Why They Do Nothing Against Climate Change: Creative Destruction and Ash’s Experiment

Facing a COP26 that is not going to agree on anything significant, the question is also: why don’t they take effective measures against a climate crisis that threatens to become a catastrophe?

Searching for the reasons for this "inaction theory" the old Ash experiment came to mind: psychologist Solomon Ash organized groups of between 7 and 9 people and to each of them he gave two sheets of paper, on one was drawn a line and on the other, three lines of different sizes, one of which was exact to the one on the first sheet. The subjects were asked which of the lines on the second sheet was equivalent to the one on the first. The answer was obvious. The trick was that all but one member of the group had been told by the experimenter to deliberately give the wrong answer. The question that the experiment put in value is whether it is possible for the subject to believe the evidence of his own eyes or will follow the majority opinion, even if it is obviously wrong. The result showed that the opinion of the group greatly affects the individual decision, to the extent that 37% of the time the answers given to something that was obvious were wrong.

It is as if the COP26 negotiators lived in a group of Ash’s experiment, in which, even if they knew the right answer, their entire environment (dogmatic neoliberal economists, energy multinational lobbies, geopolitical and military interests) imposed the wrong path as the right one. In an exercise of greenwashing that insults intelligence, COP26 itself is sponsored by energy multinationals that do business by emitting CO2.

A few days ago, Lumumba Diaping, the Senegalese diplomat who represented the G77 at COP15 in Copenhagen, told me, full of sadness, that it is as if the world has been convinced that nothing needs to be done. Boris Johnson himself, the host of the Summit, has no intention of promoting measures to curb the climate crisis; indeed, analysts suggest that his intention is to delve into the business opportunities that the climate disaster opens up for some sectors, thus joining the new denialism that consists not so much in denying climate change as in assuming that there is nothing to be done, other than trusting that a future and saving technology will ensure that the world remains the same, but without changing the climate.

Let us not underestimate this "theory of inaction" because it threatens to become a majority among those who negotiate on our behalf and because it is based on a concept that the economist Schumpeter developed, based on Marx, on the "creative destruction" of capital, i.e., the capacity of capitalism to destroy previous processes and systems to give rise to new ones. The problem is that along the way it devalues wealth and generates crises and that, faced with a global problem such as the climate crisis that affects the entire productive system, there are no palliative measures or partial technologies that provide a solution to a planetary challenge. In other words, electric cars will not solve the problem.

But perhaps the key to this theory of climate inaction lies beyond the suicidal confidence in the "creative destruction" of capitalism, and is to be found in the dogmatic irrationality with which political and economic power defends the free market above all things, including the planet. It is obvious that to stop climate change we must change the production model through binding global agreements, but for those who negotiate for us today, freedom without corporate responsibility is the dogma to be protected.

Faced with them, the world

I am not exaggerating, the latest Eurobarometer tells us that 93% of Europeans consider climate change to be the world’s biggest problem and that reducing CO2 emissions to a minimum must be a priority. The UN Secretary General himself, last month at its General Assembly, cried out that "the world is heading for a climate catastrophe".

Millions of young people and activists from all corners of the world have raised their cry, and on the streets of Glasgow we will see them again demanding, not the impossible, but the sensible thing: stop climate change to save the future. Those who despise environmentalism usually argue that it only serves to announce the apocalypse, but today I assure you: they could not be further from the truth. At COP26 there will be many voices outside the useless corridors of mercantile climate diplomacy. Some of them, their demands and proposals, can be found in the People’s Summit, whose ideas and contents I invite you to investigate. transform! europe participates in its organization and perhaps that is why I have been able to detect something that, I am sure, escapes those of the "theory of inaction" and that is that young people are increasingly angry.

And more educated. They know that the solution is to change ways of producing and consuming, that it cannot be the workers who suffer the consequences of the necessary changes; "climate justice" or "just transition" are concepts that you will find in all their demands, they denounce the multinationals that emit and those who benefit from it, they defend the intersectionality of struggles and solidarity and they do not want more delays. What I detect, and I believe I am not mistaken, is a growing distance between those who govern and those who are governed with respect to the climate urgency, and in view of this, I humbly encourage to join a generation of activists who know what they are doing when they demand "change the system, not the climate". The admiration I have for these young people leads me to think that, if they were part of Ash’s experiment, most of them would be among those who, despite the pressures, would give the right answer.

originally published at Público (Spanish)