To "End the Climate Crisis"
A book review
by Christian Hofmann
[This article published on 4/20/2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://linksnet.de/artikel/47959.]
In autumn 2019 "Vom Ende der Klimakrise" by Luisa Neubauer and Alexander Repenning was published in German bookstores. For the most part, the text is written jointly, but there are also contributions by name. Since Neu-Bauer has already been chosen as the 'German Greta Thunberg', we are not dealing with just any book on the subject, but can justifiably speak of a central publication, at least as far as Germany is concerned. This is obviously the claim of the author herself, after all, in her epilogue, in the name of the new ecology movement, she formulates quite confidently: "We know what has to be done. We also know how. And above all we know: that it is possible" (280). Reason enough to take a closer look at this book. Especially because it is not a book next to or about FFF (Fridays for Future), but comes directly from the movement.
Anyone who has visited events by and with FFF in Germany in recent weeks and months cannot help but feel that two not unproblematic ideas or demands were and are omnipresent there with regard to the great goal of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius by the end of the century. On the one hand, the idea that climate protection is primarily a question of awareness and can therefore ultimately only be slowed down by individual change of course. The individual must therefore react to the climate crisis by changing his or her consumer behaviour. Since FFF is quite heterogeneous, this position is certainly not the one of every activist in the movement, but it remains a basic tenor that cannot be ignored in public appearances. But even where FFF goes beyond the idea of individual consumerism and instead makes political demands, there is at least one major weakness. What is meant is the demand for CO2 pricing, for which the German FFF section has now even made a concrete commitment of 180 euros per ton of CO2 emitted.
Apart from the enormous defensive reflexes that such a demand might trigger, especially among those who have not been lucky enough to be on the sunny side of this society, we believe it is problematic because it implies that the market, or at least market mechanisms, could solve the climate crisis. At this point (Broistedt/Hofmann OXI 3/20) we had therefore argued that the left should not play off the social and the ecological question against each other, but should bring them together - with an attack on civil property. For example, by calling for a socialization of the energy sector, free public transport, radical reductions in working hours or energy-efficient renovation of housing while prohibiting rent increases. Only through these struggles can we see the real contradiction: the capitalist compulsion for growth and the planetary boundaries as its material basis.
Anyone who takes this contradiction seriously and is interested in the development of FFF in this respect cannot avoid reading the book by Neubauer and Repenning. This is because the book traces the discussions, questions and developments within the new ecological movement quite openly and impressively. The basic contradiction of endless growth and finite resources is well recognized and is processed in a conglomeration of ideas and criticism. The processual nature of the new movement, as well as its own further development, is hinted at. And in these descriptions, sometimes more, sometimes less consciously, weak points in the previous discussions about the climate crisis are pointed out. The key questions are not given a wide berth, even if the answers may be ambivalent in part. But one after the other:
The market: It is already stated in the introduction that "the world economy is designed to ensure that the destruction of global ecosystems continues" (31). For "[g]lobal warming, environmental destruction and growing inequality are above all the consequences of an unleashed economy that is geared towards profit and quarterly figures, but not towards the well-being of people and nature" (76f.). It remains to be seen whether our "economic system" must be "unleashed" for this. Apart from that, this would be a very good starting point from which to approach the climate crisis.
Neubauer impressively demonstrates that the political representatives of this social order absolutely want to defend the market and paraphrases the opposite with a sharp tongue:
"But the market will take care of that. Because the market can. The invisible hand of the market will tackle the problems for us, it will seek and find the best means. The market will show us the way to achieve the climate targets and in doing so let us keep our 'prosperity', our 'growth', our industry and jobs" (49). The 'fairy tale of eternal growth' is resolutely countered: "The road to ruin is [...] paved with well-intentioned, market-based instruments" (154) - well spoken!
The consciousness and the renunciation of consumption by the individual: But Neubauer did not only listen well to his political opponent. At her own events, too, she came across a number of things, especially with regard to the criticism of consumption, which she calls "climate protection in everyday life": In long discussions, she explained that it is about nothing less than the 'probably most complex crisis in human history', about 'systemic questions' and a 'structural change'. And this matter is then, "reduced in one or two sentences to individual consumer behavior" and most events end with well-intentioned advice and questions about individual behavior patterns; "Riding your bike more and frying tofu so that we feel good [...]. (91). Neubauer and Repenning are quite clear about the fact that a high level of environmental awareness has only a very limited positive effect on climate protection: "[G]erade those households which declare themselves to be environmentally aware [are] also those with the higher CO2 footprint". Ergo: "As long as the basic conditions are not fundamentally changed, criticism of consumption alone is ineffective" (101). In order to package this a little more briskly, even Adorno is brought into play: "There is no sustainable life in a non-sustainable society" (37). Not only with regard to the market, but also with regard to the question of renunciation, the book is quite clear.
Social question and children of the middle classes: It is well known that FFF is not just about schoolchildren*, but mainly about the children of the middle classes. Of course, this does not change the facts about the climate crisis, which FFF has brought to the center of the social discourse, but it can certainly have an impact on their demands, such as the CO2 pricing mentioned above. Unfortunately, there are no concrete ideas in the book on how to resolve the supposed contradiction between social and ecological issues. But at least the problem is seen, or at least guessed at: "For middle-class children like us" (35) it is easy "to shout in the street with hundreds of others 'We are here, we are loud, because you are stealing our future! [...]. It is less easy to translate this exclamation, which contains so much reproach and accusation, into a conversation with those who are facing us [...] to accuse those who have worked on all this of theft. (ibid., 66).
The clash of social and ecological questions is well described here, and already with the above and similar slogans the minds are divided. Anyone who has the feeling that he is working very hard and yet has to look closely at his account at the end of the month is usually skeptical or even hostile to the (new) ecological movement. In contrast to many of their comrades-in-arms, Neubauer and Repenning know that it is necessary to find political majorities. Their idea to associate "positive climate balance with pleasure and luxury" (ibid., 97) is very good, but it does not help much in this abstractness. Similarly, the reference to using the above-mentioned demo slogan only "against key players in politics, finance and business" (ibid., 67) is very good. How exactly is that supposed to succeed? The good approaches are then also diminished by the fact that elsewhere positive reference is made to Ulrich Brandt and his theory of the 'imperial way of life' (167ff.). But Brandt's point is not to associate ecological sustainability with 'pleasure and luxury', but to criticize the standard of living of the entire population of the global North!
Lack of answers: This ambivalence is ultimately present throughout the book. Even if central problems of the current climate debate are well named, the answers are contradictory. The market, the theory of consumer renunciation, ignoring the social question; all these are directly named and this is the book's great strength. But what about the solutions?
"The world in which we grow up is characterized by an astonishing lack of imagination. Where are the inspiring visions of the future and the stories that serve as models on the horizon of social transformation", the authors rightly ask (77).
Unfortunately, they are not exactly positive themselves. "Before you get the idea to change the man-made system of 'the market', you better change the natural system of the world climate", it says at first. But what is your own 'inspiring vision of the future'? Here one finds predominantly 'regulatory measures, regulations, prohibitions and incentives' (see 144). And not only that. In the end, everything seems to be a question of 'political will' and "[e]individual aspects of market-based approaches can certainly be part of the solution" (ibid., 158). It is not without reason that the reference to Kate Raworth and the goal of "re[embedding] economy in society and nature" (177) comes here. Instead of a critique of capital as social relationship, a dichotomous confrontation of economy and society.
For this reason, however, one does not have to brand the book in the old tradition as half-hearted or petty-bourgeois, but will do well to regard it as an expression of the development of the emerging ecology movement. It is no coincidence that Neubauer has also been a member of the Green Party, the party that is almost idealistic for the assertion that it can solve the looming ecological catastrophe within this society. For the time being, this should also be the hope of the majorities within the new movement. Until June 2019, Neubauer freely admits, she even cherished the hope that Merkel could be won over to a major transformation. She was certainly not alone in this. But the real development then led to the fact that this hope evaporated and the movement had to radicalize itself. This is not just a question of political preferences.
Be that as it may: the contradiction between the capitalist compulsion to accumulate and planetary borders will be discussed more and more, and activists will have to start looking more closely at alternatives to the market society. This is what "Vom Ende der Klimakrise" (The End of the Climate Crisis) testifies to and is therefore exciting to read. This applies regardless of whether the two authors will stick to their often half-hearted answers or not.
Luisa Neubauer, Alexander Repenning, On the end of the climate crisis. A story of our future, Klett-Cotta Verlag, Stuttgart 2019, 304 pages, 18,- Euro
Christian Hofmann writes on www.assoziation.info. Soon "Goodbye Kapital" will be published by him and Philip Broistedt on Papy Rossa.