"The planet needs drastic action, not a stay of execution." [fr]
Op-Ed by Mr. Nicolas Hulot, Ministre d’Etat, Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, in the daily newspaper "Le Monde"
Today, August 2, our planet appears to be disappearing beneath our feet. Our greed for natural resources and our unending addiction to being wasteful and throwing things away have led us to live on credit until the end of the year. For more than 20 years, Earth Overshoot Day has symbolized this date from which, collectively, we have exhausted the planet’s renewable potential. This fateful day arrives earlier every year. At the pace at which we are living, it would take nearly one more planet to satisfy our needs.
The publication of this indicator in mid-summer highlights the fact that, despite our collective awareness of biodiversity’s erosion and of climate change, and despite society mobilizing on an unprecedented scale, we are still no further away from the worst. Alarming studies on the imminent nature of a sixth mass extinction have recently been published. Man was not responsible for the fifth extinction 65 million years ago—that of the dinosaurs. Today mankind is collectively bringing about the disappearance of species.
It is a reminder of how fragile our existence on Planet Earth is. In France, we have been facing an unprecedented drought for more than 30 years. Forest fires have increased in number. A recent report says that without action to limit global warming, we could experience heatwaves of more than 50ºC in France by the end of the century.
And yet, some people still actually claim that we can do nothing about it, that there is no point implementing the Paris Agreement, that we still have time to change the agricultural model and give up fossil fuels. To those fatalists I say we have all the wherewithal to give them fresh hope, because solidarity is being established at a time when we are on a knife-edge. I would like to say here that we have profound reasons for hope. I can already see at least five.
The first is that the ecological transition is proving its worth economically. Never have renewable energy prices been so low, giving us a glimpse of a fossil-fuel-free future. In the North Sea, the price of offshore wind is becoming so competitive that in the coming years this technology could survive without subsidies.
The second is that after France announced, in its Climate Plan, an end to cars emitting greenhouse gases by 2040, the United Kingdom is following suit, aiming at the same target. Car manufacturers are preparing to triple the supply of electric vehicles by 2020.
The third is that organic farming is taking off, with supply having trouble keeping up with demand. The farmers doing best out of this are those who choose quality and local food networks, caring the most about consumers’ health.
The fourth is that the law on restoring biodiversity in France is a powerful mobilizing tool for urban and rural regions—those which make nature an ally and no longer an El Dorado to be plundered without being aware that its resources are not inexhaustible. The circular economy and new technologies will help us cross this threshold.
The fifth is that the international partners are part of the same drive. Coal consumption is beginning to stagnate in China, well before the forecasts that put its date at 2030. If Germany continues on its trajectory it could achieve its renewable energy consumption target this year and not in 2020.
We must choose drastic action rather than a stay of execution. The good news must not conceal the urgent need to act. It increases the certainty that new societal choices are emerging before our very eyes. But this will happen only with implacable, irreversible political determination; with coherence which has too often been lacking; with a requirement for solidarity, because mankind is hungry for natural resources but is also too often selfish, forgetting that in Asia and Africa over a billion human beings have no access to drinking water, sanitation or energy; that over 800 million people still do not have enough to eat at a time when agroecology is a proven solution which could feed the planet; and that even in supposedly developed countries, energy insecurity and isolation from mobility are the driving forces behind cruel injustices.
Our country, which was a tireless architect of the Paris Agreement and would like, for example, to put the protection of biodiversity at the top of the international agenda today, will very likely make a success of the ecological transition. Economic, social and environmental arguments, previously at odds with one another, have now found common ground. We have a virtually unique window of opportunity. Everywhere the uniting of progressive forces, supported by the momentum generated by the government and the climate plan, and also with businesses, regions and citizens, can make this new hope a reality.