The collapse speech splits environmentalists

The collapse speech splits environmentalists

The Boiro forest fire that burned down more than 2,200 hectares in A Coruña last weekend.The Boiro forest fire that burned down more than 2,200 hectares in A Coruña last weekend.ÓSCAR CORRAL

The poor forecasts given the energy crisis aggravated by the war in Ukraine, the current difficulties in various countries around the world or the desperate lack of progress in the face of climate change do not give much optimism. But for current collapseists, many of these problems today are not cyclical, but rather evidence of the cracking of a system that is truly collapsing. Although this vision is not new and has been established in part of environmentalism for years, some of its approaches are now generating conflict among environmentalists in Spain due to their disastrous discourse and fueling rejection of the current use of renewable energy.

“My diagnosis is that we’re going to hell,” says Antonio Turiel, a CSIC researcher and the most visible face of the collapseists in Spain. According to the author of Petrocalipsis, “It is not imperative that we collapse because we want to”, but to avoid this the system must be completely transformed: “If we don’t abandon capitalism, we will collapse, that’s it easy,” he has warned for years.

One of the main theses of this current is that due to the scarcity of materials and the dependence of these green technologies on conventional energies, it is not possible to replace all currently used fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) with renewable energies. “No one has managed to assemble a wind turbine or a photovoltaic panel without involving fossil energy in the process of material extraction, component manufacture, transportation, installation or maintenance,” emphasizes Turiel.

To avoid catastrophe, as this promoter defends, we must stop working on energy conversion (with renewable energies or the electric car) and start reducing it to drastically reduce the need for energy and other materials. “It’s not true that we have to go back to the caves or the Middle Ages, there are studies that ensure that energy consumption in Spain can be reduced by 90% without changing our standard of living,” says the physicist who conducts research at the Institute of Marine Sciences of Barcelona. “It’s not about doing things more efficiently, it’s about doing a lot less. Perhaps one has to consider that the private automobile industry has to be eliminated,” says Turiel.

Antonio Turiel, researcher at the Institut de Ciències del Mar of the CSIC in Barcelona. Antonio Turiel, researcher at the Institut de Ciències del Mar of the CSIC in Barcelona. Massimiliano Minocri

Although the environmental world shares the defense of planetary boundaries, some of the collapseists’ most extreme approaches have been publicly criticized by environmental activists and energy experts. According to environmentalist and politician Héctor Tejero from Más Madrid, “The problem is that they involuntarily feed the perception that there is nothing to be done when in fact it is possible to make an ecological transition to a better world.” Climate communicator Andreu Escrivá does not doubt that consumption must be reduced or attention must be paid to the shortage of minerals, but he also sees this discourse on collapse as “terrifying and demotivating”. “Such blunt statements tempt us to flirt with a kind of eco-fascism that can lead us down very dangerous paths, because if we send out such nasty messages, we will make people recalcitrant because they think we want to take away their freedom, that we love them, take away their lifestyle,” comments the environmentalist. “If the alternative is to reduce energy use by 90 percent or collapse, I might choose collapse, whatever that is,” says ironically Eloy Sanz, professor of energy engineering at Rey Juan Carlos University, who affirms that the collapsists find using scientific data in a biased manner.

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Journalist Juan Bordera, who co-signs The Autumn of Civilization with Turiel, does not see himself as a collapseist, but believes that collapse is “very likely, considering inertia, and that we wouldn’t be the first civilization either that is collapsing: There are 26 civilizations that have collapsed before ours,” he says. “If we don’t recognize the problem, we won’t be able to face it and it won’t be recognized because it would force us to change many things, not just in the way of life on an individual level. As a system, we should do a very serious, very rapid transformation that isn’t wanted or can’t.”

This is contradicted by the environmentalist Escrivá, who defends that “the most successful way of transformation is not about raising apocalyptic horizons and blaming citizens, but about establishing collective strategies, transformation policies and above all with a key question: what is redistribution? As he points out, “There’s a quote from Raymond Williams that says that to be truly radical is to enable hope rather than to persuade to despair.”

On the subject of minerals and renewable energies, Alicia Valero, a researcher at the Circe Institute of the University of Zaragoza, is one of the specialists closest to the collapsist circles, who affirms that “with the current reserves, d deposits operating today can contain fossil fuels not be replaced by renewable energies on a global scale”. “We’ve done studies, and they don’t give the numbers for more than a dozen commodities that are essential to the ecological transition,” says the researcher. This is limited to reserves known today, it does not take into account mineral resources that may be found in the future. However, according to Valero, “it takes an average of 15 years to open a depot, so there is a problem here because we urgently need it.”

Among the most critical voices with some of the collapsing approaches is Pedro Fresco, a renewable energy expert and Director General of Ecological Transition for the Generalitat Valenciana, who emphasizes that the amount of lithium reserves has doubled in 10 years, correspondingly upping your search. “How many are there? We don’t know,” he says. “You may run out of lithium, okay, but there’s no technological predeterminism that says energy storage has to be with lithium batteries.” “Every time something new appeared, he thought people thought the new couldn’t replace the old.” “One of his typical arguments against renewables is that they’re made from fossil fuels. Of course, and the railroad tracks in the eighteenth century were made with horses. According to Fresco, “The problem is that the anti-renewable movements have found an excuse in collapsing ideas to maintain their position without falling into climate denial or NIMBY [Not In My Backyard (no en mi patio trasero)]. How these gentlemen tell me it’s worthless and it’s a lie by the industry because I’m opposed to renewables in my area and I don’t feel immoral, so to speak.”

Limited alternatives

Another speaker of the collapsist view is Margarita Mediavilla, a researcher at the University of Valladolid’s Energy, Economy and System Dynamics Group (GEEDS) who has been studying these issues for almost 10 years. As he says, “Both energy and ecological transition alternatives are, in the broadest sense, much more limited than previously thought. The fundamental problem is that we have a society and an economy designed for growth. The capitalist economy is very good when it has ample resources because it has the ability to use them to the maximum, but when it hits material limits it is unable to adapt.” “I agree with Turiel that we’re just going to collapse if we’re not able to change these socio-economic dynamics, even in a collapse, which can be tough,” says Mediavilla, who is committed to organizing a “good decline” because “that’s bad We already have some decline in growth: it is clear that we are going down”.

“It is true that we are facing a very turbulent historical period in which the risk of social failure is high. I believe that collapse is a possibility, but by no means is it fate, nor can we take for granted that if we define collapse strictly, we will collapse,” replies Emilio Santiago Muiño, who has devoted himself to transformational research anthropological studies on the climate crisis of the CSIC. “Where I debate more forcefully with collapsing peers is the political hypothesis that the coming turmoil will inevitably result in some sort of failed state. In fact, a certain disregard for the state and a commitment to what they call community resilience, self-management solutions are very common in collapsing positions. As if to assume that our political order will collapse because energetically it will not work and that the political solutions must come from the country through a return to the communities, to the rural world, to self-government, locally. That’s where I think the diagnosis fails because by thinking like that we’re missing out on the political struggle that’s going to take place and so the results will be much worse.”

This anthropologist has been linked to the collapse in the past, but today he dismisses that trend. “Sometimes the collapsist discourse has certain deterministic quirks that are very common when people with scientific backgrounds start speculating about the social, because the social is much more complex,” says Santiago Muiño. “It is true that we are facing a strong systemic crisis, with a key energy component, and that we have geological boundaries. All of this is true. But with a little more leeway than I thought. “And then it also became clear to me that you can’t turn a speech like that into majority politics. The mixture of these two themes caused me to stray a little from collapsist circles,” he points out.

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