The 19th century saw the emergence of the Marxist concept of the class struggle, the 20th may have witnessed the apex of Totalitarianism, Nazism and Communism, will the 21st stumble on climate change or on the clash of civilizations? Come what may, in our present fractured world where human attention is the scarcest resource, whoever expects to convince his/her fellow citizens of the importance of his/her creed should read Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937).
The Italian philosopher and political scientist quietly drifted toward oblivion with the global demise of Communism in the last thirty years, but his deep analysis of the 20th century upheaval, after centuries of relative stability, at least from the societal point of view, all of a sudden has become a source of inspiration, most particularly when dealing with two key worries of our time:
Gramsci theorized that complex societies, like ours of the Western world, cannot anymore brutally change tack, like in 1789 Paris or 1917 Saint-Petersburg. The “cultural front” has to be won first to reach hegemony. History cannot be reduced to economy or science. Sensibility, rather than sense, ethics and morals, are essential to convince of the value to change or adapt. The new ideas must permeate the common sense, which is not disputed.
But Gramsci’s “cultural hegemony” is elusive today. COP26 debaters, dealing in human activity that dates back to ancient Greek rhetoric, have been changed into irreconcilable enemies, incapable of an argumentative debate and resorting to Scuds to annihilate the opponent. Just remember the words we read or heard during the two weeks of COP 26: anathema, blah-blah, lobbyist, North v. South, Millennials v. OK Boomers. Could we have a dialogue, please?
For those of us that believe in an organized, practical and innovative energy transition and mistrust miracle solutions and incantations, too often synonymous of either non-decision or absurd side-effects, cultural hegemony may well be out of reach. But a (small) place in the sun would help, if only to avoid future disappointment, which will be blamed on us (the old world) by the same witch doctors of the miracle solutions and incantations.
To promote policy action rather than ideology, I can only beseech all of the actors that promote, here and now, energy efficiency and bioenergy to be outspoken, whichever the medium you use, writing in the media, social and mainstream, speaking in conferences, advocating towards our regulators and politicians. In short, combat the morally and politically correct and play the counterpoint to the Doomsayers.
Carefully and relentlessly explain that taking stock of what exists and adapting to reduce its carbon footprint, with social justice in mind, is always more sensible and practical that an approach built on swiping the slate in one swift move of the hand and hoping for a miracle to appear. Our world has become too complex for that unless one looks for chaos and misery for all.
Let us talk and write about biomass from agriculture and forestry, biofuels (forget generations, look first for greenhouse gas emissions abatement), bioenergy, biomaterials, closing the value chain loop (circular, rather than linear; recycle, rather than dump), local and diversified solutions first and foremost, for the environment (including protection of biodiversity), for jobs (qualified: not gig jobs), for energy security (see the present crisis with Russian gas supply to Europe).
Capital availability is not the issue today, eligibility to sustainable financing is, and the more we explain and convince of the pertinence of bioenergy at large in the energy transition and climate adaptation, the more we can help this industry to grow and play its rightful part in the fight against climate change and resource scarcity.
We may well have over-exploited our planet, in the elusive capitalist search for more of everything, abusing its latest avatars, globalization and free-trade. This is not disputed today, even at COP 26. But we can exploit our finite resources in a smarter way. When the Old Testament calls for man to have dominion over all the earth, can’t we understand we have to manage, rather than rule, the world, a bit more leaning toward the democratic, rational, approach than toward the absolutism that died in 1789, in France at least?
Speak up, education is repetition.
Phillippe Marchand is a Bioenergy Steering Committee Member of the European Technology and Innovation Platform (ETIP).