The fact is that we need to put the issue of lifestyle and consumption at the center of climate negotiations.

“Stop!“ It takes me a couple of seconds to realize that my computer has no voice command. “Stop.”, I say again this time simultaneous pressing the space bar. The video freezes. But now it is off course a bit too far from where I wanted it to stop. So I drag the video bar back with the mouse. The result is a still of Leonardo di Caprio frowning with the mouth open.

It is around this time in the documentary “Before the Flood”[1] that the whole essence of the failing climate talks condenses in a few sentences. And yes I say failing climate talks since the historic accord of Paris is toothless without binding obligations. And even if it where it wouldn’t be enough to keep the earth below 2 degrees. The agreement expects every signing country to surpass the proclaimed goals to actually achieve a slowing of the warming. And even that agreement is already thrown out – mainly in Western countries. But in my opinion the climate change discussion is generally useless and set to fail unless it dares to actually address the root of the problem. And the dialog at 37:26 sums that up perfectly.

Sunita Narain[2][3]: “Coal is cheap whether you and I like it or not. Coal is cheap. You have to think about this problem from this point of view. If you created the problem in the past we will create it in the future. […] If anyone gives you this very cute stuff and tells you oh the world is full and you should move to solar and why do they have to make the same mistakes that we have made, I hear this all the time from American NGO’s…and I’m like Wow, you know, I mean if it was that easy I would have really liked the US to move towards solar. But you haven’t. Lets put our money where our mouth is. “

 Leo: “We have to practice what we preach absolutely.”

 Sunita Narain: “ I’m sorry to say this […] but your consumption is going to really put a hole in the planet. And I think that’s the conversation we need to have. […] The fact is that we need to put the issue of lifestyle and consumption at the center of climate negotiations.”

 Leo: “[…] Absolutely correct. And I think yes its a really difficult argument to present to Americans that we need to change our lifestyle. And I would also argue, that its probably not going to happen. So we are depended if we wanne solve the climate crisis on the fact that hopefully that renewables like solar and wind will become cheaper and cheaper and cheaper the more money we funnel into them, the more we invest into them. And ultimately it will solve that problem. But I … you’re shaking your head obviously.” 



And that’s where I stop. Leo looks like if Rose had said “No.” when he asked her if she wants to go to a real party. But that’s not where the parallels to that megalomaniac movie end. Man has build a machinery steaming, pumping, powerful. Claimed to be unsinkable and accelerated to faster and faster speeds in the name of vanity. And just like in the movie when the ship starts to sink it won’t be the rich ones paying the price. While they teeter-totter in the lifeboats the third class has to climb on top of each other in a useless attempt to survive. Because it won’t be the rich talking responsibility for famine, water wars, rising sea levels and depleted natural resources. It won’t be the rich paying for the stress on social systems caused by refugees fleeing drought, famine, floods or wars for fossil fuels.


And it all comes down to that one potato that everybody claims is too hot to handle: Lifestyle. Or more precise: The western lifestyle. A potato so glowing hot most don’t even dare to look at it. My head of education for renewable energy systems who encouraged us to watch the documentary dodges. He realizes that like it is said in the documentary the change with the most impact would be a diet change. But he doesn’t think anybody will do it. People want convenience. Everything else won’t sell. And that sentiment echoes from other teachers and off course students.


But we have to face that issue. Yet nobody wants to. There is a general sentiment that we can’t change human nature. And yes, we won’t if won’t try. And the craziest thing is that tackling our over consumption doesn’t even necessarily mean a reduction of convenience. Dan Phillips explains in his great TedTALK[4] how waste in the building industry is generated – and subsequently in other branches of our society. Among others he attributes the mountains of waste to the apollonian mindset[5] and offers a few tricks how to deal with it.  So there are ways. But if we won’t even start to face our flaws and works with them then we are all not better than the stubborn kids we claim we are not.

It is good to turn to renewables. But as an engineer for renewable energy systems I can say that: Renewables can’t solve the apollonian mindset, they don’t solve or don’t even help to solve our social issues.

Unless we start designing systems in a way that empower and educate people instead of just catering to their lazy side and cheap thrills we won’t be able to solve this. Listen to the scientists. We already have rammed the iceberg. The question now is: Will we divide the society and let the ones we consider lesser drown and hope we win the lifeboat lottery and maybe survive? Or will we band together, strip this monstrous, sinking ship for parts and build a floating city?






Title picture is from Esai Alfredo
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Other pictures are edited stills from “Titanic” and “Before the flood