In my opinion | Techno-optimism, a discourse of climate delay
We need to talk about the interview of Robert-Jan Smits, President of the Executive Board of the TU/e, in the national newspaper De Telegraaf on August 25th.
In the interview (€) Smits talks about the energy transition and how it is going too fast. It is interesting that in the whole interview there is not a single word about the existential threat to all life on earth. Smits seems to be solely concerned with the industry. Not surprising when you consider that the TU/e has the biggest dependency on corporate financing in the Netherlands.
Smits said: “Then we can say later: ‘we have reached the climate goals, but we sadly do not have a manufacturing industry anymore’.” What if we turn it around? Then we can say later: “We have an excellent manufacturing industry, but sadly we have lost most of life on earth.”
It is also interesting that Smits uses the framing of climate activists and environmentalists being in ‘obsession with climate policies’, it’s like these ‘obsessed people’ are thinking that they will be affected by the climate crisis or somehow care about fighting the injustices exacerbated by the climate crisis.
His arguments overlap ‘nicely’ with the technological optimism discourse that has been identified as a discourse of climate delay. His views are undermining the scientific community.
Smits mentioned that it is important for universities to contribute to the debate; I do agree with him there. However, I question the need for him to contribute to the debate. He is not an expert on the topic of the energy transition and therefore should be mindful of participating in this debate. I don’t see the contribution of Smits to the debate around degrowth as meaningful: “Everyone knows that when you sit on a bicycle and it stops you will fall”. I would say: “Everyone knows that when you are making childish metaphors, you probably have no clue what you are talking about”.
I think Smits might use his time more wisely to reflect upon his privileges, in order to start to understand why it is problematic to say things like: ‘You are not Africa, right?’. Or what he said in an interview with Jort Kelder regarding decolonizing the university: “Let’s keep that nonsense above the rivers”. We all have a lot of unlearning to do in order to fully understand how we ended up in a situation where we are destroying life to such an extent that we are facing the massive death of our own species.
The worldviews of Smits are sadly not solely his personal opinion but can be seen as an institutionalized lack of reflection on our position in this world. This is clearly exemplified by the description of the opening of the academic year on the TU/e website:
‘The world is facing significant transitions, with the climate and energy sectors presenting the most pressing challenges. However, these transitions also present a unique opportunity to achieve future earning power, with a strong competitive position and numerous high-quality jobs. We need to achieve a balanced earnings model, prioritizing environmental, social, and societal responsibility. But how can we realize this in time without disrupting our prosperity? This question will be at the heart of the opening of the Academic Year in Eindhoven, with special attention for the role of the Brainport Eindhoven region, the main innovation ecosystem of the Netherlands. The speeches will be followed by a panel discussion with experts.’
By writing this opinion article, I would like to propose an alternative:
‘The world is facing significant crises, with the climate and ecological crisis presenting unprecedented threats to both human and non-human beings. However, these crises also present a unique opportunity to radically change our systems, with a loving position towards life and numerous ways of being rooted in care. We need to achieve a balanced anti-capitalist model, prioritizing environmental, social and societal responsibility. But how can we realize this in time when those in power do not wish to disrupt their ‘prosperity’? This question should be at the heart of the opening of the Academic Year in Eindhoven, with special attention for the role of the TU/e Executive Board, the main powerful opposer to necessary change. The speeches will be followed by a panel discussion with independent experts on climate justice.’
No more green lies, cut ties & democratize!
Bram Boer is a master's student Sustainable Energy Technology at TU/e
Main photo | Ipopba / iStock