“We need to decouple the economy from the amount of consumption”

Bertrand Piccard was in Luxembourg on Thursday 28 April to discuss in the Chamber of Commerce with the Minister of Energy Claude Turmes (déi Gréng) and the Minister of Economy Franz Fayot (LSAP) on a topic: reconciling ecology and economics. Psychiatrist, explorer, has identified, through its Solar Impulse foundation, more than 1,000 environmentally friendly and cost-effective technological solutions.

In an interview with Paperjam, he presents himself as the advocate of “qualitative growth”, the third path between decay and unlimited growth. This path should make it possible to decouple the economy from the amount of consumption in order to link it to the “quality of efficiency”. A perspective that wants to be “realistic” because it allows, promising benefits and job creation and thus adopting the business and political language, to convince them that ecology must be placed at the center of economic development.

The pandemic has very well illustrated the very strong link between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions. Is our model of consumption and production not in direct contradiction with the aims of the Paris Agreement?

Bertrand Piccard. – “So far, yes, it is true that economic development has been linked to the amount of production, consumption, waste and pollution. And that is what we need to change. However, we see today, through the solutions identified by the Solar Impulse Foundation, that it is possible to combine economic development with the quality of efficiency.

This means that we will need less resources, energy and waste to achieve a better result. In this way we will be able to create jobs and guarantee economic development by replacing what pollutes with what protects the environment. This is what I like to call qualitative growth: therefore, we are neither in degrowth, which runs the risk of leading to social chaos, nor in the so-called unlimited growth, which is a destructive myth that leads us to ecological disaster.

If we say we need to reduce consumption, comfort or mobility, we will have no popular support, no political support, no economic support.

Bertrand Piccard, President, Solar Impulse Foundation

Reconciling growth and the environment is your credo. Is it because you are especially attached to a growth-based economic model or because, more pragmatically, you think this is a much more effective message to convince actors to make the energy transition, more effective anyway than talking about reducing the consumption? and production?

“It’s more realistic. That’s why I called my book ‘Realistic’. You have to get a result regardless of ideology. If we say that we need to reduce consumption, comfort or mobility, , there will be less CO emissions2. But we will have no popular support, no political support, no economic support.

So I use my experience as a psychiatrist – because I’m basically a psychiatrist before I’m an explorer – to speak the language of the people I want to convince. And the ones that can really change things are companies and the political world. However, they reason in terms of job creation and economic development. Therefore, we must show them that they can create more jobs and have more economic development if they put ecology at the center of their action than if they continue to waste as they have so far.

By far, in rich countries, we are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases per person. Isn’t green growth the dream of denial of those who, in these rich countries, do not want to question their way of life?

“If we talk about rich countries, we have to look at 9/11i countries of the world that are not rich and that only dream of one thing: to develop in order to catch up with our level of development. What are we going to tell them? Don’t you develop? Running out of electricity, no plumbing, no buildings with heating or air conditioning? But you will have the whole world against you! Therefore, we must show that this development is possible in an ecological way, with new products, new systems, new materials, new processes, new devices.

The economy must grow to ensure a good quality of life, but this economy must be detached from the amount of consumption to link it to the quality of efficiency.

Bertrand Piccard

Bertrand Piccard, President, Solar Impulse Foundation

Also, when we talk about degrowth, there are advocates of degrowth who don’t say what needs to be slowed down, and advocates of growth who don’t know what to grow. But they are arguing over a big misunderstanding. Because it is clear that we need to reduce pollution, inefficiency, waste, waste, excess. But there are other things that need to be increased: health, education, social security, pension funds. In fact, the economy must grow to ensure a good quality of life, but this economy must be detached from the amount of consumption to link it to the quality of efficiency. And here’s a real solution.


“Today it is still legal to pollute, to waste, to be inefficient. Governments must support this modernization of infrastructure by modernizing regulations, ”said Bertrand Piccard.

(Photo: Romain Gamba / Maison Moderne)

The director of Erin (List’s “environment” department), Lucien Hoffmann, warned in
Paperjam interview
, which is “very difficult to bet only on a technological improvement without also addressing its use”, explaining that, “historically, very few new technologies have made it possible to reduce energy consumption”. For example, thermal cars have never been so efficient, but the demand for oil is skyrocketing, because improving engines has made it possible to build heavier cars. What do you think?

“I think that’s absolutely fair. That’s the ‘rebound effect.’ less, so in the end there will be an improvement in purchasing power.With a carbon tax and proper regulation, the rebound effect can be positive, not negative.

We need modern legislation that encourages the use of modern technologies.

Bertrand Piccard

Bertrand Piccard, President, Solar Impulse Foundation

Therefore, the public authorities must regulate to change the behavior of consumers …

“The best way to change behavior is through regulation. It does not happen by itself. It strikes me that if we have identified these 1,400 cost-effective and environmentally friendly solutions, it is not being implemented. We need modern legislation that encourages the use of modern technologies.

Today it is still legal to pollute, waste, be inefficient. Governments must accompany this modernization of infrastructure with the modernization of regulations. Which doesn’t mean banning everything often means authorizing things that aren’t allowed today. For example, discharging your electric car in your home in the evening during peak consumption, and recharging it later when there is a lot of energy, regulations do not allow it. Therefore, I am not asking for more bans, but for a modernization of the legislation to favor the arrival of all these technologies.

Instead of producing more and consuming more, we need to consume less through efficiency.

Bertrand Piccard

Bertrand Piccard, President, Solar Impulse Foundation

Are you concerned that, impacted by the economic crisis, companies will invest less in the transition? What advice would you give them to avoid going in that direction?

“What is the consequence of the war in Ukraine? A food crisis in the world and an energy crisis. And the solution to these two problems is exactly the same as for climate change: we need to be more efficient. Instead of producing more and more to consume more, we must consume less through efficiency.

When it comes to food, it is important to know that between production and consumption, half of the food is lost. It rots in place, is poorly transported, is wasted. So we see that there is a huge potential to make better use of what we have.

75% of the energy produced is lost simply because we have inefficient infrastructure systems.

Bertrand Piccard

Bertrand Piccard, President, Solar Impulse Foundation

And what about energy?

“75% of the energy produced is lost simply because we have inefficient infrastructure systems. An example: a third of the world’s electricity is consumed by electric motors in factories. But how do we vary its power? Instead of putting more or less electricity, we increase the resistance. Thus, the engine is always at full speed, and we always have so much energy consumed for an even less good effect.

How to mute a trumpet …

“Exactly. However, today, with digital management, we can vary the rotational speed of the motor to vary the flow. This is a 60% saving! So if everything was modernized only at the level of factory electric motors, 60% of electricity would be saved in a third of the world’s electricity.It’s colossal!

Therefore, instead of looking for a gas supplier other than Russia, it would be better to be efficient, insulate buildings, change heating systems. And the solutions are extraordinary: Celsius, for example, is making geothermal energy in the city, drilling 200 meters deep to put heat pumps on city buildings. It is five to six times more efficient than an electric radiator or an oil heater, it is absolutely amazing!

I see that technical solutions exist. It makes me optimistic. Now, what makes me pessimistic is how long it takes to get the basics up and running.

Bertrand Piccard

Bertrand Piccard, President, Solar Impulse Foundation

When we look at the evolution of greenhouse gas emissions, the situation seems desperate …

“It simply came to our notice then.

Do you hope that you went around the world on a solar plane when it was said that it was impossible, that the impossible is precisely possible?

“It simply came to our notice then. It makes me optimistic. Now, what makes me pessimistic is how long it takes to get the basics up and running. For example, factories not only spit smoke, but heat into the atmosphere and therefore energy. One of the start-ups labeled by the Solar Impulse Foundation captures this heat through heat exchangers in the chimneys and returns this heat to the factory. This means a 20% energy saving for the plant. But it is obvious that this should be mandatory everywhere, as it is profitable … ”

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