The ruling against oil company Shell, forcing it to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030, is a landmark – the dawn of a new era. For the first time, the fate of a major corporation is no longer exclusively in its own hands, nor ruled by government regulations; instead, it is civil society that determines its freedom of action. We may assume that this verdict will be the first in a series of subsequent court cases that will limit the power of even the largest corporations when they pose serious economic dangers to climate goals.
This is not merely good news, it is a sensational ruling
Nevertheless, there is no reason for exaggerated euphoria. The climate saviors of civil society – including Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement – don’t seem to know what mountains they are trying to move. Don’t forget: today’s world owes its immense material wealth to a historically unique flash in the pan, namely fossil (and to a much lesser extent to no less dangerous nuclear) energy. What common sense should tell everyone, experts have long since proven: the gigantic amount of energy that has been largely burned up in just two hundred years through the exploitation of fossil reserves stored for millions of years, can, of course, only be replaced to a fraction by renewable energies as they are produced in every single year. In a future world without gas, oil, coal, and nuclear reactors, we will therefore be forced to radically curtail our current consumption and standard of living. This insight is generally suppressed – even by the Greens – and replaced by wishful thinking. On the other hand, no reasonable person will doubt that a restriction of living standards, no matter how great, is a small sacrifice when we compare it with a future where the great coastal metropolises lie under water, forests are destroyed by firestorms, and man loses his previous means of living.
So, the good news is by no means cancelled out by the fact
that wishful thinking all too easily obscures our view of the reality that lies ahead. Certainly, we can and must save the climate, but that cannot be done by saving our current standard of living as well. We should be honest and admit to ourselves that the victory over a corporation only makes sense if it is at the same time a victory over our habits, because, as we know, corporations produce for consumers, i.e. for each of us.
The bad news is of a different kind
It concerns no less than the benefit of this present victory and those still to come. After all, it is not only possible, but absolutely certain under current conditions, that while we may succeed in bringing Shell and dozens of other corporations to their knees, this will not have the slightest effect on reducing CO2 emissions.
This paradoxical truth is best demonstrated by the example of worldwide nuclear and ballistic armament, which, unlike the climate crisis, threatens us not with a creeping but with sudden death. Of course, almost nobody talks about this menace. We tend to persistently expel the biggest possible catastrophes from our consciousness – no Greta Thunberg is there to mobilize the world. The reason is obvious. It is true that each atomic bomb is exactly one too many, but it is of no use if a single state renounces its possession, because its opponents are only too happy to gain the upper glad hand. Obviously, only a higher authority, the UN or a world government can decree general disarmament.
This dilemma also seems to apply to limiting fossil fuel consumption
It is no use for Europe to force its companies to forego fossil energies if, at the same time, China, India and soon Africa and the rest of the world see their only chance of raising their own standard of living in exploiting deposits, especially the abundant coal reserves. These countries will be glad that reserves will last longer and will be cheaper if Europe foregoes their use. This is precisely the development currently taking place.
And it could have devastating consequences
The U.S. has already largely de-industrialized in favor of China, and – somewhat belatedly – Europe is about to do the same. In other words, we are only imagining we are doing something for the climate, in reality we are doing something against ourselves – we are dismantling our own industries. In my book “Yes we can – no we must“, I saw no other way out of this dilemma than exactly the one that also applies to disarmament: only a higher authority, the UN or a world government, is in a position to order all states (and corporations) to reduce their environmentally harmful activities. This solution makes sense, but it is certainly not satisfactory. On the one hand, skeptics will say that for the time being the vision of a world government is nothing more than a mirage. On the other hand, the climate saviors see in it a poison that paralyzes their forces. After all, they want to act right here and right now. And I agree, action must be taken here and now!
Now there is actually good news
The paradox of nuclear disarmament cannot be transferred one-to-one to the paradox of fossil disarmament. In the latter there is a recognizable way out of the dilemma. Of course, it is true that European civil society must not limit itself to imposing CO2 requirements on companies. That alone will achieve nothing, except to ruin our own economy. But if we operate a second strategy at the same time, then we escape this predicament. When forcing domestic companies to abide by the rules fixed by climate goals, we must, at the same time, ensure that no products from outside enter Europe in violation of such requirements. These products must either be completely blocked or made so expensive through tariffs that the latter serve to compensate the competitive disadvantages of European industries. Only in this way can we – even without a UN or world government – force foreign industries, e.g. in China, to adopt our example. But this also means that the protest must be directed not only against corporations but also against a pernicious free trade – that is, against the state that determines its rules. Only if both types of protest happen at the same time and with equal success can we hope that the climate movement does not degenerate into a motor of domestic deindustrialization, which, judged from a global perspective, achieves nothing, while transforming Europe into a poor de-industrialized continent.
However, we should not be lulled by illusions
It will not be possible to maintain the current standard of living even under such conditions. China will, of course, immediately react to European tariffs by, among other things, restricting imports of German cars or European Airbuses and replacing them with domestic products. That is a serious blow as we know that Germany in particular owes a substantial part of its current prosperity to exports. So, we will have to forego much of our present standard of living. No one likes to talk about this perspective because it is so much easier to live on wishful thinking. But, as I just said, the sacrifices we have to make are small compared to the sacrifices that devastated nature will surely impose on everybody. The new era that is just beginning will usher in the successful fight against climate change or accelerate the decline of Europe that has already begun – with China and Russia as the laughing third.
I got the following mail from Prof. Nate Hagens:
I hope this finds you well. I read your Verdikt summary and it aligned over 95% with my recent treatment of 33 cultural myths in my Earth Day talkpasted here in case you have almost 3 hours to dive in Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality. Kind regards- and keep fighting the good fight. nate