Is it a crime to be an optimist?

Policy brief by Claire Roumet


It could be the object of the philosophy test of school year 2018/2019 but it actually is one of the questions I’m most often asked when I am a speaker at a conference.

The more citizens interested in the energy transition are in the audience, the more I get comments of this kind. The more lobbyists, institutional leaders from the “Brussels bubble”, the less I hear it. On the opposite, speeches are very positive, explaining this infinite green growth ahead, or the greatness Europe could regain thanks to massive investments in unlikely technologies that will give us back our ‘time ahead’, our ‘golden age’, all this wrapped into ‘climate neutrality’. This gap between citizens and institutions that keeps on getting bigger, I can feel it beyond the poll results.

I understand the disillusion expressed by new member of the European Parliament Magid Magid, who after two weeks in the Parliament (1), accurately describes the mismatch between ‘backstage’ institutional secret deals (latest nominations to key European positions are a shining example) and real life.

He however remains trustful in Europe’s capacity to reinvent itself. Is it naive? Should we all believe in an imminent collapse to finally take action, accept the necessary change under extreme circumstances? I am not sure how to balance that.

I get that being positive may be hazardous if it translates into not seeing what is, by lying to ourselves (as we can see in the institutional debates or in the media nowadays). But I bet that it is possible to call a spade a spade without describing the end of the world.

Yes, our current economic model will not allow us to keep the Earth liveable. Yet everywhere small seeds are growing, offering new possibilities for producing and consuming. We could sense it at Le Talus, a participatory urban farm in Marseille that we visited a couple of weeks ago. Or in the multitude of ways we can cooperate to produce and share energy between citizens and municipalities, as described in our latest publication.

I don’t think being an optimist is a problem. The real problem is the lack of connection between two worlds: the world of those who make decisions, and the world of those who are taking action.

In France, the recent law on energy is an example of this. Whereas everywhere in the country you can see more and more citizen energy initiatives, members of French Parliament have proved to completely fail understanding these new models by not providing support to energy communities (2). Our role (and it is key!) is to make connections between European leaders and the reality on the ground, and this is one of the reasons why we revamped our website.

The question “Is it a crime to be an optimist?” would deserve a lot more answers. You have all summer to think about it, and do not forget to share your reflections with us! We wish you all a great, soothing and naive summer break.

(1) https://www.politico.eu/article/magid-magid-whats-disappointed-me-in-my-first-two-weeks-in-brussels/

(2) see also an analysis of the new EU Directive on renewables in our “What’s EUp“?