Monday, April 21, 2014
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L’état d’esprit du développement durable

MILAN – Les marchés et les incitations capitalistes sont de réels moteurs de l’efficacité économique, de la croissance et de l’innovation. Et, comme l’affirmait de manière très convaincante Ben Friedman de l’Université Harvard dans son livre publié en 2006, The Moral Consequences of Growth (Les Conséquences morales de la croissance, ndt), la croissance économique est bonne pour les sociétés ouvertes et démocratiques. Mais les marchés et les incitations capitalistes ont aussi d’évidentes faiblesses pour ce qui est de la stabilité, de l’équité et la durabilité, des éléments qui peuvent avoir des incidences défavorables sur la cohésion politique et sociale.

A l’évidence, abandonner le système des marchés capitalistes, et donc implicitement la croissance, n’est pas vraiment une option envisageable. Collectivement, nous avons peu d’autre choix que d’essayer d’adapter le système à l’évolution des conditions technologiques et globales pour assurer la stabilité, l’équité (en termes d’opportunités et d’objectifs), et la durabilité. De ces trois impératifs, la durabilité sera peut-être le plus complexe et le plus ambitieux.

Pour nombre de personnes, la durabilité est associée à des ressources naturelles limitées et à l’environnement. La taille de l’économie globale va probablement tripler dans le prochain quart de siècle, en grande partie du fait de la croissance que connaitront les pays en voie de développement dans la mesure où ils rattraperont les revenus des pays développés et adopteront des modèles de consommation similaires. La crainte que les ressources naturelles (au sens large) de la planète et les capacités de récupération pourraient ne pas supporter la pression est donc parfaitement fondée.

Certains concluent de cette logique que le problème est la croissance, et que la solution serait moins de croissance. Mais pour les pays en développement, où seule une croissance durable peut sortir les populations de la pauvreté, la réponse ne peut être celle-la. L’alternative est de changer le modèle de croissance de manière à alléger l’impact d’une intensification des activités économiques sur les ressources naturelles et l’environnement.

Mais ils n’existe aucune autre alternative que nous pourrions tous adopter. Pour modifier un modèle de croissance, il faut inventer un nouveau modèle, au fil du temps, pas à pas, à partir de parties complémentaires. Les deux ingrédients essentiels semblent être l’éducation et les valeurs. Comprendre les conséquences de nos choix individuels et collectifs est du ressort de chacun de nous, pas uniquement de celui des hommes politiques. Il faut que nous soyons conscients, par exemple, que la croissance démographique et les niveaux croissants de consommation ont des conséquences intergénérationnelles, et que nos comportements affecteront les modes de vie et les opportunités de nos enfants et de nos petits-enfants. 

Jusqu’à présent, la qualité de nos choix a été décevante, reflétant notre peu de réceptivité pour la durabilité et pour l’impact de nos choix sur les générations futures. En conséquence, de nombreux pays développés ont accumulé de lourdes dettes publiques et des passifs non financiers encore plus lourds, conséquences de modèles de croissance non viables.

La plupart d’entre nous, je crois, n’adoptons pas consciemment des choix qui affectent les générations futures. La responsabilité en incombe donc peut-être à un manque de connaissances des conséquences de nos choix. En outre, une fois la voie du déficit actuariel adoptée, il est difficile de l’abandonner, parce qu’à l’origine, une génération donnée paye les engagements pris dans le passé et arrive à peine à financer ceux de l’avenir. Cela paraît injuste parce que c’est effectivement le cas.

La plupart des gens s’accordent sur le fait que vivre au dessus de nos moyens, à l’échelle globale, via des assurances et des services sociaux non financés, ou par un usage disproportionné des ressources, est un fardeau que nous imposons à nos descendants. Mais il sera difficile de nous mettre d’accord sur qui devrait financer ces programmes, ou la réduction de notre consommation des ressources. Il est trop souvent plus facile de gérer le problème distributionnel en déplaçant le fardeau sur le dos des absents, insuffisamment représentés par ceux qui le sont.  

L’éducation et les valeurs sont d’abord les fondations de choix individuels sensés, avant d’être celles des choix collectifs. Sans cela, les incitations et les politiques proposées à raison par les économistes pour améliorer l’efficacité énergétique, réduire les émissions de gaz carbonique, économiser l’eau, et plus encore, manqueront de soutien et ne passeront pas le processus décisionnel démocratique.  

Si la durabilité doit triompher, elle ne le fera principalement que par un processus ascendant. Les écologistes ont raison de se concentrer sur l’éducation et les choix individuels, même si leurs propositions politiques ne sont pas toujours au point. L’éducation et les valeurs seront les moteurs de l’innovation locale, modifieront les modes de vie, et feront évoluer les normes sociales. Elles auront une incidence sur les comportements du monde des affaires, au travers des choix des clients et des employés, y compris des grands patrons. Elles sont donc des composantes essentielles des formules nécessaires à la poursuite de modèles de croissance durables.

Mais même si l’éducation et les valeurs sont nécessaires, elles ne seront pas suffisantes. Les politiques nationales et les accords internationaux complémentaires requièrent une analyse scientifique et économique prudente et des choix réfléchis. La nécessité de partager le fardeau, particulièrement entre les pays avancés et ceux en développement, ne disparaitra pas comme par enchantement. Les risques de changement climatiques, même s’ils sont sérieux, ne monopolisent pas l’intégralité de l’ordre du jour du développement durable.

Il y des étapes à suivre. Une régulation appropriée et des horizons à suffisamment long terme peuvent rendre toutes sortes de structures bien plus efficaces en matière énergétique pour un coût très raisonnable. De la même manière, les transports peuvent être moins énergivores sans pour autant freiner la mobilité. Certaines de ces évolutions pourraient être confiées à une coordination internationale, de manière à éviter des incidences concurrentielles négatives, qu’elles soient réelles ou ressenties.

Mais trop de coordination peut être une mauvaise chose. C’est pourquoi les négociations sur le changement climatique évoluent de l’objectif malavisé de prises d’engagements risqués à 50 ans à la volonté de relier les objectifs d’émissions de carbone à des processus parallèles, étape par étape, comme une meilleure efficacité  énergétique, une meilleure planification urbaine, des systèmes de transports améliorés, tout en tirant les leçons de nos choix au fur et à mesure. De même, les entreprises et les industries lourdement consommatrices d’eau développeront simplement de nouvelles technologies et défieront la pénurie.

Le fait que l’Asie, et son importante population – et les pays en développement, dans leur ensemble – aient pris conscience que le développement durable est essentiel pour parvenir à leurs objectifs de croissance à long terme a permis de faire avancer les choses. Peut-être est-il plus facile de prendre conscience de cette perspective dans un environnement de croissance rapide, parce que leurs modèles de croissance exigent des contrôles et une adaptation continus pour être viables.

Les valeurs évoluent au fil du temps à mesure que le savoir est acquis et disséminé. Les politiques visant un développement durable en découleront logiquement. Ce que l’on ignore, c’est si nous atteindrons cette étape suffisamment rapidement pour éviter des perturbations, ou même un conflit potentiel.

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  1. CommentedJeffrey Scofield

    In the United States, scientists have been educating students for decades about the issues of sustainability and climate change.  Even though education is widely available, the problem is cognitive dissonance.  This cognitive dissonance becomes apparent in the political process, as large portions of the population counteract education with misinformation and propaganda.  Any education one may receive can quickly be undone by influential peers and dishonest media. While the Koch Brothers, Donors Trust, and Exxon spend absurd amounts of money funding contrarian fringe science, meanwhile the creationist driven agenda works to counteract this educational campaign at the local level.

    This trend we've seen in recent years is almost unbelievable as we've actually lost ground in the serious debate on sustainability and climate change.  It wasn't due to a lack of education that this trend occurred but due to willful ignorance, irrational fears, corporate driven media, and conspiracy theories run amuck.

  2. CommentedTerry Mock

    "Sustainability may be the most complex and challenging" - Yes, so let's "adapt the system" by using the industry-developed SLDI Code: The World’s First Sustainable Development Decision Model that is symbolized as a universal geometrical algorithm that balances and integrates the triple-bottom line needs of people, planet and profit into a holistic, fractal model that becomes increasingly detailed, guiding effective decisions throughout the community planning, financing, design, regulating, construction and maintenance processes while always enabling project context to drive specific decisions. http://www.triplepundit.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/THE-FRACTAL-FRONTIER.pdf

    Sustainable Land Development Initiative
    http://www.triplepundit.com/author/sldi/

  3. CommentedDavid Bell

    Hi Mike,

    This is beautifully written, and succinctly lands some very important points.

    Your emphasis on education and values is spot on – though I agree that they are necessary but not sufficient underpinnings of sustainability. I used precisely the same formulation in the conclusion to my book chapter (see p. 21ff.) entitled “Education for Sustainable Development: Cure or Placebo?” - see http://www.lsf-lst.ca/en/what-is-esd/related-research-papers. Ultimately we require a global “culture of sustainability” in order to provide the foundation for sustainability-based wise choices, decisions and policies in the economy, political system, and society generally.

    I am reminded of the scenario exercise conducted a number of years ago by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD). They outlined three main scenarios, each of which was premised on the increasing environmental toll of economic activity.

    The first scenario (“FROG”) led to environmental disaster. Business As Usual continued under the banner “Forever Recognize Our Growth”. The double entendre of the title referred to the idea that a frog placed in lukewarm water that is gradually heated to the boiling point will fail to “pick up the signals” and instead of jumping our of the pot, will eventually die. By analogy, the global environment in this scenario deteriorates beyond critical thresholds because governments, businesses, and society in general fail to “pick up the signals” in time to avert tragedy. (Cf. the last sentence of your piece!).

    In the second scenario, GEO, the signals are picked up in time and draconian action is taken under the aegis of a Global Environmental Organization that is given sufficient authority and power to regulate and legislate the world’s businesses, governments and individuals to behave more sustainably. Disaster is averted.

    The third scenario was much preferred. Entitled JAZZ, it entailed a transformation of behaviour achieved through the influence of education and value change rather than through the power and authority of an all powerful global regulatory body. (I’m using these terms as defined in my book Power, Influence and Authority: An Essay in Political Linguistics.) Jazz in this case is not an acronym but a metaphor. Jazz musicians are able to co-create music spontaneously and collaboratively by improvising on a structure outlined in a shared “chart” that shows the melody and chord changes. By analogy, in the JAZZ scenario businesses, governments and citizens/consumers/householders would all be “on the same page” because they would all understand sustainability imperatives and would share the values needed to coordinate actions to achieve sustainable outcomes. Pretty far fetched to be sure, but an intriguing idea. What strikes me as useful in this scenario is the notion that a culture shift toward sustainability would make it a lot easier for both businesses and governments to adopt appropriate policies and decisions.

    Another key point you raise is the challenge of developing a more sustainable alternative to the growth model. Basically I think we have somehow to effect a transition from 20th century capitalism to 21st century sustainable enterprise. But what does this entail? I’m sure you are correct that this transition will require plenty of invention and innovation (or what I referred to in an earlier comment as “sustainability ingenuity”.) As you pointed out in your comments back to me, lots of the requisite ingenuity appears to be going on. But how much more is needed? How can we hasten it along? And what will a sustainable economy look like?

    I think we have a fair idea of the “design specs” for a sustainable economy. At minimum I think a sustainable economy must:

    • Create sustainable livelihoods for (most of) the world’s 1 billion unemployed
    • Provide products and services that meet basic needs (food, shelter, water, energy) for a population of over 7 billion rapidly growing toward 9 billion
    • Drastically reduce waste (According to Paul Hawken et al.’s book Natural Capitalism, 99% of everything produced in the USA is in the waste stream within 6 months!!)
    • Reduce throughputs of energy and materials by factor of 10 (or more likely a factor of 20)
    • Operate on a low carbon basis that will allow us to reduce GHG’s approx 80% by 2050
    • Reduce environmental impacts and contribute to environmental conservation/restoration
    • Reduce transportation impacts (for workers, inputs, and products)
    • Encourage sustainable consumption
    • Ensure that all companies and businesses are socially and environmentally responsible
    • Achieve “smart” effective regulation.

    For me the most hopeful point you make in The Sustainability Mindset is about the growing attention to sustainability in Asia and throughout the developing world. No doubt you are doing what you can to encourage this.

    Thanks again Mike!

    David
    David V. J. Bell

  4. CommentedZahed Yousuf

    whilst I agree with most of what has been discussed so far with regards to Sustainability - the question I have is who do want to drive forward this bottom up approach? Do we trust politicians and policy makers - as F Hayek points out it is impossible for central planners to have sufficient knowledge to be able to allocate resources efficently and effectively for the benefit of the whole society. Therefore the power to make decisions and policies should be decentralised to many different individuals who are more closely affected by the decisions. This is consistent with the bottom approach but it will mean the private sector will be required to take a much more pro active role in our decisiosn making process. At present the private sector and the financing of the private sector is not designed in such a way to cope with this responsibility and talking to investment bankers and politicians there does seem to be a change in mindset

  5. Portrait of Kristy Mayer

    CommentedKristy Mayer

    Incomplete knowledge is one explanation for why people so often make choices that reflect little sensitivity to sustainability. But, behavioral economics concepts - e.g., hyperbolic discounting, payment decoupling, aspects of prospect theory, and mental accounting theories (which postulate that people have sticky, pre-conceived notions of how much they will spend on different types of goods, like electricity bills) - also seem to explain much of our poor choices.

    In recommending how to encourage sustainability mindsets going forward, it is important to acknowledge these behavioral factors. Education and improved values would still be part of the solution, but behavioral explanations suggest that education might focus not just on the consequences of making inefficient decisions but also on the logistics of how to make efficient decisions. Further, it suggests a broader role for public policy - beyond burden sharing, public policy could also improve decision making by introducing channel factors or re-framing efficiency decisions.

  6. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    One cannot agree more that education and values hold the key to the future of the sustainability framework. I am however completely influenced by the Swiss example of pricing a common good at all fairness that reflects not only the opportunity costs but also the true long term value that it should command keeping in view the sustainability stand point. Water may be abundant in this country but it is priced the highest in relative terms compared to any other country of the world, which is a small example of how it drives behavior towards conservation. This is true for any other facet from handling of wastes to conservation of natural endowments; this element of sacrifice holds the key to the future, a value that is greatly neglected in the currency of consumption on which the world attempts to prosper.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  7. CommentedPaul A. Myers

    If sustainability requires making good collective choices, then meaningful feedback needs to get back into the decision-making process. This requires pricing externalities into economic decisions.

    In the US today, and this year's election in particular, huge forces led by billionaire plutocrats are working to negate the processes by which negative consequences feed back into the collective choice processes of American society. Denial, not consequence, is the desired rule.

    A major problem in the developed world is that wealth concentration favors extraction of short-term gain at the expense of long-term sustainability. Will democratic processes be able to overcome this force?

  8. CommentedKen Peterson

    Well said, Zsolt!
    Things never work out in logical fashion as we all know. The horror that will be delivered upon the unsuspecting of the earth will never be equitably shared between the 1 and the 99.
    Should there ever, in fact, be a return to earth of the Man who said "care for the meek and the needy," the coming 50 years should be the perfect time.

  9. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    I completely agree with the author that the only options we have to change our present human model is education and values of society.

    And I also agree that the way it is happening today has very minimal effect on most part of society, especially as the leading layers of society ignore it and if it becomes too close to them discredit even the scientific data showing the ill effects and unsustainable nature of the constant growth model. And since this is the social layer that could truly drive a mass scale global education we are in a dead end. How could we motivate the top layer to buy into this education program changing social values?

    Fortunately humans are not above the system of nature, but we are parts of it, bound by its natural laws.

    The constant growth model with its way beyond necessity production/consumption requiring outsripping resources is unsustainable because it goes against all the natural laws of living systems, breaking the balance and homeostasis of the system.

    Thus we are witnessing a system failure and we see every day that there is no solution, the desperate helpless attempts of our politicians and financial leaders just make our situation even worse making recovery much more difficult.

    By now it is quite clear there is no way out using our previous methods and tricks, and it is also clear to most people that this new closed, integral, interdependent system is something we never experienced before.

    The crisis and the lack of solution and the growing public anger, global demonstrations could provide the negative motivation, the pinch from the backside moving the leaders out of their comfort zone to consider initiating the global education necessary.

    Of course if we are wise and look at the vast data already available we could avoid the negative push from behind, and strat education and changing values before the crisis gets so bad that we all suffer from it from the 1% to the 99%.

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