Last month, a bunch of CliMates gathered in Paris to have brunch and discuss how we should go about changing the world. In addition to enjoying some delicious baguette, croissants and home made cake, we chatted over whether or not stronger national states are instrumental in the fight against climate change, how we should be way more critical of business as usual and the egoistico-altruistic human nature.
We first spent some time wondering whether or not, on our way towards sustainability, we should seek to reinforce the states in order to achieve it globally. Some of us felt that states, entrenched in their national interest logics, have shown to be driven by the wrong objectives and to be committing less than they are able to. In the context of climate negotiations, the demonstration has been made that the sum of actions dictated by national interests doesn’t add up to anything near the kind of collective effort we need to tackle climate change. So should we think global, act local… and forget a little about national?
The logic of national interest may be standing in the way of progress for international conferences, nevertheless, as Nicholas Stern and Laurence Tubiana pointed out, states are the only force strong enough to overcome the short-term logic of finance with their capacity to invest in the long term. Strong states, serious about the wellbeing of its future generations and thus committed to an ambitious green investment strategy, are probably our best hope of overcoming the challenges we face.
Halfway through the nutella pot, we moved on to sharing about how stunned we are that we don’t see a much broader range of people and organizations openly and aggressively criticizing how destructive business as usual really is; how ravaging the oil economy actually is, and how recklessly we currently drawdown natural resources. As Thomas pointed out, in 2006, oil has been the most important source of revenues worldwide. An economy so dependant upon a resource that vulnerable to scarcity, combined with stagnating revenues, basically led the world to borrow on international markets, and this led to the mortgage bubble and the monumental crisis of 2008. That is to say that the scarcity of resources has lead to widespread default on payment and is important in explaining the crisis. And yet, nobody is talking about it! Instead, energy security takes up all the room for debate.
The role of our reckless use of nature in the on-going crisis of capitalism should be at the centre stage of political debates right now. Yet, it has hardly been a decisive issue in the French political campaign – and, with the little revolution of domestic natural gas in the US, the scarcity of resources most likely won’t even appear on the radar of the American presidential debate (not to mention how toxic the issue has become).
After a few words about the responsibility of civil society – and the key importance of our choices as consumers – we moved on to a long tangent on cosmopolitism, egoism and altruism.
A good point was made that, historically, one’s community basically corresponded to one’s village. Today, communities have become global. In fact, most of us having brunch together that day were third culture kids, cosmopolite, with the experience of living in different countries. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that we pretty much all agreed that what we find most interesting is to get involved and cooperate on solving global issues.
And then arose the question of individualism: is it not because we are individualist that we can so easily extract ourselves from our local community and seek those who resemble us elsewhere, around a larger question? And then, pursuing the public good and dedicating all of our energy to contributing to making the world a better place… is there not in that some form of self-promotion and personal branding? I.e., is the human nature ultimately egoistic, no matter how hard we work at having a positive impact?
I for one argued that getting involved in one’s community is in fact the source of a profound sense of shared happiness. And indeed, we around the table were all living examples that bonding with others over pursuing together a higher purpose is simply one of the great joys in life. And call me crazy, but I think that naming “egoistic” those who commonly seek fulfilment through virtuous acts is a bad vocabulary choice.
Maybe the conclusion to this is that we should redefine our conception of altruism by incorporating the wellbeing of others into our conception of individual wellbeing. One that would capture the fact that hurting others comes down to hurting ourselves – and that doing something positive for the community feels great.
* Credit for this post goes to all CliMates whose ideas fed this post: Thomas Spencer, Henri Landes, Margot Le Guen, Céline Steer, Jonathan Bowman-Clark, Béatrice Cointe, Cécile Massé and Jean-Igor Michaux