Pierre Charbonnier: “Abundance and Freedom” – How the climate crisis is rooted in our concepts

Today, no one doubts that the climate crisis is also a social crisis. However, we often think about the consequences: drought, hunger, and sometimes even wars. We usually blame causes and origins on the ruthless exploitation of natural resources, and rarely on the concepts of nature and ways of thinking that historically formed and continue to form the basis of this mentality. The French philosopher Pierre Charbonnier claims that overcoming the climate crisis is so difficult precisely because of these deeply ingrained ways of thinking.

The Fall of Man: The Transformation of Nature into Possession

Like his Indian colleague Chakrabarti, it goes back a long way in mental history. The modern eco-theme has only intensified in the last 50 years, but long before the so-called industrial revolution, the picture of the world and humanity has changed dramatically, says Charbonnier. The fall of man: At one point, nature from a resource accessible to all became property, ie a commodity. The change of mentality became a legal form with the political ideology of John Locke, the forerunner of liberalism: the land should belong to those who cultivate it.

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During the early Enlightenment, the mantra that today seems indisputable that the economy must continue to grow was coupled with the promise of freedom: the more goods you own, the less dependent and defenseless, the more autonomous. This resulted in what Charbonnier calls the “social pact” and hence the title of the book: Dialectic abundance and freedom.

Thinking together about nature, economy and politics

Social and political ideas not only come from people’s heads, but have a solid material foundation. It has no nature in itself, only nature experienced and understood in a certain way; and these terms depend on the circumstances of life, the author knows. According to Charbonnier, the mistake of Western mentality history has been to understand nature, economics, law and politics as separate systems – even today we still believe that we must “reconcile” or compromise the spheres. At the same time, their almost inevitable link is obvious: if freedom depends on the disposal of resources, the poor are excluded from democracy – a process that is undoubtedly progressive at present.

Charbonnier thus inverts the usual question about the relationship between nature and society: instead of assuming the exploitation of nature, he understands it as the product of certain social conflicts: “How have the struggles for emancipation and political autonomy led to the intensive use of resources?”

Civil freedom promotes the consumption of resources

If you reverse ordinary causality in this way, you can also think differently about the relationship between two simultaneous revolutions: the French political revolution and the so-called industrial revolution: it is the new promise of bourgeois freedom, Charbonnier suggests, that created the need for the ever-increasing consumption of resources – a need that has not been addressed. in the ideal of unstoppable progress.

So was the bourgeois ideal of freedom, closely related to material abundance, the father of today’s development? And is the inexorably widening gap between rich and poor the result of this “pact” of progress that was destructive from the beginning? The author remains strangely indecisive here. And, unfortunately, he is also not entirely guided by his heart’s desire: the question of which groups of the population could produce this (formerly so-called) revolutionary entity that could separate forced suicide from growth and self-destruction.

Worth reading despite some weaknesses

Despite the somewhat crude style and a few underdeveloped theses, the book is definitely worth reading, because someone here has quite the courage, rarely found today, to recommend something more than just minor lifestyle repairs: If Charbonnier has his way, our whole self-image – both individual, and social – it must end.

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