Lhe difficulty we all have in concretely thinking about the very possibility of a break with our current living conditions is one of the greatest obstacles to the policies needed to deal with climate change. What would be a desirable life where we would emit, on average, five times less greenhouse gases? Could it just be a life without meat, without travel, without heating or air conditioning, a life “without”, in a way? The present reality, all the more significant as the digital world invites itself into our lives at every moment, prevents us from conceiving a different world that could guide our action. Economic thought, which pervades our leaders more than anything else, is dominated by the idea that the current world can only be improved by marginal adjustments. Implicitly, it assumes that today we are making the best possible use of our resources, or almost, and that improvement can only reside in technical innovation, ie doing more with the same resources.
It is in an attempt to escape these mental obstacles thata session of the Lyon Economy Days (November 15-17) was interested in “bifurcations” (moreover the title of the whole event), defined as those moments when several directions are possible, and when a choice is necessary. Mathematician specializing in chaos theories, Ivar Ekeland first showed that mathematical tools help us to think that, in certain situations, the refusal to fork and the stubbornness to make only marginal adjustments can lead to collapses catastrophic, on balances that are irreversibly much worse than the initial situation.
Historian Quentin Deluermoz explained the logic and the difficulty of counterfactual reasoning, that by which a historian reconstructs an alternative reality that “could have happened” in a specific historical context. Despite the weight of multiple determinisms, there are situations in which choices or accidents can lead to several different futures, and therefore one can escape both the feeling of the absurdity of everyday life and the repeated affirmation that “there is no alternative”. The historian mentioned examples: the Great War, made probable by structural changes but triggered by minimal and probably avoidable immediate causes, or stages of the French Revolution.
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