Jean-Marc Jancovici: "Our Global Energy Predicament" | The Great Simplification #84

Jean-Marc Jancovici:

Show Video

Bienvenue à la Grande Simplification. I'd like  to welcome to the show, Jean-Marc Jancovici.   Jean-Marc is a French engineering consultant,  professor, author, and independent columnist.   He's very well known in France. He's been working  at the intersection of climate, energy, and   economics for over 20 years. He's the co-founder  and associate at the Carbone 4 consultancy firm,  

as well as the founding president of the think  tank, The Shift Project. This was a weird   conversation because I have never watched until  a few hours before this any of his work and he's   never watched any of my work, and we're saying  almost the same things. Which to me is a robust   finding and I hope to collaborate with Jean-Marc  in the future. Please welcome Jean-Marc Jancovici. 

Jean-Marc, good to see you.  Welcome to the program. Good morning or good afternoon. I don't know. It is almost afternoon here. You're seven  hours ahead of me. So you and I have been  

sharing similar stories and viewpoints. From what  I understand the past two decades, a lot of people   have told me about your work. It was only this  morning that I watched one of your English videos,   so could you start us off by, in your own words,  give us a long elevator pitch of how you see the   human situation with respect to energy, climate  systems, oil depletion. What's the big picture?

Well, actually the big picture goes back to two  centuries in rough figures. The reason why we're   today able to talk together even though we  are thousands of miles apart and we all have   a computer and we all have plenty of food to  eat and we all have a big house and we all have   means to move around for actually not a  lot of money, it's called fossil fuels.   What happened to humanity for the last two  centuries is that thanks to fossil fuels and   thanks to machines that were put in motion  by these fossil fuels, we have progressively   replaced hard human labor by easy so to say,  human labor, which consists in giving orders to   machines that plant and harvest the crops for us.  Plant and harvest cotton and knit clothes for us.  We have machines that move us around, manufacture  the billions of goods that we can now purchase in   stores. We have all these machines that fly, sail,  move around. We have the machines that heal our  

homes, build our homes, et cetera. Basically we  live in the world of machines and the conclusion   to which I've come, I would say during the last  20 years, is that what framed the 19th and 20th   centuries actually bears a very simple name, coal,  oil and gas and the internal combustion engine and   the steam machine. Basically that's what happened  to humanity for the last two centuries. Thanks to,   or no thanks, I don't know, to fossil fuels, the  number of people on earth grew from 1 billion to   8 billion. Life expectancy at birth went from  let's say a little bit under 30 in 1800, to the   world average is probably around 65 today. Even  in India, life expectancy at birth is over 70. 

So we have, again, all the material goods  that we have today is due to fossil fuels.   This has also framed the geography and I would  say the settlements our people as it is no longer   necessary to have people in the fields growing  food, we have progressively shifted to industrial   then office jobs or tertiary jobs, so to say,  that we have in cities. So we progressively   went to a type of settlements where most people  live in cities and actually you can observe that   everywhere in the world. The more energy per  capita you have and the more people live in   cities. And so the modern urban world with people  working in offices or in commercial buildings,   living in a home and owning a car is basically  the type of the way of living that you have   everywhere when abundant energy comes in,  it's basically what happened everywhere.  And of course this comes with the price. Actually  the first price that it comes with is that all  

these fossil fuels have changed the composition  of the atmosphere through their burning   and it has increased a natural effect called  the greenhouse effect that was discovered by   a French two centuries ago, Joseph Fourier  in 1824. And this greenhouse effect is being   increased or enhanced by all the extra CO2 that  we pour into the atmosphere, knowing that the CO2   is a very stable molecule because it's an oxide  and oxides are very stable chemical compounds.  And it leads to a change of the climate  system, a climate drift so to say,   which is going to be an increasing burden. And the  other price that we have to pay is that all these,   I would say industrial civilization,  rests on non-renewable resources   that we have to use and destroy when  we use them more and more fossil fuels,   namely we destroy them when we use them, but  also metals. Today our modern civilization  

needs all the metals that we have found on  earth. The computer that I'm using right   now and that you're using right now needs 40  to 60 different metals to be manufactured.  So the civilization that we have built is  increasingly complex and dependent on non-natural   resources that can be depleted. So the two main  challenges, I would say the two main global limits   that we face today is a global limit regarding the  environment that cannot accept all the waste that   we pour into it. CO2 being one of it, I would say  one of the best documented and addressed today,   but there are many more. And an upstream  bottleneck on non-renewable resources that we  

would like to have more and more and it's not sure  that we'll have more. And actually regarding oil,   it's almost sure that we'll not have more and more  and in a couple years we'll have less and less,   globally speaking in the world. So that's the challenge we address. And one of the   difficulties that comes with it is that very few  people understand the challenge because it is not   something that you can get through the most common  indicator that we use every day, which is money.   The challenge that I've just evoked is not  embedded into current prices because basically   natural assets have no price. And so we cannot  realize that there is a challenge through prices,   but it happens that the only quantitative  indicator that we use every day is money.  You don't take your blood pressure every  day. You don't measure the amount of CO2  

that you put into the air every day. You don't  measure the mass of copper that you use every   day. The only thing that you count every day is  money basically. And so the difficulty is that   as the challenge is not embedded into prices,  it is very difficult for people that have not   devoted their life to studying the challenge  as I have done, to understand it easily. Magnifique. That was a better summary than  I've ever done I think, even though we're   telling the same story. When was your red  pill moment, Jean-Marc, when you first  

realized how central that energy was to the entire  civilization and our expectations and everything? Actually I had a collection of red pills, of small  red pills. My first red pill was when I realized   the magnitude of the challenge regarding climate  change. Actually historically, I came to climate   change before coming to energy. The way I got  my revelation so to say, is that at the end of   the 90s I was working in the telecommunication  sector, and it was the time where the operators   were very excited by the idea of developing remote  activities. It was the beginning of telework   remote learning and all these things. And I was  as a basic consultant doing business plans for  

the main French operator in telecommunications,  Orange, today. At the time it was for telecom.  And looking at the fact that home offices could  spare people moving or could spare car commuting,   I came across the word greenhouse gases and I  asked myself, "What is that?" So I began looking,   so that was my first red pill moment. I understood  that we were changing the composition of the   atmosphere and that it could, I would say,  trigger a change of climate era in one century,   whereas in the past it was done in 10,000 years  with people able to move around, which is not   the case today because we have settled. My second red pill moment was when I   tried to understand what was causing this and the  link between the way we live and energy. And my   second red pill moment was when I realized that  actually energy or the increase of energy supply   had been the main driver over a century say that  framed all the countries in the world. Basically   you give machines to a country and the evolution  is always the same. People leave the fields,  

go to factories, then to sit in two offices,  live in cities, their purchasing power increases,   they get retirement, they get long studies,  they get vacations, they get their weekends,   they work less in the week, they  vote. Everything came in with energy.  And that was my second red pill  moment because then I asked myself,   "Where will the world go the day we have less and  less energy?" Will we keep democracies or will we   have rights everywhere and social unrest? Which  is unfortunately happening here and there more   and more. Will we keep peace or something that  won't happen? How are we going to in a way   become sober without the whole society  collapsing? I still haven't the complete answer,   but that was my second red pill moment. Then I  had another red pill moment when I realized the   way democracies operate, and I realized that a  fast reaction to that issue would not happen.   That was I would say a third red pill  moment. So I had at least three and  

maybe through our discussion I  will discover that I have more. Yeah, the room is full of red pills. We  actually have so much in common on how we   see this. So if I was an economist or a world  leader listening to your summary, I might say,  

"Yes, but it's technology that caused all  the increase in population and the increase   in wealth and services and the increase in  city and retirement and vacation. It's human   innovation that caused it." Do you encounter  that pushback and how do you respond to it? Well, it's an easy answer because actually  to spread technology, you basically have to   spread the objects that embed the technology.  So you have to manufacture plenty of object   and manufacturing plenty of object, persons  aid, which is energy because you need plenty   of energy into the industrial system too. I  can put it the other way around. Let's suppose   that tomorrow morning you do not have much  energy and you can't manufacture cars anymore.  

Even if you have brilliant engineers, how  do you spread technical progress in cars if   you can't manufacture cars? Obviously you can't. And if you can manufacture cars that people can't   use because there is no energy to use the cars,  how do you spread technical progress in cars? You   can't. So it's very easy to explain that actually  spreading technical, finding something which is   new, doesn't require much energy. Actually it  requires a little energy because it requires   free time. In the Middle Ages, people were busy  feeding themselves because it's the first need  

of humanity, and once the day was over and  they had worked all day to feed themselves,   they had no spare time to find whatever the  proton or the neutron or the electron or the   way to conceive an electric engine. One of the reasons why we have plenty   of researchers today, able and Mr.  Musk can hire plenty of engineers,   is that precisely machines are growing the  food first. If we're busy harvesting potatoes,   we wouldn't do any research, wouldn't have  the time to do so. When you look at countries   that are still very sober regarding their  energy consumption in Africa for example,   they do not have many engineers and then do not  have many researchers. So it's also the result   of abundant energy that we can have research  and technology, but to spread again technology,   we need plenty of energy because we  need to manufacture plenty of objects.

So there are a lot of very   ambitious technological plans of the future,  such as net-zero and there are promises of   decoupling or dematerializing GDP from energy  and materials. What are your thoughts on that? So far? It never happened. Actually, 15 years  ago, I began doing something very simple,   which is plotting the world GDP  against the world energy consumption.   I've got data going up to 1965 and I was  astonished to discover that I got almost   a straight line. So when you plot the world  GDP in constant dollars against the world  

energy consumption, which is actually the size  of the active fleet of machines in the world,   that's what the energy consumption is. You  get almost a straight line. You have a little   improvement of the energy efficiency every year.  So actually it's not exactly a straight line,   something which is slightly convex,  but you get almost a straight line.  And the reason why is very simple actually to  have, as long as the GDP counts the same thing,   that is square feet of construction, goods  moving around, goods being manufactured,   number of ships operating in the world, you have  physical things and in the physical world you have   rules that you cannot, sorry for the repetition,  overrule. For example, to put a mass in motion,  

you require a minimum energy, which is the mass  times the square of the speed times one half.   And you cannot say it's one quarter because  it would be, I would say energy if it were   one quarter. So I'm going to vote at  the Congress that it's one quarter.   You cannot do that. It's always one half. So you have limits. You can near the limit,   but you cannot overcome it. I'm going to take  another example. To go from iron ore to iron,   you have to remove the oxygen in the iron  ore. Actually iron ore is an iron oxide.  

The most common molecule in iron ore is two  atoms of iron for three atoms of oxygen.   To remove the oxygen, you use carbon,  coal actually, meteorological coal.   You need 1.5 atom of carbon to remove the  three atoms of oxygen and it'll never be one   and it'll never be 0.8, it'll always be 1.5.  So in the physical world you have physical  

limits and it's the reason why when you look  at the energy consumption per physical unit,   per kilogram of steel, per kilogram of copper, the  improvement actually is very low. It is very slow,   it doesn't go fast and you have an  absolute limit that you cannot overcome.  And in the future, we might even degrade the  energy efficiency of the industry because the   concentration of copper in the copper ore for  example, decreases with time, which means that   you need more and more energy to get one kilogram  of copper. And so at the certain point with time,  

you will not have an improvement of the energy  efficiency of mining copper, but you will   have a degradation of the energy efficiency of  mining copper. Again, when you look at the past,   there is no decoupling at the world level. You  have a slight decoupling in some given countries,   but that's thanks to trade because you  have the added value in the country and   the industrial process or the physical flow that  provides this added value which is outside the   country. So it's an illusion. When you look at  the world as a whole, you have no decoupling in   the past and there is no major reason that  you can get to decoupling in the future. Jean-Marc, have you ever watched one  of my lectures or any of my videos? I confess that I have not done so recently.

Well then I am very happy because   you are telling my story and we've never  met and never watched each other's videos,   which means this story is robust. I feel I found  a brother from another mother. I say these same   things over independent research for the last 20  years, and I just question why it is that so few   people have connected these dots. And I suspect  that one reason is that as you said earlier,   the total amount of energy available to  society has increased every year, and   that is hiding all of the future assumptions and  plans just implicitly assume that will continue,   so they miss the centrality of energy abundant  and cheap, are contributing to our society.  Why do you think you and I and many others  have been talking about this for 20 years and   it is still not, well, maybe in France it has, but  elsewhere in the world, this is still a narrative   of technology and money and energy materials are  out in the distance, in the explanatory stories? You are geographically closer to  the answer than I am. I believe   that it's a consequence of  the University of Chicago.

That's where I went to  graduate school. Yeah. Okay. Basically it goes back to what I've said earlier.  Many people in the economic world believe that   physical constraints are embedded into prices,  and one of the things that they believe is that   there is an elasticity between prices and volumes  so that if you near a limit, you will see it into   prices. And if you don't see anything into  prices, instead you are far from the limits.   I will explain in a couple seconds why it is false  for commodities that are essential to our modern   economy. For oil or steel for example, it is  false. I can explain that very easily. There is no   elasticity. And so that's one of the reasons why.  Of course, and it goes back to framing, actually  

it's not the fault of the University of Chicago  because before that it was the fault of French and   English early thinkers of the classical economy. Two centuries ago, basically the classical   economist said, "In the world, we are going to  count what is the limiting factor of production,   which is the economic science." Basically it is  addressing the limiting factors of production.   And at the time, two centuries ago,  basically the economy was still a lot   centered on agriculture. There was a little  industry, but basically, and what they said  

is that there is plenty of land, plenty of  resources, we don't lack iron ore, we don't   lack coal. The only thing that we can  lack is human labor and human capital.   So the only thing that we are going to count  is human labor, which is a kind of energy,   but it's a slight part of the energy that  we can get. And human capital, which is   also a limiting factor, but there are plenty  other limiting factors among natural capital.  If you are a fisherman, you need  a natural capital, which is fish.  

You don't only need human capital, which is a  boat, and you don't need only sailors. You also   need architectural if you're a modern fisherman, a  little oil or a little diesel oil to put into the   engine. So basically, and what they have done  is that they have invented that technological   progress, which is for example, the solo residue  in solo's vision, which is the total productivity   of factor. If you look at copper, glass, so they  invented that term, which cannot be predicted,   which can only explain past, what happened, which  is fantastic, which was called technological   progress. And which actually when you look  carefully at things, is energy machines  

and natural resources. That's what it actually  is. But as it is not explicit, people stick to   prices and they believe that with prices you can  explain all what happens to the productive system.  Now, why is it false that we have no elasticity  between prices and volumes regarding oil or steel   for example? It's because these commodities are  essential to modern economy. If you produce less   oil in the world, if you have less oil, you will  have less cars, less trucks, less planes and less   boats that can operate. Therefore, your economy  will shrink a little and if the economy shrinks   a little, people earn less because basically the  revenues are equal to the production. That's basic   macroeconomic formula. So if people earn less and  have less money and you have less oil to offer  

them, you don't know whether the new equilibrium  price of oil will be higher or lower than the   former price. And actually, when you look at  past prices, there is no clear relationship.   With less oil, you can have prices that are lower,  prices that are higher, you can get everything.  Same thing for steel. The modern world fully  relies on steel. If you have less steel, it's   an essential commodity for the economy. So if you  produce less steel, you will destroy a little part  

of the economy, therefore producing less, people  earn less. And then again, the new equivalent   price of steel has no reason to be higher or lower  than the previous one. So there is no elasticity   between prices and volumes for commodities that  are essential to the functioning of the economy.   If you take a commodity which is non-essential,  like handbags for example, if you produce less   handbags, of course it will not destroy the  economy. The people have the same purchasing   power, only you have less handbags, and so the  price of the handbag goes up. So that's okay. 

But this relationship, it doesn't apply to  commodities that are essential to framing   the modern economy. Which is why for example, you  won't see oil depletion coming through oil prices   going forever up. You will see them with GDP going  forever down. That's the way you will see it. But   nominal prices, and today as economists have never  looked at the relationship between energy and GDP,   when the GDP goes down, it's the fault of  bankers, people that don't want to work,   those lazy, whatever, but they never see  energy in the picture. Energy, volume, I mean. There's a biophysical economist  who used to be on our advisory   board called Reiner Kummel who explained the solo- Yeah, I know him.

He explained the solo residual is almost all  energy. And I think if we did it on a global   basis, it would be over 90% of it. I think  his numbers were 60 some percent, but yeah.   Excellent. So what are your thoughts? You  mentioned money and GDP. What are your opinions on  

finance and quantitative easing as adding false or  temporary wealth to the economy in the last couple   of decades, and how does that affect some people's  claims that we're decoupling energy from GDP? I am not an expert on quantitative easing, but  one of the conclusions that I've come to is   that it led to an inflation of assets. Actually,  there is an old theory that says that when you   create money in excess compared to the physical  possibilities of the economy to produce something,   it leads to inflation. Actually what happened  during the last 20 years is that creating money   didn't lead to inflation in common goods, but it  led to inflation in assets. Real estate, stocks,   et cetera so that's what happened basically. And  that inflation of assets is not fully corrected   in deflating all that you count in the GDP. For  example, if you have a square foot in a building   which costs twice the price, you'll need a  mortgage which is twice the amount and you   will count the production in banks as twice the  previous production. You will not deflate that  

production on the basis that it's always a square  foot. It is physically still the same goods,   only cost twice the price. And so you have no  reason to count twice the bank added value.  And you have that same thing for  the stock market. If stocks go up,   you will not deflate that saying, "Okay, it's  always a stock, it's always the same company.   There is no reason to count it for twice or  10 times the price." And I have never had the  

opportunity to make precise calculations to  see how the GDP would have evolved if we had   discounted, so to say, the inflation of assets  from the GDP. But my belief is that it would   have removed something, a little something. And the other thing that we should have   removed from the GDP basically is the  debt because if you increase the GDP   that you count today through increasing the  debt that you have to reimburse tomorrow,   normally you should have an accounting closer  to an asset and liability accounting than to   a P&L accounting, which is what we do. So you  should count something for the creation of debt  

that you should deduct from today's GDP. And that  correction also has never been made, and the level   of debt has never been as high. Well, actually for  the last century, it's never been as high as today   except for the second World War. It's even higher than that now as a percentage.  But all that debt, Jean-Marc, when it's called in,   when it's created to be paid down is a claim  on energy. So all the debts that exist in   the world when they're eventually paid down,  and we don't have that amount of energy, so I   think this one piece alone is being completely  missed by the financial markets in my opinion.

Well, my belief is that it'll  end through inflation or default.   Or a mixture of the two. I of course have a  preference for inflation because it's softer,   but obviously we are building a Ponzi pyramid  and we all know how it ends. But I agree. If   you need extra GDP in the future to reimburse  the debt, it means that you need extra energy   and you don't see how it fits. If we  have less and less energy in the future. So temporarily we can print more money,  which is a facsimile for more energy,   but it just extracts the  existing energy we have faster? I am not sure that it had a major effect on  extraction of energy. It did have in the US  

a significant effect on the shale oil industry  because between 2010 and 2018 during the shale   boom, as you probably know, shale operators didn't  earn a single buck. Actually, they were all losing   money and they were also building a Ponzi pyramid.  They were burning cash and refinancing themselves   with new stock and new debts. Until one year  before COVID, the financial sector said,  

"Now end of the game, we want our money back." And actually the only way to get the money back   is to stop drilling all the time because with  drilling all the time, you have huge CapEx and   you just burn cash. You cannot earn money. And  the paradox of shale oil is that you can earn   money only if you do not increase production  too fast or if you do not increase it at all.   But quantitative did favor that movement, the  extraction of shale oil. It did have an effect. But after shale oil, there's  nothing left except for oil shale,   which is basically uncooked rock with  oil in it. So that's not going to work. Sorry, at The Shift Project, which is an NGO  that I chair in France, we have done a thorough   analysis with the data coming from Rystad Energy.  We had access to the full database of all the oil  

fields in the world for a very minimum price. And  we published, I think there is an English version,   our research on the projections that we make  only under geological constraints. We do   not mention, above ground constraints,  political pressure, climate, whatever.   On the perspective of the 16 top suppliers  of Europe, that includes US, which happened   to be the 16 top producers in the world except  Canada, which is a significant one, and Brazil.   And the result of our work is that the  combined production of these 16 countries   should be divided by two between now and 2015,  including shale oil and including tar sand. So 27 years from now, cut in half? By 2050, the combined production of the 16  top supplies of Europe, which includes all   the Middle East, Russia, all the US, Mexico or  whatever, all the 16 top producers in the world,   but Canada and Brazil, the production should  be divided by two including shale oil.

That's almost best case unless there's  some new technology because it doesn't   account for geopolitics or climate  inability to get water to process the   mining or any other complexity  problems or things like that. I would say it's a no crisis scenario. Yeah, I think that's plausible. I would expect  my numbers might be a little bit higher,   but in that ballpark. So on that  note, Jean-Marc, my personal stance,  

and I expect you would agree that on a grand  scale, climate change is the most existential   issue that humanity faces this century. However,  you and I both believe that fossils are going to   become economically unavailable sooner than our  cultures are planning for. That eliminates a lot   of the more extreme climate scenarios that some  reports predict. What are your thoughts on that?

What it excludes in my view is the most extreme  temperature increase coming from greenhouse gases,   but it doesn't exclude consequences much  more unpleasant than what we today believe   coming from the scenarios that remain plausible  with the amount of fossil fuels that we can access   if I develop a little bit. I do believe that the  higher end of the bracket regarding scenarios   which is emissions, growing and growing during the  21st century is plausible, because my belief is   that we'll experience some kind of slow collapse  before the end of the century preventing the   economy from growing and so preventing emissions  from growing. So the scenario which is a healthy   "economy" and healthier and healthier "economy"  becoming bigger and bigger until 2100. And powered   by fossil fuels is something that I don't believe  possible. I don't deem it is physically possible. 

What is possible is that we get a peak  fossil sometime around 2050, 2060 or so,   but that would be enough to trigger three degrees  plus scenario. And what I want to elaborate is   that the consequences of a three degrees plus  scenario might be much, much more ample than   what we believe today, because there are plenty  of processes with threshold effects in the world,   and basically we discovered them when it's too  late. I will give a couple example. 10 years ago,   I had never heard of the possible collapse  of the Western Antarctic ice sheet,   which is today considered possible starting  from 1.5 degrees of global warming. 

10 years ago, I had not heard of the placebo  complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet in a   couple of centuries, of course, which is something  which is today considered possible, not certain,   but possible. 10 years ago, I had not heard of  the possibility of the whole Amazon Forest turning   into a dry forest or even a savannah, which is  something which is today considered possible.  And I remember that 20 years ago I  did some kind of TV show in France   and we elaborated a false weather forecast for  2090, and the temperature that we mentioned was   40 degrees celsius, which is something that we  get today each summer in France. So basically my   belief is that we should not be reassured by that.  The higher end of the warming is not possible,   but the higher end of the consequences that we  get for a given warming today will be overcome.  And the reason why is that the models that  go from a global temperature increase to the   consequences in a given sector, being the  possible dismantling of an ice cap, or the   evolution of yields regarding maize or rice are  models that are built with the past variability   and they do not embed the possible future  of variability. And some recent research  

has been published in nature saying that if we  increased a lot, the variability in the future   of climate parameters, we get damage which is  much, much higher than if we do not do that. I totally agree with you. Yeah, we don't  have enough to meet the high threshold,   but we have plenty to have a disaster in the  climate. So I have so many questions for you.   Let me just keep firing because you are giving  succinct and very articulate answers, not in   your native language by the way. So thank you for  that. So a main news story in France ongoing has  

been protests and unrest over the raising of the  retirement age and the threshold for pension fund   access. Do you think that this connects back  to energy scarcity and do you think we'll have   more of this type of response, or do the French  just have a certain proclivity for civil unrest? Well, we have the two. We like to complain,  which is a national sport here to complain,   but the fact is that we today have retirement  thanks to abundant energy. Two centuries ago,   there was no retirement. Actually, it's not  true. Retirement was invented by Colbert four   centuries ago, and he did that for the  Royal Navy. And at the time there were  

20,000 sailors and you could get retirement when  you turned 60 and believe me, in 1600 something,   turning 60, which means surviving scurvy,  an adverse fire. He didn't make a major   risk with the budget, our friend,  Colbert, but thanks to energy now,   we have so much production given by machines that  we can feed and provide clothes and housing and   cars and everything to people that "work", which  is giving orders to machines today, working.  And people that do not work, but some of them  physically do exactly the same thing. You see,   for example, today I'm supposed to work. I'm  a consultant, I'm sitting behind an office  

and I work. What is working for me? Talking  to you. Is that work? It is not work. If in   a couple of hours I will talk to somebody else  doing exactly the same thing, sitting on a chair,   will not be through a computer and it will  not be work, it will be leisure. What is   the difference in physical terms? No difference. So what we call work today for plenty of people  

is something that a middle-aged peasant would've  called leisure. Sitting on a chair and talking.   Or sitting on a chair and typing on the typepad  of a computer. Well, okay, big deal. This is not   work. So retirement is actually a gift of abundant  energy. You have no retirement in countries that  

are very sober regarding their energy consumption.  And so of course, unfortunately I have to say,   the long-term trend is that in the future  it'll be harder and harder to retire. So building on that, let me ask you a difficult  question. I frequently cite that a barrel of   oil is worth around five years of human labor.  You've made similar statements including that   we've essentially replaced slave labor with fossil  fuels. So if energy supply is going to contract- It's my order of magnitude. I've got  exactly the same order of magnitude. Yes.

Well, it's- Five years of work, of human  work, of very hard work. Yeah, very hard work. Yes.

Well, the actual math is around 12 years, but  humans are more efficient with directing muscle   labor to actual work. So you have to handicap  it, but it's around four and a half, five years.   So you just suggested that of the 16 exporting  countries that Europe imports oil from,   they'll be cut in half, their production by 2050  plus or minus. So if we contract energy supply,   we are also, GDP and jobs are also going  to shrink. So do you think it's likely or  

possible that we see a resurgence in  things like slavery as fossil energy   availability declines? And do you have  hopes that we can avoid such a scenario? It's my fear. My fear is that  relationships between humans will become,   I would say, harder than they  were, that we'll have more...   I don't know the expression  in English, arbre des forces.  

We'll have tensions between humans and  brutal force will be more important than   it was at first. I'm not sure that we'll  have less work. We might have less jobs or   less revenues, but when we had no machines, we  worked harder. So I do not know exactly how it's   going to recompose, but the main ideas are it  will have more hard work and will earn less   basically because what energy did is triggering  the exact opposite, working less and earning more. That's what I refer to as the great  simplification. The name of this   podcast based on taint premise of  classification required energy. If it's possible, because you see two centuries  ago, the world economy relied on only nine metals.  

It relied on iron, copper, zinc,  tin, lead, and a couple of them more.   Today, you do not have a single element of the  table of Mendeleev that doesn't have an industrial   application. Not one. And you and I, we depend  on all these 92 elements because for example,   you depend as I depend on the digital system,  which by itself requires 60 to 70 different   elements. Today there is no single company  that can operate without an information system.   No one. If you go back to paper sheets and  pencils, you cannot operate any company today.  

So basically simplifying the present world is  going to be extremely hard. Extremely hard. Yeah. So you're getting at complexity, which  I refer to as one of the big four risks that   we face. I consider them to be the financial  system, geopolitics, complexity, and the social   contract. Not energy per se, but it's the change  from abundant energy to flat or declining that   will trigger those other things. So you've got in  Europe a realtime trial of this, of sorts going on   right now because of the Russian situation  in Ukraine. In your experience in France,  

what have people's responses been, especially  last winter to increasing prices in Europe?   Has it created stronger community cohesion  and a return to relying on social capital   or has it caused more division over  scarcity or what's been your trial run? Basically in France, it has triggered very  high prices of natural gas and electricity.   And it has triggered significant savings by  people. So they heated less, they use less   electricity. A number of companies and mostly  energy intensive industries produced less.   That's basically what happened. I have not felt  a major change in social structures or the way   people behave. Actually, it has nothing to do  with what happened during the COVID for example.  

Last year, nothing much happened. The  political response has been significant,   and now the word sobriété is everywhere in  political speeches. That is something significant. What does the word sobriété mean? It means, actually my own  classification of energy savings   includes three, well counts three terms. The  first one is efficiency. Efficiency is getting   the same service while using less energy,  either to manufacture an object or to use it.  

The second term that I use is sobriété, which is  deliberately waiving a service or good in order to   save resources or energy. For example, I was using  a car, I use a bike or I commute by train. This is   sobriété. And poverty is exactly the same physical  item than sobriété, only you didn't ask for it.  So sobriété is having no longer the economic means  to own a car or to use it. And so you have to use  

a bike or to go by train, but you didn't want it.  My belief is that today what happens in France is   actually poverty. People didn't ask for it and  they have to organize themselves differently.   But the government, no government can use the  word poverty. So they use the word sobriété,  

which is giving the impression that we  do it in an organized and deliberate way. It gives people agency to have sobriété instead of  poverty. I think the distinction between those two   is really important and clever. Do you think that  individuals listening to this program or cultures,   nations can choose sobriété before  it is forced upon us as poverty? I believe no. One of my friends  with whom I worked in France   says, "You have the strategy of your assets."  So it basically goes the other way around.  

So my belief is that the best that you can hope  is that the day you have a shock or a crash,   then you can pull out of the drawer, a sobriété  plan that was framed or conceived before you had   the shock of the crash. But I don't believe  that democracies will spontaneously implement   a decrease of their production and that  consumption, but I do believe that they   can decide to go that direction the day they  realize that anyway, they do not have the choice,   again, because that's the strategy of your assets. And if I can be a little bit rude,   I understand that I'm talking mostly to US  auditors. I believe that it's going to be even   more complicated in the US, which is the land of  plenty, which was built on tremendous resources,   tremendous land, and basically through getting  rid of all the previous inhabitants and animals   that were there. So it's the country  with no limits, by excellence is the US.  

And so it's going to be even harder  in the US than it is in Europe. Well, let me ask you about that because  Europe will arguably have to face sobriété   and poverty before the US does because we still  produce 90 some percent of our own energy. Yes. Will that be a blessing or a curse? Will  Europe have to suffer the pain first, but   they will reorganize in different ways that will  ultimately be more helpful? What do you think? I think it can be both. And history will tell.  I don't know. It's a blessing in the way that   what I hope is that we use the residual  fossil fuels that we have at hand   to build a world that can operate the best it  can without fossil fuels. It is not something   that people understand clearly today. It is  an idea which is making its way, but slowly.  

And of course I believe that in the  US you are farther from that idea   because you still have plenty of resources. And also I won't, you will not learn with me   that actually your country is two countries. You  have the US of the coast and the US of the middle,   and actually it's two different countries. And  the reaction to what I'm explaining right now   is totally different, whether you are talking to  Massachusetts or California, or Wisconsin or Ohio.

So I'm actually again totally aligned with you  on this. I don't think we're going to change   until we're forced to. So the best thing  that people listening to this and you and   I are working on is building those plans for when  that moment comes. So you, among other projects,   you run The Shift Project, which has plans  for transforming the French economy. Can you   give a brief overview of what you're  doing and what your hopes are there? Yes. That work started during the COVID. Actually,  when the COVID stroke, it was clear for me that a  

number of companies would ask for help. They  would say, "Okay, we cannot operate anymore.   Give us some money, or we'll have to fire. We  go bankrupt and we fire everyone." Which in   France is much more drama than in the US. And so  I thought that the time, one of the things that  

we should try to design is the counterparts  that the state should ask to these companies   before lending them a helping hand. So okay, we  are going to sign a check, but we ask you to do   this and that, regarding being able to operate  in a world with less fossil fuels. And then we   realized pretty quickly that our work would never  be ready before the first checks would be signed.  And so we said, "Okay, we are going to do  something slightly different. We are going to  

design a plan, which is how we should reorganize  the economy if we want to align ourselves with a   decrease of 5% premier of the greenhouse gases  emissions in the world." And this is called,   the Plan de transformation de l'économie  Français: Plan to Transform the French Economy.   And actually it's an attempt to do economy without  talking euros or dollars at first, but we talk   physical flows. So basically what we do is that we  look at the physical flows that frame the economy,   the construction sector, the automotive industry,  the way we grow food and transform it. And we say,   "If we want to decrease the greenhouse gases  emissions by 5% per year, what does it mean   regarding the number of cars that we manufacture  given the energy efficiency of manufacturing one   car, the number of houses that we've built, the  number of people that can move around in cars,   in trucks, and the number of peoples that  are employed in the different sectors?"  So it's a plan to transform the system  without saying, "We should invest money here,   finance such a sector with so many billion  dollars here." We do not talk money at all.   And it's a method in a way to address  the economy as a physical system.  

And we had a huge success in France because  we published a book which was called le   Plan de transformation de l'économie français,  and we sold over 100,000 copies, which in France   is a huge success for a book, for an essay. In order to give you a comparison, it happens   that a graphic novel that I wrote with Christophe  Blain, which is called the World Without End,   Le Monde sans fin in French, was in  2022, the number one book in France,   the most sold book in France. And we sold a  little bit over 500,000 copies. So 100,000 copies   for an essay on decarbonizing the French economy,  it is a huge success. In our wildest dreams,   we wouldn't have come up with such a figure. And  plenty of top executives have read it, plenty of   politicians have read it. And I believe that we  have oriented a little, the debate in France,   on the way to decarbonize the economy with this  work and with this book. So it's a method again,  

and we could apply it to the US exactly the  same method. It's how do we orient the physical   flows of economy if we want to decrease the  greenhouse gases emissions by X percent per year? So in the Global North, I suspect that  the country that you live in France,   may be closer as a culture to understanding  climate energy constraints partially due to   your book, you said 500,000 copies, partially  there's this collapsologie subculture there,   French president, Macron, periodically  voices comments that the best times are   behind us economically. Are these books and  discussions allowing France to be ahead of   the curve discussing limits to growth, sobriété,  and is that good or bad? What is your thought? Again, we have the strategy of our assets.  What is our assets? It's our history. We're   a known country. We have experienced  hunger, wars, physical limits of all   kind. And so just as Great Britain, just as  Scandinavian countries, just as Switzerland.   So the only countries that had an easy life  in the ancient world were Italy and Spain,   which are countries today that are, I would  say they are not as comfortable as countries   that are farther up north with large scale  organizations designed to face a constraint. 

And so it's only the result of our history.  When you look at other countries in the world   that resemble us, you have Japan, country with  no resources, very strong technical culture,   and which is also very conscious of the  physical limits today. And you have in a way,   China, same thing. China is an old country  that has experienced also hunger, wars,   physical limits, and which is also a country  of engineers. Historically in ancient China,   the top class people where the engineers able  to operate all the hydraulic system feeding   the rice paddies, supplying the rice paddies,.  So all these countries have things in common,   which countries that have been recently  occupied and which are very, I would say   very big. Vast countries with plenty  of resources are not like the US,  

like Brazil, like Canada. In a way,  like Russia, what we could call anti   countries. Well, these countries are not  so comfortable with global physical limits. So in preparing for this interview,  Jean-Marc, I was reading about you yesterday   and you are increasingly being called a guru  and a most influential public intellectual   in French media. I'm just curious, how are you  navigating describing our extremely challenging   biophysical reality in a political system that  in France and globally rewards simplicity and   feel-good messaging where your message is  counter to that? How are you finding that? What has changed the relationship between  an individual and the population today is   social networks. My fate would probably have  been very different in a world with only media  

because I would have in that world,  without pleasing the journalist,   nobody would have heard of me. In the modern world  with the social media, you can put online videos,   you can put online long videos or conferences, you  can put online explanations. I used to maintain   now it's a bit old-fashioned, a website  to vulgarize energy and climate change   issues. And the reason why the graphic novel that  I mentioned before was a success is that before  

that, the online videos of the course that I  teach at Mines Paris was already a success.   And the reason why is that, well, success  by French figures, I think I went up to 1   million views or something like that. And it was  a success because people appreciate consistency.  Actually, I believe that the reason why I have  had small success is that I offered to a number   of people that were vaguely conscious of  something but couldn't put a name on it,   all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that  they can assemble and get a clear picture of,   that's what I provide. So I provide them with some  kind of comfort of not being so stupid because   they felt that something was not corresponding to  the explanations they got elsewhere, basically.  

And the fact that I have a base in a way that  I can address directly through social media.   For example, today I write a daily post on  LinkedIn, I publish videos online once in a while,   makes it so that my reputation  cannot be made only by the media.  Whereas in the past, you were fully dependent on  what the media said of you for your reputation.   Now it's a little bit different. So the  relationship that I have with the press   is I would say in between a distant  relationship. Whenever I get an invitation,   I don't say yes all the time, actually  I say yes one time out of 10 maybe.  

And I don't feel I desperately need them. And  actually my day-to-day job doesn't involve them.   My day-to-day job is to run a company and to chair  an NGO, that has nothing to do with the media.   And so when I'm labeled a guru of whatever,  the best thing that I can do is not responding.  

And if some people mention it to me,  then I answer saying what I think of it. Well, I think people not only value  consistency, but they value truth and   authenticity. And I suspect, I don't  know, but I suspect as events get   closer, as we have more expensive and less  available energy, that the conventional media   will not be able to tell the full biophysical  truth that you and I are telling. It is just  

too threatening to the general public. So  the role that you and others are playing   is very interesting in informing and hopefully  inspiring society towards change. Do you agree? Partially only because I think that what the  press can do is describe simultaneously a problem   and the way to react to the problem. Just saying  over and over and over that there is a problem,   is something indeed that they don't appreciate  much. And actually when you look at the way   they've vulgarized climate change, they have  selected information which is distant in   space and in time. Basically the information that  they like the most is what will happen in 2100  

and the global temperature increase. So this is  distant in time, 2100, and it is in space because   it's a global temperature and you don't feel a  global temperature. And I don't feel a global   temperature. I feel the temperature, which  is right now in the room where I am, and you   feel the temperature, which is right now in the  room where you are. And neither of us feels the   average temperature. Doesn't exist for our senses. But what the media don't speak of much, and there   was an article published also in the scientific  literature pointing that a couple of months ago,   the very much relay information that pertains  to things that are not so distant in the future   and pretty local. For example, what will be the  flow of the Colorado River in 10 years and the  

consequences that it can have on props? That is  something that they do not give much audience to   this kind of scientific work, even though you have  plenty of scientific publications that pertain to   this kind of issue. So what they like, again,  the media is talking of an issue when you have   the beginning of a solution or the beginning of a  way to react or to act facing the issue. And this   is why I've set up The Shift Project. The Shift  Project is actually fully devoted to proposing   ways to confront the issue and to react to the  issue and to organize ourselves with the issue.  So it also tries to provide hope in a way, and  then you can get more audience on both the issue   and the way to react to the issue. The leading  economic paper in France, which is called Les   Echos, gives much more audience to environmental  issues now than it did just two years ago.  

But the reason why is that they right now also  have many stories to tell regarding companies   or action, which is being taken to face the issue.  So that's the reason why. And do I believe that   France is at the forefront? I would say in a  bunch which is globally very late, the answer   is yes. So what I believe is that in a collection  of countries that are globally extremely late,   France is a little bit less  late than the others. We  

have done a number of things that  were done for the first time. Well, you and I have been telling variations of  this story publicly for 20 years, and I feel that   the world events have caught up to the story  that we're telling. What's your experience?   Obviously because of your popularity,  people are now more receptive to this. I believe it goes the other way around. I believe  I am popular because people realized, I'll  

put it the other way around. People realized it. I'm surfing on the wave.

Yeah. Yes because we have heat waves, because we  have prices of gasoline going up and down and   up very often because we have, yes, because people  realize. For example, let me take another example,   which is the opinion that French have on nuclear  energy. It gained recently 20 percentage points   in support. So about 50% of the French population  supported nuclear energy two years ago,  

one third were against, and 15% said they had no  opinion. It jumped from 50 to 70% in two years.   So you could say, "Okay, that's  Jancovici's fault." But actually   it evolved exactly the same way  in all other European countries. Well, that could be because  of Russia and Ukraine, yes? Whatever. Even in Germany, it gained 15 percentage  points of support. And I am sure of one thing,  

that in Germany people have never heard of me  and in Finland people have never heard of me.   And in Spain people have never heard of me. So I  think we should put it the other way around. First   people realize and then well, the people that  said, "I can explain you why, become popular."

So I have some closing questions that I ask all  my guests. I have so much more I want to talk to   you about, but before I get to those questions,  let me just ask you one final content question.   What the hell are we going to do? What  should we do facing this as nations?   You're on the spot, Jean-Marc. Go for it. As nations we'll do what our populations ask for  as long as we are democracies, which is why at   The Shift Project we never considered that we  should address first and foremost politicians,   but we believe that we should address first and  foremost the civil society. So the people that   we're interested to deal with are people who are  deciding in the economic sector, are deciding as   civil servants, are deciding as academics. So  people that frame our collective knowledge and  

people that are decisive in the NGO sector. So  this is our primary audience. The people that   we want to talk to is the civil society. And we believe that the day we are able   to convince a sufficient fraction of that civil  society, then it goes up because democracies are   systems that go up and the elected people have  to take that into account in a way or another.   And I never believe that we should talk  to politicians first. And actually I'm   not specially eager to talk to them. Once  in a while I've got an invitation from a   minister or whatever, so I'm polite, I go  to it, but I don't hope much for it. What  

the audience that I'm really  interested in is the civil society. So we need to shift society  before the politicians? Yes, exactly. Exactly.   You have a president elected because you  have people voting for him basically.   And a significant fraction of the civil society  in France still, I don't know if the word is   appropriate, but escapes our influence. All  the people that vote for the populist parties,  

basically we are not able to talk to them today,  which is an issue, which is a big issue. We have   to talk to these people and I still haven't found  a way to do so because these people actually are   the first losers of the energy contraction.  They don't realize it, but they are the first.  So we have to talk to them and we have to  embark them on the plan that we believe is,   I would say, responds correctly to the situation.   And I don't see that at my age. There is  much more that I can do than going on,  

doing what I've already done, which is working  with companies at Carbone 4, working with the   civil society at The Shift Project and writing  books. And as you may know, the Le Mond sans   fin is going to be released in the US. We are  currently working right now with my co-author   on the US version because we have to move from  meters to feet, square meters to square feet. Oh my gosh. No. And we have to change all the  examples that pertain to France   into examples that pertain to the US.

And when will that be out? It should be released at the end of the  year, if we're lucky. So end of the year   or beginning of next year if we take  too long in finishing the adaptation. So the ultimate plan then is to  combine efficiency and sobriété   at multiple scales in society to avert  collapse and averts just abject poverty,   some combination at institutional  g

2023-08-19 15:28

Show Video

Other news