CO2 or GDP: The choice is ours

Precise, passionate, and deliberately iconoclastic, the climate specialist and engineer Jean-Marc Jancovici delivered the 2019 inaugural lecture to second-year undergraduate students in Paris, demonstrating the inevitable end of the golden age of energy. In this matter, no compromise is possible: if we are to decarbonise the economy, we must let go of our obsession with perpetual economic growth. Here are the key takeaways from his lecture. #KeepLearning

"For two centuries now, we’ve been replacing renewable energy sources with non-renewable ones," declares Jean-Marc Jancovici in his opening remarks. "For what reason? Humans are not morons; there is a profoundly physical reason for this."

How Man became "the real Superman"

Supported by figures and examples, Jancovici narrates the story of the excessive power that mankind was able to develop due to fossil fuels and the technologies developed for their exploitation. "It's pretty simple, really: today, there are 7 billion human beings on the planet, and if we wanted to be fully independent of machinery, there would need to be 1,400 billion of us." These superhuman powers have increased manifold economic growth, wealth… but also CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, in an unimaginable and irreversible manner. He warns us, "we cannot purify the CO2 already released into the atmosphere - even 100 years from now, over half of the amount of carbon that we have released into the air up until today will remain”.

"We are nowhere close to reducing the consumption of fossil fuels"

Yet, “Superman is beginning to feel suffocated in his suit”. And non-renewable energies necessarily mean limited-stock energies. "The infamous peak of petroleum was already reached in 2008 for most petroleum-based products, and nobody talked about it," deplores Jancovici, who also denounces "the disproportionate media coverage of the development of renewable energies," which in reality only represent a "negligible part" of the energy sources being consumed today. "It is not feasible to 100% replace these energies with renewables - it is manifestly incompatible with our economic system."

To reduce carbon is to reduce growth

It is time to abandon the idea that decarbonisation can go hand in hand with GDP growth, quintessential to our current economic system. "CO2 or GDP - we have to choose," he insists. Traditional economic theory falsely spread the notion that natural resources were "free" since one could simply "bend down and pick them up". "But since they had no price, their destruction cannot have one either - this is where this school of economic thought reveals itself to be incapable of apprehending the changes taking place." According to Jancovici, the only ways to "cushion the blow" of the economic decline required is to stop measuring our economic progress on the basis of GDP growth, to develop projects that are not dependent on growth to evoke enthusiasm, and to rely on, in addition to renewables, nuclear energy to soften the decline and its negative consequences.

Related links

Research Studies: What is their purpose?

Research Studies: What is their purpose?

“Our job is to diagnose  the world as it is”: Pierre François, Dean of the School of Research (formerly the Doctoral School) reflects on the specificities and advantages of research training, a vocation that has become more essential and demanding than ever in the context of the global health crisis that is disrupting “the day-to-day routine of the social sector.”

More
In first jointly taught CIVICA master's course, students explore “Democracy in Crisis”

In first jointly taught CIVICA master's course, students explore “Democracy in Crisis”

Article written by Ellen Thalman (Hertie School) on the first jointly taught CIVICA course between Sciences Po and the Hertie School.

Florence Faucher of Sciences Po and Christian Freudlsperger of the Hertie School teach 70 students.

Voter participation is an emotional topic, as students from Sciences Po and the Hertie School discovered in their jointly taught course, “Democracy in Crisis,”  a few days after the 2020 US election. Reading for the class included “Why do all our feelings about politics matter?” (Laura Jenkins, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 2018), and a group of students prepared a presentation on voter suppression in the US. 

More
Launch of the European Chair for Sustainable Development and Climate Transition

Launch of the European Chair for Sustainable Development and Climate Transition

On 25 November 2020, Sciences Po is launching the European Chair for Sustainable Development and Climate Transition. It will be the first chair to be co-hosted by our two largest graduate schools: the School of Public Affairs, led by Dean Yann Algan, and the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA), led by Dean Enrico Letta. The Chair would not be possible without the support of its three sponsors: Hermès, HSBC and the European Investment Bank.

More
Recap of our 2020 Undergraduate Open House Day

Recap of our 2020 Undergraduate Open House Day

Our 2020 Undergraduate Open Day attracted 12,000 online visitors on Saturday, 14 November. If you were unable to attend the various workshops, below are some videos to watch on replay that will give you some essential information about Sciences Po, our undergraduate programme, and our new admissions procedure.

More