Germany’s green government advisors admit frankly that decarbonization can only be achieved by the limitation of democracy – both nationally and internationally.
When it comes to environmental and climate policy, Germany’s Scientific Advisory Council on Global Environmental Change (WBGU) is an influential advisory committee for the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The chairman of the council is Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
In April 2011, the WBGU presented a report entitled “World in Transition – Social Contract for a Great Transformation”. The main theses of the WBGU are as follows: The current economic model (“fossil industrial metabolism”) is normatively untenable.
“The transformation to a climate friendly economy… is morally as necessary as the abolition of slavery and the outlawing of child labor.” The reorganization of the world economy has to happen quickly; nuclear energy and coal have to be given up at the same time and very soon.
A historical novelty
The decarbonization of the global economy is, according to these experts, comparable with the Neolithic Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. These were, however, unplanned, natural historical processes. The “Great Transformation” however, must be consciously planned and controlled. It would be a historical novelty.
All nations would have to relinquish their national interests and find a new form of collective responsibility for the sake of the climate: “The world citizenry agree to innovation policy that is tied to the normative postulate of sustainability and in return surrender spontaneous and persistence desires. Guarantor of this virtual agreement is a formative state […].”
This strong state provides, therefore, for the “social problematization” of unsustainable lifestyles. It overcomes “stakeholders” and “veto players” who “impede the transition to a sustainable society.” In Germany, climate protection should therefore become a fundamental goal of the state for which the legal actions of the legislative, executive and judicial branches will be aligned.
“In order to anchor future interests institutionally, the Council recommends expanding the parliamentary legislative process with a deliberative ”future chamber”. To avoid interference by interest group and political parties, the composition of this chamber could be determined, for example, by drawing lots.
The study by the WBGU is utopian
What does this proposal tell us? The study by the WBGU is utopian because it requires a high degree of idealism, altruism and sacrifice by both individuals and society that goes beyond the normal dimensions of the reality of life. It is impossible to realize democratically.
Why should people around the world voluntarily give up their demands for material welfare and security? Consequently, the WBGU admits frankly, that the decarbonization of the society can only be achieved by the limitation of democracy – both nationally and internationally.
Internationally, the WBGU calls for a “World Security Council” for sustainability. The members of the proposed “future chamber” for Germany would explicitly not be chosen democratically and would limit the powers of Parliament.
The WBGU requests “civic participation” – but only for the implementation of the national objective of climate protection. The required “problematization of unsustainable lifestyles” would therefore quickly amount to their stigmatization. Those who do not share the ideas of sustainability would be outside of the new state eco-order – thus all the supporters of the modern industrial society.
Assumed general will to climate policy
The strong eco-state would follow a new social contract, which the WBGU derives from the natural law of enlightenment that also forms the basis of parliamentary democracy. This attribution is incorrect because the WBGU assumes a general will to climate protection and decarbonization.
The council justifies this general primarily from the higher moral insight of its expert knowledge. The WBGU is consequently more in the tradition of the political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His concept of “volotonté générale” was the starting point of authoritarian and utopian Jacobinism in the Western state history
The WBGU compares the decarbonization of the global economy to the Neolithic and the Industrial Revolution. It is wrong to claim that such a deliberately planned and radical transformation of economic and social systems is without precedent.
At least partial models of such transformations are the industrialization of the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s, or the “Great Leap Forward” and the “Cultural Revolution” in Mao’s China.
Deprivation for generations
Whether planned or not – revolutionary transformations of economic systems always involve large sacrifices for the generation that experiences them. Existing productive economic structures are demolished and new one will have to be built.
This is clearly demonstrated by history – for example by the “social question” in the Industrial Revolution, the temporary deprivation of the workers. The price of utopian climate Jacobinism of the WBGU is too high.
To carry out this utopian new vision, democratic institutions, the freedom of lifestyles and the right to material well-being is to be sacrificed. Instead, it would be reasonable to walk the path to a climate-friendly economy of the future over a sufficiently long bridge, supported by available and proven technology and market mechanisms. Only this way will climate policy have democratic consent.
Decarbonization means deindustrialization
In any case, there are growing signs that the driving force of the “Great Transformation” is flagging because the global warming trend has come to a halt during the last 12 years and scientific voices (outside of the WBGU and the Potsdam Institute) caution that we may enter a long-term cooling phase.
If Germany wants to do without nuclear energy, then the expansion of renewable energy will have be accompanied by both coal and natural gas in the long term. Otherwise, decarbonization will mean nothing else but de-industrialization. Sometimes one gets the impression that this is exactly what many political actors intend to achieve.
Fritz Vahrenholt is a member of the Social Democratic Party and CEO of RWE Innogy since February 2008.
Translation Philipp Mueller