In L’Engrenage de la technique, L’Enfermement planétaire and Les Horizons terrestres, André Lebeau sounded the alarm: the human species has reached the limits, both physical and economic, of its ecological niche. For the first time in its history it faces a challenge in which its survival is at stake. There are too many human beings and, as it wastes resources and thoughtlessly pollutes the planet, humanity is hurtling irreversibly towards a final catastrophe. It has no means of escaping from the planet on which it developed, while its resources in terms of energy, raw materials, food production, drinking water and living space are subject to tensions that cannot increase indefinitely without collective behaviour suffering radical breakdowns or profound transformations.
Neither technology nor an economics founded on the myth of eternal growth can provide solutions, since they are precisely the source of the problem. If a neo-liberalism which sees the market as the supreme saviour is making that problem worse, sustainable development is no better placed to halt the fateful mechanism, since it is blind to the creation of disequilibria now implied in any form of development. The Earth may perhaps feed more people, but it cannot ensure everyone of a share of resources comparable to that of a European today, nor (even less) of an American. In other words, some people’s standard of living is now inseparable from the poverty of others.
Is it still possible to modify collective behaviour? This is the question André Lebeau confronted in the unfinished work whose foreword we present below. Without ever formulating a prognosis regarding the outcome, he doubted that it was, since evolution had programmed man to divide into groups, conquer territories and dominate his neighbours, not to control the relationship with a finite environment, to cooperate and to share. Whereas answers can only be collective, all our political and economic structures run counter to this –including in the democracies, where the short-term is the ultimate matrix of decision-making. The two main dangers threatening society with break-up and civilizational decay are blindness and inertia. Even supposing that we were aware of the problem, our social organization does not really allow us to confront it. Thus, for example, in order to preserve social peace, politicians are proposing to give fresh stimulus to the economic growth, even though they are perfectly aware that such a model is no longer viable.