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On the "end of the climate crisis"
by Christian Hofmann
Saturday Nov 6th, 2021 7:38 AM
"[G]lobal warming, environmental degradation, and growing inequality are primarily the consequences of an unleashed economic mode that is focused on profit and quarterly numbers, but not on the well-being of people and nature"
On the "end of the climate crisis”
By Christian Hofmann
[This book review published on 4/20/2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, Zum „Ende der Klimakrise“ | Linksnet.]

In the fall of 2019, "Vom Ende der Klimakrise" by Luisa Neubauer and Alexander Repenning appeared in German bookstores. Over large parts the text is jointly written, but again and again there are also contributions marked by name. Since Neubauer has already been named the 'German Greta Thunberg', we are not dealing with just any book on the subject, but can justifiably speak of a central publication, at least as far as Germany is concerned. They formulate quite confidently in their epilogue in the name of the new ecology movement: "We know what has to be done. We also know how. And above all, we know that it is possible" (280). Reason enough to look at this book in a bit more detail. Especially because it is not a book next to or about FFF (Fridays for Future), but comes directly from the movement.

Anyone who has attended events by and with FFF in Germany in recent weeks and months cannot help but have the impression that two not unproblematic ideas or demands were and are omnipresent there with regard to the major goal - to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius by the end of the century. The first is the idea that climate protection is primarily a question of consciousness and can therefore ultimately only be slowed down by individual change. The individual must therefore react to the climate crisis by changing his or her consumption behavior. Since FFF is quite heterogeneous, this position is certainly not that of every activist in the movement, but nevertheless remains a basic tenor that cannot be ignored in public appearances. But even where FFF transcends the idea of individual consumerism and instead makes political demands, there is at least one major weakness. This refers to the demand for CO2 pricing, where the German FFF section has now even made a concrete commitment of 180 euros per ton of emitted CO2.

Apart from the enormous defensive reflexes that such a demand is likely to trigger, especially among those who have not been lucky enough to be on the sunny side of this society, it is, in our opinion, problematic because it implies that the market, or at least market mechanisms, can solve the climate crisis. In another place (Broistedt/Hofmann OXI 3/20) we therefore argued that the left should not play the social and the ecological question off against each other but should bring them together - with an attack on bourgeois property. For example, through demands for the socialization of the energy sector, free public transportation, radical reductions in working hours, or energy-efficient renovation of housing while prohibiting rent increases. Only through these struggles can the view become free for the actual contradiction: for the capitalist growth compulsion and the planetary limits as its material basis.

Whoever takes this contradiction seriously and is interested in the development of FFF cannot avoid the book by Neubauer and Repenning. For this book traces quite openly and impressively discussions, questions and developments within the new ecology movement. The basic contradiction of endless growth and finite resources is recognized and is processed in a smorgasbord of ideas and criticisms. The processuality of the new movement, as well as its own further development, is hinted at. And in these descriptions, sometimes more, sometimes less consciously, weak points of the previous discussions about the climate crisis are shown. The key questions are not avoided, even if some of the answers are ambivalent. But one after the other:

The Market: Already in the introduction it is stated that "the global economy is designed to ensure that the destruction of global ecosystems continues" (31). For "[g]lobal warming, environmental degradation, and growing inequality are primarily the consequences of an unleashed economic mode that is focused on profit and quarterly numbers, but not on the well-being of people and nature" (76f.). Whether our "economic system" has to be "unleashed" for this is a moot point. Apart from that, a very good starting point would be found here, from which one has to approach the climate crisis.

The fact that the political representatives of this social order want to defend the market at all costs is impressively demonstrated by Neubauer, who paraphrases his counterpart with a sharp tongue: "But the market will sort it out. Because the market can do that. The invisible hand of the market will tackle the problems for us, it will look for and find the best means. The market will show us the way to achieve the climate goals, leaving us our 'prosperity' our 'growth' our industry and jobs" (49). The 'fairy tale of eternal growth' is resolutely countered: "The road to ruin is [...] paved with well-intentioned, market-based instruments" (154) - well spoken!

The consciousness and the consumption renunciation of the individual: But Neubauer has not only listened well to the political opponent. At her own events, too, she is struck by a number of things, especially with regard to the critique of consumption, which she calls the "climate protection in everyday life question": in long discussions, it is explained that what is at stake is nothing less than 'probably the most complex crisis in human history', 'systemic issues' and a 'structural change'. And this issue is then, 'reduced in one or two sentences to an individual consumer behavior' and most events end with well-intentioned advice and questions about individual behavior patterns; 'Ride more bikes and fry tofu so we feel good [...]'" (91). Neubauer and Repenning name the fact that high environmental awareness has only a very limited positive impact on climate protection quite clearly: "[G]iven the households that state about themselves that they are environmentally conscious [are] also those with the higher CO2 footprint." Ergo: "So long as the framework conditions are not fundamentally changed, consumer criticism alone is ineffective" (101). To wrap this up a bit more snappily, even Adorno is brought into play: "There is no sustainable life in a non-sustainable society" (37). Thus, not only in the case of the market, but also in the case of the question of renunciation, there are quite clear words in the book.

Social question and children of the middle classes: As is well known, FFF is not simply about students, but primarily about the children of the middle classes. This, of course, does not change the facts about the climate crisis that FFF has brought to the center of the social discourse, but it can certainly have an impact on their demands, such as the aforementioned CO2 pricing. Unfortunately, there are no concrete ideas in the book on how the supposed contradiction between social and ecological issues could be resolved. But at least the problem is seen, or at least glimpsed: "For middle-class kids like us" (35) it is easy "to shout in the street with hundreds of others 'We are here, we are loud, because you are stealing our future!' [...]. It is less easy to translate this exclamation, which resonates with so much reproach and accusation, into a conversation with those who are facing us [...] to accuse of theft those who have worked all this out." (Ibid., 66).
The clash of social and ecological question is well described here and minds are divided. Those who feel they have to work very hard and still have to look closely at their bank account at the end of the month are usually skeptical or even dismissive of the (new) ecology movement. In contrast to many of their fellow campaigners, Neubauer and Repenning at least know that it is necessary to find political majorities. Their idea to connect "positive climate balance with pleasure and luxury" (Ibid., 97) is very good, but in this abstractness it is of little help at first. Similarly, it is important to use the demo slogan only "against key actors in politics, the financial world and the economy" (Ibid., 67). How exactly is this supposed to succeed? The good approaches are then also diminished by the fact that in another place positive reference is made to Ulrich Brandt and his theory of the 'imperial way of life' (167ff.). Brandt, however, is not concerned with associating ecological sustainability with 'pleasure and luxury', but with a critique of the standard of living of the entire population of the Global North!

Lack of answers: This ambivalence runs through the whole book. Even if central problems of the current climate discussion are well named, the answers are contradictory. The market, the theory of consumerism, the ignoring of the social question; all this is directly named and this is the great strength of the book. But what about the solutions?

"The world in which we are growing up is characterized by an astounding lack of imagination. Where are the inspiring images of the future and narratives that stand as guiding principles on the horizon of a social transformation?" the authors rightly ask (77). Unfortunately, they themselves do not exactly stand out positively in this regard. "Before one gets the idea of wanting to change the man-made system of 'the market', one would rather change the natural system of the world climate," they say at first, pointing the way. But what is the own, 'inspiring vision of the future'? Here one finds predominantly 'regulatory measures, regulations, prohibitions and incentives' (cf. 144). And not only that. Ultimately, it all seems to be a matter of 'political will' and '[e]very aspect of market-based approaches can certainly be part of the solution' (Ibid., 158). It is no accident that the invocation of Kate Raworth and the goal of "re-embed[ing] economics in society and nature" (177) comes here. Instead of a critique of capital as a social relation, a dichotomous juxtaposition of economy and society.

For this reason, however, one need not brand the book as half-hearted or petty-bourgeois in the old tradition, but will do well to regard it as an expression of the development of the emerging ecology movement. It is not entirely by chance that Neubauer has so far been a member of the Green Party, the party that stands almost ideally for the claim to be able to solve the impending ecological catastrophe within this society. For the time being, this is also likely to be the hope of the majorities within the new movement. Until June 2019, Neubauer freely admits, she even still held out hope that Merkel could be won over for a major transformation. She was certainly not alone in this. But real developments then led to this hope evaporating and the movement having to radicalize. This is not merely a question of political preferences.

However, the contradiction between capitalist accumulation and planetary boundaries is being discussed more and more, and activists will have to start looking more closely at alternatives to market society. “From the End of the Climate Crisis" is a testimony to this and is therefore exciting to read. This is true regardless of whether the two authors will stick to their often half-hearted answers or not.

Luisa Neubauer, Alexander Repenning, Vom Ende der Klimakrise. A History of Our Future, Klett-Cotta Verlag, Stuttgart 2019, 304 pages, 18,- Euro.
Christian Hofmann writes at Soon to be published by him and Philip Broistedt "Goodbye Kapital" by Papy Rossa.
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