System change to reach net-zero
Okay, the situation becomes crystal clear. That's the only advantage of not supporting decisions with facts and figures. and ignoring dire warnings. This holds true in business, in relationships, and in traffic. If you don't react to danger with foresight (feedforward), at some point you will come face to face with the very last chance to save your life.
Consider the climate situation. Disruption is definitely accelerating at the moment.
The climate is showing more and more sharply where it is going.
Alarming reports are stringing together for all to see: The increasing frequency and ferocity of floods, fires, heat waves, and droughts; the increasing poor harvests of agricultural crops, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish; the acceleration of meltings, of ocean warming, and of sea level rise.
Meanwhile, the current trend in the rate of change of the C02 concentration (Atmospheric CO2 Growth Rate) in our atmosphere cannot soothe us either as it continues to rise. On November 22, 2022, for example, it appears to have risen 3.37 ppm. compared to the same date in 2021. Stefan Rahmstorf: " ...die Emissionen müssen jetzt in einen steilen Sinkflug übergehen und bis 2030 halbiert werden. Und bis jetzt sinken sie ja nicht mal!"
This emergency is, however, increasingly recognized. The experts and politicians at COP27 displayed a certain desperation, and recent waves of protests put their finger on the urgency. The extra-parliamentary protest is becoming more urgent, more decisive, more general, and also more radical, but in terms of content - in terms of direction of the solution - it is no big deal. Yes, people are calling for the immediate decarbonization of all energy use, and thus for a rapid acceleration of the ongoing transition. However, that solution is guaranteed to crash. We no longer have that leeway on emissions. We are already at 420 ppm. So within 6 years we will probably cross the 450 ppm mark, because the reduction path we are going down now - also an accelerated variant - will succeed only if we intensify industrial production and international traffic flows over the next 20 years. Above 450, a fatal unleashing is an immutable fact, and we are going to crash, if we are not already crashing. "We need to mobilize," Greta cries out. Her exclamation, of course, is meant to make addressing climate heating a top priority, but if you don't specify what commands to give when everyone is mobilized, mobilization gets no direction and therefore no mass. Everyone is willing, but to which direction?
Some to producing and transporting on hydrogen, others to "industrial food production and rewilding," thirds to "air cabs and urban redesign", fourths to higher regions, and fifths to living without wanting to have children of their own.
The positive is that the bandwidth of our options is shrinking considerably. How so?
If the current path clearly ends in a crash (= extinction), we must start thinking of much crazier ways out than those conceived so far. I see only two real options left:
- Either we start like mad with preparations to move 3 to 6 billion people from all low and too hot areas to northern highlands within 15 years.
- Or we completely stop using fossil energy within a few years, without the condition that it should be completely replaced by renewable energy;
Both operations are huge, both physically and socio-politically. But the funny thing is that the level of insanity of these two options is slowly beginning to come closer together.
Option β (i.e. reduce our energy consumption violently) seemed madness until recently, but is physically feasible, plus you're preserving a future. Whereas option α will drive emissions and carbon ppm levels in the atmosphere completely through the roof. And then: where are these people supposed to go? No one will be eager to see them coming. In an ambiance of fast deterioration of living and growing conditions, where everyone begins to suffer with no signs of better times, "we" won't amount to anything anymore, so it will be pushing and killing at the exit to other unstable habitats, and being decimated at their entrance. Everyone (citizens, countries, companies) will fight their asses off to maintain their purchasing power and position. Even now we see that small obstructions within and between nations (such as Covid, migration, water problems, recessions) cause polarization, escalate tensions, and then provoke wars. Therefore, implementation of option α is a path full of global conflict. Everything there becomes shaky and suicidal. It amounts to persistent crashing.
Is option β then more appealing? Let's flesh out that option somewhat in order to answer the question..
2. What might option β look like?
We can derive some direction regarding the shape of option β from the way organisms, people, and groups react to severe input disturbances (environmental changes). They then cling to things around them. A piece of wood, for example. Near Calais is a town (Grande-Synthe) with a huge number of unemployed people because Arcelormittal has closed factories there. A French mayor has a lot of power, and this one exploited that power as follows. His slogan: not buying power but having the power to live. His philosophy: autonomy and self-reliance. His deeds: the city bought farmland and gave it on lease to organic farmers, more and more bike paths are being built through the city, neighborhoods are being greened, vegetable gardens are being set up and issued everywhere, and workshops have been founded to teach people to make things themselves.
Something like that lifts the mood locally quite a bit. Not only around feelings of powerlessness over climate disruption, but also around the stalemate between the ecological and the social. Even the powerless can transform their situation.
Similar initiatives are currently gaining momentum all over Europe. Countries, regions and municipalities want to ramp up the circularity and autonomy of their processes. This takes the form of local vegetable growing, community gardens, repair-workshops, clothing and furniture recycling, energy generation, transportation services, and tiny house expansion plans. See, for example, this description of some 20 German municipalities that are preparing large areas of land for the construction of micro-houses with a permanent residence permit ('Erstwohnung'). Also notable: economists and politicians, a bit shy still, are looking more often at degrowth propaganda (see this CNN article).
Still, there are a lot of snags along that path of "providing locals more autonomous access to locally available livelihoods". I am going to touch and explore those as much as possible, to determine in what way they can be neutralized. After all: Setting up a new lifeboat (i.e., a zero-emission habitat) to function stably for centuries is not a matter of solving an equation with three unknowns. It has countless aspects. So I'm going to propose some rudimentary outlines first, and later start configuring them deeper with regard to security, liveability, and stability.
The main ambition, of course, is to stay alive. That would not be inconvenient. Well, then, within a very short time (3 to 5 years) we would have to move along a linear and accurate trajectory to a nearly zero-emission economy. So, at first glance, it would seem necessary and sufficient that we totally redesign and stabilize, above all, the processes by which we fulfill our primary necessities of life - such as food, housing, transportation, care and relaxing - and shut down all unnecessary processes.
Just to be clear: if we want to go down this radical route (option β), we must start working together completely straight. Quite different from what we have done so far. We must face the situation honestly and clear-headed together, i.e. no more goal-directed rubbing syrup or vinegar on each other's mouths. The role of scientists also needs to be rethought. Science has become a counting machine that runs after the decision-makers, a specialised staff function that does not realise that it is part of a solution drive that is actually making the problem worse. The drive to win (dominate) make the deciders always only flee into thinking instead of actively putting the brakes on. Especially the cooperative sustainability-science mindset has contributed to the public authorities' and companies' attempt to solve the climate problem by reconciling the goat (expansion and growth) and the cabbage (climate). It has been tried and proved impossible within the boundaries set by the decision-makers (owners). It failed. The cabbage is almost gone and the goat is fat. We are steaming at full speed towards a wall of destruction and misery. Presenting illusions in order to shy away from more realistic observations and deep solutions will not work and drives us even further into a dead end. That leeway is gone.
3. Outlining option β
The option β main themes that should be unquestionably under discussion both nationally and internationally are demographics, defense, production, and consumption (i.e. lifestyles). Regarding the latter two, option β requires limiting and containing volumes, and this by - logical right? - eliminating the superfluous, prioritizing (i.e. assigning priority to) the necessary, and then greatly standardizing what remains of necessary industrial production and greatly appeasing it in terms of innovation by greatly extending the lifespan of products and services.
Kate Raworth puts it in a more difficult way, "Primary processes must be circular, regenerative, and local." Circular and regenerative so that it needs to take in as little new material and energy as possible to keep running. Local (i.e. short and small) circular chains so that almost no packaging, refrigeration, transportation, and preservation is needed. And local (a) to minimize governance, communication, and external resource use, and (b) to maximize internal resource ‒ i.e. what exists on the spot or comes in from above (light, air, and water) ‒ use.
The rough outline above is about the only feasible way to prevent a chain reaction of catastrophic climate developments. Nevertheless, very big differences of opinion immediately arise around this outline.
In fact, the elite then immediately exclaims: "Whoa, man doesn't want that!! They want convenience, efficiency, and then to discover the world. Man just wants more and more. That is the desire for freedom, it is innate!".
And I bounce right back: "Man wants first of all security around the satisfaction of essential needs in a way that he gets enough of them. He only wants more when he cannot be sure to get enough, or when he can no longer feel that he has enough."
That last sub-sentence points to two deficiencies in the elite's field of vision that have given the current zeitgeist the blindness that has caused us ‒ as is currently starkly becoming evident ‒ to wander too close to the abyss.
Let me explain which more or less sneaking developments have increasingly narrowed and focused the field of vision of our zeitgeist, and have also changed the sense of being present to ourselves.
We have done nothing with energy applications in recent decades but relieve our muscles. We withdrew our bodies from seizing and manipulating hardware situations and coping harsh conditions. We have been distancing ourselves from those situations, scaling them up as well, making them operable with levers, buttons, keys, swipes, eye movements, sounds, and software. Whatever we want is being done. We can handle more of it now, can bypass them much more, but merging with it, residing with it through thick and thin, we hardly do anymore. We don't receive any flow anymore. We don't have the time or the closeness for it. For we are in a hurry to grab still a bigger piece of the pie by means of an ever-expanding arsenal of energy-powered devices.
In the above sketch, we see the two developments that have profoundly changed our existence in the last few decades, without us being aware of it, coming out in full glory, namely
- Our power and our domains have increased, with the consequence that we are increasingly functioning in fiercer competition among ourselves ‒ i.e. innovatively competing with each other.
- Because we function less muscularly and less versatile sensory, we do not develop enough feelings to determine the direction of our behavior through impulse-making and value development.
By choosing for more and better energy applications in our interactions, we have also started to push (compete) against each other more and more fiercely, trying to outdo each other, to get ahead of the rest. Those energy applications have, as it were, taken possession of us. That game has of course been going on for centuries, but we got more and more hooked on it because of the new possibilities, and we no longer question it. Nowhere else have I seen signaled, for example, that it is precisely our excessive mutual pushing (innovating, reorganizing, updating) that blocks us from ever being able to control the demand for energy. Any emission-reduction gain from installing renewables is already being cancelled out by increasing demand for energy. And that will continue. Thus: Because we can no longer think outside that competitive framework, we are caged in a game that is going to get us killed.
Why does less direct bodily active contact (i.e. less flow with the stimuli and forces of reality) induce weaker development of feelings, and why would this evolution be of importance for configuring option β? Well, there are many climate solutions being proposed ‒ such as energy-autonomous mega-cities or robotized food production ‒ that do not ask themselves how the change of position of man in such a solution will affect what he will want, and thus do, there. Whereas those effects are of course essential for the quality of life, for the development of the demand for energy, and for the stability of such a solution. Ergo: The volition development (i.e. the orientation and strength of his drives) of man is the crux of our configuration problem. All solutions proposed so far, including those around circular economy, tacitly assume that people and organizations will and can simply live on in the same specialized way and continually moving forward. That assumption is also a core part of transactionalists' resistance to localization and limitation. They basically say: you will never get a local configuration stable because that goes against the human desire for freedom; it will be a prison, unworthy of human beings.
It sounds like they're right, but then they overlook the fact that if you put a slightly different carburetor in the local interaction mode (i.e., economy), coexistence there can run like clockwork without killing itself (as the current economy does). Transactionalists fail to see that because they systematically overlook the effects of 'having exposure' for human orientation. The innovations of the past century served convenience goals in addition to competitive goals. Many energy applications have appealed to the idea of freeing human beings for more interesting things than muscle work and sensory chores, of liberating them, so to speak, of elevating them. Thus the role of exposure for human volition development has become more or less a secret in the present zeitgeist. A silenced relic of the past.
In 2018, I wrote a book (Tackling human complexity) about the development of the relationship between feeling and reason within a human being. Briefly, it comes down to this: Human beings have a secret (i.e., an inner process) that you don't need to know in order to apply it. Lots of people use it without knowing what it is or how it works. That doesn't matter. Far worse is that there are also many who know it but never find out what it is nor how it works. What is it all about?
A human being is an open object. Stuff and impressions go in, stuff and actions come out. The turnaround speed of all that is critical. It should not go too fast, and it should not go too slow. The body must be able to handle top speeds, and get through the day even with little input. OK, so a main problem is "finding and keeping balance in pace and rest". How hard is the machine running? Everyone struggles with it. Determining for yourself what you need, whether you are not overloading, doing something for too long, taking too short a rest. It is also an important social issue when we are drawing from the same source or environment, because who among us is chronically taking too much, and who is chronically getting too little.
One would expect that the interaction between on the one hand the development of the relation between mind and feeling and the ability to find and keep balance on the other hand, would be a main topic in pedagogy, psychology and psychiatry. Yet it is not. Scientists hardly notice what's going on there, because they belong to the category that are able to know (describe) it, but are poorly-equipped to feel it. And so, they don't grasp fully the significance of feeling in the lifelong process of finding balance and moderation. The mind wants to control the corporeal (physical), but does not want to identify with it or become merged into it. It cautiously keeps its distance from feeling. Does not see it as a safe home (home) and source (of value) but rather as a problem to be solved. Professionals (brainies and nerds) who spend most of their time on logical reasoning, are very likely to distrust the instantaneous, immediate, small, and scary of being in feeling. Thereby: Science lives on intemperance. So there is never enough of that.
4. How to configure option β to produce balance and satisfaction
Now what's in fact the core process to make daily life produce balance and enough ? My grandparents milked 20 cows right by the North Sea. Those cows calved in the barn on the winter day. Each calf was taken away from its mother to the calf pen after three days. That was a closed barn that stood against a wide canal. The calves could walk around there (inside that barn) freely. Grandma gave them all individually 3 liters of cow's milk twice a day, and threw in a bale of hay each time. Enough input to grow. In that barn, so to speak. Because here it comes!
Grandpa's ancestors were aware of the fact that if those calves were to stay alive outside that pen in the pastures that were all surrounded by deep ditches, canals, and sea coves, they still needed to get something very essential inside them, namely a feeling for water. Well how do you do that? Very simply, by constructing a door between the pen and the canal, and then, at the beginning of the grazing period, throwing all the calves into the canal. I experienced that a few times. How they all bellowed and screamed as they tried to climb out of that mud on the steep other side, desperately slipping back, sometimes giving up halfway, then trying to get one leg up in front of the other, and then finally standing on the other side shaking themselves uncomfortably dirty and wet, sniffing each other's disgusting stench. However one thing was for sure. No calf ever fell into the water again.. Whenever they had to go into the ditch side to drink, the black glow evoked so much disgust-feeling (dislike-feelings) from their memories and before their eyes that they determined their actions with extreme caution and took their sips with much caution and precision. Voilà, balance and cadance.
Only where you desperately have to deal with, where you seem to get stuck, where reality gets very close to your skin, you develop a taste for all aspects, and thus harvest the raw materials to love or dislike something. Irresistible. You don't have to (and can't) figure it out: It works like a fart. But this one doesn't smell, but directs your thoughts, gives you ‒ via doubt, fear and hope ‒ orientation and moderation. Sensibility is not a jammer as is quite often claimed.
Three essential conditions for gaining feelings:
- Exposure: There must be impressions. The environment must have a sufficient bandwidth
- Do you allow? Do you let the impressions come in, or do you hold them off?
- Is it allowed? Are you being allowed to feel touched? Are you allowed to feel?
There is much philosophising about this. Also in economics. Why and when does someone have enough? Actually unnecessary because we are witnessing all around us how people manage to limit themselves in numerous situations, how they fix their leeway in dealing with something (sex, drinking, working, partners, friends, going out, buying, sports, eating, websurfing). Still: where does this constraining come from, if it comes, and why do some keep expanding and exceeding and making a mess, and others don't?
The general sloppiness of thinkers on this matter is that they do not penetrate to the depths of our need factory, to the point where our desire (i.e. liking something, longing for something) is put together. Desire (i.e. impulse) has a direction and intensity. This operates entirely on balancing feelings – i.e. weighing up the D-feelings and L-feelings – that possible situations we imagine evoke in us from previous experiences. But that box of feelings is becoming increasingly impoverished. Senses and muscle groups, organs and limbs ‒ in short, everything that contains neurons that can measure and transmit what the state of that body part is at a given moment ‒ are increasingly less at stake (less switched on) in the regulation and manipulation of our concrete environments. They no longer get orders, become less perfused, lose size and reaction bandwidth because they get fewer thumps from the surrounding. People no longer have calluses on their hands, no longer suffer daily injuries, pushing and pulling has become a bit of finger work, and people want to get rid of that too. In short, that box of feelings no longer has any traffic, some don't get to open it at all without drugs either. Everything outside us and between us is managed and controlled by specialists, care workers, devices, machinery, regulations, formal arrangements, manuals, and apps.
But isn't being human defined as the ability to give meaning to something i.e. transport value from one thing to another? Isn't that volition process (i.e. making impulses, desires, values) a core process in everyone's existence alongside knowledge acquisition and creativity? So it is immensely important to keep the feeling bin inside us well-filled, and to learn to use it, such that the feelings we accumulated in all kinds of situations are easily retrievable at the moment of behavioural determination (i.e. decision-making).
It also cuts double. Why? See, without good desire, you quickly run the wrong way, because your direction is poor and your tenacity is weak (i.e. the controllability is low), but much worse is that your satisfaction when you achieve what you wanted is a bland bite that you soon finish with. Not much passes through you then; you're not noticing, for instance, how delicious it was, or how beautifully it fulfilled you, how terribly valuable it made your body. You don't dwell on it, don't fall silent, because you don't notice anything. As such, you take little comfort from the reality around you and thus create less of a home where you are. Which means? You don't find satisfaction, no haven, no rest point, so you start grasping for the next thing.
Do you notice the danger? Are you also noticing now that our engine brake (or retarder brake) on expansion and growth (i.e. our leverage towards enough) is not so easily findable and operational? Namely: you can talk a lot about feeling, but if you don't have it (or only to a small extent), you don't know what it is or how it could work. For instance, you can very easily alienate or isolate from it by too much mental activity, by too much power or by an environment that is too protected, or by an environment that makes you uncomfortable with it. Unnoticed often. And that has happened. Slowly but surely. With invention after invention, organisation after organisation, arrangement after arrangement, warning system after warning system, cable after cable, road after road, we have built up that distance and supremacy, and phased out bare contact and manual labour. An ever-growing class of transactionists has positioned us in chains of specialists, streamlining our transactions (interactions) in every field. Rolling in convenience and wealth, we have become more desensitised. This makes it almost impossible, prevents us from being able to take quiet time to feel where we are any more, and encourages us to be mainly preoccupied with thinking about where we need to go next ‒ thus also strengthening the increasing competition (see ad 1) and (where that competition has been outsourced to low-wage countries or robots) reinforcing disorientation..
So: The development of sensibility (guaranteeing balance and satisfaction) requires exposure and thus having a certain accessibility to a domain. That is, that one is dependent on a domain/environment/space and also has the levers (potential input) to influence the processes in that domain i.e. that one thus has, to some extent, autonomous control over those processes. Current societal development has been at odds with that trend for decades. That means that most people - since they no longer practice their secret - also find it very hard to imagine how option β could flourish, remain stable, and thus remain a safe way out. At most, they still sigh, "It can't be done" and shrug.
They don't see it (i.e. don't feel it) working.
5. Scanning society's attitude toward option β
Still, as I noted above, we are increasingly being driven towards option β!!! It is noticeable by more and more opposites in the language used when talking about the climate problem. Obvious things are questioned more frequently, time limits for reduction are set ever tighter, and the question of blame is raised more frequently and louder. I cite here some voices taking a broader outlook on the fossil energy issue. By establishing broader links between technical and socio-economic variables they make more integrated approaches (than a pure tech-fix) assessable.
- "I am not against trade, but against the current volumes. The ecological systems can't handle that, everything is dying out, including our future. It's about protecting a future for all of us, and in that a reduction in volumes will be an inexorable part", says Meynen.
- "Reforming our lifestyles is more important than adjusting our choices here and there", say Rick Stafford and Peter Jones
- "The shocking reality of climate change is working its way into the web of our everyday lives, emotions, thought processes, relationships, hopes, dreams and fears. Fears about the loss of animal and plant species and their habitats, as well as the loss of our way of life. This prompts more constructive questions: what do we want to hold onto....?", says Matthew Adams.
- "Je suis certain que nous allons désormais à une catastrophe dont notre histoire ne nous donne aucun exemple, si nous ne changeons pas au plus vite nos coutumes, notre économie et nos politiques", says Michel Serres.
- "There are no 101 ways to stop global warming: one must shut down everything that produces CO2, literally and figuratively........The wasteful economy must be replaced without delay by a climate recovery economy", argues Ronnie de Fossé .
- Ronald Rovers is clear and concrete. He appeals to physics, and argues that is only sustainable if we start living by the productive capacity of our land, and what energy is beamed in from above there. Sustainable is roughly, according to him, the welfare level of the sixties. "Allocate everyone their rightful share of land, burn your money, and act like Cuba"
- Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over. Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.” See the Emissions Gap Report 2022..
Yet these opinions are by no means popular. Why do most people, when faced with potential structural changes, start to dig their heels in?
- First, because almost everyone thinks that national economies cannot be curbed in terms of volumes and structure. As soon as we don't follow the global trend, we'll be overrun, and others will take over our business. So borders would be needed to prevent that. We would have to isolate ourselves from the global race. That's the first dark hole we don't really want to get into.
- The second is that we don't believe in constraining. It would involve putting control valves on all kinds of activities, and we don't see such trimming working. It would go against human nature to have to live our lives within them. It would be a camp life. A prison with jailers. Some people would also rather die than not be allowed to drink coffee anymore. Constraining freedom of action is very sensitive, although this is based less on principles (after all, everyone limits himself and others) than on the skill of being able to resist any change in an interaction with that sensitivity as an argument.
- The third bear is that we are fused with the current occupational structure, are all specialists, and have a hard time imagining a future in which we cannot continue to develop in our own profession. We are all in a position, and are afraid of being torn from it.
- The fourth is fear of unstable structures. Who can guarantee that any new structure we start pursuing will put us in socially calm waters? Won't we end up bickering in ever greater misery?
These are very logical resistances that actually always come up when someone living in a group (school, organisation, relationship) going in a certain direction starts thinking about getting out or switching. The resistance from our cognitive consciousness is huge because everything was going so nicely. Everything was getting easier and better. The whole world accessible. Well, from that mindset - that chair actually - switching is not reasonable.
However, reality is increasingly crushing that bright high-tech future. We will have to change to a different mode. The only thing left to choose is how we organise this but the main direction is inevitably that if we want to curb emissions quickly and keep basic biological processes executable (plant growth, for instance, so that we don't go hungry, and oxygen continues to be produced), we have to give absolute economic priority to food supply, energy supply, and liveable housing. Everything else is already out of reach. Must go to zero. Forget those economic activities, and close those fences. We need to move towards simple survival. Into the lifeboat, so to speak.
However, hola, isn't this a bit stated in a simplistic way?
Are the reluctant perhaps right not wanting to jump at all? Isn't this lifeboat somewhere far too shaky? (See also the many arguments by economists against degrowth proposals)
6. Demining option β
Yes, there are solid snags. Namely: if you don't think of another carburetor in it, you won't get anyone crazy enough to jump in. That is, many post-carbon, degrowth, and steady-state thinkers outline the transition to a simpler more basic level of life as a matter of being slowly forced by (as in wartime) a progressively scarce long-distance input and shrinking availability of fossil energy. But that prediction is probably wrong. As long as the competition ‒ based on the current rules of society ‒ for gaining access to essential livelihoods continues, everyone will be forced to compete with each other by all available means, and thus to innovate expansively themselves, thus ruining local circularity, in order to hold their ground in the competition.
In my view, their assessment of an inevitable exodus of humanity to option β is wishfull thinking. I think you do have to seriously tinker with society's cast-in-concrete rules regarding the acquisition of property and income if you want to make it possible for people to abandon fossil energy and live much more manually and simply. To get people moving, future situations should evoke sufficient like-feelings on key dimensions (i.e. available resources, stability and rules). In wartime, you have to step into the army. That is terrible, but it is well organised in terms of resources, stability, and rules. And so it can be done.
The downside of option β is the fact ‒ and anyone who has ever moved from the city to the country knows this very well ‒ that buying a place with enough land is quite expensive, and yields from such a place can fluctuate greatly, and so the fixed costs can very easily break your neck. Basically impossible to get in if you have nothing to start with.
In short: How do we get option β mentally accessible and acceptable?
What kind of carburettor should be placed in that situation for it to work well, for it to be conceivable to people that that lifeboat could work out well, that it stays afloat in rain and wind and high waves, that the boat and oars can take a beating, that you can get where you need to go, that the social situation in it is stable and not uncomfortable?
7. Configuring option β more concretely
Based on the foregoing, we can now flesh out or define more precisely the configuration (i.e. set-up/design) of option β, the function of which is to make net-zero attainable in the short term.
First, try to eliminate as much competition from economic interactions as possible. This can be done by focusing mainly on assets ‒ by allocating assets in fairly equal portions, and making them non-stackable (and therefore non-tradable) ‒ and almost no longer on income. Positioning everyone mildly autonomous early on, with a blanket of resources around them ‒ without having to fight for them all their lives ‒ as well as preventing anyone from accumulating any more resources, is, given the mental workings around the production of inner orientation and balance, both the trick to dampen greed and competition (and thus calm down the demand for energy), and to boost satisfaction and attachment.
Second, squeeze as much transport out of the production trajectories as possible. This can be done by making individuals, groups, regions self-sufficient. Energy can be made and used locally, through wood, solar, wind and bio-gasification. The wet circle can be very short. This avoids packaging, refrigeration and heavy transport. Most services can also be made and used locally. In grain and potato supply, a little more transport can be tolerated. And the materials circle will have to cover even larger areas. Standardised buses, tractors, and trains can be produced close to raw material supply and recycling centres.
Third, cut the coat to suit the cloth (i.e. carbon budget). This can be done by weighing together what is important for survival and what is less important. According to space in the local emissions balance, one can then activate or scale down an economic activity.
Fourth, keep the weight of governments, intervening and corrective structures minimal such that they (a) do not dampen exposure and freedom, (b) do not induce high fixed costs. This can be accomplished by positioning everyone in such a way that they naturally develop a common drive (direction), such that they get along well, communal decision-making runs smoothly, and polarizing processes are dealt with early by everyone's efforts. All this can be triggered by linking humans more directly to the most essential production process in the living space (= food), and giving them largely the wheel there as well (i.e. giving them responsibility). As much as possible, because of course in addition ‒ in cooperative ventures such as governments ‒ a lot has to be decided and coordinated about infrastructure, joint inputs (such as machines and raw materials), and services (such as education, elderly care, health care).
If we add the following general psychological and social conditions, an even clearer configuration of option β emerges:
- We all need to do all we can to get out of this. If necessary at the expense of all the unnecessary extras in our current lifestyle.
- We must pull together, so everyone must be willing and able to pull. So every person must participate. So everyone must have exposure. No one can stay on the sidelines. On the side is no exposure and therefore no direction. If even a few have insufficient direction, there is no basis for trust, and therefore no social cohesion. That cohesion must be optimal: We must all pull in the same direction. Managing masses takes far too much. They must keep moving in the same direction by themselves.
- So they should all have more or less the same exposure i.e. all must be in a similar situation.
- In this fight against a fatal climatic development, everyone must have weapons to attack that fatal development, i.e. to go emission-free. You have to equip people to do that. The only resource that, coupled to sunlight and rain, can make everything humans need in a sustainable emissions-free way is land and water.
- Finally, to conclude: if you want to ensure that they can all pull along, that they all pull in an emission-free direction, and ensure that this all comes naturally from their hearts, that they all intensely desire it themselves so that you can get by with minimal governance and control, then you should give them all more or less the same amount of land, non-tradable, and unconditional, for the duration of their working lives. In fact, this upscaling of widespread accessibility is the core of the systemic change that option β entails.
8. Re-evaluating option β
We can now evaluate this set-up more profoundly. The key point of this setup ‒ namely, to provide a spot to people between the ages of 30 and 60 ‒ does not come from a momentary lapse of reason. See here about main reasons for increasing autonomous accessibility, and here some more details.
The autonomous accessibility configuration is a well-considered outcome of a sum encompassing four groups of variables.
- Group 1: The psychological: This set-up provides people, by giving them a basic set of livelihood resources, (a) security; (b) freedom; (c) challenge; (d) attachment, bandwidth, and thus control and direction; (e ) developmental opportunities; (f) procreation space; and (d) body wear allowing them to die in time.
- Group 2: The social: This set-up satisfies the human need for equal treatment and equal opportunities, while still wanting to have a decent degree of autonomy. Being more or less autonomous also prevents people from having to spend full time pretending to be themselves in order to influence others. Staying with themselves allows them to better develop their feel for their situation, and also satisfies the need to let someone else drop dead if they just refuse to keep their pants up. By letting young people play, learn and help until they are 30, you give them room to look around, find a partner, develop a taste for all kinds of work and life situations, and gain an overview of how natural, economic and social structures are functioning. By allocating independent living space to the elderly after age 60 in villages where there is marketing, lots of craft activity, and all the services, they can make the best use of their life experience to keep themselves healthy and well, and find meaning in all sorts of ways in the social life around them.
- Group 3: The Economic: If people chose to connect vegetable production with some animal production at their spots (e.g., 10.000 to 20.000 sq. ft. per person), the food cycle ‒ concerning vegetables, dairy, meat, and fruit ‒ can get perfectly self-sufficient organized, including residual streams. Education, furniture, footwear, and clothing can also be made and used locally. Cereals and potatos can be grown on large farms quite closed if one combines it with dairy cows for cheese production. Furthermore, the economy consists of production of building materials, complex tools and kitchen equipment, and production + maintenance and operation of machinery, equipment and means of transportation. Those productions require interregional alliances.
- Group 4: The Ecological: This set-up focuses everyone's efforts directly on establishing a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and carbon absorptions. Of course, by pairing everyone individually so close to a piece of land, some plants, some trees and some animals, you are optimally working to boost absorption. Nature desperately needs hands. Forty years ago, every village family had a sizeable vegetable garden. Gardens thrived on hands, care, and presence. But actually much more important about this setup is that you put a game in man's hands that is so intriguing and seizing that it drags him out of the car, out of his airplane seat, out of the gym, out of the getaways and vacations, out of the store shelves, out of the games and ipads, out of the hectic energy-guzzling global interaction circus. In doing so, you not only dampen very large global flows, and thus enormous emissions, but you also solve the macro-government problem we face, namely, how do you get and keep people in line, because we have to maintain that equilibrium situation for centuries to come. Why will you solve that with this set-up? The governance problem evaporates because everyone will build up so many impressions and feelings in this new game that you can bet that before you know it he will have a sharper grasp than anyone else of what can and cannot be done. So that everyone can see, smell, and feel how to walk together to get out of this shit-storm; what the priorities are at any moment. Such optimal social cohesion and value convergence can make the governance and management activity necessary to keep it moving together in a coordinated way a dance. Each individual advocates caution (= feedforward). The noses are in the same direction, and everyone learns to keep their lifeboat running. Governments can remain small, and will have little need for applied research. This will greatly reduce the heavy burden (both in terms of costs and emissions) of the administrative and scientific elites. Those elites are now the highest emitters, and receive the highest pay.
9. Could allocation of personal emissions budgets be an alternative?
Can we avoid the distribution of property (resources) to quickly achieve net-zero by allocating people all an equal emissions budget?
This approach consists of allocating everyone an equally large annual emission space (= budget) and combining that with real-time monitoring of all operations in production chains in order to be able to present the unique emission score of each (intermediate) product or service, per supplier, at any time through the emission integral of all operations involved. Envision this article. This approach is gaining more and more attention. Compared to the option-β-configuration, I envision it especially not working in the long run due to the fact that it (a) continuously generates divergent positions, and (b) is difficult to implement because it has to be globally perfect for it to work.
More in detail: First, the carbon-budget approach continuously produces inequality. The rich will acquire the places where it is possible to produce low-carbon, and thus they are able to become highly self-sufficient, and stretch the consumption volume of their budget. Whereas the poor, because of more transport emissions in the emission scores of their consumptions, get a smaller consumption volume with their budget. This will generate tensions around annual budget setting. Second, this approach requires a huge amount of globally standardized accounting of emissions scores, as well as super-heavy monitoring of how the budgets are spent, and thus cannot get off the ground without very high quality and protected IT that must constantly work well globally. Third, it makes social cohesion crippling. Property and income differences will constantly evoke opposing orientations and diverging opinions about core issues within populations, making the path to net-zero not safe at all.
In short: The carbon-budget approach is difficult to implement - because it cannot take off on a spot-by-spot, low-tech pace but needs global regulation - and is too unstable in terms of social dynamics to achieve net-zero quickly and then to be maintained over the long term.
When it comes to implementation, option-β-configuration is much, much more favorable than carbon budgets. It can start like a straw fire in different places and then expand.... In fact every municipality has the leeway to organise themselves the access of young adults to local livelihoods ‒ such as land, housing, workshops, etc.. By targeting their spatial planning entirely at people who aspire to a modest, community-based, self-sustaining way of life that combines gardening and housekeeping, local production and care tasks, a circular economy of proximity can really taking hold. See this example.
When those straw fires reach each other (i.e. gain more regional weight and political attention), they can then jointly intertwine into a force that culminates in a central (constitutional) intervention on freedoms − in particular the freedom to build up unlimited reserves and to spend them as one pleases − and the transfer of possessions (assets), in such a way that the current rules are finally abolished and the total society, up to every corner, can transform into a low-emission, low-tech, short-chain economy by means of new rules on acquisition and use of property (especially real estate).
Yes, I know, sounds pretty high from the sky. But what do you want to fight for when you have nothing to dream about, when your existence is hanging by a thread? And that's where we are!!
By the way, this option-β-configuration only sounds insane to the ears of the energy-addicted main stream (folks, brainies, and bosses) who have so far made a crazy big mess of their response to the enormous climate hazard whose severity and scale has been fully public knowledge for 25 years, by (a) failing to recognize their own addiction, (b) totally underestimating the priority and scale of this problem and allowing the idea to take hold that this gigantic disruption (radiative forcing) could be stabilized ‒ without having to limit the demand for energy ‒ with a few technical gimmicks (such as renewables, heat pumps, hydrogen, batteries) with the result that meanwhile, against all danger, during the last 25 years the volume of international flows has increased fourfold – namely, driving 3-fold, flying 4-fold, shipping 3-fold, internet traffic 300-fold. – when they should have dried up completely if we had faced this matter soberly and with less dollars in the eyes.
10. Choosing option β
Why might accelerating people's autonomous access to locally available livelihoods do the trick, and do other plans have much less solution power in the current emergency?
Because, first of all, they keep property transmission rules as they are, and thus lay the ball at the feet of leaders and investors. These, they say, must be able to view their organizations and their assets as part of society, and be attentive to the limits of resources in the environment.
While those resources remain unrestricted graspable? And remain stackable?
Do you foresee how those leaders and investors will then calmly be willing to limit themselves?
Affectionately nod at each other courteously and sit quietly waiting for their portion?
Second, those plans fail to face the fact that you cannot instill values and volition in the masses through education and argumentative efforts alone. Thus, the proactive collective towing capacity of that mass will remain minimal and divided. Such a crippled social cohesion will then both give transactionalists opportunities to keep citizens quiet with bread and play, and safety nets (at the cost of a lot of emissions and a lot of unhealthiness), and necessitate a heap of public regulation and control to be able to implement restrictive government policies.
Hence: The aforementioned plans do not demolish the energy-slurping pistons from the current economy engine but build so many blowers, mufflers, and regulators around it that anyone in the cabin who takes a moment to look at the dashboard gets dizzy. No faith, no go!
Conclusion: it is either this way out or option α (see Urgency) in which mass migrations, wars, and disasters will start chaining together.
It's just dumb hard. Right now we are dangling on a silken thread. Every inch we go further, it gets thinner and weaker. Until it breaks.
Jac Nijssen, 2023
This article has been written December 2022, modified March 2023
English version also in pdf available here, with all pop-ups in footnotes
And a French version in pdf available.