Where we are, and where to go — some (sketchy) thoughts about the climate crisis, the young people´s global school strike and texts by David Wallace-Wells, George Monbiot and Greta Thunberg et. al.
I will argue in this text that we need a global Green New Deal, based on a new article one in the UN-Charter which declares us as world citizens, sharing the “natural resources” (to use a strange concept) with social and historical justice and equity as compass; that we need an agreement on which reservoirs of oil, gas and coal should stay in the ground; and that we need the striking young people of #FridaysForFuture/Climatestrike and the ExtinctionRebellions in the streets, pushing all of us into a truly global political movement which is able to legitimize the transformation sketched above.
In some sense, you could say that it is a beautiful story. Even if it is nightmarish — the story of our lives on this feverish living planet, the story of where we are in the process of the climate breakdown.
In which way beautiful — which sounds almost cynical regarding all suffering already done by the climate crisis? Because the motor of the story, the thing which drives it forward is beautiful in itself. It is simple and powerful: you cannot destroy someone´s integrity, and not either the living systems of this planet, without consequences, because you will hurt what we can call a common material of integrity. You cannot just dig in organic systems, take out material, burn it up; you cannot produce food by creating enormous pain in animals; you cannot build economics on relations of dominance. As in every social relation, hurting someone’s integrity will hit back, in some way. And we humans are made of this magical material, and in a similar way are the living systems of this planet which we call our home. It doesn’t tolerate these acts of violence. We need to repair what some of us did wrong. Without these processes, which stand in the middle of our lives when we are humans and humane, we become sick, alienated, sad, hurt and un-whole. And the planet becomes uninhabitable, and is already for a lot of us.
That is why the story of the climate crisis is a global story, because it plays itself out within this dimension which unites us all. And it should become a story of repairing this common material, a story about historical and social justice, to use a big word, and about sharing what we got. It is the story of all stories, because it reflects the social interactions (of male dominance, colonialization, plundering) within our global village, at least in the last centuries, and with all the loose ends of damage and help.
But even if it is a scary story, and an incredibly sad and enraging one: Imagine a world where this basic mechanism of integrity doesn’t exist. Where we just can burn up the living planet without consequences. Were we can dominate other human beings and animals without cutting us off from our selves. It is and would be likewise horrible as all the realistic doomsday scenarios which already are an apocalyptic reality (and often for those not having produced the emissions, in places like Mozambique) and which will soon be in hotter cities like New York or New Delhi, very intensely described in David Wallace-Wells text about “The uninhabitable earth”: with unbearable heating summers, droughts, floods, wars about water and the death of thousands of species. We must stop the emissions. We must take care of the living systems.
From this point of view there is a meaningful way to go: picturing us as part of this common story, and giving everybody the chance to declare one´s solidarity as a part of a united world-community which should take care of the natural resources, sharing and repairing them, instead of owning and destructing them as individuals or nations. Or as Wallace-Wells puts this shift of perspective and political attitude simply: “to think of us as one people” (s. 227). It forces us to reconsider the bizarre Locke-ian concept of ownership, described by George Monbiot (TheGuardian, 2019/03/15): away from the image that ownership is reasonably framed as being able to destroy and to dominate, replacing it with the concept that ownership (or user-ship) is linked to the protection of integrity.
In this way of thinking, the idea that national “leaders” can do whatever they want, speaking for nations owning forests and natural resources, destroying them, even if it damages the life of all of us, is not tolerable anymore. What democracy is, in our days, should be thought in a new global and substantial way. The two sides of the very concept of democracy (from the beginning in Aristoteles thinking always there as combined) namely the formal aspect of everyone having one voice, equally and freely, and the substantial aspect of it, that democracy is about guaranteeing everybody likewise a life in dignity, have separated. The formal concept of voting-procedures in nation-states legitimizes wrongly governments which destroy the life for all.
That’s why we need to sit down, now. All together. As a global democratic community. And decide. Even if this sounds utopian, considering the state of established democracies and even more of illiberate ones and non-democratic regimes which must be a part of the process. But maybe, it is our only realistic path to go. As Greta Thunberg and her school striking friends, already building a truly global community, (The Guardian, 2019/03/15) write: to come to the insight that we must share the natural resources, beyond the competitive character of the existing relations between people. This means for all of us: not only to listen to the children and young people striking all over the world; listen to their demand to follow the Paris agreement and to stop the emissions. It means much more, especially to copy their movement in the specific form which it developed so beautifully in the last months. They already do what we all should, namely see themselves as inhabitants of one planet, as “one people”, sharing one home. They act and understand themselves as a global humankind. We, who have political rights all over the world, should become one too. And they, the young people on the streets, should push us, until we are, push and push, until we sit down and act, act by deciding how we share the resources, and take care of them; decide which gas, oil and coal has to stay in the ground, and where, taking in consideration aspects of historical and social justice, compensating for it and building a new energy-system. If they can push for something, beyond the Paris agreement and the 1.5-degree-IPCC-report as compass for all politics, then it is this recognition of their example, for all of us. To acknowledge, finally, that we are linked together, in the global village we live in, and linked to the living planet with all its complex and wonderful systems. They should push us into the acknowledgment that we cannot hurt the material of integrity without suffering horrifying consequences, making clear that there is a common center, holding together the inside and outside of Kate Raworth´s “dounught” of future economics: the care for the planetary boundaries on the outside of the circle, and the care for everybody´s socials needs on the inside, because they are two sides of one dimension.
How, you may ask now, how can we start to behave like that, behave like the children wants us to: to acknowledge the global character of this story; to acknowledge that what is done in one nations space affects all of us? The answer could lead to the following steps:
1. We need a new UN-Charter article which defines us as world-citizens and which doesn’t reflect only the interest of nations and leaders, but of all the people, and all of them united: declaring that we are one humankind, that we don’t own nature and what we call its resources, but that we should take care of them and share them.
2. We need, mirroring this understanding of sharing the resources, a conference with an agreement — in global solidarity — about the oil, gas and coal which must stay in the ground, and where (using Kevin Andersons emission-budget, but as resource-budgets), banning the building of new fossil infrastructure. Only to focus on emission-reduction and carbon-tax doesn’t seem to be a sufficient solution. This should be done with historical and social justice and the norm of equity as compass, leading to:
3. We need a Global Green New Deal, including compensations for the fossils staying in the ground, and building together a new fossil-free infrastructure (energy, transport, food etc.), transforming the basic idea which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others have developed on a national level. Or as Wallace-Wells puts it: “We have all the tools we need, today, to stop it all: a carbon tax and the political apparatus to aggressively phase out dirty energy; a new approach to agricultural practices and a shift away from beef and dairy in the global diet; and public investments in green energy and carbon capture” (p. 226f.).
4. But, as Greta Thunberg et. al. puts it, this transformation must even include the other aspects of society (transforming the idea of education, public health, economy, finance etc.) putting the understanding of the common material of integrity in the middle of all public spheres. There are thousands of relevant studies in all this fields, as the 25 000 scientists standing behind the statement by “ScientiststForFuture” show, which was published on March 15 during the global school strike by a grassroots-movement of European scientists, inspired by Greta Thunberg’s demand “to listen to the science”.
5. But such an agreement and action as a united humankind will never happen, the competitiveness between nations and individuals will never stop, if there is no pressure. We need representations of this global perspective even in national and local parliaments. But much more, we need the help of the school striking children and young people of #FridaysForFuture/Climatestrike and the grown-up rebels of ExtinctionRebellion, refusing the status quo, acting with civil disobedience and making clear that the society must listen. We must stop, sit down, as the children do, and decide.
6. We need, at last, but most important, the democratic possibility for everyone, in every country, to stand up for this vision and politics, and at some point, to vote for it. That is why we need a global unified movement, so that we can with democratic tools push for a real, and this means global democracy.
I call this idea for Planet-A-movement which can be built in every corner of this planet (because there is no planet B, as so many posters tell us which the children put in the air during their strike). It tries to answer with responsibility to the children´s demand for a future. This is just a sketch of what we should do; a kind of thought-experiment. If there is something called freedom, it must be this, not to watch how an anonymous process of climate breakdown occurs, but taking a role by creating another ending.
Anderson, Kevin (2018): Cambridge Climate lecture https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIODRrnHQxg
Monbiot, George: “Capitalism is destroying the Earth”, The Guardian, March 15
Raworth, Kate (2017): Doughnut economics. Random house, London
ScientistsForFuture, statement (2019): https://www.scientists4future.org/statement-en/
Thunberg, Greta (et. al.): “Think we should be at school?”, The Guardian, March 15
Wallace-Wells, David (2019): The uninhabitable earth. Tim Duggan books, New York
Dr. David Fopp, grown up in Switzerland and Sweden, studied at FU Berlin and Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris, taught at FU Berlin, University of Basel and from 2017 on as assistant professor at Stockholm university. The PhD (about the link between political philosophy, esthetics and education, confronted with the climate crisis) was published in 2016 by transcript.