The Great Transformation

The conference in Essen made it clear: We need a Great Transformation to ensure that we will avoid climate catastrophe.  This transformation is greater than one might have imagined. Because this transformation includes all aspects of our lives:

Technology – we need to change the entire hardwiring of our societies, changing from fossil energy sources to renewable energies, from inefficient to high-efficient technologies.

Institutions – we need to reformulate our understanding of society as not just a market place, but as a cosmopolitan group of human beings living together on one fragile earth. Our institutions, from economy to government need to be based on sustainability, equity, and mutual trust.

Life style – We urgently need to “power down”, using less energy and resources from our earth and ourselves; instead, we need to focus more on values that can make us happy in a sustainable and long-lasting way, such as friendship and the enjoyment of nature.

Our world view – We need to understand ourselves as a globally connected community, with everybody having influence on the lives of others in the world.


How will we manage to transform all that? One positive aspect is that peak oil is happening at the same time as the proximity to climatic tipping points. Even if people do not like the moral aspect of the need to act on climate change, the fact that oil will be running out in the near future, and that we need alternative fuel sources, helps to support the needed changes towards renewable energies.

Another positive aspect is that crisis creates opportunities. At times of crisis people become more creative and willing to cooperate. We need to build upon that great potential and stimulate people a lot more into action. However, people might not act until they get scared. But by then any action will likely be too late. Let’s not wait for Hamburg to be inundated, or Florida being flooded! Why not just use our understanding that we have right now and act?

The problem is, as Prof. Welzer pointed out, that knowledge does not translate into action. People are amazingly good in adapting their knowledge to ways that are convenient to them, redesigning reality to fit into their lives. Knowledge alone is not enough. I believe the major bridge from knowledge to action is understanding – a connection between our mind and our heart. Unfortunately, that connection was not discussed at the conference, as emotions are not part of scientific discourse, emotions are not scientific. I believe excluding emotions from our discussions is a major mistake, as people will not truly understand the facts if they don’t truly understand the consequences. And the consequences cannot be truly understood if we do not allow our emotions to show.

It gives some kind of weird hope to think that we are in a loose – win situation, as Wolfgang Sachs described it. If we do not act in time we will lose everything what humanity has grown to get accustomed to – our current climate, our wealth, our relative security. If we act in time, we can only win. Win not only financially, but we will also win back our sense of security, hope, joy, and believe in our ability to think and act as homo sapiens, win back a sense of respect for ourselves and of responsibility for all living things on earth. In a way, if we win, we might have found a way back to some sort of the garden Eden – a place of mutual understanding, respect, joy, equality and happiness.

Now that is surely something worth working towards.

Maiken Winter

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