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Van Reybrouck, historian: “Replacing fossil fuels is more effective against colonialism than removing statues”


Highlights: Historian David van Reybrouck says we are colonizing the world of tomorrow today. He believes that new forms of participatory democracy are needed to promote more decisive environmental actions without provoking protests. “Replacing fossil fuels is more effective against colonialism than removing statues”, says the Belgian thinker. ‘The longer it is delayed the more drastic the measures will be in the future’, says Van Reybruck. ” Colonialism is also violence against nature.’

The Belgian thinker advocates new forms of participatory democracy to promote more decisive environmental actions without provoking protests by the 'yellow vests' or farmers

The Huizinga conference is a prestigious annual talk on cultural history or philosophy organized by the University of Leiden, Netherlands, which can bring together a thousand attendees, but when the Belgian historian David van Reybrouck took the floor in its 50th edition ( Bruges, September 11, 1971) the Gothic church of St. Peter (Pieterskerk) was full of empty spaces.

It was the year 2021 and the world was in the middle of the covid pandemic.

Despite this, Van Reybrouck's presentation in Dutch on colonialism and the climate crisis was not only a success on the internet, but it ended up being turned into a book,

De kolonisatie van de toekomst

(The colonization of the future), which was translated in 2023. to French.

In an


interview , this thinker defends that with the loss of biodiversity and the warming of the planet we are colonizing the world of tomorrow today.

And he believes that new forms of participatory democracy are needed to promote more decisive environmental actions without provoking yellow vest or farmer protests.


What does global warming have to do with colonialism?


I have written two great books, one about the Congo and another about Indonesia, the largest colonies of my country, Belgium, and of our neighbors, the Netherlands.

And it strikes me that when people talk about colonialism, they talk about historical colonialism above all.

When we look at the map of the countries that generate the most emissions and those that are most impacted by climate change, we see that it is a copy of the map of colonialism.

The main emitters today are the former colonizers, in addition to China.


Why do you say that we are colonizing the future?


If historical colonialism was a conquest of continents, the colonialism of the future is the conquest of future generations.

A colonialism of time is occurring, caused by the impact of our actions today to achieve short-term interests and private financial gains.


To fight against colonialism, do we have to decarbonize the economy?


It is not enough to fight against the symbols of the past if we do not pay attention to the present.

A mayor who takes care of decolonizing the public space of his city, removing problematic statues, changing street names, adapting school textbooks, but without paying attention to fossil fuels, will do less against colonialism, racism and discrimination than another mayor who leaves the statues and does everything to decarbonize the city by 2030. Replacing fossil fuels is more effective against colonialism than removing statues.


And what is the relationship between colonialism and the loss of biodiversity?


The loss of biodiversity is an even more serious urgency than climate change, but it attracts much less public attention than the climate.

There is an Indian author, Amitav Ghosh, who in 2021 published The


's Curse

, a book that shows the extent to which historical colonialism is also ecological colonialism


Nutmeg is a spice that came from Indonesia and was highly sought after in the West.

The action of the colonizing power, especially Holland, was disastrous.

Colonizers deforested entire islands to prevent other traders from having access to nutmeg trees, to have a monopoly.

Colonialism is also violence against nature.

Van Reybrouck, in a hotel in Barcelona. massimiliano minocri


Why is it so difficult to implement more decisive environmental actions?


We have a very big challenge.

However, there is a difficulty in today's democracies in achieving serious progress.

The current political model is not capable of changing this future colonialism.

It is very interesting that in recent years we have seen a series of citizen assemblies on climate in different countries, with people chosen by lottery.

In Spain there has been one, and in Catalonia another one was just completed a few days ago.

A German researcher named Jonas Lage has compared the proposals of these citizen assemblies in Europe and the national Energy and Climate plans of the countries.

It is fascinating, since citizen assemblies always go further than the countries' official plans, which shows the extent to which politicians are afraid of imposing climate measures due to possible demonstrations, other new

yellow vests

or protests such as those of farmers.

Slowing down climate action has consequences, the longer it is delayed the more drastic the measures will be in the future.

However, a citizen, a farmer who is included in climate decision-making is not going to go out to protest or block roads.


But for now the recommendations of the climate assemblies are not being translated into real measures.


That's right, citizen assemblies produce formidable recommendations, but they have to go through politics in some way.

It has been seen very well in France with the citizens' convention for the climate.

Macron was very enthusiastic, but the French government has done very little with this remarkable work of citizens, the problem is political implementation.


What is a preference?


The preferendum is an instrument that I believe is necessary to develop, as a form of collective validation of what a citizen assembly has recommended.

Because even if you organize a citizen assembly with 150 people, there may be 20 farmers who participate, but this is not going to change the frustration of many other farmers who are not going to be involved.

In a classic referendum you have to respond with yes or no, in a preference you can include 20 proposals from other citizens so that the rest of the people show their agreement or disagreement.

This would allow the approval of a list of shared priorities, a collective document that drives political action.

It is very important to invent democratic procedures that allow us to move faster in the ambitious recommendations of citizen assemblies, which very often become a dead letter at the political level.


You also propose the use of individual emissions credits.

It is not like this?


This is a long discussion that comes mainly from a British writer, David Fleming, who proposed giving individual emissions rights to citizens.

Let's imagine that each person, aged 18 and over, receives a certain amount of carbon credits every Monday morning.

Then, when he goes to buy fuel at a gas station, he not only pays in euros, but must also deduct a part of his credits.

And those who don't need them can resell them.

In the case of a carbon tax, which puts a price on emissions, this can impact people with few resources, for whom heating or cars represent a large part of their budget.

But with individual emissions rights, it is quite the opposite.

Instead of harming the poorest, it can be a way for them to make money at the expense of the richest.


Another mechanism you mention to promote climate action is fiscal disobedience.


There are still many subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels.

It is about calculating the percentage of public money that goes to the fossil sector to carry out a form of fiscal boycott.

The idea is to continue paying taxes, but instead of paying everything to the State, the part corresponding to the percentage that goes to fossil fuels is put into a collective fund to pay whatever comes from the courts for the boycott.


What do you propose to resolve the slowness of climate action at the international level?


Citizen assemblies for climate should be held at a local, regional, and national level, but we must also start thinking about creating some global system.

I think that the COPs [world climate summits], for example, should have a permanent citizen assembly to go faster.

It is maddening to see the slowness of traditional diplomacy in the face of the climate emergency.

Some form of global governance is needed.

For now what we have is an international approach, a debate between nations, where countries are there to defend their national interests first.

But a global approach is needed.

We face a planetary challenge, but we do not have planetary instruments.

We have diplomatic instruments that date back centuries.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2024-02-24

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