The 4 E’s vs. ENOUGH: clear thinking ahead of COP26

I recently attended a selection of talks from the “Impact” conference, put on by Reuter’s Events; drawing together notables and ‘leaders’ from government, oil & gas, and tech; with the intention of showing how ready the corporate state is to ‘take care of’ ‘our’ ‘greenhouse gas problem.’

“Taking Care” of “our” “GHG Problem”

Forgive me for the liberal (as in “generous”/”a lot”, not as in “relating to the Republican naming of “Progressive” Democrats) use of ‘scarequotes’ but I mean to call into question the basic framing of every element of their basic pitch to the public.

Firstly, when they say ‘take care of,’ they mean in the Scarface sense of the phrase not the home health aide sense. They mean to continue down the path of global dominion, the Biblical interpretation where Man has the God-Given Right to Rule Over Creation. This means, engineering solutions.

When I say ‘our’ GHG problem, I mean to say that, while they speak as though they are converts, accepting the true costs that climate change and ecological collapse are likely to bring to bear on global humanity, they operate from the protected pod of the privileged. Generally, the folks speaking at this Reuter’s Impact Conference have not *already* experienced the collapse of global ‘civilization’ as those of us who live in the wage economy of the United States of America, for example, now unable to afford food+housing+energy+transportation while working and scrambling in a way that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. The people speaking have not had their home and every possession burned, flooded, or condemned via imminent domain to be suspended in a cloud of toxic gases and violent sound pollution a la hydraulic fracktionation.

And finally, when I say ‘greenhouse gas problem,’ I mean to call into quesiton the idea that the problem is really just one of atmospheric concentrations of C02 and CH4, and not one of industrial civilization and the mine-manufacture-trash pathway which defines nearly all economically-recognizable activity.

The Four E’s Forward

A fellow from Emerson Industrial Design gives this excellent summation of the proper response to our current moment, according to today’s Captains of Industry: The Four ‘E’s’ of the path forward.

1) Exchange energy sources — more gas less coal, more solar and wind, less fossil fuels in the mix which continues to propel our cities and agricultural systems as before.

2) Emissions management — track leaks, increase sensors, reduce flaring, limit refrigerants, capture carbon and turn it into a new product or pump it underground.

3) Electrification over combustion — teach the grid to handle electrons as well as molecules, consider district-scale heat pumps, hydrogen as a path to continued power without emissions, electrification as a way to exchange energy sources

4) Efficiency — use of automation, reduction of waste, increasing efficiency of industrial production processes, winterization/summerification (sealing up!) of structures, etc.

This is basically the prescription of everyone from the Congresspeople behind the Green New Deal and Sunrise behind them to sustainability departments of the world’s top mining companies, with the shades of difference between them in terms of degree and speed of Attacking These Challenges.

The Road Less Traveled

I mean to put this conventional wisdom against an approach which I would say is less-conventional and more wise: the sacred pathway of “Enough.”

For thousands of years in fact, sages have pointed to this path of renouncing need, of the Way to experience peace without the continual hustle to Do and Get, to Have and Hold, to Conquer and Accomplish. This message is rising now in circles of folks speaking collective intelligence and the evolution of humankind, as well as with some of the Buddhists and Christians and Muslims and Jews and people from any ancient tradition. And, as always with this message, the message is being reworked into its opposite, from a message of peaceful salvation through love and the renunciation of need into another product, another achievement milestone. The Weitiko mind virus holds on tight.

That said, a fresh popularization of the aesthetic of ENOUGH could make the next epoch much happier when compared to the baseline scenario of continuing Business As Usual. Recently a chap by the name of Philippe Bihouix made this case, in The Age of Low Tech, reviewed by Mark Garavan on

“Like it or not, there only remains the very rational option to apply the brakes: reduce, as quickly and as drastically as possible, the average consumption of resources per person … The choice is not between growth and degrowth, but between imposed degrowth – because the resource issue will catch up with us in due course – or elective degrowth.” (50)

He suggests seven ways to do this. In summary, he argues that the objective is to choose low tech options – simple, accessible ways of doing things. However, his first suggestion is nothing to do with technology as such but rather with how modern humans understand their needs. 

‘The first question should not be “how to fill this or that need (or desire …) in a more ecological way?”, but “could one live as well, under certain conditions, without this need?” (51)

His simple but striking axiom is that ‘there is no product or service more ecologically sound, resource efficient or recyclable than the one that we do not use.’ (50). There are echoes here of Anne Ryan’s concept of ‘enough’. The objective here is to radically reduce demand (what he terms the ecology of demand) rather than supply (the ecology of demand or the chimera of ‘green growth’). <>

ENOUGH sneaks in the backstage door to the Reuter’s Impact Conference

“I know what it is like to live in an environment breaking down because of plastic pollution,” reports Nirere Sadrach of End Plastic Pollution Uganda.

Plastic production is expected to double in the next 20 years as oil companies seek ways to use up petroleum. Only 9% recycled, while the quantity made continues to rise. “This is beyond individual responsibility. Too much is being produced,” he tells the global virtual audience. And, critically, “So much of what is made is NOT NEEDED.”

And so, the message of ENOUGH, the alternative road, the one less taken, winds its way into the back door of the bosses world conference, ahead of the COP26 negotiations. Sadrach exorts, “We are tired of empty promises, ‘we shall, we shall…” He asks leadership to open the way forward for solutions that involve saying ‘no’ rather than the fantasy claims that we can manage our way through a continuation of business as usual. Hear this, COP26.

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