. . SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT . .
An article by Bruno Maresca in the Huffington Post (translated by CPNN)
Driven by popular acclaim – more than 700,000 cinema viewers in three months against 265,000 for The Titanic Syndrome Nicolas Hulot! – the film “Demain” [i.e. Tomorrow] , by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent, released at the time of COP21, received the trophy for best documentary in the 2016 Caesars.
This unusual success seems to be explained by two factors. First, they feature local initiatives around the world that show that it is possible, at different levels, to engage in the fight against climate change. Second, they show that these initiatives can be done now (food, energy, local economic processes, education and direct democracy) and, as such, they inspire action by showing what is already working. The film succeeds in showing that French society wants to escape from the present atmosphere of doom and gloom.
This willingness to explore initiatives that invent alternatives to the global system of production and consumerism is in the air. It is the subject of the journalist Eric Dupin in his innovative book, “The pioneers: a voyage in France” (La Découverte, 2014). His book explores the diversity and richness of initiatives and people who “explore, in a pragmatic way, other lifestyles, such as new ways of working.” It includes those who invest in shared housing, organic farming or alternative schools, those who share a great desire to escape , with varying degrees of radicalism, from the globalization of production and consumption.
At the end of his account, Eric Dupin is ultimately pessimistic. He stresses that the diversity of initiatives does not by itself produce a coherent movement that can converge to a coordinated action and thereby produce change. Is it not the case that his “pioneers”, like those of “Demain”, privilege above all a ‘culture of exemplary individuals”? “Each person doing something at his level” seems to be their credo, which is far from the search for a collective change, which would mean developing political institutions. For this reason, the pioneers – and they are many – do not seem themselves to be a social movement.
“Demain”, meanwhile, wants to convince us that we can change the world by spreading many examples of experiences, both small and large. But can they escape from pessimism? Can their experiences outweigh the destructive and reactionary forces of the world economic and political system? Two impressive sequences illustrate the problem, one at the beginning and one at the end of the film: the apocalyptic vision of the city of Detroit, abandoned since the collapse of the auto industry, and the financial crisis in Iceland, which got to the point that the civil society overthrew the country’s political class. After viewing the film by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent and reading the book of Eric Dupin, we are confronted by the question: can we arrive at a new future by change from below, by the proliferation of individual initiatives? And finally, how should we explain the great attraction of “Demain”?
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On the release of his book, the journal Libération called Eric Dupin a “pilgrim of utopia”.
On the websirte of Mediapart, Jean-Louis Legalery notes that after seeing the film “Demain”, viewers gave it a standing ovation, reminding him of the reaction to the film Z by Costa Gavras in 1979. The films that aroused spectators in the 1970s were eminently political; they called for collective mobilization to radically transform institutions. With hindsight, one can say they were driven by a high load of utopia (utopia that crashed against hard reality, as in the situation of Greece today).
Question: What are the consequences of the state subsidies paid to large farms?
Perhaps what works in “Demain” is this utopian vision that gives everyone the impression he can take part in something that is already going on. Instead of staying each in his virtuous corner, inscribed in the register of eco-gestures, one is invited to engage in something new, something that breaks with the dominant system, such as “urban farms” or “local currencies” and other initiatives shown in “Demain.” If these inventions are sufficiently taken up around the world, they could subvert the global economic system.
However, we are not seeing such a significant change in scenery. Farms with over 1,000 cows are now appearing in France, as in Denmark and Poland. And even if many people are changing their practices by sharing, recycling, carpooling, etc., it is difficult to disentangle this from a change in lifestyle necessitated by the stress of the economic crisis. A widespread changeover seems still far away. In the variety of examples shown in “Demain”, Africa and Asia are not very present.
But the real challenge of the transformation of production and consumption is in Asia, which, in 2030, will contain over 66% of the global middle class (against 28% in 2009, according to the OECD ). This emerging middle class, in strong numerical growth, is adopting the consumption patterns of the Western middle class, industrial power, private cars, expansion of suburban areas for access to the house, mass tourism, etc. Like a huge pendulum, the Western middle classes, being squeezed out by rising unemployment and inequality, adhere increasingly to the “small is beautiful” approach to local agriculture, solidarity businesses, alternative transport, renewable energy, etc.
What is unquestionably positive in “Demain” is that the Western middle classes want to reclaim the management of their daily lives, in their own life space, through collective initiatives of goodwill and kindness. They are engaged in a movement of self-awareness of their real interests, their need to live and consume differently.
This “self-consciousness” is what the middle classes had lost at the turn of the 1980s. When social struggles were diluted by access to welfare and mass consumption the middle class was reduced to being just a cog in the functioning of the global economy.
So let us dream, like many of its fans, that “Demain” is the flight of the swallow that heralds a new phase in the history of the middle class. Given the collective optimism that this film has inspired, it is possible to dream . . .