Aith the opening, Sunday, October 31, of the Glasgow (Scotland) conference on climate change (COP26), the news should once again be punctuated by promises, objectives, quantified or not, and the commitments of political leaders or captains of industry. On this kind of occasion, the question of the means to be implemented to achieve the goals pursued is generally evaded, or reduced to an unimportant subsidiary question, a little as if the political voice had the power to impose itself on the laws of nature.
This question, that of “how”, interweaves two closely connected issues. The first is that of the future of the technical system, the second that of the cultural evolution of societies. The first is omnipresent in public debate, the second is almost absent. We see it, until the caricature, in the recent declarations of the leaders of the largest hydrocarbon exporters, such as Saudi Arabia or Australia.
“Today I am announcing Saudi Arabia’s zero-emission objective by 2060 thanks to a circular carbon economy strategy”, declared, on October 26, Mohammed Ben Salman, the crown prince of the kingdom. The princely commitment is based entirely on future (and most likely imaginary) technologies that will burn all the oil underground and circularize all the carbon produced. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the same thing, up to the date (2050) and fuel (coal) close.
Maintain our ways of doing things
Far from being so caricature, Emmanuel Macron, too, in the face of the climate challenge, relies on hypothetical technological revolutions rather than on social and cultural evolutions. The presentation speech of the France 2030 plan, delivered on October 12, is enough to be convinced of this. Deployment of the first low-carbon aircraft by the end of the decade, small modular nuclear reactors, “green” hydrogen, production of two million electric and hybrid vehicles… Agriculture? The word “agro-ecology” does not appear anywhere in the presidential speech, and the whole future of our countryside is reduced to this triptych: “Digital, robotics, genetics”.
The word “sobriety” does not appear in the presidential speech either, when the words “innovation”, “innovative” are pronounced more than seventy times. It is obviously not abnormal or very surprising to speak of innovation in a speech on the industrial revival of the country. But the broad speech of October 12 – which would occupy some ten full pages of the World – is much more than the simple announcement of a major plan structuring the reindustrialisation of France in the face of the environmental and climate challenge.
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“For Emmanuel Macron, the ecological transition is above all a technological transition”