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Do you have to be poor to be green?

If globalization has allowed us to observe successive waves of enrichment, it has also shown us the horrors of a significant increase in purchasing power for the entire population. If it is true that we all aspire to a form of prosperity, it is not without consequences. Among all the rich countries of the planet, the ranking of the carbon impact per capita is clear: development is always accompanied by negative externalities, in this case everything that has to do with pollution.

While rich countries are of course resorting to a kind of sleight of hand by relocating their factories to the other side of the world, observers are not fooled and we can clearly see that cargo ships from all over the world are heading towards them to bring them the products that they will end up consuming.

So, yes, we can certainly say that if a part of the world’s population consumes happily, it is because another part, much more numerous, leads a frugal life, the one offered by any precarious life.

Given this observation, should we condemn the rich countries even though the poor countries aspire to lead the same type of life? Can we reasonably continue to give advice that is as contradictory as it is absurd, i.e. to continue to seek prosperity when we know the deleterious effects on the environment and when we want to reduce our carbon impact at the same time?

The need to reconsider the notion of success?

If it is now commonly accepted that success necessarily implies financial success, will this still be the case in 50 years? How can we think of success if it is at the expense of life on earth and the quality of life of future generations? Of course, it is much easier to criticize the financial elites when you are not part of them. Would we think of criticizing the afflictions of capitalism if we were ourselves a billionaire? It is very unlikely, because we do not suffer the direct consequences.

Should we revisit the notion of success and promote its new definition? How can we make desirable a way of life that is decried by the entire media and advertising arsenal?

Changing models

What is certain is that as long as we idolize people travelling in private jets, it is unlikely that we will massively change our consumption model and our deepest aspirations. This reasoning is nothing new, the Romans with Seneca were already asking themselves this question more than 2000 years ago, namely the inconsistencies between a discourse, aspirations and a way of life out of step (in this case, the opulent life of a Roman patrician of his time). Today, this questioning is more than moral, it is a question of survival, at least for the generations to come. If it is more or less certain that we can continue for a few decades with this lifestyle, it is however more than uncertain to know if our children or our grandchildren will be able to enjoy a quarter of the benefits brought by a healthy terrestrial ecosystem.

Frugality should not be a fad, as it will become a duty.

Beyond the lack of consideration and empathy for our brothers and sisters in humanity, excessive consumption poses the problem of a civilizational irresponsibility that is more like a form of unconscious suicide.

The rich must show the way

If the rich countries have been able to take advantage of their early industrialization (in the 19th and early 20th centuries) and of a lack of reproach at a time when the environmental issue was non-existent, it can be said that they bear a particular responsibility. On the one hand, they are the vanguard of a movement that they themselves initiated, and on the other hand, they are the ones who are now thinking about this issue, given that industrialization is behind them and that they can consider their economy under a globalized prism, in which part of their pollution is delocalized. The values and principles they claim to uphold have a hard time resonating in parts of the world where economic development (and its negative effects) is nothing less than synonymous with survival.

How do we think about an issue in a world where actors are at different levels of Maslow’s pyramid?

It is difficult to bring together parties with opposing objectives. In this case, on one side we have countries that need to pollute because they want to reach a level of development comparable to others. On the other hand, we have countries that have already reached a sufficient level of development and can somehow slow down their growth. The latter, aware that climate change is a global phenomenon, that is to say that it cannot be eradicated without the participation of all the main actors, i.e. the countries either producing massively for the rest of the world, or hosting a large population, or having already reached a significant level of development.

To be convincing, one must be exemplary

The problem with such a situation is that rich countries will have difficulty convincing emerging countries to make efforts in this area when they themselves never did so at the beginning and even well after their industrialization. To be a moral authority, one must apply to oneself what one asks of others. In this area, if there is to be change, it is more likely that it will be an emerging or recently emerged country that will serve as a model, given that no country has truly achieved its development without massive emissions of greenhouse gases.


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