Sustainability and climate change

Kai Gondlach

In my studies, I worked very the topics of sustainability and climate change. Of course, I couldn't get around the most well-known research report ever written in connection with sustainability and futurology: "The Limits of Growth" (1972) by Donella and Dennis Meadows and other authors. The study was initiated by the Club of Rome, a loose association of educated people who have been thinking about the finiteness of resources and the effects of human activity at an early age.

It is astonishing that today, more than 40 years later, not everyone can do anything with the concept of sustainability. That companies pride themselves on corporate social responsibility – and thus making money while polluting rivers elsewhere. That the Federal Government awarded a CSR prize for the first time last year. And that, despite the efforts of many individual actors, there is still no global consensus that (rather than, much more importantly, how) climate change should be addressed.

Paralyzed representatives

The regularly sobering climate conferences illustrate this quite vividly. Nearly 200 nations are sending representatives to exchange words about how important they consider themselves and what personal experiences they have about climate change. Or not. As a rule, the following emerges: developing and emerging countries report rising temperatures, drought and finally food shortages. In some cases, sea levels rise and threaten coastal areas (Mauritius will soon be gone, northern Germany will follow a little later). One perceives – certainly reinforced by the ever faster and more multimedia reporting – more and more violent natural disasters, notices a change in flora and fauna. Conflicts in so-called crisis areas, the causes of which are often the effects of climate change of the first or second degree, which have just been described, are leading to ever denser refugee flows. The "First World" states are enthroned by denying climate change or discussing the meaning of renewable energies and the measures that go with it, necessary and taken far too late. This simplified causal chain could be spined much further, but the highlight is that, although it is known that greenhouse gases in particular accelerate climate change, hardly any government is willing to derive concrete and, above all, comprehensive action from it.

That's why Mr. Randers, who worked with the Meadows on the study, is questioning entire systems. Is the capitalist system capable of responding adequately to climate change? Of course not. Chapter always moves to where it is most lucrative. Is the democratic system (with the basic logic focused on short-term decisions and gaining power & /-maintaining – I am referring to Luhmann here) able to do something about it? The functioning of the policy system does not allow unpopular decisions, such as the strict sanctioning of unecological behaviour and, on the other hand, the promotion of demonstrably sustainable action. The consequences of this, it is feared, would be cuts on another side or price increases for end users, which would be unpopular in the short term and thus lead to a loss of voter support.

No improvement in sight

It would be constructive to make a proposal for an optimization of the system at this point in the discourse. A crucial point here would be the inclusion of scientifically based facts rather than popular-political opinions that serve only one purpose: maximizing individual prosperity.

When I was 27 years old and working on the limits of growth, I had a different idea of the world. There are two basic approaches to politics. Scientists collect data and then exclaim: "For heaven's sake, sea levels are rising, hurricanes are getting stronger, the patterns of wind and rainfall are complicating, climate change is taking place! So we need to reduce our greenhouse gases!"

The other attitude is: "I don't believe in climate change, because at the moment even the glaciers are spreading."

Then the scientists come and complete studies and say, "No, the glaciers are shrinking worldwide," to which the climate sceptics reply: "No matter, glaciers don't really care about me. I don't believe in climate change and I don't have to do anything, because polar bears are doing better than ever.'

Then the scientists do their job again and say: "No, the polar bears are in trouble! They are drowning! They can't find food, the ice around them disappears," to which climate sceptics reply: "You know what? I don't really care about polar bears. I don't believe in climate change, because in Washington, D.C. it snowed a lot last winter.

Dennis Meadows, author of "The Limits of Growth"

This quote impressively shows how (lobby) politics is going today. The interests of the electorate are to be safeguarded, for example the Republican side (I avoid the term "party") in the United States of America is the biggest force against the scientific sound findings. So far, not even the IPCC* has been able to change this. The denial continues cheerfully, so that world corporations can continue to exploit the soil, the sea and the people with impunity. Next stage: gene maize and multi-resistant pests.

As an optimist, I believe that the necessary rethinking is possible. Unfortunately, however, it is far too late for a U-turn that is pressing.


* The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change regularly gathers scientific findings from worldwide studies and formulates annual reports on the basis of them. The panel's statements have also coincided with those of the Club of Rome for more than 20 years.

Link tip:
+ "Last Warning", Arte-Doku, broadcast on 28. January 2013, on Youtube