Futuribles Journal n° 397

Ressources naturelles, énergie, environnement - Société, modes de vie

The Pillars of a New Humanism: Ceilings or Transition? Where is the Crisis Leading?

“The desire to let things run their natural course until it is too late is the greatest threat humanity is bringing upon itself”, wrote André Lebeau in one of his last books, L’Enfermement planétaire (Paris: Gallimard, 2008). And, indeed, humanity’s confrontation with the limits of the terrestrial eco-system might well lead, if not to its doom, then at least to some very violent modifications of its ways of life and consumption.

This article comes to the same conclusion. With the race for ever higher performance, the various transitions (demographic, nutritional, agricultural and epidemiological) that affect most countries, and the environmental consequences of changes in ways of life which have been observed since the industrial revolution all accelerating over time and spreading to all continents, the indications are that the human race is reaching a turning-point.

Various ceilings can be seen to have been reached: in energy consumption, in sporting and economic performance, in life expectancy –ceilings that could be broken through (in the effort to maintain hitherto upward curves) only at great cost to ecosystems or to future generations. Such a scenario would be unacceptable, given the pressures on the environment we are already observing. The challenge, the authors argue, is to reconcile humanity with its environment by “defin[ing] the superfluous and situat[ing] the acceptable” on a world scale and in concerted fashion. Since humanity can no longer have “delusions of infinite progress”, if it is not to run the risk of a worst-case scenario and violent breakdown, it must now collectively revise its mode of development in the hope of a lasting solution.

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