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Reflection on Kristina Persson (2014): Policy-making in Times of the Climate
Kristina Persson’s presentation outlined the historical developments and consequences that led to the “Global Challenges” and to the solutions her think tank is concerned with. According to Persson it was the rise of new large-scale economies and the digital revolution coupled with a neoliberal trend towards deregulation that forged the unprecedented complex of socio-economic problems that we are facing today. Furthermore, the lack of leadership and holistic approaches among policy-makers created a vacuum of action which requires new roles for state governments, companies, civil societies and individuals. Together these agents can achieve the solutions which are urgently needed, e.g. a Nordic Green Bank, a Nordic Green Battery, a European CO2 tax and fossil-free tansport system in 2030. Overall, addressing these challenges must be accompanied by the creation of a new narrative about the conditions of sustainable development.
Kristina Persson’s analysis and visions serve both as vivid examples for what is called “ecological modernization”. In a nutshell, the driving forces of production and consumption are inherently good – it is due to the misallocation of capital and values that companies and consumers contribute to rising greenhouse gas emissions and the harming of the environment in general. Thus the solution is to steer both forces – the market and consumerism – into the right direction, that is green new products and services. What is suggested is a rather reformation than a transformation of economies and societies. “Change” is understood as altering the components of the system and not its logic. The language and knowledge from which ecological modernization draws are mainly economic ones: solutions circulate around “efficiency”, the internalization of “costs”, the mitigation of “risks”, the increasing of “benefits” or “win-win-win” situations.
Ecological modernization might be the right approach if the goal is to mitigate or slow down multiple crises like climate change but not if it is to prevent or change them substantially. For such a shift the more fundamental relationships must be highlighted and tackled. These were the points where Kristina Persson was less convincing in her talk: she was avoiding questions about economic growth and energy efficiency because they were pointing to the critical flaws in economic thinking and consequently ecological modernization. Dealing with these issues might have contributed to a bit deeper discussion. If it is economic growth that is one driving force behind CO2 emissions why are we constantly trying to keep emissions down and economic growth? When it depends on the consumptive behaviour of people why do we distinguish population growth is another driver? These questions relate to the heart of failing policy-making and does not make it easier. But I truly believe that addressing them is crucial in order to keep the modern institutions we are used to alive.
One of these institutions was mentioned by Kristina Persson herself: the need for a new narrative that binds together all members of society to pursue a sustainable development. What is needed is a new popular movement, more mature and knowledgable citizens – ideas that reflect the political endeavor of the 20th century: the creation of a wealthy society secured by the state and bounded by a common identity. And it is remarkable how strongly Kristina Persson is driven by the will to achieve such a large social project, something she might have experienced in her 30 years in a Ministry of Finance led by the Social Democrats. One could say that her proposal tries to comprehend the “Swedish Way” in the 21st century: a strong state that guarantees fair market competition and social benefits for all citizens – but now in a green, low-carbon setting.
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