Professor of geography, Renaud Duterme proposes with Our ecological mythologies, a small book published in March 2022 by Les Liens qui Libérant, to address 25 preconceived notions about ecology. Its aim is to return some complexity to the simplism of certain discourses on ecology and environmental preservation. Demographics, solutions, collapse, causes of crisis, etc. sift through popular ideas to give it nuances. Interview with Renaud Duterme.
Why go back to 25 received ideas about ecology calling them mythology?
I’ve been interested in ecology issues for the past fifteen years, and I’ve noticed that questions, often legitimate ones, come up regularly. I also notice that these questions are propagated by a number of actors who have an interest in looking away from supposed causes or solutions, which is toxic because it prevents us from asking the right questions and taking the problem to heart. the root. We try to find simplistic answers to complex problems. I like the idea of mythology because they are received ideas that are not completely false, they contain a part of truth, but you have to deconstruct and nuance to get out of simplism.
“We are trying to find simplistic answers to complex problems. »
A brief example?
Demographics are often summed up in the question of ourselves: “Aren’t we too much on Earth? However, this question does not pose the problem in the proper terms, as it is summarized in numerical values, even reduced to quantities, without raising the question of economic model, lifestyles, consumption and production options. The question of population is not raised in the same way if we integrate the ecological footprint of this or that way of life because we know that the consumption of the richest is not generalizable at the environmental level.
Do these mythologies, beyond the observation of environmental crises that generate consensus, mean that there is no agreement on certain aspects of the debate or elements of convergence on what the solutions may be?
That is precisely the problem. These mythologies prevent us from asking the real questions. They create debates where there should be none. Our economic system means always producing more, even though we know we need to produce less. This contradiction, too seldom raised, is at the center of concerns.
The subject of technology is interesting in this regard, some believe that human ingenuity will make technology provide solutions to environmental problems. However, the debates on technology issues are complex and divisive. Without prior knowledge, you can quickly get lost and quickly find yourself without arguments when in the end the debate is not about the viability or not of this or that technology but rather about the context of its implementation.
“The importance of fossil fuels in the comfort of our lifestyles is still underestimated.”
For example, on the subject of the electric car, the debate over this is whether it pollutes more or less than a thermal car. It is difficult to navigate because there are many contradictory studies and this leads to a relatively sterile debate. However, it is possible to take another look and improve the quality of the debate. Even if the electric car were less polluting than the thermal car, is it possible and desirable to spread it all over the planet knowing that there are a billion cars? Is it possible to replace a billion cars? Asking the question from this angle leads to different answers: in terms of resources, it is not possible. Ditto, it’s not desirable when it comes to the eco-friendly footprint as three-quarters of a vehicle’s footprint comes from its design. In addition, this raises the question of the recycling of existing vehicles and the deadlines in which the renewal takes place as it will take decades, which we do not have, to electrify the fleet of vehicles.
Beyond the received ideas, isn’t there a deep taboo when it comes to questioning the comfort that modern Western fossil fuel-based lifestyle offers? And that, in a way, tending toward more ecology implies what may seem like giving up what seems like normalcy to millions of people?
Yes and no. The importance of fossil fuels in the comfort of our lifestyles is still underestimated. That said, there is an amalgam of the fact that the socio-economic progress of the last two centuries, especially in terms of health and comfort, is based on mass consumption and could only survive by maintaining mass consumption. However, I believe that we need to separate social and economic progress from consumption. Plus, that’s kind of what the decline is all about. This is in line with people’s expectations when it comes to opinion polls. People aspire to quality health care, meaningful work, local public services, places to live together … in short, a whole host of things that do not necessarily require poor management of fossil fuels.
“Other ecological and social models with the ambition of improving the lot of the population. »
Today’s society tends to push us to consume excessively and therefore to overproduce permanently. As a result, we are getting more and more people to work on meaningless jobs. This turns out to be an engine of permanent frustration as we observe that people are not happier in consuming more and more. The great challenge of contemporary political ecology is to propose another imaginary, other ecological and social models with the ambition of improving the lot of the population. It must be demonstrated that it is possible to improve everyday life and material living conditions by reducing the ecological footprint. We need to provide a social view of ecology to break the taboo of questioning the Western way of life.
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What do you think of the fact that the IPCC is now pointing out the risks of “maladaptation”?
“Inadaptation” is a nice word that no one agrees with. I have problems with these reports, such as those of the IPCC, because, at the same time, they are becoming more and more alarmist and are increasingly cautious with the solutions and their implementation. They never offer solutions in terms of system. In fact, they are limited to good intentions such as reducing consumption or developing local agriculture. They never link to the structural policies that are at the heart of the problem. For example, free trade agreements bring farmers from all continents to competition. They are destroying local agriculture, no matter how much these scientific reports advocate, for the benefit of the agro-industry giants of Europe, the United States or Brazil.
“The yellow vests have been seen as a movement of rednecks who love their cars. But looking closer at his claims, we realize that it was much more complicated than that. They talk about revitalizing the countryside, recreating public services, public transportation networks, and local jobs. In short, whatever is said, environmental measures. »
He Therefore, the authors of the reports should ask themselves the question of the origin of this “maladaptation”. Nor should we forget that scientists and their approach are part of a given society. They should take sides. It is no longer necessary to state the facts or convince many people of their reality.
In the end, to ensure the ecological transition, do we first have to deconstruct and fight preconceived notions?
The battle of ideas is already a prerequisite, but we must be present on all fronts, especially in education and the struggles. The great progress of history is the result of collective struggles such as trade union battles, social security, equality between women and men. Ecology will not escape the rule, it will need tools in the service of these struggles to convince the greatest number.
[À lire aussi Gilles Bœuf défend l’idée que l’écologie soit une matière à l’école : « comprendre qu’il faut s’occuper de l’environnement est aussi important que d’apprendre le français ou à compter » ]
In conclusion Our ecological mythologiesyou also point to the risk of getting tired and intellectualizing ecology as obstacles to anchoring ecology, can you go back?
I have the impression that the dominant ecology is disconnected from the realities experienced by the working classes. This ecology theorizes a lot, however it remains compartmentalized in university and political cenacles without reaching the popular categories. The election results of the green parties in France or Belgium are good indicators. This should lead to a questioning of moving towards a more pragmatic and popular ecological approach, that is, drawing on the working classes and their experiences. And ironically, these working classes, being less wealthy and simpler, often have a below-average ecological footprint. Ecology can be inspired by these simpler and more frugal lifestyles and their struggles. The yellow vests have been seen as a movement of rednecks who love their cars. But looking closer at his claims, we realize that it was much more complicated than that. They talk about revitalizing the countryside, recreating public services, public transportation networks, and local jobs. In short, whatever is said, environmental measures. The dominant ecology has not seen it, so it must return to an ecology on the ground, close to the concerns of the people.
Interview with Julien Leprovost
To go further: the book Our ecological mythologiesdeconstructing ideas received on climate change by Renaud Duterme, Edicions Les Liens qui Libérant, 144 pages
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