If there is one thing worth taking away from the lectures of the great historian Timothy Snyder it is this: be very sceptical every time you have a feeling that history is dead. Here is the speech Adam Blazowski gave after his re-election as chair of RePlanet’s Board of Directors during our General Assembly in May.
‘For the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, communism was hardly a deliberate choice. It was forced upon them by a cruel regime, but there were many, many who believed in it. But it failed to deliver on its promises.
‘In the 1970s, Brezhnev’s two goals were to negotiate wide acceptance of the status quo, and to enable mass production of basic consumer goods. The high goals and ambitions of early revolutionaries were no more; what people had now was about as good as it was ever going to get. There was little to fight for. For the millions under Soviet rule this was it; the Soviet Union was supposed to last forever. History from then on was going to run only one way. It did not, to the surprise of many.
‘This idea, that the future is set, surfaced again as Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history”, which defined the thinking of many citizens of Western Europe in the 1990s. The Iron Curtain spectacularly fell, the free market prevailed, liberty and new business opportunities arose. Our liberal democracies were supposed to take things further into the future with more and more of the same, but with no more wars. The future looked both linear and underwhelming, because there was not much worth fighting for anymore.
‘This mass extinction of ambitions and purpose was later best put into words by none other than Neil Armstrong: “They promised us bases on Mars, what we got instead was Facebook”.
‘Soon, “fake news” and social polarisation challenged our democracies. And much to the shock of many, there was real war once again in Europe.
‘Being fully conscious of the looming crisis of climate change and loss of biodiversity, we believe that a pragmatic, science-based discussion can deliver solutions to our problems’
‘A very similar example of this process happened within the traditional Green movement, which also fell victim to thinking that there is only one future ahead of us. Since the 1970s, a deep, deterministic conviction that the planet was overpopulated merged with lack of faith in human ingenuity and scepticism towards technology. Witnessing unprecedented biodiversity loss pushed many environmentalists into a hopeless, “passivist” doomism. It manifested in narratives that were deeply anti-human and defeatist.
‘For many within the Green movement the future was already set, the population bomb was ticking. Only individual ecological conversion mattered, in a spirit of “small is beautiful”. This led to a series of grave mistakes by the environmental movement, including the banning of GMOs and the nuclear phaseout enabled in several well-off countries that made things worse for the climate, not better. Paralyzed by the perceived predictability of the future, the West ignored the developing world’s need to modernise and innovate.
‘But history is never dead. It twists and meanders like a wild river should.
‘As RePlaneteers, as environmentalists and humanists at the same time, we strongly reject such dark Green doomism and determinism. Being fully conscious of the looming crisis of climate change and loss of biodiversity, we believe that a pragmatic, science-based discussion can deliver solutions to our problems. We remain positive about humanity and the role of technology. Rejecting both utopian and dystopian distractions, we want to focus on realistic visions of a protopia: a future that depends on our collective actions and decisions, our ingenuity, democracy, rule of law and a common goal.
‘RePlanet wants to push history forward to liberate nature and elevate humanity. Isn’t this something worth fighting for?’
Adam Blazowski is Chair of RePlanet’s Board of Directors, and co-founder of FOTA4Climate, a member organisation in Poland.