Thomas Piketty A Brief History of Equality 2022

Climate Change and the Battle between Ideologies

‘in the past, it has always been struggles and collective movements that have made it possible to replace the old structures with new institutions.’ 

‘Nevertheless, past experience suggests that large-scale historical change often involves moments of crisis, tensions, and confrontations. Environmental catastrophes are, of course, among the factors that may help accelerate the pace of change. In theory, we could hope that the mere prospect of these catastrophes, whose future occurrence scientific research has increasingly confirmed, might suffice to provoke adequate mobilisation. Unfortunately, it is possible that only tangible, concrete damage greater than that we have already seen will manage to break down conservative attitudes and radically challenge the current economic system.

At this stage, no one can predict the source from which these concrete manifestations will arise. We know that in the course of the twenty first century the planet is probably heading for a temperature increase of at least three degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels, and that only actions much more vigorous than those envisaged up to now might make it possible to avoid such a prospect. With temperatures three degrees higher on the planetary scale, the only certainty is that no model is able to predict the whole set of chain reactions that might result, the speed with which coastal cities will be engulfed, or the desertification of entire countries. In view of the other damage that is already occurring, it is also possible that the first signals of impending cataclysm might come from other sources, such as the accelerated collapse of biodiversity, the acidification of the oceans, or loss of soil fertility. In the darkest scenario, the signals will come too late to avoid conflicts between nations over resources, and it will take decades to realise possible, as yet hypothetical reconstructions. We can also hope the the next waves of important signals, such as outbreaks of fires and natural calamities, will suffice to trigger a healthy public awareness of climate change and legitimise a profound transformation of the economic system, including new forms of intervention by public authorities, as did the crisis of the 1930s. As soon as enough people have seen the dramatic consequences of the processes occurring in their everyday life, attitudes toward free trade, for example, may change radically. 

‘We have to qualify the idea that a green Enlightenment will be likely to save the planet. In reality, people have suspected for a long time – indeed, almost since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution – that this accelerated burning of fossil fuels might have harmful effects’ 

‘For the countries most affected (in particular in the global South), the attenuation of the effects of a warming climate and financing for measures to adapt to it will require a transformation of the distribution of wealth and the economic system, as a whole, and this in turn will involve the development of new political and social coalition on a global scale. The idea that there might be only winners is a dangerous and anaesthetizing illusion that must be abandoned immediately’

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