Limit heating to 19°C: this is what worries the French and other Europeans in the run-up to winter. It is a question of energy sobriety, of “small gestures” expected from citizens. But what exactly are we talking about? This is a vague concept which is received in different ways by some.

Is it limited to “consuming less” or “better” at the same time? But then how to move towards more sober consumption patterns in the areas of food (more organic, local, fair trade products, etc.) and energy? For now, we are dealing with the declarative, intentions called to usher in the dawn of a behavioral shift. Some even evoke a “happy sobriety”. Even.

Who should consume less?

The central problem is this: responding to socio-economic challenges. In recent years, the majority of society’s actors have not been able to evacuate the particular acuteness of ecological problems: global warming, biodiversity crisis, soil degradation, atmospheric pollution – so many collective emergencies. The advanced idea? That everyone should simply accept to live better with less and thus relearn how to enjoy the simple things in life; and if everyone did so, collectively the pressure on nature could be reduced. On paper, in theory, the idea is attractive. But isn’t it completely out of step with the times? In another way, how to advocate and support a certain material renunciation when many are demonstrating precisely for their purchasing power? To wonder if there would not be two categories of citizens: those, committed “consumers” agreeing to modify or even give up their mode of consumption for the planet; and those, selfish, concerned above all with their level of consumption. In other words, isn’t thinking of a happy society in some way an idea, even a privilege of the rich?

That said, can we attribute the responsibility for the coming ecological catastrophe to the sum of individual consumption behaviors? In developed countries, consumption patterns are undoubtedly polluting, as a whole and on average. But the salary hierarchy means that the environmental impacts can be of different orders of magnitude. Studies confirm it: the majority of CO2 emissions are generated by the wealthiest. So ? With the “happy society”, who are we talking to? Who should “consume less? Everyone? The inequality is there: for wealthy consumers, giving up certain material goods is also simpler: it is much more accessible when you have a lot at the base. Conversely, for those whose daily life is to live “as one can”, it is obviously that the requirement of an additional sacrifice is much more difficult and more complex. Some 500 million people live in the continent – ​​to name a few. than Africa- below a poverty line of PPP$1.90/day As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 55 million more have been pushed into extreme poverty in 2020-2021. “sobriety” when everyday life is at this level? How to argue that they need to consume less, but better?

The ideology of continuous growth

The discourse on happy sobriety presents a paradox: that of a purely economic logic. He challenges the current consumer society but nevertheless takes up its logic; it would be up to consumers to act to guide and influence the system, and this in a pure market logic. Isn’t it basically the socio-economic system that as a whole produces such a situation? It is not the consumers who have the upper hand and who decide how it works: far from it. It is indeed a system in place, structuring, which is the product of political and economic forces exceeding the consumers who suffer: they are only a small cog. The debate is reduced to a simple equation of order and demand. It boils down to an injunction to be a responsible consumer. However, this approach depoliticizes this problematic of social transformation; it hides the social dynamics as well as all the political and cultural struggles marking the mobilization of peoples around a fair and united economic model. Happy sobriety, why not? But it must be inclusive; it must succeed in transforming production systems and social systems, it should thus achieve a balance: providing everyone, whatever the means, with eco-responsible consumer products. A collective model. Inclusive. And global. Along the same lines, current models should be reassessed and new ones capable of producing enough for everyone, while taking into account ecological issues, should be devised.

failure of modernity

Choose the moderation of human needs and desires; prefer a liberating and willingly consented society; break with the dominant consumer culture; putting people back at the center of economic and social policies: these are the real terms of reference in today’s world. Humanity must manage to meet its vital needs with the simplest and healthiest means. It is indeed impossible to maintain the ideology of infinite growth for much longer; it has been proven to be destructive and unsustainable from both a biological and geological point of view. Do we work to live or do we live to work? Modernity has perpetuated, under the banner, beautiful moral proclamations – democracy, freedom, equality, human rights. But this equitable order is largely in check. Modernity has not kept its promises – it is a failure. The relationship to the ground, however immemorial and capital for each people, is threatened and increasingly replaced by the logic of efficiency with at the same time all the traditional ties undone. And the human being is less linked to a social order or rooted in a territory: a double exile. Agrochemical products have invaded the soil under the pretext of so-called agronomic progress.

Logic of living

What avenues for a new paradigm? Go from the logic of unlimited profit to that of the living. Along which lines? Global action in favor of the integrity of nature (forests, nourishing soil, water, seeds, fishery resources, etc.). A revaluation of the status of women by leaving the macho schema that still predominates. Education for equality between men and women. The end of the commodification and advertising formatting of citizens. The centering of education on the development of the personality of the child with the primacy of the enthusiasm to learn. What about sobriety education?

Half a century ago, a report from the Club of Rome – of which the late Mehdi El Manjra had been a member – questioned “The limits to growth” – a work of alert which was a founding act on mortgages and the dangers weighing on the planet. A poignant thesis. A “shell concept” which had already provoked a wide public debate. There is still time to update it: do we want it? Yes. But can we?…


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