Ecological sobriety: a model for consuming less, but which is struggling to convince the French

Published on: 21/04/2022 – 21:28 Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron opposed, Wednesday evening, their visions of ecology during the debate between the two rounds. But the issue of sobriety has not been addressed. The switch to this lifestyle of consuming “less and better” seems inevitable, however, as the climate crisis worsens. During the debate between the two rounds, Wednesday April 20, only about twenty minutes were devoted to ecology, to the chagrin of defenders of the climate cause. The discussion focused mainly on nuclear power and the place of renewable energies in France’s energy mix, excluding many other aspects of the energy transition. The issue of ecological sobriety was notably absent from the discussion, which sparked reactions on Twitter. “Still not a word on how to get out of fossil fuels as quickly as possible, nor on the major issue of sobriety”, pointed out the NGO Greenpeace. Moreover, during the rare minutes when E. Macron and Mr. Le Pen talked about ecology, they almost exclusively talked about nuclear power. On the other hand, still not a word on how to get out of fossil fuels as quickly as possible, nor on the major issue of sobriety.— Greenpeace France (@greenpeacefr) April 20, 2022 “We talk about energy, energy, energy, … but we are looking for always the word #sobriety in this #debatmacronlepen”, was indignant for his part William Aucant, member of the Citizen’s Climate Convention and EELV regional councilor for Pays de la Loire. This notion of sobriety is old but today it is coming back to the fore. Unlike overconsumption, seeking sobriety aims to moderate the production and demand for energy, goods and services to reduce CO2 emissions. In concrete terms, this approach requires the implementation of binding political measures aimed at changing lifestyles. Contacted by France 24, Sarah Fayolle, campaign manager for the NGO Greenpeace, takes the example of the air sector. “France can no longer afford to fly as many planes as before the Covid-19 crisis. Otherwise, it will explode its carbon budget. Taking this observation into account, the State can act on the supply of air traffic, for example by reducing domestic flights in the event of an alternative by train (a measure resulting from the Citizens’ Convention, editor’s note), or by prohibiting advertising which promotes the use of fossil fuels”, she explains. Sobriety also presupposes the empowerment of citizens. Acting for sobriety means reducing consumption and therefore changing habits. When “we talk about sobriety, we ask people to make a personal effort and lose some of their comfort”, summarizes Daniel Boy, director of research emeritus at Sciences Po and specialist in political ecology, interviewed by France 24. Walk, avoid the plane and eat less meat The Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe) evokes “deconsumption” or even “voluntary frugality”. This may involve, as recommended by the IPCC in its report published on April 4, eating less animal protein, favoring walking and cycling over the car, avoiding long-haul flights or even reducing its use of electrical appliances. According to the latest IPCC report, reducing energy demand and the consumption of goods and services would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70% by 2050. >> Read also: Presidential: with Marine Le Pen in power, “there would be no hope” for the planet In addition, energy sobriety would make it possible in 2050 to reduce France’s energy consumption by 28%, compared to 2015, according to the négaWatt association. But moving towards more sobriety also involves new public policies. “We can’t just say: ‘We introduce sobriety and let people fend for themselves’. We have to support this transformation. For example, if we ban domestic flights, we have to ask ourselves how to make the train financially accessible so that ‘we can all move around in a less polluting way”, explains Sarah Fayolle. And the campaign manager continues: “France must also make progress on energy efficiency (improve equipment to consume less energy), develop renewable or even transform its agricultural model”. A France that is more “open than before” to sobriety Without the support of the population, a more sober way of life could not see the light of day in France either. According to Daniel Boy, the French are more and more receptive to it. “The population is more open than before to this idea of ​​sobriety. Surveys show that eco-responsible gestures that we did not do twenty or thirty years ago have now become commonplace, such as turning off the light when we out of a room,” says Daniel Boy. But the paradoxes persist. If 83% of French people would like to live in a society where consumption takes up less space, 60% of French people want “to be able to afford things that make them want more often”, according to the latest barometer from Ademe. “The French agree, in principle, to consume less but is this also the case in practice? Walk two kilometers to buy bread, who would do it today?” Asks the political scientist. Daniel Boy also takes the example of dividing meat consumption by three, a measure recommended by Ademe in one of its four scenarios for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. “It’s not surprising if no candidate said yesterday (Wednesday) that he was going to ask people to apply this measure. Because drastically reducing their meat consumption requires a very substantial personal effort for some French people. And then, it is not acceptable to ask something similar to the working classes”, explains Daniel Boy. This issue was also raised by Ademe, which presents sobriety as consuming “less but better” and for whom the “better raises questions with regard to its accessibility for the most disadvantaged audiences”.>> See also : Vanessa Nakate: “Rich and responsible countries must pay for the climate crisis” But for Sarah Fayolle, “wealthy households today have a much stronger impact on the environment than the poorest households, so everyone must not contribute to the same height”. Sobriety is therefore not reduced to lower consumption, it is also another vision of society involving profound changes. What arouse reluctance. “In the social sciences, we do not yet know what can convince people to adopt a lifestyle based on sobriety”, admits Daniel Boy.