Five myths and other beliefs that lead us directly into collapse. Reflections to advance collectively towards a sustainable transition.

There is a constant stream of news and studies, of various kinds and origins, which, with allusions to climate change, the depletion of fossil resources, the loss of biodiversity or the surpassing of planetary limits, end up referring us to the same scenario: the collapse of the current industrial civilisation and the serious consequences that this fact entails. In order to understand how we have arrived here and why the capitalist system continues to devour our possibilities of making life on the planet sustainable, we must understand which are the driving ideas on which it is based. These beliefs, false myths, are part of a narrative that has given rise to the paradigm of modernity of which we are heirs, widely criticized by authors such as Yayo Herrero, director general of Fuhem, for whom we face the great challenge of "decolonizing minds" to undertake the transition to a new paradigm capable of building new forms of relationship with the environment and the rest of the inhabitants of the planet.

1) The myth of limitless growth

One of these great myths of the current system is the idea of growth, which leads us to think that more growth translates into more development and progress. These developmental ideas are constructed ignoring planetary limits, as well as those activities that do not have a monetary reflection in the financial world (carried out mostly by women), of which GDP is its main indicator. As Óscar Carpintero and José Bellver, researchers, maintain, "the literature on the deficiencies of GDP as an indicator of well-being is so overwhelming that what surprises is the stubbornness of continuing to appeal (uncritically) to its growth as the best way to improve the well-being of the population". No proposal that does not take into account these limits and realities such as the decrease in energy consumption and material resources can be considered an alternative to the situation of generalized collapse we are facing. In this sense, it is important to redouble warnings against false solutions from the hands of green capitalism and other lampedusian strategies of the system to change nothing, and in the meantime do business.


2) The myth of dematerialization or decoupling


Foto Anna Elias(c) Anna Elias


Linked to the belief in growth is the myth of dematerialization or decoupling, which states that the economy can continue to grow by reducing energy consumption and its impacts. History reveals that the decline in consumption has been mainly motivated by times of great recession and that, on the contrary, there is an almost perfect correlation between GDP and energy consumption and the use of resources. As the OECD itself points out, "this improvement in environmental productivity has not necessarily been accompanied by absolute decreases in environmental pressures (decoupling of impacts) or the sustainable use of certain natural goods" (...), "the challenges continue to be striking, especially due to the pressure exerted by the current mode of production".
3) The myth of efficiency

Underlying this is the myth of increased efficiency, which is considered the solution to the decline and depletion of energy resources. Against this backdrop, authors such as Fernández Durán and González Reyes warn that "efficient" measures have been classified such as relocation, which require a high consumption of energy and materials and where almost 25% of greenhouse gas emissions from goods consumed in central countries have been produced in peripheral countries. In addition, these measures generate indirect impacts on the social costs of the exploitation of labor, which is replaced by machines or involve a cheaper labor, also producing a rebound effect where efficiency improvement by this reduction causes increased use.

Foto Anna Elias

(c) Anna Elias

 4) The myth of technology

Another of the ideas underpinning the current paradigm is techno-optimism, which offers the vision of a future increasingly robotic and highly engineered capable of solving any problem. However, techno-science is completely limited by the problems of scarcity caused by the energy crisis and the exhaustion of materials. In addition, the techno-scientific system needs ever-increasing investments, something contrary to the trend of cuts in R&D&I. Beyond the physical-chemical limitations of the techno-scientific system, the basis of environmental and social problems are not technical, but political and cultural, so neither science nor technology will be able to solve them by themselves.

5) The myth of renewables

Finally, in the field of alternatives, we find the confidence that the renewables will be the solution to the shortage of fossil fuels. Indeed, it is an option that must be firmly bet on, but which will never replace the levels of consumption that we currently have. Renewables require large investments that offer no security of recovery or short-term benefits. For this reason, it has been opted for an inequitable distribution of scarcity, instead of researching and investing in finding possible substitutes and undertaking the urgent transition that the current context dictates. But, in the end, we must bear in mind that, as Margarita Mediavilla, professor and member of the Research Group on Energy and Systems Dynamics at the University of Valladolid, states, renewable energy "is limited by territory" and "the capitalist system can never be infinitely sustained by an energy that comes from land and territory".

6) Constraining beliefs


Although these are not myths as such, there are other types of beliefs that limit the undertaking of the changes that the urgency of the present historical moment requires. They are given by the difficulties of conception and assimilation intrinsic to the nature of collapse, whose magnitude and ignorance can generate uncertainty and rejection. As the psychologist and sociologist Fernando Cembranos points out, one of the factors that influence these responses is the type of information. If it is clear and rigorous, it assures us that we will be able to take appropriate and well-focused measures, something that the financial interests and the big lobbies try to avoid for their own benefit. The emotional component plays an important role, so that if the information is confusing or catastrophic it will generate rejection and fear, clinging, therefore, to apparent solutions with a high hope component, as in the case of the techno-optimist attitude. In short, it is urgent to overcome these erroneous and limiting imaginaries, since if we do not modify the belief in unlimited growth and do not overcome the predatory and strabismic logic of capitalism we are doomed to scenarios that are not at all promising. Only in this way will we be able to move from this decadent civilization to "a civilization based on renewable energies, which does not overexploit ecosystems and which maintains an acceptable standard of living for a large human population... We have to make a change of enormous magnitude... Transition is possible, but we have to open our eyes and heed the last call if we don't want to miss the train".


Cinco mitos y otras creencias que nos llevan directo al colapso. Reflexión para avanzar en común hacia una transición sostenible.