The Greens and the shower debate: poor and assholes

It was Habeck who ended the green illusion narrative that personal sacrifice will stop global warming. And now he’s asking for a shorter shower?

Illustration of a shower head

Above all, it causes distraction debates: the call to take shorter showers Photo: Illustration: Katja Gendikova

An emancipatory progress of the Greens and they therefore increasingly elective new middle class in recent years it was overcoming the romantic-illusory Claudia Roth stuff (“The private is political”) and the creepy idea of ​​the “better people” that it contained. This idea finds its fulfillment mainly in marking supposedly bad people. It’s a tough job that has passed from the first West German Wokies – the ’68ers – through the second Wokies – the early and middle Greens – to the third generation of awakened consciousness.

Meanwhile, the Greens in the federal states and since last December also in the federal government are concentrating on making politics, which sometimes works more, sometimes less, but in any case aims at the common and works with political instruments to improve structures. The main person responsible for the strategic and cultural change is today’s Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, who years ago told everyone who didn’t get out of his earshot in time to quickly get milk from Aldi in the evening if it was missing. Better politics, not better people, was the slogan of this paradigm shift.

And woven into this was the end of the illusionary narrative that personal renunciation by the insightful would stop global warming. And now comes Habeck of all people calls on the people as economics and climate ministers to take shorter showers and therefore to “renounce”? From this one can conclude how far away the minister has been from his major strategic theories in recent weeks and how concerned he is about real gas shortages and energy security in winter. Greater efficiency is central to the transformation, and shorter showers are about saving energy and saving money. And yet: It’s not really brilliant by Habeck.

The waiver “debate” is a trap, something that the media scientist Bernhard Poerksen called a metaframe. With these metaframes, socio-ecological politics have been prevented for years by being framed on a meta-level as illegitimate education and deprivation of liberty. But the fixation on the economy while largely neglecting ecology is a conservative metaframe of German politics, society and the media, which dominates in two variations, one as “economy” and one as “social injustice”. This also defines and sets thought and speech patterns.

Media society time warp

We are stuck in a media society time warp, which delegitimizes future politics from two directions. One is the so-called Kubicki Effect. People are said to be overcome by the urge to take a particularly long shower, to drive around in a particularly fuel-intensive manner or to take a domestic flight from Berlin to Potsdam. They are either culturally perpetually adolescents who want to see this as a protest against the stuffy authorities and declare it a fight for freedom. Or populist Liberal Democrats without a climate policy program.

Intellectually, this is not capable of satisfaction, but we in the media keep bringing it up again and again because it produces reach and excitement. The second delegitimization strategy has also been practiced for many years. While the former comes across as liberal-moral, the latter is based on left-wing morality and is therefore often served with the words “cynical” and “inhuman”.

“You have to be able to afford to renounce” is the central reflex of this school of thought, which quite rightly assumes that some have a lot and others too little and that this is a core problem that liberal democratic politics must alleviate. That’s correct. A household that has little produces few emissions, but is pushed to the abyss by higher energy prices. So he has to be supported. This is a central political task in view of the presumably difficult winter.

“Single Parent Supermarket Cashier”

But the Metaframe works in such a way that climate policy activists are accused of elitist aloofness because they supposedly want people who have little to also “do without”. Hardly anyone says that, but that’s how polemics work. The “little man”, the “single supermarket cashier” is used by other interest groups to prevent socio-ecological politics and shifts in business areas and power, by almost all parties. This is sometimes involuntarily funny, when the FDP, for example, complains about patronage, which otherwise cannot patronize the poor enough. Often it simply marks a practiced speaking of justice.

We are dealing here with a super metaframe, social democracy. This is not synonymous with social democracy, but our federal republican culture and the basis of the very decent social policy of all federal governments since 1949 compared to the rest of the world. The Stanford intellectual Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, who, as far as I know, coined the word, says that there is basically nothing to be said against it. Except that it blinds society to alternatives. These would tend to be rejected as unethical and neoliberal. My empirical observation is that this also applies to serious climate policy.

“More for everyone”

The West German culture of social democracy summed up an election slogan by the social democrat Ralf Stegner. “More for everyone” was this slogan, and for many years that seemed to work in the fossil-fuel industrial society, first in the globally dominant West, and for some time now also in parts of other continents. But always on the basis of the future-destroying burning of cheap fossil raw materials.

Social democratism, whether executed by the SPD or the Union, obviously cannot deal with the diversified problem situation and a complex transformation. It always revolves around one thing, namely work, and its solution is to constantly increase what is earned in order to be able to distribute more. (“Redistribution” takes place in Germany, especially in the SPD, at most from bottom to top.)

Oh, in social democracy one can very happily switch to renewables, to electric cars, to a post-fossil economy – electricity, fuel, gas and meat just have to remain cheap, fossil-based jobs are preserved, and above all no one is allowed to “do without” anything. have to or be bothered with something.

Shower call not helpful

Shower appeals are not helpful in breaking up frozen social-democratism, firstly because they provoke the desired distraction discussion and secondly because they move away from fundamental political instruments and into the private sphere. It’s not about taking a shower, nor about putting on a sweater in the living room. It’s about structurally transforming where a lot is really being used. It’s about new energy management in houses, especially in large apartment buildings, commercial buildings, department stores. It’s about a quick end to gas heating, it’s about a flash energy-saving program for German industry. It needs serious efficiency policy as a broad framework.

Certain things must become more expensive in the socio-ecological world, there is no other way, but it costs the poor relatively more. That’s why falling emissions help more economically than fuel money for everyone. It needs a qualitative redistribution policy, clever measures that people with little money can use to counteract their rising energy costs – for example by being able to produce their own electricity with subsidized solar panels.

That sounds illusory, but it will be normal tomorrow. By the way, you can also take a nice long and hot shower. The higher earners meanwhile save fuel and emissions through a speed limit; a very fair policy that applies to everyone and helps everyone. And then what is needed above all is a political program for qualitative growth. Everything stands and falls with it. But because no party has anything like that, nobody talks about it.

In addition, of course, households that are willing and able to save 15 to 20 percent energy so that we can get through the winter to some extent. But I don’t want to be a better person because I can improve my hot water shower consumption by 50 percent with a better shower head. And when a prevention strategist says: Yes, but others can’t afford a new shower head, then I say: That’s right. But that’s not an argument that the millions of households aren’t doing this and other things that can. In this specific context, it is not about the poor and not about the assholes (who are always the others). It’s about us. A new policy is a priority.

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