“Health and laziness are powerful tools of social justice”

Mathilde Szuba is a lecturer in political science at Sciences Po Lille, working in particular on normative issues.

Reporter – Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne stated that limiting the energy rate this winter is not excluded. When was the last ration in France? ?

Mathilde Szuba – In the 1940s, during and after World War II, with ticket books that allowed people to distribute limited amounts of food and energy. This is a strict definition of the norm: the organization by the competent authorities of the distribution and distribution of the deficient products to ensure a minimum share for everyone. In everyday language, the term is sometimes used in a broader sense: ration » for example, loans from a public hospital. But this is not the same as an organized policy aimed at protecting consumers in times of scarcity. Rating is the distribution of effort with the goal of fairness and solidarity. This has nothing to do with asking companies to use less gas this winter. Protecting the most fragile is not the same logic.

What does it have to do with sobriety? ?

For a long time, vigilance was discussed mainly in environmental circles or among energy experts. Governments and mainstream institutions have preferred to emphasize renewables or energy efficiency rather than risk progress on a sensitive and conflicting note of caution about downward revisions to needs and reduced energy insecurity. A lot has changed over the past year with the IPCC report [1] Who is he talking about? sufficiency »Adem’s four carbon neutrality scenarios [2] which for the first time incorporated a vigilante scenario (titled thrifty generation ») and Emmanuel Macron’s energy speech last February.

This speech emphasized vigilance, but drifted toward small gestures, deviating from its original meaning. This powerful term, long a banner of radicalism, is here simply reducing waste, supposedly compatible with growth. In political science, this is called framing conflict: actors in the public space try to redefine a term in their own way by adopting a term. Today, if we allow this cheap definition of sobriety or nutrition to prevail, we will forget their political meaning and how they can be powerful tools of social justice.

When you live in a well-insulated home, it’s easier to determine energy, especially electricity, than a thermal sieve. Doesn’t this contradict the idea of ​​social justice? ?

You might think so, but in reality, the amount of energy a person consumes is primarily related to his income: the richer you are, the more energy you consume. But it will look more or less depending on what you choose to measure: heat per square meter or the total amount of heat energy for a house. ? In general, a small thermal sieve consumes less than a large, better insulated house. Same thing for trips. The poorest may have older, more polluting cars that use more fuel per kilometer, but the richest have bigger cars, travel more kilometers and, above all, fly more often. That is why the most significant energy consumption related to travel is shared by people with the highest incomes. So if we had a norm that allowed X liters of petrol per person per week and included plane tickets, it would be the wealthiest who would be penalized the most.

What measures have already been taken to reduce energy consumption in a fair way in history ?

The current crisis has several aspects in common with the oil crisis of 1973. At that time, some countries had to take exceptional measures to reduce energy consumption, such as the Netherlands or the United States, which were embargoed by oil-exporting Arab countries. countries because they supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War. This is very comparable to what we are currently experiencing with Russia using energy blackmail to undermine support for Ukraine.

Being able to water golf courses and not being able to water vegetables are unfair incompatibilities »

In 1973, to reduce energy demand, the Netherlands introduced (among other measures) car-free Sundays: firefighters, ambulances, police, etc. This made it possible to immediately reduce oil consumption. Another advantage: it made the crisis visible. Because it is not a shortage of oil or a shortage of energy visible » whom. For this, it was necessary to be able to see it visually with streets without any traffic. Car-free Sundays sent a clear signal: The Netherlands was in crisis, efforts and adaptations would be needed and everyone would be worried.

How to get people to accept this ratio ?

Coercive measures are more accepted when they are perceived as fair and reasonable, and when there is confidence that the government will do things right. Conversely, when we adopt a double-speak, where effort is demanded on the one hand and privilege protected on the other, it discredits the message. This is for consistency: if on the one hand there is a power cut and we ask everyone to make an effort, on the other hand we continue with projects to expand the airport, for example, it is not consistent.

That’s what we’ve already seen during this summer’s drought. While gardeners are prohibited from watering their vegetables, there has been much criticism of golf courses being able to water their greens. These inconsistencies are unfair and seriously undermine the citizen’s will to make an effort as water scarcity continues to grow.

What can be done to encourage people to reduce their energy consumption? ?

Incentives for energy prudence can only be valid and have a chance of being followed by citizens if they are part of a serious and large-scale plan to reduce energy consumption. How can we encourage everyone to strive and at the same time just want? adjust » private jets ? If private jets were grounded, airports were closed, airplane or automobile advertisements were removed from public spaces, highway speeds were greatly reduced, and streets and roads were pedestrianized every Sunday, it would make sense to ask citizens to do their part. part.

We have bet so much on an affluent society that it is painful to give it up »

But for now, when faced with an energy shock, the ways to respond are cosmetic. And the lack of expectations is incredible. Already in March, the International Energy Agency proposed ten measures to reduce Europe’s energy dependence on Russia: speed reductions on the highway, car-free Sundays in major cities, more remote work, etc. Another trace: in Great Britain, during the 1973 oil crisis, the working week was increased to five days, then to three days, to reduce economy and energy consumption.

Talking about temporary feeding to get out of winter is a way of talking about resource limitations, but without changing anything about the reasons that got us into this situation. ?

It is to depoliticize everything, to see the event as it happened to us, as a twist of fate. However, for several decades there have been many warnings about fossil dependence and all the problems it creates: diplomatic, climate… If we do not discuss long-term reduction, distribution efforts and social justice, the situation will continue. And not just to protect the weakest, but to put the burden first on the biggest consumers.

You announced in 2019 Let it go : “ It is likely that the next time there is malnutrition, it will be a disaster in response to a major and pressing crisis, and thus will be recognized. » Why can’t politicians see ahead? ?

There are many reasons for this. The future is, by definition, uncertain, and when voices tell you that we can get out of it by betting on one or the other without too much damage, it creates a landscape of conflicting messages that allow us to be complacent. When in doubt, we prefer to trust the message that gives us the most pleasure. Lobbyists know how to use this very well. Moreover, when we look at its history XXe century, one may get the impression that the Western world has successfully come out of several serious crises, but why this crisis ?

Western comfort levels skyrocketed in the Roaring Thirties, and since the second oil shock, we’ve been biding our time to find this crazy growth period. The generations that lived through it have a lot of stigma attached to it and find it difficult to let go of it. Finally, there is the ruin effect. We have bet so much on a society of abundance and consumption that today it is painful to give it up. Now the question today is not how to share the fruits of abundance, but how to share the efforts of sobriety.

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