereby eliminating the need for tough political decisions. This is complete malarkey as evidenced by the increase in global military spending. The world seems to be gearing up for the climate and resource wars of the future. And wars are not are not sustainable.

Saving humanity will require a global system which increases the cost of fossil fuel while providing climate justice through redistribution. In such a system, it would be in the national interest of every country to limit its greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the system would also reduce the value of fossil fuel reserves, thereby relieving global tensions.

Fixing the problems you so expertly describe in your paper will be very expensive and is probably not compatible with a growing economy. We need a global system for sharing the costs. A surprisingly simple solution to this problem can be found here: www.global-climate-compensation.org. The idea would work, but it is politically difficult to implement. However, I prefer a politically difficult challenge to a physically impossible one.

We will never accomplish anything by simply pointing out problems. The time has come to use whatever influence we have a scientists and citizens to promote workable solutions. Or as poet laureate Amanda Gorman put it at the inauguration of President Biden:

The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb

An Open Letter to the ETH

Patrick Chappatte

A couple of students from the ETH asked me to help them distribute an open letter to the Department of Environmental Systems Science and I feel honored to do so. The letter is available in English and German:

I mean no offense to my Alma Mater, but I am convinced that the ETH suffers from the same problem as all other universities. The classical idea of teaching assumes that professors teach, and students learn. When the students realize that their teachers do not have the answers to the most challenging problems of our time, things get complicated.

In addition, the world is now changing so fast that both academic research and conventional politics will have to step it up a notch or two to stay relevant. As I am currently working on a sustainability policy for our university (www.ost.ch), I am well aware of these problems.

I have derived continued benefit from criticism at all periods of my life and I do not remember any time when I was ever short of it.

Winston Churchill

The Power of Imagination

The idea with my recent writeup on “Global Climate Compensation” was that it should be thought-provoking and it does indeed seem to have provoked some thoughts. Thanks a lot for the feedback! I truly appreciate both the positive and negative comments because they allow me to improve the argument. Listen and learn!

Patrick Chappatte

The main points of my article were the following:

  • The world currently does not have a realistic plan for preventing catastrophic climate change. The IPCC-scenarios compatible with less than +2.0°C of global warming contain a ridiculous amount of wishful thinking.
  • There are no indications that it will be possible to prevent Climate Armageddon unless we are prepared to drastically lower our consumption of natural resources, which would reduce the size of the economy, requiring negative growth or Degrowth.
  • This will also require a massive transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor. If the economy is not growing, we need to share available resources in an equitable manner.
  • We are rapidly running out of time.
  • Global Climate Compensation offers a realistic path to a more sustainable future if it could be implemented.

The question, for which I do not yet have the answer, is how to make this happen. What I love about the “Sapiens” by Yuval Harari is that he is very frank about the power of myths or imagination:

These imagined orders are inter-subjective, so in order to change them we must simultaneously change the consciousness of billions of people, which is not easy. A change of such magnitude can be accomplished only with the help of a complex organisation, such as a political party, an ideological movement, or a religious cult. However, in order to establish such complex organisations, it’s necessary to convince many strangers to cooperate with one another. And this will happen only if these strangers believe in some shared myths. It follows that in order to change an existing imagined order, we must first believe in an alternative imagined order.

Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (p. 118). HarperCollins.

I am convinced that he is right. Detailed planning will be necessary at some point, but we first have to offer a lot of people an appealing vision for the future. We will never be able to mobilize people under the banners of “complex emission trading schemes”, even if they were to work. I have now given many public lectures over the years and had to learn the hard way how to talk to a mixed audience. One of the easiest ideas to convey is that economic growth is incompatible with saving the planet. Pardon the language, but you simply cannot eat more and shit less! Everyone understands this. The vast majority also agrees that climate change is real. The fundamental problem we have is with materialism and inequality. If we continue to define success in terms of material wealth, we will never solve the problem.

On the other hand, there is no political majority for an egalitarian society. Personally, I do not mind people benefitting from talent and hard work. The problem is when they profit from the exploitation of other people and natural resources. Nobody seriously believes that the salary of a hedge fund manager is in any way related to the work he puts in and the profits from an coal company depend almost entirely on its right to destroy nature. Global Climate Compensation would not be a problem for people who work for a living. It is the “non-working rich” who need to rethink.

When people criticize me for not having a finished plan for saving humanity, my usual response is that in this respect I am in very good company. But, as Richard Feynman said, “Questions that cannot be answered are preferable to answers which may not be questioned”. I am working on it, but we have a long and stony road ahead of us.

Global Climate Compensation – Now or Never!

Since the world still does not have a realistic plan for preventing catastrophic climate change, I have decided to develop one myself:

It is a first draft, but it does merit further consideration. Please let me know if you are interested in contributing. You can reach me under info@global-climate-compensation.org.

Patrick Chappatte