Sobriety, technology… the 4 scenarios for carbon neutrality in 2050

Having become omnipresent in the debate on climate change, sobriety is erected sometimes as an ideal, sometimes as a foil. In any case, this is part of the working hypotheses for achieving carbon neutrality in 2050. But the question of its “acceptability” within society is still raised. Citizens would inevitably be reluctant to question their needs and their way of life. And sobriety would inevitably involve making painful sacrifices.

What is it really? As part of extensive forward-looking work, the Ecological Transition Agency (Ademe) developed four scenarios published last fall in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Ranging from the most “frugal” to the most “ technological”, they aim to fuel the public debate concerning the choices of socio-economic transformations to be implemented, as of now.

The 4 scenarios developed by Ademe to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Ademe, Author provided

Scenarios that require a profound transformation of our lifestyles

Beyond techno-economic modelling, this work was also based on human and social sciences. Objective: to envisage profound but credible transformations of our lifestyles. Because thinking about the evolution of infrastructures and systems cannot be done only with a technical input. Such an exercise presupposes a better understanding of the springs of social change and a collective definition of what we value in the organization of society.

Ademe therefore sought to understand how these different scenarios could be perceived by citizens. Through a qualitative study of 31 people embodying the diversity of the French population, the survey made it possible to explore and go beyond this issue of the “acceptability” of transformations. She tested these four potential futures, to understand both their “feasibility” and their “desirability” for respondents. But also the conditions under which these scenarios could be implemented and win support.

The study also helps to distance oneself from the controversies surrounding the levers to be mobilised. It offers useful lessons to put the rising issue of sobriety into perspective.

The technological answer is not obvious

First interesting finding because counter-intuitive, the technological scenarios (S3 “green technologies” and S4 “repair bet”), which one might think more attractive at first since they limit the drop in consumption. Even allow its progress, do not convince the respondents.

Firstly because the issue of freedom of individual consumption interests them less than the social risks that such futures entail. The automation (S4) of the supply of products and services, for example, raises the specter of unemployment among them. Similarly, this freedom to consume is regularly weighed against collective aspirations. Like the fight against inequalities within society.

Technology, too risky a bet for carbon neutrality in 2050?

In addition, the massive deployment of digital technology implied by technological control of energy consumption (S3) arouses reactions such as those encountered with smart meters: who will use citizens’ digital data? How will their use be regulated? What control over this data will they have left? Awareness of a change in the relationship to privacy and a risk of commodification of data is particularly worrying. The proliferation of digital devices also refers to a fear of disintegration of social ties, due to ultra-connectivity, in which everyone interacts through screens and interposed platforms.

Finally, the confidence to be given to scenarios betting on technological advances is discussed: respondents point to the uncertainty of the development of technologies that are still immature and not industrialized. The risk of relying solely on technical promises to solve climate change seems important to them. What if that promise doesn’t work? Contrary to popular belief, the reduction of consumption, to be articulated with energy efficiency, is already well anchored in people’s minds to aim for carbon neutrality by 2050.

Beyond individual behavior, the collective locks of sobriety

The study reveals that the French men and women questioned are more open to sobriety than certain public debates reflect. Faced with the “techno-solutionist” discourse which focuses only on technique, the discourse of “behaviourist solutionism” betting on changes in behavior tends to focus on changing mentalities and placing the weight of the burden on the individual alone. this change. A logic that over-responsibilizes the individual, rejects and transfers the problem to education, at the risk of leading to inaction.

Can individuals save the climate through sobriety? (Le Monde, August 2022).

However, the survey reveals that the difficulties or even impossibilities of citizens to project themselves into a sober society are less a matter of individual arbitration than of intrinsically collective issues. Take the example of the pooling of spaces, tools or cars: the reactions of citizens illustrate that there is not a fundamental reluctance, but a need for shared rules, which make it possible to exchange in confidence . They must make it possible to ensure the availability of shared objects, a guarantee of their quality, or even a clear distribution of responsibilities between users.

So many rules that various actors have been able to build in recent decades, if we are to believe the rise of online sales and resale, the development of carpooling sites or vehicle rental between individuals…

Rethinking collective organization

In other words, sober practices cannot be envisaged insofar as society directs towards other ways of life. It is therefore above all a question of creating the social, economic and institutional conditions which will make sobriety desirable and accessible, on a collective scale. For example through public policies that support companies or associations leading organizational innovations.

In terms of mobility, this will involve the deployment of well-endowed service offers, such as self-service car networks, carpooling lines designed by and for their users according to territorial specificities, or even the development of offers of intermediate vehicles. Similarly, Ademe’s most sober scenario considers a third of the distances traveled on foot or by bike: with solid secure infrastructure, such an objective can be targeted.

Another example, digital devices: if the renewal of our telephones and our computers is so frequent, it is also because the repair offer is very marginal and undervalued in the business models of manufacturers or distributors. Repairing a product is often an obstacle course, faced with an offer of new products available and valued symbolically. But public policy tools, such as the reparability index, or extended responsibility channels for producers participate in the transformation of the offer for more sobriety.

Social justice at the heart of citizens’ expectations

Beyond the concrete conditions for carrying out these changes, citizens also share their concerns regarding the role of the State in organizing this ecological transition, and the distribution of the efforts to be made to achieve it – in order to that it does not rely solely on citizens and consumers. The State thus has a whole role to play, as a driver of the transition, strongly involving companies in the transition process.

Next, citizens express very strong expectations in terms of social justice. Aware that individual freedom – and in particular that of consuming – must be discussed or even modified for the benefit of common freedoms, two major requirements are emerging.

First, given the effects of climate change, and the risks they pose to different populations, citizens put social justice at the heart of their expectations. The management of inequalities by the State, the adaptation of public policy measures to the various economic and social situations of populations is a central expectation. The implementation of schemes such as EPZs or consumption restriction measures should be designed with attention to their effects in terms of social justice.

Secondly, respondents demand that the deployment of public policy mechanisms take place in transparency, by explaining their necessity and by making them accessible to the entire population. This echoes in particular the work on tax transparency. This double requirement of transparency and fairness has already been highlighted in surveys on French people’s consent to tax and environmental sensitivity, and is at the heart of the challenges of carbon taxation.

A democracy to renew

Finally, the need for a renewal of democratic forms and methods of participation is expressed. The citizens questioned, whatever the scenario, express a need to strengthen the methods of collective dialogue around transition choices.

n citizen council in Villeurbanne.  Charlène Bergeat, CC BY-NC-SA
A citizen’s council in Villeurbanne. Charlène Bergeat, CC BY-NC-SA

We find in this study a strong concern to make contribute and to ensure that the individuals concerned by the challenges and collective transformations can participate in the decisions, express themselves if they wish. It is therefore a question of (re)inventing the conditions of realization complementary to democratic representation, in the territories as well as in the productive and associative fabric.

At the end of the study, sobriety does not appear to be more repulsive than technological orientations for dealing with climate change. Indeed, as shown by the Ademe barometer on the social representations of climate change, the French are willing to practice sobriety and change their way of life.

Sobriety, however, implies being considered not only at the level of individual practices but also in structural transformations, of the supply of goods and services as well as of our infrastructures. It also presupposes innovating and renewing the forms to be given to public debate and collective decision-making, by placing social justice issues at the center of these.

About the author: Sarah Thiriot. Sociologist in the prospective and research executive direction of Ademe, associate researcher at the PACTE-CNRS laboratory, Ademe (Ecological transition agency).
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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