On can only welcome the emergence of sobriety in the public debate as a solution to the energy crisis. The concept of sobriety is not new, it dates back to ancient Greece. Thailand was the first country to make it the backbone of its development policy, while France is the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to have included sobriety in its energy transition law.
Unfortunately, the French vision of sobriety is limited to its energy dimension and ignores the other components of sobriety identified in Report III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Indeed, this report defines sobriety policies as being “a set of everyday measures and practices that avoid the demand for energy, materials, land and water while ensuring well-being for all within planetary boundaries”.
Sobriety is not austerity! On the contrary, sobriety policies preserve access for all to essential services by eliminating superfluous consumption by the wealthiest. And contrary to popular belief, citizens will only be able to behave soberly if, and only if, public policies first put in place the necessary solutions so that the activities essential to the well-being of all take place in compliance with the planetary boundaries.
Structural changes needed
Sobriety policies need to consider both the dimensional, cooperative aspects and the use of the goods and services made available to citizens. Dimensional sobriety consists of putting products on the market (cars, housing, household appliances) that correspond to the needs of citizens. Cooperative sobriety comes down to implementing a collective organization of space in such a way as to allow significant pooling of essential services – such as for mobility thanks to public transport. Sobriety of use aims to eliminate the planned obsolescence of devices and equipment and to make better use of them. It is clear that citizens will only be able to act on the use of the devices they have. Therefore, reducing sobriety to behavioral changes of individuals would be a fatal error because citizens are in truth locked into the solutions authorized by public policies.
Unsurprisingly, the vision of sobriety by the bosses of Engie, EDF and TotalEnergies is limited to behavioral changes. The French energy companies are part of the continuity of the well-rehearsed strategy of misinformation, developed by the American oil companies to divert the attention of the public authorities from the structural changes necessary to eliminate the use of fossil fuels. Sobriety as advocated by French energy companies would trigger, if the public authorities implemented it, an unprecedented social crisis.
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