TSE MAG 26 - How to save the planet

April 22, 2024 Environment

This article was published in TSE science magazine, TSE Mag. It is part of the Spring 2024 issue, dedicated to “Climate Revolution”. Discover the full PDF here and email us for a printed copy or your feedback on the mag, there.

Climate change is not a distant prospect: it’s happening now. Every year, droughts, floods and devastating fires remind us of the urgency of action. However, while there is broad agreement on the causes and consequences of global warming, scientists are often divided about the best solutions. The good news is that there are many ways to play a role in cleaning up the planet. At a special debate in Toulouse in October, TSE Executive Director Christian Gollier and Jean-Marc Jancovici, a leading expert on France’s energy and climate challenges, shared their views on the best tools and policies to help us win this fight.

“Energy and environmental transitions will radically transform our society. Never in history,” said Christian in his opening remarks, “has there been such an intense and rapid change. Most people are aware of what's at stake with the climate, and yet there is no consensus on the policies and instruments that should be used to make this transition.” 

Two key actions will be required to decarbonize the economy, insisted Jean-Marc: “We must fight against our natural tendencies to be lazy, accumulative animals; and find out how to organize the physical flows that structure our economy so that carbon emissions fall by 5% per year, which is what we need to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2°C.” 

These two climate specialists agreed on the urgency for action. However, in front of an audience of TSE students, journalists and members of the Shifters (a local association that works with the Shift Project, a think tank co-founded by Jean-Marc), they argued for the use of different tools. 


Government planning will be essential, believes Jean-Marc. “We need a plan. The development of transport infrastructures, the rewriting of urban planning documents, the construction of the electricity system, education and agriculture cannot be left in the hands of the market. For adjusting policies in the short term, the market is a great tool; but it is incapable of planning 30 years ahead. It is not designed to take structural decisions that will commit us for decades to come.” A plan encourages the public to look ahead, he added: “People tend to make an effort if it helps to remove uncertainty.” 


Christian highlighted the benefits of carbon prices and regulation. “Without the State, the market is unable to send price signals that encourage the energy transition. The State therefore has a crucial role to play. For example, banning patio heaters in restaurants or coal-powered electricity are obvious interventions.” A carbon price, meanwhile, encourages us to value the things we hold dear. “It makes us see the climate as a common good that we must preserve for future generations. Each of us must be aware of the impact of our actions on the climate.” 

Economists find it hard to convince people about the carbon tax, Christian admits, “because it clearly shows that sacrifices must be made. But other policies, based on standards, subsidies and bans, are often even more costly.” 


The experts found common ground on the importance of prioritizing the various actions we can take to decarbonize, while minimizing the impact on the well-being of society. They also agreed that education will be a major tool in the fight against climate change, and that the education system must be reorganized to produce the profiles, knowledge and skills needed to create tomorrow’s solutions.