Managing global interdependence effectively: how to put an end to societies of unlimited irresponsibility

Editorial - Newsletter 4 - December 2018

Pierre CALAME, December 2018

Following the debate during the ongoing COP24 in Poland (the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – started on Monday 3 December 2018), one thing is clear. The main task of COP24 is to develop a set of decisions to ensure the implementation of the Paris Agreement, initiated at COP21, in 2015.

However, if we don’t radically change our way of thinking, it is unlikely that we will be able to rise to the challenges of the 21st century. As Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Right now, these words ring truer than ever. Our stance up until now has been to put off the inevitable, but we can’t put it off forever: we are stuck in a rut with the same formulas, the same ways of thinking in the hope that a few tweaks here and there will get us out of it. But we remain deep in it.

If we want to manage climate issues and global interdependence effectively, we have to stop deluding ourselves that sovereign states are the answer. Right now only 13% of countries are on target with the voluntary commitments made in Paris in 2015, which means we are already looking at a temperature increase of nearly three degrees. “Sovereign state” essentially means behaving irresponsibly towards the rest of the world. There is no way out without a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities whereby each actor’s responsibility is commensurate with their power.

Human rights form the foundations of international law in its current form, but how can we possibly imagine that we can build the international law of the future – one that takes into account the interdependent relationship between societies, the human race and the planet – on these same foundations?

Climate issues can’t be solved with yesterday’s formulas. The French government is currently feeling the limits of carbon tax policies: the poor spend less on energy costs than the rich but energy costs represent a significantly bigger chunk of their budget, and these are costs that they can’t avoid. This means that the bottom 10% are 2.7 times more affected by the carbon tax than the top 10% (in proportion to their income). The only answer is that the poorest sector of the population is given the possibility to sell their surplus energy quota to the rich.

It seems that all we know how to do is put new wine into old wineskins – because we are intellectually lazy and because we are frightened of the unknown or of ridicule. Drowning with the herd is easier than jumping ship.

There has been some progress in Europe. A new recommendation from the European Commission outlines a new method for formulating and assessing EU policies through a cycle that starts with and goes back to local experiences, an approach I have been advocating for almost thirty years. The recommendation also proposes an “active subsidiarity” approach in order to manage different levels of governance.

We can’t use the same currency for that which needs to be be economised (fossil fuels) and that which needs to be developed (human labour). The only governance model that can manage fossil fuels effectively is a negotiable quota system: this idea will eventually win out over conformist thinking simply because it’s so obvious.

The two tools I’ve developed are in line with a change in the conceptual framework that dominates our perception of the current challenges.

First, my book, a “Short Treatise on Oeconomy”, published by the Editions Charles Léopold Mayer in France - downloadable for free at, calls for a return to the « oeconomy ».

In 1755, the Encyclopedia throws away an « o »: what was called until then « œconomie » becomes « economy ». By losing its « o », the economy also gradually loses the memory of its original meaning (oikos, house, nomos, law, rules for the management of our common home), and it empowers itself of the management of the rest of the society, until presenting the laws that it states like natural laws to which one can only subscribe.

But today, humanity faces a pressing need: to ensure the well-being of all while respecting the limits of the planet. Only a return to the ‘œconomy’ can reconcile economic necessities with the unavoidable fact that natural resources are limited, and this is the object of this little treaty. By fully assuming its original meaning, the ‘œconomy’ thus becomes the branch of governance that applies to the particular fields of production, circulation and the consumption of goods and services.

I show that it is by returning to this notion that it will be possible to ensure to society the collective and democratic control of its own destiny.

The short treatise on ‘œconomy’ is currently being published in several languages, a sign that everyone is tired of all the criticism (albeit justified) of our current economic system without any serious alternative proposition. But unless I live to a hundred, it is very likely I won’t be around to see these simple ideas take off: it will take twenty years to establish common sense solutions that go against the grain.

Another basic idea: we can’t manage complexity unless we can represent it. We therefore need a tool where links between issues and between policies can be visualised. This tool is the relational atlas. Have a look at - the “Cities, Territories and Governance” website. There you will find the atlas and the way it works, with large-scale maps of the world and small-scale maps that highlight certain areas. With the atlas I would like to give substance to something I have long wanted to do: identify and bring together the innovative experiences going on all over the world; bring together various networks that are cut off from each other but are actually working in the same spirit and share the same goals.

I’m beginning to work on another short book: How to put an end to societies of unlimited irresponsibility. Because that is the world in which we currently live: carefully delineating each individual’s responsibilities has resulted in a situation of unlimited irresponsibility.

The Alliance for Sustainable and Responsible Societies, a global network spread across all continents, has been committed for many years to popularize these principles, by making use of the international agenda, and to demonstrate their relevance, with a view to transition to sustainable societies. This newsletter, one of the Alliance’s working tools, is the voice of analysis on the management of global interdependencies and of innovative ideas.

Good reading!