The room is full. “We don’t introduce you anymore”, laughs the presenter before launching her guest on her favorite theme: sobriety. The lesson can begin. “Globalization is the child of energy abundance. » The economy must put itself at the service of an ethical project. » For almost an hour, the professor, his eyes piercing and his torso erect on his stool, unrolls the thread of his thoughts. In front of him, silence. Never have students seemed so focused. The students in question this August 30 at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris? Thirty-somethings with some gray hair, entrepreneurs of all stripes looking for solutions to green their businesses during the Summer Universities for the Economy of Tomorrow. Sobriety is the key word for the start of the school year. And to embody it, the one who needs no introduction: the “professor” Jean-Marc Jancovici.

Invited by politicians, in engineering schools, in business seminars or on television sets, the man of energy sobriety is everywhere. On YouTube, he became the most followed climate popularizer under the first Macron term, according to a study Impact Factorled by Albin Wagener, language science researcher at Inalco.

How to explain such a success? For more than 20 years now, Jean-Marc Jancovici has dragged his carcass from the École des mines de Paris, where he teaches, to business seminars and up to the highest authorities of the State – he is a member of the Haut Climate advice – to alert the world. If we don’t curb our consumption of fossil fuels and our greenhouse gas emissions quickly, humanity is going straight into the wall, he says in substance and without subtlety. An air of comedy don’t look up before the hour.

Jean-Marc Jancovici did not wait for the climate to become fashionable to take up the question. Polytechnic engineer tempted by Hollywood for a time, it was during the 1990s that he discovered for the first time this concept still unknown to the general public: greenhouse gases. And the looming climate catastrophe.

Jean-Marc Jancovici has found his calling: chasing superfluous carbon from our planet. A true ecological epiphany that he stages in the comic strip co-written with Christophe Blain and which has become a bestseller, the endless world (Dargaud, 2021). The inventor of the carbon footprint and founder of the consulting firm Carbone 4 likes to embody what he preaches.

The man of decarbonization is an ideological UFO that unites as much as it divides. On the right, his decreasing speech annoys – “If we want to limit global warming to 2°C (above the 1.5°C provided for by the Paris Agreement, editor’s note), global emissions must fall by 5% per year. Or as much as the year of the Covid “. It is opposed to green growth. On the left, it is his immoderate love of nuclear energy to the detriment of renewable energies that makes people cringe. Annoyed that he is given this label, he now refuses to be questioned on the subject.


The authoritarian temptation

On the side of the experts, we are wary of the learned and semi-authoritarian tone of the great promoter of sobriety. “It’s as if the energy question overshadowed and explained everything else”, deplores Éric Vidalenc, specialist in energy issues at Ademe (Agency for the environment and energy management) and chairman of a working group at the think tank (“thought laboratory”, in French) the ecological factory on transition and democracy. “He sometimes presents things in an essentialized way, but that doesn’t correspond to the reality of the world and to the state of scientific knowledge. It is a technocentric vision that does not take into account the work of other researchers in politics or the human sciences to lead the ecological transition. »

A follower of ecological planning, Jean-Marc Jancovici believes that our democracies are too short-term to be able to meet the climate challenge. “Politics, in a democracy, responds to the balance of power and not to intelligence”, he torments himself. So the solution would lie in… a Chinese model? “It is not excluded that the answer is yesdoes he slip into one of his videos. To fight against climate change in the right orders of magnitude, we must be able to impose extremely significant efforts on ourselves. You have to have a very strong power to be able to enforce them. » “Do authoritarian regimes better prepare the transition? Things are more complex”, asserts Éric Vidalenc. China has thus recently restarted its coal production to support the post-Covid economic recovery.

Next step for Jean-Marc Jancovici, a political career? “Politics is not my job”, replies the person concerned, somewhat annoyed. And to explain on the way to the RER: “Democracy is a bottom-up system. Until I convince the voters, it’s not a democracy. I only convinced a few urban executives; it’s not all voters. »

More and more followers

Behind him, an army of Shifters, as they call themselves, has risen and grown exponentially. Volunteers experts in their field whose mission is to support The Shift Project, the think tank led by Jean-Marc Jancovici. Pointed out for its private funding (EDF, Veolia, BNP or even Vinci), its reports on the energy transition are nonetheless welcomed by the scientific community.

From a dozen in 2013, the Shifters have grown to nearly 19,000 in 2022. “We had fun doing the math: if we continue at this rate, all French people will be Shifters in 2028”, we laugh internally. But we know it well here: commitment does not escape mathematical laws. Like any exponential curve, it promises to reach its limits one day. Only half of the contingent is now considered active.

It all started with a group of engineers. They still form half of the workforce today. In recent years, the group has opened up to new profiles, mostly executives, ranging from lawyers to historians, including business school graduates. The association wants to be partisan and mixes sensitivities ranging from the extreme left to the liberal right.

Antoine, new convert

Pharmacist in Corrèze, Antoine Prioux is one of these new converts. An activist for more than ten years for the protection of health data and a convinced ecologist, he defines himself as an anarchist of Kropotkinian influence. It was through his professional knowledge and a YouTube video that he came across the Shift project and met “Jean-Marc”. That was in 2021. Since then, Antoine Prioux has been crisscrossing France to preach the good word and defend a decentralized health model, sailing from economic conference to underground festival in Creuse. (“I speak in my name and not in the name of the Shift”, he wishes to clarify before taking up, in part, the ideas of the Shift Project). “I am a virus in the system”, he likes to think.

What convinced him about “Jean-Marc”? “He is one of the few who can break Cassandre’s syndrome. » The man is not content to alert. He brings solutions. “The advantage of carbon is that it allows us to talk about ecology without pronouncing the word euro”, also notes Antoine Prioux.

A “white label” green program

It is through this prism of ecology that The Shift Project unveiled its French economic transformation plan (Odile Jacob), the result of a collaboration between “The Shift Project, Shifters, people from the academic and economic world”, indicates Alexandre Barré, president of the association the shifters. It is not about the euro, but about fluid mechanics, energy and sobriety. The book, with a salutary sobriety and clarity in the face of such a difficult subject, was distributed to all the presidential candidates. “A white-label campaign platform that could be picked up by anyone who wants to get serious about decarbonization”, in the words of Jean-Marc Jancovici. But of which he is not the only master to think. This is one of the character’s paradoxes.

The strong man of energy sobriety relies on a horizontal organization where everyone has their say. “We are not a Jean-Marc Jancovici fan club, would like to clarify Alexandre Barré. Jean-Marc is not a guru who tells everyone what to think. » Not every Shifter necessarily shares their all-nuclear stance. Based on the work of RTE (Electricity transmission network), the French economic transformation plan even enjoins“accelerate the installation of electrical renewable energies (…). We must put all the chances on our side by leading the efforts head on: sobriety, efficiency, nuclear and renewable energy. If we fail to follow this ridge, much stricter sobriety policies will have to be prepared and democratically accepted..

Rest, “the association does not deal with political subjects”recognizes Alexandre Barré. “It does not at all address issues of distribution of effort or societal issues, for example. It is working on possible solutions, but it is not a political doctrine. » Only a spiritual and technical guide for politicians in need of sobriety.

The Abbey of Saint-Jacut-de-la-Mer organizes its first ecology festival
In partnership with Life, the abbey of Saint-Jacut-de-la-Mer (Côtes-d’Armor) invites you from October 14 to 16 to reflect together on the ecological challenges of the 21st century in the spirit of the encyclical Laudato si’. Fifty years after the Earth Summit, which invited us to “think globally, act locally”, what is the situation today? To respond to this vast subject, many round tables and participatory workshops with leading figures committed to the planet, such as the biologist Gilles Bœuf, the philosopher Dominique Bourg, the director general of Oxfam Cécile Duflot, the philosopher Catherine Larrère , the philosopher Sophie Swaton, the monk François Cassingena-Trévedy…, but also many local actors. Naturalist walks, meditations by the sea are also planned in the program.

Jean-Marc Jancovici, united herald of energy sobriety