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The opponents of sustainability

We all know that we urgently need to change something to slow down climate change and the rapid loss of biodiversity. Nonetheless, politics and business do nothing or do little. What prevents change? And how do we brake the opponents of sustainability?

The opponents of sustainability

"The strictest deniers of climate change in politics and economics are representatives of neoliberalism and their beneficiaries are the populists"

Stephan Schulmeister on the opponents of sustainability

To significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change, we need to limit the rise in global average temperature to 1,5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. To do this, we must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and land on zero emissions by 2050. This is what climate researchers from all over the world say and that was decided by 196 member states of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on 12 December 2015 at the UN climate conference in Paris.

Countless problems are waiting

And climate change is not the only burning problem. According to a report by the World Biodiversity Council, there are around one million animal and plant species IPBES extension, which was presented to the public in May 2019, is threatened with extinction. Many could disappear in the coming decades if there are no profound changes in our actions, especially in agriculture.

In principle, we all know that we urgently need to act to stop climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the exploitation of natural resources, the destruction of rivers and seas, the sealing of fertile soils and thus the destruction of our livelihoods - and not only since yesterday . We have all heard these and similar messages in the past months and years. The warning report of the Club of Rome entitled β€œThe Limits to Growth” was published in 1972. As early as 1962, US marine biologist Rachel Carson pointed out the destructive effects of pesticides on the environment in her book β€œSilent Spring”. And the Geneva philosopher, naturalist and enlightener Jean-Jacques Rousseau had already written in a treatise on property in the 18th century: "... you are lost if you forget that the fruits belong to everyone but the earth does not belong to anyone."
Alone, there is no adequate response. On the one hand with everyone and everyone. A reaction from politics and business would be even more important, because individual action alone is not enough.

"I can't decide where a bus is going or not," one participant in the climate strike mentioned the sometimes very poor supply of public transport in Austria as an example. And every child now knows that air traffic contributes a lot to climate change, but is extremely tax-favorable, but cannot change it. Contrary to better knowledge, the construction of a third runway at Vienna Airport was even implemented. On the A4, the Ostautobahn, the construction of a third lane between Fischamend and Bruck an der Leitha West will start in 2023. Valuable agricultural land and natural areas in northern Lower Austria are to be concreted with other motorways and expressways. According to its own statements, the listed OMV "started the largest Austrian seismic campaign in the company's history" in the winter of 2018 in the Weinviertel in order to search for natural gas deposits.

Opponents of sustainability: neoliberalism

Why is all and more permitted or even promoted, although politicians and entrepreneurs must know that a continuation of the status quo will lead to catastrophe and cost many lives? Is it conservative thinking? Opportunism? Denying facts from short-term profit thinking? The economist Stephan Schulmeister explains the lack of a redirection of politics towards ecological control by saying that despite all crises, neoliberalism still prevails: According to the neoliberals, the markets should have priority in the control of processes, politics must take a back seat to step. In the 1960s, the primacy of politics still prevailed, from the 1970s and increasingly in the 1990s, the liberalization of state-owned companies, infrastructures and the financial markets were pushed and the welfare state increasingly weakened, he explains.

With the political shift to the right in Europe and the USA in recent years, social benefits have been cut back, nationalism and populism are spreading, and scientifically proven facts (such as climate change) are being questioned. They are opponents of sustainability. "The strictest deniers of climate change in politics and economics are representatives of neoliberalism and their beneficiaries are the populists," says Stephan Schulmeister. But global problems can only be solved globally, which is why international agreements such as the Paris climate protection agreement of 2015 are so important. However, you have to act accordingly.

In the implementation, however, one pushes the buck on the other or the necessary measures at a later date. China, for example, argues vis-Γ -vis the western states: We emit less than you, so we have to get more emission rights than you. On the one hand, that is right, admits Stephan Schulmeister, but if China, India and others would catch up with the industrialized countries in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the climate target would be completely unattainable.
The second is that it is often said that everyone has to act at the same time, because otherwise the pioneers in climate-friendly action would have competitive disadvantages. This claim is simply wrong, says Schulmeister.

His proposal is: In the European Union, a price path for fossil fuels would have to be determined, which would result in a gradual increase in prices by 2050. The surcharges on the respective world market price would have to be absorbed by a flexible environmental tax and used for climate-friendly investments (such as building renovation, expansion of public transport and renewable energy sources ...) as well as for the social cushioning of the higher prices for fossil energy sources. Air traffic would have to be heavily taxed and, in return, routes for new generation high-speed trains would have to be built in Europe. "I'm against a constraint, but for slowly increasing price incentives," explains the economist. Such ecologically justifiable taxes would be WTO-compliant and not a competitive disadvantage for the EU internal market, he adds.

Aviation has favorably distorted competition for decades. There is no petroleum tax on kerosene, no VAT on international airline tickets, and grants for smaller airports. Taxation would take effect immediately and force the switch to rail or the waiver of air travel.

Opponents of sustainability: individual interests prevail

However, many positive developments within the European Union are blocked or watered down because the member states want to get an advantage for themselves and their industries.
One example is the weed killer Glyphosate. In October 2017, the European Parliament advocated a complete ban on glyphosate-based herbicides by December 2022 and immediate restrictions on the use of the substance. A U.S. court had previously ruled three times that glyphosate had contributed to a person's cancer. Nevertheless, the EU approved the plant poison in November 2017 for a further five years. The European chemicals agency ECHA does not consider glyphosate to be carcinogenic. According to Global 2000, it has shown that members of the ECHA Commission are involved in the chemical industry, that studies have been incorrectly assessed and that critical findings have been ignored. It only helps that as many people as possible from the population protest to make it clear that their interests are also important.
Changing habits is hard.

Up until a few years ago, only an elite was able to make a quick city trip to Tel Aviv over the weekend or go on an Ayurveda cure in India, a family vacation in Kenya or in Brazil. Cheap air travel and a "cool" lifestyle have made this a habit, especially for educated and often even explained ecologically thinking people. But changing habits is difficult, says Fred Luks, head of the competence center for sustainability at WU Vienna, who supports organizations in terms of sustainability and is never at a loss for a critical word. In addition, we have to change our behavior drastically without seeing the effects of it.
But, says Fred Luks: "I find it bizarre that the young people from Fridays For Futurewho ask for concrete political measures are asked whether they behave ecologically. ”The adults who ask such questions or who accuse young people of using plastic bottles or buying cheap clothes should perhaps think better about who they choose. "Politicians are elected who want to have a life like in the 1950s", the sustainability expert wonders about the "politics of nostalgia".

The opponents of sustainability
The opponents of sustainability

"The political system usually only reacts when catastrophic things happen," says Stephan Schulmeister, but it is too late for climate change because the greenhouse gases already emitted continue to have an effect and there will be unpredictable feedback. How can you make politics react faster? Make specific demands, mobilize many people for it, network internationally and have staying power, even over years, advises the economist.

Fred Luks recommends using your own energy for positive stories: β€œI no longer discuss with climate change deniers. I'm also not discussing whether the earth is a disk. ”But there is no use in conjuring up catastrophe scenarios, they just paralyze them. Instead, one should convey how cool a sustainable life would be, for example, if there were fewer cars in Vienna and the street could be used for other purposes. Hard facts should be on the table, he says, but you have to make the alternatives attractive.
Fred Luks believes that the realization that you can't go on as before is already widespread. For those who are not yet sure what role he or she is playing, he recommends the book β€œImperial Lifestyle” by Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen. The two political scientists make it clear, for example, how absurd the strong growth in new registrations of SUVs as a β€œcrisis strategy” is. SUVs are larger and heavier than cars in the compact class, consume far more fuel, produce more greenhouse gases and, moreover, are more dangerous for the other parties involved in an accident.

Global perspective is missing

Everyone is primarily concerned with themselves and their world and tries to ensure the survival or life of their own family. The larger the space and the longer the time associated with a problem, the smaller the number of people who actually deal with its solution, according to the introduction to the book β€œThe Limits to Growth” from the year 1972. Few people therefore have a global perspective that extends far into the future.
Hans Punzenberger, who was born in Upper Austria and lives in Vorarlberg, is such a visionary. He has been working on the dissemination of renewable energy systems for 20 years, now he is also involved in the "Klimacent". This is a voluntary levy that 35 municipalities as well as businesses and private individuals in Vorarlberg are already paying into a climate fund, thereby enabling investments in projects and measures to protect the climate. Instead of waiting for public funding, the participants became active themselves and distributed the funds transparently and collectively. "We need a new culture of togetherness," says Hans Punzenberger passionately.

Or more aggressive?

British author and environmental activist George Monbiot put it more drastically in The Guardian newspaper in April 2019: "Only rebellion will prevent an ecological apocalypse" - only rebellion will prevent an ecological apocalypse. The group "Extinction Rebellion" (XR), which was founded in Great Britain as a decentralized movement, tries to do this with creative means and blocks, for example, roads, bridges or company entrances. The XR activists are also growing in Austria. The drones that have paralyzed airports in London and Frankfurt in recent months may also be a kind of rebellion.
At the first Friday For Future just before Christmas 2018, only a few young people came to Heldenplatz in Vienna. A poster read: β€œMore science. More participation. More courage. "Five months later, every Friday, thousands of young people take to the streets and call the politicians" We will strike until you act! ".

Photo / Video: Shutterstock.

Written by Sonja Bettel

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