Giving Up Is Not Allowed!

factory Titel Sisyphos

Where do we stand on the matter of sustainable development? If you ask sustainability activists and scientists, you often hear sobering facts and considerable disappointment concerning the achievements so far. In the 1990s, it started out enthusiastically as a compatible global project for fairness, but it seems as if only little of the original plan has been achieved. Only a few thousand companies in Germany are managed in accordance with the principles of sustainability, which means being economically, ecologically and socially fair; and the global situation is no different even though the latest assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that only little time is left to keep global warming within the limit of the two degrees Celsius on average that are considered manageable. 

Especially in allegedly developed countries like Germany, no great contribution has been made regarding measures against global warming. On the contrary: emissions are rising, lignite is beyond debate and fracking has gained acceptance. All that does not look like a lot of transformation is going on yet.

So it comes as no surprise that many a sustainability activist is frustrated and disappointed, whether at work or in their leisure time, since no large-scale measures are possible without supportive policies.

Therefore, our idea for the title of this issue of factory was Frustration & Failure. In the end we decided on Sisyphus – or Sisyphos in Greek – analogous to the omnipresent Sisyphean task. However, in the opening interview, Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker states that working hard on sustainability is not as futile as the Sisyphean task and he raises hope regarding enforceable policies. The philosopher Bernd Draser tries to comfort us with the beauty of failure, while the team of authors Ax, Hinterberger and Marschütz of the SERI Institute (Sustainable Europe Research Institute) in Vienna holds up the figures that won’t allow us to give up. Isabell Zipfel tells a whole different story with her photo report about the mining of lignite, followed by Annette Jensen and Ute Scheub who describe happy islands that could have what it takes to be continents capable of surviving. In his article about climate policy, Hans-Jochen Luhmann deals with contradictions and makes suggestions as to what could be achieved. The philosophical economist Birger Priddat takes a completely different approach in his quasi-manifesto for the Anthropocene: the approach of the technologically accelerated development of the domination of nature. 

The young scientist Benjamin Best has the last word with his hopeful view on his increasingly post-growth orientated generation. So it is only a matter of perspective? Or even of historical perspective? We recommend Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker as an example. On 25 June 2014 he celebrated his 75th birthday and despite the current political stagnancy, he does not get tired of introducing a reform for a resource tax as a possible efficiency revolution. We sincerely congratulate him and wish you all fresh motivation and a great summer.

Ralf Bindel und the factory team

Translated from the German by: Annika Wagener

More articles on the topic of frustration & failure and sustainability are either online or in our factory Magazine Sisyphus. Fine illustrated and good readable on tablet computers and screens the PDF magazine contains all articles and pictures with numbers and citations to topic and is free to download.

“It Is Not Impossible at All.“

Alte griechischeWindmühle

In the face of the fracking euphoria, a European Union without concrete goals and fruitless UN climate negotiations, many dedicated people have given up the hope that political instruments may help form a more sustainable world. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker is a politician and scientist and still values the ability to guide.

An interview with Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker by Ralf Bindel.

Translated from the German by Anna-Lena Vohl, Konstantina Perdikoulia, La Toya Vaughn and Karen Leicht

Looking at what has happened in the field of sustainable development from a global point of view shows the following: peak oil isn’t an issue any more, fracking is also being discussed in Europe and lignite is still being mined extensively. The UN climate negotiations have been fruitless and the post-Kyoto Protocol does not have a future. The situation in Germany is similar: emissions are still rising; there is no sign of an efficiency initiative and the Energiewende (German energy transition) is slowing down. Numerous other aspects show that nothing is going on at the moment that would portend a transformation into a sustainable society. This can be frustrating, don’t you think?

Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker: Yes, it can. But by looking back at history, we know that movements sometimes occur in waves. This has even happened in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany: by 1976, after about five years under Chancellor Willy Brandt and the Minister for Interior Affairs, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the federal government launched a formidable environmental policy. In the shadow of the oil crisis and the recession, things came to a standstill under Helmut Schmidt. There were to be no new environmental laws, he said. That was a great shock for a lot of people. A few years later, the Waldsterben debate (forest decline) arose and even Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who belonged to the German conservative party, became a pioneer of a massively influential environmental policy. The same applies to the climate. Of course, the question here is whether there is enough time.

You said there wasn’t any reason for frustration. So… you aren’t frustrated?

I’m not because it’s not in my nature to be frustrated all the time. If I were, I would be long dead. 

Still, after the first steps towards sustainable development, after the Agenda 21, the Rio Conference and the implementation of emission trading, some things have been set in motion that we are now further from attaining than ever before.

That is exactly right. It was the same in the 1970s. What I want to say is that something like this should always be expected. It didn’t only happen under Helmut Schmidt but also, to an even greater degree, under Ronald Reagan. He appointed a man Secretary of the Interior – a position that includes the responsibility for environmental issues – who was opposed to environmental protection. Nevertheless, after some time, the government got the ball rolling again. But it was a lot easier to do so in the context of classical local pollution policy because there was a way to increase prosperity and protect the environment at the same time. It is not that easy when it comes to the climate. 

Why not?

Until now we’ve seen a strong correlation between CO2 emissions per capita and the gross domestic product. We must eliminate this correlation first. The so-called Kuznets curve, which has existed for a long time for local pollution, at the end of which a society is rich and clean, must now finally also be established for CO2. Neither politicians nor economists have yet been able to think of anything much different than renewable energies, which is very nice, nuclear energy, which is dreadful, and carbon capture and storage, which will be so expensive that it will never really work. The underlying topic of energy efficiency has been neglected – in Germany less than in other countries. 

Your subject area used to be resource efficiency

That’s exactly the same thing: resource efficiency is made up of energy efficiency on the one hand and material efficiency on the other hand. 

At least the discussion about Factor Four, Factor Five, Factor Ten, Factor X or Y led to a partial increase in resource productivity but there are also the famous rebound effects. On the whole, the consumption of resources isn’t decreasing, decoupling hasn’t taken place. In fact, we consume more than what grows back. Our ecological footprint is far too large, yet things haven’t changed. This development has been clear for a long time already.

That’s totally true. But in the more recent book Factor Five, which is much more political than Factor Four, there are recipes – that I consider to have considerable appeal – on how to tackle the rebound effect and at the same time generate prosperity i.e. reach the Kuznets curve and overcome the rebound effect. This is a gigantic task. I’m not saying that it’s easy because there are recipes. But what is needed now is to very carefully test and popularise them and make them capable of convincing the majority.

Name the aspects that are capable of convincing the majority in this situation. How do the methods of Factor Five fit into the present time? Almost all countries find themselves in an unfavourable economic situation. To combine this with the necessity of reducing the consumption of resources seems to be more of an impossible task than a gigantic task. 

It isn’t impossible at all. In Factor Five, we initially praise Germany and other countries that brought the transition from purely fossil fuels and nuclear energy to renewable energies into motion. Without the German Renewable Energy Act (EEG) this wouldn’t have happened. But the EEG was then copied by about 100 countries including China. Our message, however, is – and I also share this view today – that renewable energies are well and good but don't solve the problem.

Most politicians and economists think that growth achieved by having a green economy is enough. 

Here is a quick calculation: the EU promised on the basis of the success story of the EEG, among other things, that by 2020 the percentage of renewable energies will amount to at least 20 percent throughout the EU. Then this would be valid for half a billion people. Let’s optimistically assume that the other half billion people in the OECD countries, the USA etc. also achieve 20 percent. How much of the world’s problem is solved by that? The answer is pathetic: one thirty-fifth, because 20 percent is a fifth of one hundred, one billion is one seventh of seven billion. To increase renewable energies, for example from corn, rapeseed and palm oil plantations, water and wind power stations, thirty-five fold isn’t ecologically responsible. 

What would be necessary and possible in addition? 

As much as we love renewable energies, we must know that the second component – and first for me in terms of priority – namely efficiency, is part of it, too. First, there is evidence that all this works; two thirds of the book Factor Five deals with this point, and secondly the political options I just mentioned. The most important measure is to create an equivalent to the EEG, only this time for efficiency. I am aiming at a ping-pong effect between the increase of energy efficiency and subsequently the increase of energy prices on the market in exactly the same percentage. If this happens, efficiency will increase almost automatically by means of economic incentives, which would be ‘pong’. Then ‘ping’ comes into play again and prices will increase. This is an exact equivalent to the staggering success story of the Industrial Revolution – at the time with labour productivity and wages. Over the course of 150 years, this ping-pong effect always resulted in increased labour productivity, increased wages, then again in increased productivity. All this led to a twentyfold increase in labour productivity and thus represented a prosperity generator. I had something similar in mind for energy. I absolutely consider this to have political majority appeal as soon as it’s well formulated by the legislator and promoted correspondingly.

You more or less invented or introduced the energy transition together with Hermann Scheer and Michael Müller, as members of the German Bundestag representing the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Now, Sigmar Gabriel, the federal chairman of the SPD, is regarded as having a rather dampening effect on the energy transition. In his proposals there’s no mention of an efficiency offensive and we’re experiencing precisely this effect of increased prices for electricity. This, however, doesn’t lead to reflection about efficiency, but about stopping the price increase.

In my opinion, it’s not that straightforward. Sigmar Gabriel has the electoral mandate to stop the price increase for extra payments for renewable energies, which has assumed alarming proportions since 2009. That’s what he’s doing and you can’t hold it against him since it was the electorate’s mandate, there’s no room for interpretation. The only ones not in favour of this are the ones who have profited from the cause of the price increase, especially the producers of renewable energies. But with the main points of his bill Gabriel made it clear that the target of expanding from the current 24 percent to 60 percent will undoubtedly be adhered to.

To that extent, the current political chatter suggests that Gabriel is destroying the energy transition, but this cannot be justified on the basis of the quantities. He would achieve an efficiency gain in industrial enterprises if the energy prices were increased for them. 

That is correct. With respect to industry, I find the bill dissatisfying, because the incentives there remain feeble. However, I have an answer to this of course. I’m referring to the brilliant experiences the Swedes made with their air pollution tax in the early 1990’s. It was created to combat the death of the forests due to acid rain. In those days, there was already an air pollution tax in France, initiated among others, by the local nuclear lobby. The Swedes said: what the French are doing is not good enough; we’ll invent a tax that will be forty times higher for every tonne of pollutant. The outcry in industry was tremendous: now we will abandon Sweden, now is the time for a major de-industrialisation movement. We all know these kinds of speeches. The government reacted ingeniously and offered them a deal: we demand from you this brutal air pollution tax in the same way as we do from everyone else, without exception. But, we will return the money to you industrially, not for every tonne of toxins, but for value creation. So, coal-fired power stations for example were compensated per megawatt hour. Thus, the operators were incredibly interested in getting rid of air pollutants and produce good energy. The whole issue was some sort of a rejuvenating cure for the Swedish industry right up to the iron and steel industry, no one emigrated and subsequently the Swedish were more competitive than before. A similar approach could work for the issue of energy. Yet, this is not the way industry thinks up to now and unfortunately, not even the German government and the European Union. But that is once again a matter of informing and advertising.

It would be something like a resource tax.

I would rather call it resource tax reform, because the German state does not become wealthier through it. It would be a social prioritisation of efficiency through a market incentive program in which a tax is imposed on intense consumption of resources and the collected money is then reallocated for more efficient technologies. Naturally, this must happen at a very slow pace so that the expected technical progress can keep up and no bad investments emerge. The Swedes were a lot more brutal; what I am suggesting is incremental.

So, does a political instrument of that kind actually still work when lobbyists are so heavily represented on the committees that the politicians can barely decide freely? 

In a democracy in general, the lobbies always find themselves in key positions. But once the people awake, the needed indignation is generated and the politicians make proposals that satisfy the population and put the lobbies in their place, without the rise of their feared misinvestments, it does function again quite well. That was exactly the case with Brandt, Schmidt and Kohl and the conventional environmental policy. 

Normally, politicians show they have a good sense of what the population wants. You are saying now that Sigmar Gabriel has the mandate to reduce the rise of the EEG apportionment. 

This is a priority amongst people today. Then, of course, there are surveys. They are indeed all saying they want solar energy, but when the question arises as to whether or not they want a further increase in additional charges, of course the answer is no.. 

The only option for the private consumer is to save money. For them, the electricity price increased because of exceptions made for industry, the suspension of emissions trading, giving certificates away as presents etc. But it also has to do with a decrease in personal consumption. Germany pollutes the environment with 11 tons of CO2-emissions per capita and year. They would have to reduce their emissions to 2.7 tonnes in comparison. Then why not also use a higher price as an argument?

The reduction is feasible and I’ll provide arguments for it. The prices have to increase for the private consumers as well. However, I much prefer the ping-pong idea over EEG dynamics. The former means that the upward trend in prices should be in proportion to the efficiency gains. The latter was a cost recovery method for the providers, which had nothing to do with the consumers. In 2009, it was determined – something I thought was insane – that the surcharge should be measured according to the difference between market prices and the prices at the European Energy Exchange in Leipzig. After that decision, the surcharge increased when prices dropped in Leipzig, which is absurd. But for investors in renewable energies it was great news: they did not need to fear the lower proceeds at the energy exchange. Now they complain that this is no longer the case. Despite any joy about and support for renewable energies – I was one of those in the German Bundestag, who had initiated it, Herman Scheer was the real hero: we cannot for political reasons afford great privileges at the expense of the poor population. As I said, for that reason the expansion target of 60 percent and 100 percent shortly after that, is not in doubt. If, due to the EEG dynamics, the prices have increased more dramatically especially in the last five years, a lot more quickly than the efficiency has come along, then someone should definitely deflate them again. This does not mean that from now on energy will get cheaper again, but rather that it should get more expensive in lockstep with efficiency progress, which, however, happens at a slower pace.

Do you have an example of how the efficiency-reform could work in the private sector and how it could reduce consumption?

If you want to convert an old building into a Passive House, you must spend quite a lot of money. The loan payback period would extend to between 15 and 30 years. That is too much time for today’s financial markets. They demand a payback period of eight years or less. When everyone knows, including the German public bank’s employees and architects, that from now on energy will be more expensive in proportion to the efficiency gains, the payback period will automatically be cut short. It could be reduced to eight years. The same bank employee who denies someone a loan now, would then of course approve it, because it would be a profitable thing to do. In this way, it would suddenly become possible to cost-efficiently reduce the CO2 emissions per capita by a factor of 4, from 11 to 2.7 tons.

Heating and fuel costs have risen significantly more than those of electricity. Actually, electricity only amounts to an average of 2.5 percent of household expenditures. The costs of operating a motor vehicle, of heating and of hot water would need to be estimated higher, by a factor of 3. People only talk about electricity, which, although it accounts for 39 percent of the primary energy demand, only makes up 14 percent of the primary energy costs.

Exactly – not all of the aspects are taken into consideration: everyone looks at electricity and only few people take heating into account. But we know that almost half of the CO2 emissions come from radiators and transportation, and this is why we have to pay more attention to heating and fuels, so, of course, the ping-pong idea can be put into practice. But heating plays a less important role for politics in Berlin than the reform of the German Renewable Energy Act. However, this is going to change: when the German environmentalist Wolf von Fabeck calculated the cost-covering reimbursement for solar electricity using the so-called Aachener Modell, ten years before the German Social Democrat Hermann Scheer, this idea had not yet established itself in Bonn’s – or rather Berlin’s – politics. Ten years later, it gained acceptance. This is also the way I’d imagine this concept to work here and now. Once reason – as Immanuel Kant described it, in terms of the Enlightenment – asserts itself, there will be a majority supporting it.

Right now, it actually looks like a majority can be won by assuring them that the economic situation is good.

The people’s thinking is dominated by this idea, which I regard as historically wrong, that the cheaper our energy, the better the state of the economy. This thought was empirically refuted by the Japanese in the 1980s, when they had the highest energy costs and the strongest economy. […]


Prof. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, born on 25 June 1939, studied physics and taught biology in Essen and Kassel. He was president of the Wuppertal Institute from 1991 until 2000 and a member of the German Parliament from 1998 until 2005. He has been co-president of the Club of Rome since 2012 and patron of the crowd-funding platform Bettervest since 2013. He has received numerous awards and honours. His most recent book, Factor 5, was published by Droemer, a German publishing house, in 2011.

More articles on the topic of frustration & failure and sustainability are either online or in our factory Magazine Sisyphus. Fine illustrated and good readable on tablet computers and screens the PDF magazine contains all articles and pictures with numbers and citations to topic and is free to download.

The Comforting Beauty of Failure

Zusammen geknüllte Papierknäuel mit lachendem Gesicht

In terms of sustainable development, not every dream can blossom. This fact should not frustrate but encourage. On the aesthetics and necessity of failure.

By Bernd Draser

Translated from the German by Vanessa Kammerer

We are in the sixteenth year after the German Bundestag's inquiry commission ‘Protection of Mankind and the Environment’, in year 22 after the Rio Conference and Agenda 21, in year 27 after the Brundtland Report, in year 34 of the discussion about the energy transition in Germany, in year 42 after the study ‘The Limits to Growth’, in year 148 of the term ‘ecology’ and already in year 301 of the term ‘sustainability.’ Everybody in Germany – and particularly those in power – uses this popular but semantically empty word. This sounds like a legitimate reason for euphoria.

However, people who for decades have been standing up for the protection of resources, climate and the promotion of sustainable development are becoming disillusioned. Despite the massive expansion of the debate, desirable results still fail to emerge. There are halts everywhere, developments are fragmenting, unpredictable events are delaying promising processes, unexpected opposition from surprising quarters is arising and causing frustration. This is reason enough to try a philosophical consolation based on two reminders.

First reminder: sustainable development is no salvation story

Some people who are involved in sustainability still think in terms of admonition and turnaround, repentance and salvation. This is not surprising as the discourse on sustainability repeats theological motifs in more than one respect. It is not beneficial to the cause to use guilt and atonement as an argument if you not only want to be proven right but also want to make a sustainable lifestyle tempting to as many people as possible. A wagging finger is not what you would want as a motivation; instead, it provokes aversion.

Especially risky are alarmist crises and stories about catastrophes that fail to be fulfilled quickly and that evoke malice among those who never believed in them in the first place. The loss of credibility is even worse for those who were ready to change their lives. A well-documented precedent from which a lot can be learnt is the early Christian eschatological expectation in the course of which the followers interpreted every contemporary event as a sign of the imminent return of Christ. The parousia failed to occur, and the epistles of Paul the Apostle are for the most part an almost pitiful effort to justify this failure. Later, encouragement would be derived from them.

After the Fukushima disaster, there was a certain satisfaction perceptible among some anti-nuclear activists; the oft-quoted threat finally became real and even some politicians dropped cynical remarks. So these people were in a better position than the hardly likeable Old Testament prophet Jonah who preached turnaround or destruction to the inhabitants of Nineveh. He was disappointed to see that they actually listened to him, and he started a fight with God because the anticipated spectacular destruction failed to occur.

It might be too trivial to express, but people in favour of sustainable development actually want an absence of disasters. They want to open up the prospect to a possible good life, a realistic, a feasible, a near good life but not a post-apocalyptic hope that requires destruction at first. Sustainable development does not offer sensations but tries to avoid them. Our communication has to become more modest, lenient, joyful and most importantly: more tempting!

Second reminder: sustainable action is essayistic, not instrumental

Acting sustainably means acting in cycles, in consistent and hence natural cycles. The cycles of nature, however, are overly complex for us and cannot be duplicated easily using technical and industrial means. This is not very surprising considering the enormous time period in which evolution happened. Failure is also a part of these cycles. It has to be said that cyclical thinking includes the aesthetics of failure. Consequently, an artist can probably make a more significant contribution to sustainability than a process chemist can.

In many respects, the sustainability discourse is still marked by linear and instrumental ideas. Words like ‘adjusting screws’, ‘measures’, ‘instruments’ and ‘strategies’ are used mechanistically. Hubris of feasibility comes across just as Adorno and Horkheimer describe it in their ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment.’ If sustainable reason, however, is instrumental reason, cyclical thinking and acting will stay foreign to its nature; it will keep trying to cast out the devil by Beelzebub.

He who creates the only possible master plan or, philosophically speaking, the ‘Grand Narrative’, in order to achieve a sustainable development, cultivates the monoculture in his thinking that he tries to get rid of in agriculture. But only if we get rid of monoculture in our way of thinking about sustainability, can the failing of individual attempts, projects, experiments and stand-alone solutions become productive. In other words, the actors in the area of sustainability have to think essayistically instead of strategically, temporarily instead of permanently. The text type of sustainability has to be the essay and not the instruction manual. However, the text type should not be the apocalypse.

The Latin word frustratio has a more active meaning than its English counterpart which is frustration which refers to futile efforts. The Latin word describes the active ‘deception’ rather than the passive ‘disappointment’. He who is frustrated is ‘misled’ or even ‘led on’ like a character in a comedy. 

The more seriously we take ourselves, the more likely it is that we become unintentionally funny. This can be avoided. Let’s have a look at the early Christians and their eschatological expectations. They were unintentionally funny when the Savior didn’t come. But they started to accept reality and to live in this world, assuming responsibility for it. They made institutional arrangements in Rome, intellectualized themselves in Athens, adapted the traditions and cultures of their time and left their indelible mark – a sustainable one.

Sustainability has yet to bring about such a transformation of our culture and our thinking. It won’t be an easy way and many times we will fail, but a transformation is possible. This gives us hope. And it will be possible, if we don’t consider failure to be a setback, but rather an experiment that successfully showed us which way not to go. Putting it in Nitzschean terms, our science should become a “Joyful Wisdom”, one that doesn’t enforce a ‘Great Narrative’ upon reality, but one that cultivates the idea of trying, the essay.

The tone of the essay is joy, deriving pleasure from experiments and simultaneously from failing, resisting deadly seriousness and cold instrumentality. And the punchline of every essay is the prospect for a truly successful life, a good life – not in the sense of a certainty of salvation, but as a persistent attempt.

Bernd Draser is a philosopher and teaches at Ecosign Academy in Cologne. He has already contributed to the factory magazine several times with his articles “The art of separating” and Freiwillig nur unter Zwang (voluntary participation only under constraints) in factory Trans-Form.

More articles on the topic of frustration & failure and sustainability are either online or in our factory Magazine Sisyphus. Fine illustrated and good readable on tablet computers and screens the PDF magazine contains all articles and pictures with numbers and citations to topic and is free to download.

So Let Us Seize Power Then!

Mann mit rauchender Glühbirne

International policy could be a strong engine of transformation to put a limit on climate change. But policy is already failing because of its own conditions. Beyond those disappointments, there still remains enough space for uncoordinated yet effective forces.

By Hans-Jochen Luhmann

Translated from the German by: Bianca Gerards, Olympia Klassen, Annika Marie Wagener and Franziska Friedrich

Within nation-states, power is exercised through law. In a nation-state structure with several levels, which has existed within the European tradition of modern times, the rule “rank always wins” always applies. Domestically, this applies to all levels of a nation-state, but it does not apply to the relation between nation states and the United Nations. In this case, the exception applies that law has no power – international law is not based on the power to push something through. Not even WTO

Global Policy as UN Policy

In the context of climate change, Canada’s recent move reminded us of this. Canada wanted to use its oil sands and also took this route. By doing so, it completely neglected its international commitments on national emissions limitations. A muted apology was all that was heard.

This process shows something general. It is often not clear enough that international climate policy is dependent on the foreign policies of nation states. However, the respective foreign policy of a nation state is a function of its domestic policy. From this we can deduce the following: a successful coordination of national domestic policies with respect to their foreign policy goals is beyond realistic expectations, at least where important national issues are concerned. Thus, a chaotic and irrational streak does not only exist on the level of the UN but also or in particular regarding the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

The actual driving force of international climate policy lies in the national domestic policy– thus within us, on our level. We are powerful! This sentence is important. It is not an act of auto-suggestion. You only have to understand it the right way. It does not say that we are omnipotent, that we have the power to enforce the desired or needed outcome the way we want it. It is not like that. But reflection suggests: there is no leverage point that is more powerful than this one – the national domestic policy. At the moment, the climate concern only has limited influence within domestic policy. This has to be changed!

Our usual act of mentally pushing away the conditions of reality – with us being part of the scene – expresses our longing for something and quite rightly so. The example of climate policy shows us that there is a need for a global domestic policy. A successful global domestic policy is a condition for the continuing existence of humanity in general and thus for a successful climate policy in particular. However, this insight is no reason to cover up the fact that global domestic policy today is not a political reality, but a utopian concept of policy. This tension has to be endured – in both directions.

On the one hand, it is not legitimate to be disappointed if a difference between what should be and what is  is the result – it is expected to be the norm. Anyone who expects an unlikely event has to do what the word already suggests – they have to wait.

On the other hand, one way to disguise the utopian is to try to pursue utopian concepts through political reality. EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger recently provided an example for this. According to media reports, he just distanced himself from the minus-40 percent goal of the committee of the EU Commission that he is part of. For him, a “global commitment”, in other words a global climate agreement, is a condition for EU-wide and therefore national climate policy. However, one has to resist the temptation of utopian policy. Therefore, one has to stay sober and pursue practical politics.

Global Policy as Realpolitik and Imperialistic Policy

International climate policy is of course not just conceivable as UNFCCC policy. There are also conventions of Realpolitik concerning real imperialistic politics. These are also applicable in the interest of global climate policy – but sadly also against it.

It is part of the nature of imperialistic politics that the goal is to apply them extraterritorially. This aim conflicts with the principles of the UN, which is an assembly of the governments of ‘sovereign’ territorial states. According to the definition, these states have the right to rule on their territory without external intervention. Real world powers, such as the USA, use this political approach virtuously and successfully, while disregarding this right. Laws valid outside the US territory are, for example, regulations against money laundering or the Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act (FATCA) which forces foreign banks with branches in the USA to report data on overseas accounts of US citizens to the American tax authorities.

The predecessor of the UNFCCC, the UN Regime for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, was put into political practice in the form of a club approach with a strict commercial penalisation of all countries that would have refused to join – so all countries joined. The outstanding sanctions, together with the authority of the USA behind it, were simply too strong.

This is the approach that the EU wants to enforce with its 20-20-20 targets of 2008 and 2009 respectively that are extremely ambitious and innovative regarding global politics. The EU determined four extraterritorially applied double fields and policy approaches. A fifth approach – the most extensive with external protection through equalization payments for ‘dirty’ manufactured goods from abroad – only made it to the draft level but not into the final version. At this point, fear of their own courage arose.

The first two measures dealt with emissions that resulted in advance from imported fuel–this was specifically directed against Canada’s tar sands and agrofuels from sources at adventurous locations in South East Asia and South America. In measures three and four, the EU set regulations on emissions that are emitted in regions of the earth’s surface that are ownerless with respect to the jurisdiction of the UN – at sea or above the oceans. The EU assessed these emissions in the course of its flagship project on international air traffic. This traffic is accountable for about one third of the global air traffic emissions – and the EU included this in its emissions trading system starting in 2012. It sounds courageous. 

But this courage has already been lost because the USA, China, Russia, India, Japan and others decided on a catalogue of economic countermeasures that could give you the shivers. For example, the EU decided to back out of its foray into an imperialistic political approach regarding its international climate policy. The European Union is giving up on the concept of its foreign policy on climate change. Approaches to dealing with maritime shipping and fuel quality can no longer be implemented. Since the EU gave up on its plan, it is clear that imperialistic political approaches in climate policy are reserved for the USA and China; and the EU accepted that. What is left is for international climate policy to influence the domestic policies of the USA and China.

What is left: Globally Uncoordinated Approaches

So the options of worldwide political coordination are extensively discussed. I can think of only two more options that would be worth being put to the test again. There would be a) the proposal of Nixon that the topic ‘environment’ should not be handed to the UN, as it was implemented at the Conference of Stockholm in 1972, but to the NATO. And b): The approach of the UNFCCC focuses only on the demand. Additionally, the supply of fossil fuels, the phasing out of it, could become an instrument of internationally coordinated policy.

What is left then, is uncoordinated – yes, this is also possible at an international level. I would like to take up three of these issues.


There are two things that characterise infrastructure: it is the most durable capital good and it normally complements technologies that consume energy. In infrastructure there is almost complete independence from (international) competitive pressure and market values as well as – despite globalisation – freedom of structuring on a regional basis. And also the misleading by, for example, short-term market values for CO? can be easily avoided: investments can be made according to CO? prices that correspond to the costs of damage, i.e. they exceed today’s merely misleading market values. In developing countries, whose projects are financed by international development banks, the financing states have already imposed this regulation on the receiving states. It seems reasonable that we apply this smart rule as well– we can learn even from developing countries.

Let’s take our buildings as another example. Their energy demand is regulated by law. The relevant paragraph states that each building is to be constructed in a way that it does not consume more energy than is economical – details are stated in a regulation. If it is assumed in this regulation that within the next few decades the oil and gas prices valid at the moment remain constant, even nominally, and CO? prices are ignored, then with this maxim alone, these environmental pollutants are produced in the energetic design of the buildings like those we have, for instance, in Germany – not to mention in Great Britain. Today’s enormous need for reconstruction is already produced; it is nothing more than the result of an unprofessional interpretation of law over the last 40 years. It does not take much to avoid this at least in the future. Only common sense which is used on a global level.


The development of technologies is a central motivator and bearer of hope. I think from the perspective of the end: I cannot imagine that we will have solved the climate issue, having greenhouse gas emissions of zero or from year 2070 on even ‘negative’ emissions, with CO? prices of approximately EUR 100 per tonne and more, with a system of leadership based on the control of the CO? currency – more or less without misuse. The leadership to come cannot achieve anything better than today’s control of financial flows – anything else would be an illusion. There will always be small farmers and mafia-like structures that will find a loophole in this system of leadership.

I only see a solution if climate-friendly options are made more competitive than climate-damaging ones. The change of the competitive relations has to come from technology development. The policy of technology development satisfies these requirements only partly in a traditional way, but in the end they do not really fulfil them. A rather qualitative leap is needed for that. One of those leaps was the development of photovoltaics through the German Renewable Energy Act (EEG). For the repetition and transmission of that, the requirements of this success have to be closely examined. It is not enough to simply say that it was due to the EEG. I would like to point out four of the requirements:

• Modularity is crucial;

• It has to be accepted that development and market introduction are dependent on each other – when they are ripped apart according to the old concept, the requirements for success are destroyed;

• This is why it is extremely expensive. And the budgets of classical R&D policy cannot afford it. In this respect, an international need for coordination is due;

• It is not possible to do so without at least temporary protection from external influences in the international trade, as it has been done with e.g. the patent principle. What happened to the German photovoltaic industry is a catastrophe for the acceptance of such a large-scale form of technology development.

Model of Society/Sufficiency

At the end comes probably the most difficult one. But also the most promising.

With the fossil-based industrial society, Europe has created the model of a society that is, from a global perspective, a role model without peer – which is an incredible success for a ‘brand’. At the same time, this describes a central mechanism of climate change – even if it is here the negative, climate-damaging side: the mechanism of role model and realisation, the urge of following elites – and then of the crowd – to become part of a model of prosperity, of demonstrated status symbols of wealth, erotic and power. This mechanism works regardless of the reification of the status symbols. In this way, the energy of becoming part of one of the abovementioned can be easily used to change the image whose copy people try to match variously. The mind has to change, that is all. This is what we call sufficiency at the Wuppertal Institute in Germany.

Dr. Hans-Jochen Luhman is a Senior Expert at Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy in Germany. This article is a slightly adapted excerpt of his speech at the KLIMA.FORUM NRW to the topic Ohne Grenzen: Effektive Klimapolitik von Essen bis Brüssel (‘without limits: effective climate policy from Essen to Brussels’) on 30 January 2014 in Düsseldorf, Germany. In factory S/HE – Gender, he recently wrote about a biography of the environmental pioneer Rachel Carson.

More articles on the topic of frustration & failure and sustainability are either online or in our factory Magazine Sisyphus. Fine illustrated and good readable on tablet computers and screens the PDF magazine contains all articles and pictures with numbers and citations to topic and is free to download.

With Common Property Against Political Failure

Insel von oben mit dem Umriss eines Puzzle-Teils

As the frustration over the dominant economic system increases, new ideas and alternatives arise as well. As general welfare is worth more than money, a counterculture finds new solutions to lead a good life. Decentralized and well-networked, these islands could become a continent.

By Annette Jensen and Ute Scheub

Translated from the German by Yvette Gossel, Vanessa Kammerer, Zarina Brückner

Alex Shure provides all his inventions as open source on the Internet. There is, for example, a handy wooden cube: depending on which side is facing, lamps can be dimmed or the volume of music can be turned up. The electronics inside of it is invisible and even Alex Shure’s two-year old godchild figured out how to use it. However, this is more than playing: such cubes could substitute for many power supply lines in new apartments. Even the operation of Shure’s workshop in his garage in Siegen is innovative. The current efficiency of the photovoltaic systems installed on its roof is stored in a battery and provides the electricity for LED lights and the CNC milling machine. The construction makes the transformation of direct current to alternating current and back again unnecessary and thereby prevents energy loss. On top of this, no transformers between the socket and device are needed anymore; saving copper wire and other resources. 

Whoever wishes to do so can reconstruct Alex Shure’s inventions, adjust them to their needs or further develop them – but only if these plans are also being uploaded subsequently and are accessible for fr

Possession is not a requirement

From the point of view of traditional economists, Alex Shure behaves in an unnatural way: he publishes ideas and blueprints with which he could have made a lot of money, but that is not what matters to the 27-year old. He does not feel like dealing with competition and career, but instead prefers living in a networking global community of mutual support. Currently, he is staying in Berlin at the apartment of a friend who is travelling at the moment. He eats at the Nowhere Kitchen in the municipal district of Neukölln where people prepare delicious meals with the ingredients they have at hand.

Given that new economic systems conform to the old logic of quantification and growth; they had remained beneath the radar screen of the traditional economy for a long time. By now, however, they are developing at an impressive pace and proliferating into the mainstream.

On the Internet, free software and hardware can be downloaded easily. In addition, renting, exchanging and sharing everyday items attract more and more young and highly educated individuals in larger cities. This goes back to the notion that possession is not a requirement anymore in order to use items. With a smartphone or laptop you can find out within seconds if someone close to you owns a projector or a fondue pot, things you might need only once in a while. 

Many young people associate owning a car more with traffic jams and a lack of parking spaces than with a sense of freedom – hence many prefer to rent a car for those few occasions when they really need one.

Exchange platforms on the internet make this connection between individuals possible. The reputation system is important for establishing the dearly needed trust on these platforms: if you are not reliable, return a grill that is still greasy or make offensive jokes, you will have to be prepared for negative comments and will thus have little chance to lend or borrow anything in future.

Good Connections Make Sharing Easier

The powers behind this new movement are neither ecological nor moral motives, but the desire to lead a good life. According to international happiness research, gaining more and more money is absolutely irrelevant for the well-being of people living in rich countries. At the same time, there is ample evidence that growing inequality results in a dysfunctional and dissatisfied society. Not even those who are at the top of such societies feel any better. What is the purpose of a practice which leads to global warming, the massive extinction of species and the poisoning of humans, animals and plants alike?

On many different levels and in many countries, businesses and projects based on values such as fairness and communality have developed in recent years. These projects range from community supported agriculture, which means that the work and not the product of a farmer is financed, over urban community gardens to energy cooperatives. In addition, DIY repair shops as well as new forms of car sharing developed.

Two technical developments help tremendously to spread such projects, namely renewable energies and the Internet. Both are decentralised from a structural point of view and thus have the potential to put forward alternatives to the prevailing large-scale structures. The internet enables the global exchange of ideas and is also an excellent tool for small, local networks of peers. The fact that those initiatives are so attractive results from the vivid idea that there is an alternative to a world dominated by material constraints and major corporations.

Supporting Instead of Demanding

However, the projects and initiatives that develop all over the world have no intention to attack capitalism and its dogma of economic growth. They do not even refer to it but rampantly grow according to their own values and desires instead. They inspire and support each other, become increasingly numerous and diverse, and the bigger the network, the faster it develops. An explosion of such projects has been observed in Berlin over the past two years.

Many projects start out very small: You do not have to change your entire life to contribute. However, one often notices during the first few steps that it is more fun to meet people at eye level than to feel exposed to a global corporation that expects its customers to wait for hours on a hotline. Here, it is all about real encounters with people instead of staged shopping experiences.

Why should it not be possible that an entire continent grows out of such more or less merry islands? In any case, it is obvious that the current political and economic system is delegitimising itself more and more and is thus becoming morally hollow. After a quarter of a century of climate diplomacy, we have not succeeded in reducing the annual CO2 emissions and the consumption of rare resources is growing rapidly. Today the real economy stands at USD 65trn, while at the same time ‘financial products’ amount to a total of USD 600trn. The next bubble will surely burst. We cannot continue like this over the medium term.

It will also depend on the governmental framework conditions whether decentralised, small structures that are made up of even smaller units will become generally accepted and whether common property will take off. Until now, nearly all governments commit themselves to the dogma of economic growth and declare that problems can only be solved if the gross domestic product rises continuously. So far, politics have failed as the leading force for eco-social change. The hope remains that politicians will recognise what chances lie in supporting these new structures.

Annette Jensen and Ute Scheub are the authors of the book Glücksökonomie – wer teilt, hat mehr vom Leben (happiness economy – if you share you get more out of life), which was published by the publishing house oekom at the end of August 2014. In factory Wish-For-Happiness Annette Jensen wrote the article Unternehmer im Glück (initiative instead of frustration) and in factory S/he Ute Scheub wrote Weiberwirtschaft (women’s economy).

More articles on the topic of frustration & failure and sustainability are either online or in our factory Magazine Sisyphus. Fine illustrated and good readable on tablet computers and screens the PDF magazine contains all articles and pictures with numbers and citations to topic and is free to download.

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