“We need to decouple the economy from the amount of consumption”

Bertrand Piccard was in Luxembourg on Thursday 28 April to discuss a topic at the Chamber of Commerce with the Minister for Energy, Claude Turmes (déi Gréng), and the Minister for the Economy, Franz Fayot (LSAP) on a theme: reconciling the ecology and economy. Psychiatrist, explorer, he has identified more than 1,000 technological solutions through his Solar Impulse foundation that are both environmentally friendly and profitable.

In an interview for Paperjam, he presents himself as a proponent of ‘qualitative growth’, the third way between decline and unlimited growth. This path should make it possible to decouple the economy from the quantity of consumption in order to link it to the “quality of efficiency”. A perspective that wants to be ‘realistic’ because it allows them, by promising profit and employment and thus adopting the language of business and the political world, to convince them that ecology should be at the center of economics. development.

The pandemic has illustrated very well the very strong interdependence between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions. Doesn’t our consumption and production model directly contradict the goals of the Paris Agreement?

Bertrand Piccard. † “Up until now it is true that economic development is linked to the amount of production, consumption, waste and pollution. And that’s what we need to change. However, today, through the solutions identified by the Solar Impulse Foundation, we see that it is possible to link economic development with the quality of efficiency.

This means that we need less raw materials, energy and waste to achieve a better result. So we will be able to create jobs and guarantee economic development by replacing what pollutes with what protects the environment. This is what I like to call qualitative growth: so we are not in degrowth, which threatens to lead to social chaos, nor in the so-called unlimited growth, which is a destructive myth that leads us to an ecological disaster.

When we say we need to reduce consumption, comfort or mobility, we get no popular support, political support, or economic support.

Bertrand Piccard, Chairman, Solar Impulse Foundation

Your credo is to reconcile growth and the environment. Is it because you are mainly attached to an economic model based on growth or because you think, more pragmatically, that this is a much more effective message for persuading players to implement the energy transition – at least more effective than talking about it? reduce consumption and production?

“It’s more realistic. That’s why I called my book ‘Realist’. You have to get a result regardless of an ideology. When we say that we have to reduce consumption, comfort or mobility, it is true that at some level less CO emissions will be2† But we will have neither popular support, political support, nor economic support.

So I use my experience as a psychiatrist – because I’m actually a psychiatrist before I’m an explorer – to speak the language of the people I want to convince. And the ones that can really change things are businesses and the political world. However, they reason in terms of job creation and economic development. So we need to show them that they can create more jobs and have more economic development if they put ecology at the center of their action than if they continue to waste as they have done so far.

In the rich countries, we are by far the largest emitters of greenhouse gases per person. Isn’t green growth the denial-strewn dream of those in these rich countries who don’t want to question their way of life?

“When we talk about rich countries, we have to look at the 9/10”and countries in the world that are not rich and that only dream of one thing: to develop to keep up with our level of development. What are we going to tell them? Are you not developing? Stay without electricity, without sanitary facilities, without heated or air-conditioned buildings? But you will have the whole world against you! So we have to show that this development is possible in an ecological way, with new products, new systems, new materials, new processes, new devices.

The economy must grow to ensure a good quality of life, but this economy must be decoupled from the quantity of consumption in order to link it to the quality of efficiency.

Bertrand Piccard

Bertrand Piccard, Chairman, Solar Impulse Foundation

Also, when we talk about degrowth, there are proponents of degrowth who don’t say what to reduce, and proponents of growth who don’t know what to grow. But they argue over a major misunderstanding. Because it is clear that we need to reduce pollution, inefficiency, waste, waste, excess. But there are other things that need to be increased: health, education, social security, pension funds. In fact, the economy must grow to ensure a good quality of life, but this economy must be decoupled from the quantity of consumption to be linked to the quality of efficiency. And there you have a real solution.

“Today it is still legal to pollute, waste and be inefficient.  Governments should support this infrastructure modernization by modernizing regulations,” said Bertrand Piccard.  (Photo: Romain Gamba/Maison Moderne)

“Today it is still legal to pollute, waste and be inefficient. Governments should support this infrastructure modernization by modernizing regulations,” said Bertrand Piccard.

(Photo: Romain Gamba/Maison Moderne)

The director of Erin (List’s “environment” department), Lucien Hoffmann, warned in a
paper jam interview
, that it is “very difficult to bet only on a technological improvement without also addressing its use”, explaining that “historically very few new technologies have enabled a reduction in energy consumption”. For example, thermal cars have never been more efficient, but the demand for oil is rising like a rocket, because improved engines have made it possible to build heavier cars. What do you think?

“I think that’s completely fair. This is the ‘rebound effect’. That is why we need regulations, such as the CO2 tax, which oblige us to take external effects into account. The products will be slightly more expensive, but we will consume much less of them, so eventually there will be an improvement in purchasing power. With a carbon tax and adequate regulation, the rebound effect can be positive, not negative.

We need modern legislation that encourages the use of modern technologies.

Bertrand Piccard

Bertrand Piccard, Chairman, Solar Impulse Foundation

The government must therefore regulate to change consumer behaviour…

“The best way to change behavior is through regulation. It doesn’t happen by itself. I’m really delighted that once we’ve identified these 1,400 solutions that are economically profitable and yet protect the environment, it hasn’t been implemented. We need modern legislation that encourages the use of modern technologies.

Today it is still legal to pollute, waste and be inefficient. Governments should accompany this infrastructure modernization by modernizing regulations. Which doesn’t mean you have to ban everything, it often means that you have to authorize things that are not allowed these days. For example, unloading your electric car at your house in the evening during peak consumption, and charging it again later when there is plenty of energy, the regulations do not allow this. I am therefore not arguing for more bans, but for a modernization of legislation to encourage the arrival of all these technologies.

Instead of producing more and consuming more, we need to consume less through efficiency.

Bertrand Piccard

Bertrand Piccard, Chairman, Solar Impulse Foundation

Are you afraid that companies, hit by the economic crisis, will invest less in the transition? What would you advise them to keep from going this way?

“What is the consequence of the war in Ukraine? A food crisis in the world and an energy crisis. And the solution to these two problems is exactly the same as for climate change: you have to be more efficient. Instead of producing more and consuming more, we need to consume less through efficiency.

When it comes to food, you should know that half of the food is lost between production and consumption. It rots on the spot, it is poorly transported, it is wasted. So we see that there is huge potential to make better use of what we have.

75% of the energy produced is wasted simply because we have inefficient infrastructure systems.

Bertrand Piccard

Bertrand Piccard, Chairman, Solar Impulse Foundation

And what about energy?

“75% of the energy produced is wasted simply because we have inefficient infrastructure systems. For example, one third of the world’s electricity is consumed by electric motors in factories. But how can we vary their power? Instead of putting more or less electricity, we increase the resistances. So the engine is always running at full throttle, and we always use the same amount of energy for an even less good effect.

Like putting a mute on a trumpet…

“Exactly. Today, however, with digital management, we can vary the rotational speed of the motor to vary the current. That’s a 60% saving! So if everything were modernized, just at the level of the factory electric motors, it would be 60 Saving % of electricity on a third of the world’s electricity It’s colossal We’re reducing by 22% Just by doing that.

So instead of looking for a gas supplier other than Russia, we better get efficient, insulate buildings, change heating systems. And the solutions are extraordinary: Celsius uses geothermal energy in the city, for example, and drills 200 meters deep to install heat pumps in buildings in the city. It’s five to six times more efficient than an electric radiator or an oil heater, it’s absolutely incredible!

I see that the technical solutions are there. It makes me optimistic. Now what makes me pessimistic is seeing how long it takes to get the basic processes in place.

Bertrand Piccard

Bertrand Piccard, Chairman, Solar Impulse Foundation

Looking at the evolution of greenhouse gas emissions, the situation seems hopeless…

“Yeah totally.

Do you hope, you who traveled the world in a solar plane when it was said that it was impossible, that the impossible is exactly possible?

“I now see that the technical solutions are there. It makes me optimistic. Now what makes me pessimistic is seeing how long it takes to get the basic processes in place. For example, factories not only spew smoke, but also heat into the atmosphere, and thus energy. One of the startups labeled by the Solar Impulse Foundation captures this heat via heat exchangers in the chimneys and returns this heat to the factory. That is 20% energy savings for the factory. But it is clear that this should be mandatory everywhere, as it is profitable…”

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