Only in France, a country where the comic enjoys a status and influence unmatched by any other country, could a book of this genre become a cultural phenomenon on climate change. the world without end, by the renowned comic book author Christophe Blain and the popular engineer and popularizer Jean-Marc Jancovici, has been on the best-seller lists for a year with hundreds of thousands of copies sold in his country. Now the publishing house Norma publishes it in Spanish and Finestres in Catalan.
Only in France could such a phenomenon occur, and only in France, one of the global bastions of atomic energy, could the book contain a twist in the script that will surely disconcert some readers and has already provoked discussions about its content, and severe criticism. from a part of environmentalism. The book can be read as an environmentalist and pro-degrowth manifesto: a wake-up call about a world that will fall apart unless we are willing to give up the abundance of our lifestyle.
But —and here is the twist— he questions the role of renewable energies such as wind or solar, and claims nuclear, “a parachute”, says Jancovici (Paris, 60 years old) to EL PAÍS, a buffer that “will allow us to maintain a piece of industrial civilization, which only with wind and solar panels will not be achieved”. And it triggers a battery of arguments about the “ecological” nature of atomic power plants, among others: they do not emit CO2, they take up little space, they require little material and they leave little waste (“Obviously, nuclear waste is a mess, but there are not many ”).
The success of the world without end It coincides with two films where energy is the protagonist. In alcarràs, by Carla Simón, are the solar panels. In Ace Beasts, by Rodrigo Sorogoyen, the windmills. “Deep down”, wrote Elsa Fernández-Santos in these pages, “the Spain that both films portray is the same, a country with its land and its crops threatened by the new economy of renewable energies”.
Each one in its genre and style, these works expose the reverse of the dream of renewables. “It is true,” says Jancovici, “that a wind farm is built faster than a nuclear reactor, but making a complete decarbonised system, without CO2, without gas and only with wind or solar will take much more time than doing it only with nuclear”.
The problem is that today, in the atomic, France, almost half of the reactors are stopped for revisions and repairs. Right in the middle of the energy crisis due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when they are most needed. Isn’t that a reason to give up this energy? “No”, settles the co-author of the world without end. “And in the next world you have to get something out of your head: there is no solution without risks. The solution to go towards a world with only renewables is fraught with risks, starting with the risk that we will not achieve it. It is the main risk: having something that we will not have. So the disorganization of the society that we will have will represent a greater risk”.
“What I say about wind and solar is that we are very far from the miracle,” he says at another time. “It’s not that you shouldn’t do it, but you shouldn’t be under any illusions about the benefits it brings. And we’ve seen a lot of fanciful scenarios whereby we could keep having essentially renewable energy in our supply while keeping the industrial way of life, which is ours today. Well no…”
In the book, which is presented as a dialogue between a curious and restless Blain about the planet and a Jancovici who unfolds his arguments without biting his tongue, a joke is quoted to illustrate the role of renewable energies and that of fossil fuels in a world where endless abundance is depleted. An alcoholic goes to the doctor, who asks, “How many bottles do you take?” Alcoholic’s response: “A bottle of whiskey a day.” A month later, he asks the doctor: “How are we?” “Much better,” replies the alcoholic. “A bottle and a half a day. But attention. Now I also drink a natural orange juice per week”. Whiskey is oil, coal, gas. The juice, the renewables.
“What, on a global scale, has marked the last twenty years is not the rise of renewable energies, but the explosion of coal and, just behind it, the very strong increase in oil and gas products”, explains Jancovici. “What we have shown is that in a world that was consuming more and more oil, coal and gas, we also knew how to make more and more wind power.”
The co-author of the world without end —media figure in France, inventor of the carbon balance, a method for calculating emissions, an advisor to companies to decarbonize— insists: “What interests us is that, in a world in which we consume less and less oil and gas, we are able to do more and more wind power. Will we make it?” he wonders. “Is not safe. For solar energy, 80% of photovoltaic cells are made in China. It’s globalization! And in a world without fossil fuels there will no longer be globalization, because globalization is container ships, merchant ships, trucks, a little planes… How can you do all this without oil?
the world without end combines Jancovici’s pedagogical skill—and provocation—with Blain’s talent for storytelling with images. It is one of those books that forces a change of perspective: everything is energy, from the movement of the hand to type this text to the fact that there is a device for the reader to read it. But it is not an essay adapted to the comic: it is a pure comic, with a central character who is the superhero Iron Man, a superhero who is actually the reader himself and the humanity of the 21st century.
Jancovici explains: “Thanks to airplanes we fly. Thanks to the machines we lift very heavy loads. Thanks to automobiles, we move very fast. Thanks to the telescope we see further. Thanks to communication networks, we talk very far”. Superheroes everything, then. The armor is the machines that surround us and make our lives easier. These machines need energy to function. Energy, that of fossil origin, which destroys the planet and will be scarcer. And another, the non-polluting one, which, according to Jancovici, will be insufficient to supplant the polluting one.
This is the paradox, continuing with the image of the joke: “The alcoholic must stop drinking whiskey in a world where there will not be much more orange juice.” The solution? “Drinking water”. In other words, the famous decrease.
“On a physical level, it’s already here,” observes Jancovici, who prefers to talk about savings rather than decrease. “I will give you two indicators: the number of square meters built in Europe, we are below 2007. And, in general terms, the supply of oil continues. If you look at the tons loaded on the trucks, it’s down from 2007.” The question, he adds, is whether degrowth or savings will be forced on us, or whether we want to or can do it of our own free will. “I think it’s better that we take care of doing it actively,” he replies. “Otherwise, it will be worse: more unequal, more brutal, with more surprises. Better organize it.”
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