Our Burning Planet

INTERNATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY TRANSITIONS CONFERENCE

Reflections of an enraged incrementalist – what must be done next?

Reflections of an enraged incrementalist – what must be done next?
Professor Mark Swilling is co-director of the Centre for Sustainability Transitions at Stellenbosch University. (Photo: Supplied)

This is the keynote address delivered to the 14th International Sustainability Transitions Conference, Utrecht, August 2023, by Mark Swilling.

I have decided to call my keynote, Reflections of an Enraged Incrementalist. An enraged incrementalist might sound like an oxymoron. I intend to show that the most radical person in the room is not the one who claims to understand the fundamental contradictions of capitalism, but rather the one who asks, “What do we do next?”

Two realities are shaping the choices we need to make as engaged academics: depending on your positionality, both potentially redefine how we engage in the unfolding polycrisis. 

I refer here first to the rapidly accelerating energy transition that, at least in theory, should be decarbonising the global economy to prevent the worst consequences of global warming.

The second is the reality of persistent poverty and worsening inequalities. 

At the confluence of these two historic trajectories lies the clarion call for a just transition. 

This comes at a time when an unjust transition is a distinct possibility – a decarbonised world where the inequalities created during an era of carbon-intensive industrialisation remain intact. 

And I don’t just mean inequalities within nations – I am more concerned with inequalities created by colonialism and coloniality at a global scale over the past 500 years. 

John Rawls

But first, we need to deal with the ghost of John Rawls. From this perspective, rational individuals deliberating in the “original position” behind a “veil of ignorance” will deem that level of inequality okay if it’s the least bad option for the poor in the context of equality of opportunity. 

When applied to the climate crisis, the result is a familiar refrain: if “we ALL equally contributed to climate change”, it follows that “we all equally benefit from efforts to prevent the further boiling of the planet”. 

Self-evidently, something is not right about this construct. 

More accurately, we did not all equally contribute to climate change; nor is it possible to claim that everyone will equally benefit from decarbonisation. What, then, does the just transition mean?    

African challenge

I come from the most unequal society in the world – it’s also one of the most violent. We are situated on the southern tip of a continent of over a billion people that has been relatively untouched by the mass industrial energy systems that are now the norm across all the other world regions – total electricity generation in terawatt-hours on the African continent is less than the total output of Germany and France combined. 

The simple brutal fact is this: if Africa energises using fossil fuels to achieve its legitimate right to development, none of the Paris targets will be achieved. None. 

The world, therefore, has an interest in Africa pursuing low-carbon energy solutions. But will these be just? And whose definition of justice will be accepted as the norm we use to make judgements about the outcome?

Origins of inequality

Thanks to the impact of post-colonial studies, we recognise that inequality somehow has something to do with the colonial structure of power. But we are remarkably ignorant about the African origins of our highly unequal world (for the account of events that follows, see French, 2023).

In 1324, the rich and powerful ruler of the West African Mali Empire, Mansa Musa, embarked on a 3,500-mile overland journey to Mecca, via Cairo. His entourage comprised 60,000 people and he carried with him large quantities of gold. By then, his extensive West African empire spanned three river valleys: the Senegal, the Gambia and the Niger. It was Mali’s era of spectacular gold wealth. 

His predecessor, Abu Bakr II, had established highly productive gold mines that produced the wealth that underpinned the power and prosperity of the Mali empire. Gold had been used for centuries to trade extensively across Africa and indirectly with Europe. 

Indeed, many medieval European coins were made from African gold, much of it from West Africa. 

His aim was to impress the ruler of the Mamluks, al-Malik al-Nasir, who ruled the Maghred from Cairo. As the leader of the North African Muslim world, Mansa Musa wanted him to recognise his West African empire as an equal player in the North African and Mediterranean trade in slaves and gold.  He decided to impress by way of a boastful and excessive display of gold wealth. 

Although he failed in his mission, word spread throughout the Mediterranean of a rich and powerful kingdom somewhere in Western Africa that possessed unlimited quantities of gold. 

This is the origin of the myth of African gold wealth, reinforced by the fact that between the 1340s and 1370s, vast quantities of African gold dust found its way into European royal coffers where it was minted into the gold coin that created the increasingly interlinked European, West and North African, and emerging Asian and (eventually) American markets. 

It was this myth that inspired the Portuguese explorations of the West African coast, starting in 1346 when Jaume Ferrer set off to discover the “River of Gold” referred to in The Book of Knowledge – a widely circulating book by a Franciscan monk. For over a century, Portuguese explorers pursued the dream of discovering the ultimate source of African gold. 

It was not until 1481 when the Portuguese built the Castle of Elmina in the now-forgotten coastal village of Elmina, in what is now Benin, that they succeeded in their mission. 

Initially, they traded all sorts of materials accessed via trade networks in Europe and Asia for gold. By doing so, Portugal put in place the gold coinage that became the basis for European trade and economies that marked the start of the modern era – an era that connected all the major regions of the world via trade and plunder. 

However, before finding African gold, these increasingly costly sea voyages that yielded very little for over a century needed to be financed. 

This was achieved by capturing Africans and turning them into slaves to work mainly on the sugar plantations. Without Africans as slaves, the wealth of the sugar plantations that were established to meet the new fashionable European addiction to sugar would not have been possible. 

Although slavery had existed for centuries in many parts of the world, the enslavement of Africans marked the start of a uniquely vicious and exploitative system that had not existed before. The average age of a slave on the plantations was seven years because it was cheaper to buy a new slave than spend too much keeping one alive.

To justify extreme cruelty, Africans needed to be defined as non-human. 

The Catholic Church was more than willing to sanctify this practice, including converting to Christianity those Africans who were willing to aid and abet the capture of other Africans on behalf of the European slave traders. 

Modern racism was born, and it has never lost its association with religiously sanctioned wealth accumulation. 

In short, by the end of the 15th century, the two fundamental stocks were in place that became the basis for the emergence of the modern economic epoch – gold and enslaved black bodies. 

This unequal extraction and conversion of African metal and African bodies into the stocks that became the basis for global wealth accumulation during the early phases of the modern era set the template for what was to come. 

Wealth accumulation became synonymous with the process of transforming African material and human resource flows into the accumulated stocks of wealth that became the basis for European economic power and colonial conquest. 

Thanks to the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 between the Catholic Kingdoms of Spain and Portugal brokered by the Catholic Church, the “new world” was divided into two: 

Portuguese dominion over Africa, and the Spanish right to the conquest of the Americas. The stage was set for the 16th century – the start of the complete European conquest of the world, and the European wars that followed over control of this conquered world stretching into the 20th century.

Imagine if Mansa Musa had decided – after being rejected by the Mamluks – to use his gold to build ships to send military expeditions directly to Europe to capture slaves and eventually colonise that continent. What would the world have looked like today?

Unequal exchange

Unsurprisingly, today’s world mirrors the inequalities that were founded at the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. 

Influenced by Jason Hickel’s work on global inequalities (Hickel et al., 2022), Helga Weisz from the Potsdam Institute and I drafted a discussion paper in 2022 for the International Resource Panel on unequal resource flows. The findings are clear: 

  • Raw materials: 24-43% of resources extracted in the global South are consumed in the global North.
  • 20% of all land in the global South is embodied in goods consumed in the global North.
  • 28-38% of all labour in the global South is deployed in the production of goods  consumed in the global North.
  • 10% of energy generated in the global South is embodied in goods consumed in the global North.
  • Northern consumption is unsustainable: 27 ton/capita vs 6 tons/capita in the global South, of which 25% is effectively procured for free due to structurally determined unfair compensation for global South resources (Swilling, Weisz, et al., 2022).

Can the energy transition become a just transition?

Global investments in renewables are now over the $500-billion mark, double the total investment in new coal and nuclear combined. Eighty-three percent of new generation capacity in 2022 came from renewables, double what it was a decade ago (IRENA, 2023). The energy transition is now mainstream. 

Will this energy transition create the opportunity to address the global inequalities that are rooted in 500 years of colonial domination? After all, as the world makes this transition, we come up against a harsh reality: the vast bulk of usable wind and sun is in the global South; the vast bulk of minerals and metals that will be used to construct the infrastructures for a decarbonised world are in the global South; and the vast bulk of the biodiversity resources required for both mitigation and adaptation are in the global South. 

The capital we require, however, is in the global North. And, as Larrie Summers noted at the end of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, no-one has worked out how to reverse that.  

South Africa

The inequalities of the SA case are well known, and so no need to repeat all the gory details here, except for one fact: based on new research using Pickety’s methodologies, it has now been demonstrated that 90% of SA assets are owned by 10% of the population (Orthofer, 2016), most of whom are white. 

Eighty percent of the population have no significant assets – three decades after the start of the democratic era. If ever there was a stark reminder of path dependency, it is this.

And yet we are going through a messy, noisy and disruptive energy transition. 

Eighty-six percent of our energy is generated from what used to be the cheapest coal in the world. We have a fleet of coal-fired power stations that are, on average, 41 years old, and most have to get shut down over the next 15 years (Blended Finance Task Team & Centre for Sustainability Transitions, 2021). Three quarters are under-performing, resulting in rolling blackouts on a daily basis.

And in a climate-conscious world, no one will provide us with the funds to build new ones – not even the Chinese. 

We therefore have no choice: there is now policy consensus that we must build 5 GW of renewables per annum for at least two decades to replace our existing fleet of coal-fired power stations. This will affect the jobs and livelihoods of tens of thousands of workers and their communities, in particular in the northeastern province of Mpumalanga. 

We are thus facing a major opportunity to manage an energy transition that could address historical injustices. 

After all, apartheid was premised on a Mineral-Energy-Complex founded on cheap black coal and cheap black labour (Padayachee, 2009). That is about to change, fundamentally. Or will the end result be an unjust transition? 

Significantly, the transition is only partially driven by state institutions. 

Households and businesses are responding to rolling blackouts by investing heavily in rooftop solar. Following the Vietnam example, 4.4 GW of rooftop solar has been installed in less than two years, costing at least R65 billion.   

In short, South Africa experienced a democratic transition that resulted in the first democratic non-racial elections in 1994. Now we are going through an energy transition. 

Personal story

I have been actively involved in both. My entire professional and activist life has been about transitions. I have always walked the fine line between critical analysis and engaged practice to get things done. Hence my interest in the agonistics of engaging with the contradictory dynamics of change.  

After setting up what is now called the Wits School of Governance to train the post-apartheid public service in the early 1990s, my family and I left Johannesburg and moved to Stellenbosch in 1999 where we established South Africa’s first socially mixed, ecologically designed community, called Lynedoch EcoVillage (Swilling & Annecke, 2006). 

At the centre was the Sustainability Institute where, for 20 years, a set of Stellenbosch University degrees in sustainable development were delivered. Much of the early years of this experiment I spent learning how to set up organic farms, build houses from adobe bricks, and build sustainable water and energy infrastructures. 

What I used to say to students is that I judge how much they know about sustainability by the amount of dirt under their nails. They were required to work on the land before lectures each day.

In 2012 I published a book called “Just Transitions: Explorations of Sustainability in an Unfair World” (Swilling & Annecke, 2012). This niche experiment in sustainable living, learning and being was the centrepiece of this book, which was explicitly written to counterbalance the dominance of sustainability-oriented literature by writers from the global North. 

To contextualise this experiment and the South African experience, I deployed and further elaborated Edgar Morin’s notion of a polycrisis (Morin, 1999) – a term anointed by the Financial Times last year as the word of the moment, and adopted by the World Economic Forum to shape discussions at the January 2023 annual meeting. The overarching theme of the book was the just transition – a concept that seemed appropriate for my context. 

State Capture

However, it was in 2017 that I came face-to-face with the betrayal of the democratic transition – 23 years after sitting through endless days and nights negotiating the terms of our democratic transition with respect to local urban governance. Mcebisi Jonas, then Deputy Minister of Finance, came to see me and suggested that we need an academic analysis of state capture. He lost his job soon after.

It was in 2017 that I coordinated a group of academics that published a groundbreaking report called “Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is Being Stolen” (Bhorat et al., 2017; Chipkin & Swilling, 2018). 

It was an exposé of a power elite centred around the then president Jacob Zuma – an elite that was not only engaged in large-scale corruption, but had engineered a sophisticated political project that came to be called State Capture. 

At considerable risk to my personal safety, I found myself catapulted from the comfort and beauty of an amazingly harmonious and creative eco-village experiment – where I was learning to plant organic vegetables and build houses out of clay – into a position where I had to speak truth to power at a time when assassinations were starting to become almost a daily event. 

By 2018, the man that I worked for during the negotiations leading to the 1994 democratic transition became the president, Cyril Ramaphosa. 

Age of Sustainability

During a sabbatical at Yale in 2018, I wrote a new book entitled “The Age of Sustainability: Just Transitions in a Complex World” that brought together many diverse experiences (Swilling, 2020): learnings from the eco-village experiment; speaking truth to power on State Capture; becoming a banker due to my appointment to the Board of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (a state-owned infrastructure bank) and my involvement in the International Resource Panel since 2007. 

The Age of Sustainability is essentially a contribution to our thinking about what Johan Schot called “deep transitions” (Schot & Kanger, 2018), but from a global South perspective, i.e. how long waves of global change are unfolding and how these pathways can shift in favour of the global South. 

Based on a fusion of critical realism, complexity theory and integral theory (Bhaskar et al., 2016) that I brought into conversation with the African narratives about ukama (relationality) (Le Grange, 2012), my aim was to build a relational conception of governance, economics and the commons. 

To understand deep transitions, I integrated the Multi-Level Perspective (Grin et al., 2010) with the works of Carlota Perez (Perez, 2002), Marina Fischer-Kowalski (Fischer-Kowalski & Haberl, 2007) and Johan Schot and his colleagues (Schot & Kanger, 2018).

Towards the end, I wrote a chapter that reflected on the rise of authoritarian populism across the world, and in SA, entitled, “Resisting Transition: Authoritarianism, Energy Dominance and Electro-Masculinity”. 

This chapter reflected my realisation that my previous work on State Capture and transitions had totally ignored the feminist literature on toxic masculinity that provided explanations that conventional political economy ignored. 

As transition scholars, we need to confront the realities of the push-back, which will become increasingly masculinist and violent.

The final chapter was a return to my roots: a reflection on 20 years of teaching and learning in the Lynedoch EcoVillage, entitled, “Towards an Evolutionary Pedagogy of the Present”.  

Eskom

Little did I know that this was preparing me for direct engagement with Eskom (our state-owned energy utility) which lay at the very centre of the State Capture project. 

On request of a newly appointed CEO to assist with strategic advice, my team and I worked with Eskom in various ways for the next year or two. 

Getting up close to do transdisciplinary research work – including facilitation of change processes – means working from within with those in power (Swilling, 2014). 

Writing “truth to power” in this context is not exactly helpful when trying to build relationships with people who are trying to change a highly contested state institution from within. 

For some critics, we were colluding and had lost our way. For us, we were getting up close, once again at some personal risk to ourselves. 

But it was in search of literature to make sense of this experience that we came across and fully absorbed the literature on ‘institutional work’ (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006).

Institutional work

Reinforcing our understanding of relational governance, institutional work helped us understand who we were working with and their roles as creators, disruptors and maintainers of institutional capacity. 

This experience has deeply enriched our understanding of energy transitions, in particular how incumbents are not by definition resisters of transition, the role of transition finance to enable incumbents to change, and the importance of political settlements between political factions and bureaucratic elites to create protected spaces for innovation and action (Swilling & Callaghan, n.d.).

It is this perspective that we have brought into the Reset Project which we are doing in partnership with Universities of Utrecht and Freiberg and the Indian Institute of Human Settlements. This includes case studies of transition pathways in Germany, the Netherlands, India and SA focusing in particular on the relationship between decarbonisation and social justice at national and local levels (Swilling, Davies, et al., 2022). 

Needless to say, although our direct involvement with Eskom came to an end (and the CEO eventually resigned after he nearly died because someone poisoned his morning coffee), we have remained heavily engaged in the cut-and-thrust of the policy battles that reflect the way the transition pathway is being contested. 

In my capacity as chairperson of the board of the DBSA and a commissioner on the National Planning Commission, I engage directly in the daily complex dynamics of our policy processes. 

But my academic team and I also take up critical independent positions in the public domain: we publish reports, articles and op-eds – and lately we also curate public debates – that are carefully crafted to create a narrative that is aimed at nudging the stakeholders into realising that their options are limited, and speed is of the essence – ours is a race against complete collapse of our society, that will inevitably trigger a violent uprising.

We get requests to engage with and advise social movements, business associations and forums, and various government agencies at national, provincial and local levels. 

SA and JT

When it comes to the just transition (JT), South Africa is interesting, and many others want to learn from our experience (next week I will be in Colombia facilitating an inter-ministerial workshop on the JT). 

We were the first to include the JT in our NDC; the first to include developmental criteria in our renewable energy procurement mechanism, and the first to publish a Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET IP). But what we mean by the JT is highly contested. 

There are four narratives that are also globally relevant – they are, in fact, imaginaries of future transition pathways: 

  1. Just carbon, i.e. decarbonise as quickly as possible so that there is sufficient affordable energy to reboot economic growth in a carbon-constrained world, followed by trickle down benefits for the poor;.
  2. Decarbonisation plus social mitigation, using largely welfarist interventions to mitigate the negative impact of coal closure on coal workers and their communities.
  3. Decarbonisation plus social mitigation plus upstream industrialisation, i.e. a tranformative green industrialisation programme that can reverse the de-industrialisation we have seen since 1994.
  4. This is the third option, but is seen as only realisable as part of a more fundamental post-capitalist transformation.

The JET IP has moved the dial from the second to the third position. The Colombian government is interested in the fourth position. 

New direction, finance

In pursuit of the third transition pathway, two experiences have come together in ways that have set me off in a new direction, namely the contradiction between our global commitment to the SDGs and the way capital is allocated within the financial system. 

These two experiences are the product of my 15 years in the International Resource Panel (IRP) and my nine years on the board of a state-owned infrastructure bank, the DBSA. 

Helga Weisz and I were requested by the IRP to formulate a working paper on how the IRP should think about transition. 

We started off using an MLP framework, but rapidly came to the realisation that what really matters is three things: unsustainable global resource consumption, the political economy of unequal exchange that effectively creates a subsidy for northern consumption levels reproduced by the financial system, and the overall structure and logics of the global financial system that ensures that the large bulk of available finance makes more money from finance than investing in the real economy (including, of course, the things that really matter – the infrastructures that make sustainable resource consumption possible). 

By 2020, the value of assets owned by financial institutions was 630% of global GDP – back in the 1950s, this was as low as 30%. The financialisation of the global economy is clearly contrary to what is required to achieve the SDGs. Hence the calls by the UN Secretary-General for reforms to the global financial system and reinforced by many others, including African Heads of State at Emmanuel Macron’s Paris Summit.   

My role on the board of the DBSA made me realise that persistence of extreme inequalities during a period of democratisation has everything to do with the way the global and South African financial system is configured. As a DFI, we do what we can to blend together public investment and a rather meagre flow of private investment to address our development challenges. 

But this does little to touch our largest source of investment capital, namely retirement savings. The value of our retirement savings is equal to 50% of our GDP. Well protected by entrenched laws, regulations and routines, less than 10% of this gets invested in the real economy, and 45% leaves the country. A small proportion of that 10% gets invested in infrastructure. 

Bringing these together, I am involved in three major projects that are heavily influenced by the new literature known as “critical macro-finance”: 

  • An ambitious report for the IRP, which is complete and awaiting publication. It is a review of the dynamics of global financial systems, including how financialisation works in practice (including the key role played by central banks), the role of the handful of mainly Swiss-based commodity traders in reproducing unsustainable resource consumption and unequal exchange, and the key structural shifts taking place since the global financial crisis in 2007 (Swilling, Weisz, et al., 2022).
  • A very large, multi-faceted, well-funded project commissioned by a partnership between the National Planning Commission, the Presidential Climate Commission, National Treasury and the DBSA. Funded by the DBSA, the aim is to assess the investment requirements (both public and private) to achieve net zero and energy security, water security and food security within the context of future impacts of climate change (Swilling et al., n.d.). This will provide the inputs for a non-equilibrium integrated economy-climate model that will, unlike CGE models, include finance.

This is being jointly developed by a team from my centre, the National Treasury, the DBSA and the French Development Bank. Since the Northern summer of 2016, many influential economists around the world have started to acknowledge that conventional CGE models are not fit for purpose . 

The Bank for International Settlements in Basle has called for a new generation of non-equilibrium hybrid models. Our model will be the first of its kind in the SA context, and part of a handful of similar models being developed across the world (Bolton et al., 2020).

  1. We need to better understand the architecture of our financial ecosystems from a critical macro-finance perspective (Gabor, 2020). To this end, the NPC Finance Task Team is undertaking a unique study of the architecture of SA’s financial ecosystem.

We have teamed up with Steffen Murrau who is based in Berlin. His seminal work on the architecture of the Eurozone’s financial ecosystem is premised on a methodology inspired by critical macro-finance, in particular the proposition that all balance sheets are connected together into a vast unmapped complex adaptive system (Murau, 2020). 

Every asset is someone else’s liability, and every liability is someone else’s asset. Based on this simple proposition, he compiled his highly insightful analysis. The NPC’s Task Team on Finance will endeavour to do the same for the SA financial system. 

When done, we will provide the first truly satisfactory explanation for the persistence of inequality since democratisation in 1994, namely that the rules of the game have enabled capital to be allocated in a way that has undermined rather than reinforced the democratic project. 

In my view, the same logic applies to the global economy – a just transition will only be possible if the global financial system is radically transformed. Many are calling for this now in particular African leaders, global networks of public development banks and many leading finance think tanks.  

The agonistics of impactful engaging 

Let me draw all this together with conclusions for all enraged incrementalists. To start, I quote Bruno Latour – a quote that is in the conclusion to my 2012 book: 

“[W]e are trapped in a dual excess: we have an excessive fascination for the inertia of the existing socio-technical systems and an excessive fascination for the total, global and radical nature of the changes that need to be made. The result is a frenetic snail’s pace. An apocalypse in slow motion… Changing trajectories means more than a mere apocalypse, and is more demanding than a mere revolution. But where are the passions for change?” (Bruno Latour) 

One of the passions for change that I explore in The Age of Sustainability is rage. Influenced by Sloterdyk’s book Rage and Time (Sloterdyk, 2006), I am convinced that underneath our true love for our world and our children’s future, we need to feel deeply enraged.

Sloterdijk is correct when he argues that the early Greek conception of rage as the passion that drives heroes to conquer evil has been beaten into submission and tamed via psycholigisation, spiritualisation and pathologisation.. 

The survival of injustice depends on the docility that Frantz Fanon captured so beautifully in his Wretched of the Earth (Fanon, 1963). Rage is what wakes us up from our slumber and distractions. 

Following Castells in his book on the Occupy movement and Arab Spring, it is rage that kindles the hope that allows us to overcome the fears that prevent the solidarities required for mass collective action (Castells, 2012). 

However, we also see destructive rage all around us. So what kind of rage inspires creative transformation? The first line of The Iliad that tell the story of the hero Achilles gives us a clue:    “Sing, goddess, of the anger of Achilles, son of Peleus.” Therein lies the clue: a rage that the goddess can sing about – a rage reconcilable with the feminist principle of care, rather than the masculinist principle of control. 

  • 2. Relationship-building and partnering: change does not only happen just because people think differently. Change happens when people learn to act collectively in organised ways. This is as true for state bureaucracies and corporations as it is for social movements and communities.

But that implies the need to learn the skills for energising groups and inspiring them to work together, in particular, if they do not share the same views. This means learning to recognise and work with complexity – patterns and dynamics that cannot be controlled, only facilitated, and which are not easily seen, but powerfully shape what is going on (Andrews et al., 2017). 

  • 3. We will never know enough to understand what needs to be done. It follows that we need to find ways of acting knowing full well that we do not know nearly enough about what is going on. It is therefore recommended that you only plunge into the raging torrents of change with others who have your back and who can think with you. But do not listen to that little voice that always says, “you don’t know enough, you are not ready, hold back”. Take the plunge, learn along the way, and don’t be afraid to make it up as you go along
  • 4. Connect the micro, national and global: being rooted in a local context like an eco-village, urban neighbourhood or rural community keeps you honest. There is something about walking the talk that gives you the authority to lead. This is about dirt under the nails.
  • 5. Resist the temptation to specialise that often stems from intellectual cowardice. Self-imposed intellectual blinkering is a great tragedy, reinforced by the echo chambers of social media. Actively engage those ideas you prefer to be sceptical about, and question those ideas you enjoy believing. Often the best clues come from noticing what lies between the lines articulated by those who you regard as having nothing worthwhile to say.
  • 6. Finally, following Alain Touraine’s great classic book “The Voice and the Eye”(Touraine, 1981), do not be afraid to get up close to your subject by getting involved. Throw away the remnants of the white coat, and engage up close to grasp the granular details. Contribute what you can. And then with the help of supervisors and colleagues, pull back into the academy and reflect when the time is right, and share your lessons for the benefit of the next generation.

Let me end off with a quote from Raymond Williams that captures what, for me, has become the leitmotif of my life’s work:

To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.” DM

Professor Mark Swilling is co-director of the Centre for Sustainability Transitions at Stellenbosch University.

Footnotes:

Andrews, M., Pritchett, L., & Woolcock, M. (2017). Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis, Action. Oxford University Press.

Bhaskar, R., Esbjorn-Hargens, S., Hedlund, N., & Hartwig, M. (Eds.). (2016). Metatheory for the Twenty-First Century: Critical Realism and Integral Theory in Dialogue. Routledge.

Bhorat, H., Buthelezi, M., Chipkin, I., Duma, S., Mondi, L., Peter, C., Qobo, M., Swilling, M., & Friedenstein, H. (2017). Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is being stolen. Centre for Complex Systems in Transition and Public Affairs Research Institute.

Blended Finance Task Team, & Centre for Sustainability Transitions. (2021). Making Climate Capital Work. Blended Finance Task Team & Centre for Sustainability Transitions.

Bolton, P., Despres, M., da Silva, L. A., Samama, F., & Svartzman, R. (2020). The green swan: Central banking and financial stability in the age of climate change. Bank for International Settlements. https://www.bis.org/publ/othp31.pdf

Castells, M. (2012). Networks of Outrage and Hope. Polity.

Chipkin, I., & Swilling, M. (2018). Shadow State: The Politics of State Capture (M. Swilling & I. Chipkin, Eds.). Wits University Press.

Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of the Earth. Presence Africaine.

Fischer-Kowalski, M., & Haberl, H. (2007). Socioecological Transitions and Global Change: Trajectories of Social Metabolism and Land Use. Edward Elgar.

French, H. (1923). Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War. Liverlight Publishing Corporation.

Gabor, D. (2020). Critical Macro-Finance: A Theoretical Lens. Finance and Society, 6(1), 45–55.

Grin, J., Rotmans, J., Schot, J., Geels, F., & Loorbach, D. (2010). Transitions to Sustainable Development: New Directions in the Study of Long Term Transformative Change. Routledge.

Hickel, J., Dorninger, C., Wieland, H., & Suwandi, I. (2022). Imperialist appropriation in the world economy: Drain from the global South through unequal exchange, 1990–2015. Global Environmental Change, 73, 102467. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2022.102467

IRENA. (2023). World Energy Transitions Outlook 2023. IRENA.

Lawrence, T. B., & Suddaby, Roy. (2006). Institutions and Institutional Work. The Sage Handbook of Organization Studies, 215–254. https://criticalmanagement.uniud.it/fileadmin/user_upload/lawrence-suddaby-2006.pdf

Le Grange, L. (2012). Ubuntu, Ukama and the Healing of Nature, Self and Society. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 44(SUPPL.2), 56–67. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-5812.2011.00795.x

Morin, E. (1999). Homeland Earth. Hampton Press.

Murau, S. (2020). A Macro-Financial Model of the Eurozone Architecture Embedded in the Global Offshore US-Dollar System. Global Development Policy Center.

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  • Joel Bolnick says:

    Your concluding Raymond Williams quote literally says it all. And there are millions of women out there who have been radicalised without being masculinised who everyday optimism in the face of ridiculous odds are there to show the rest of us how it can be done. Thanks.

  • Great read. mark, if you have any influence left at DBSA, please help. The institution is a shadow of its former self : crumbling with incompetent, lazy, unresponsive officials that are so wrapped up in red tape and bureaucracy, that they can not see the wood for the trees, don’t think or engage strategically, and are not being enabling change markers in society that they could be.
    — Signed – an unbelievably frustrated municipal official that sees the DBSA’s potential but longs for a meritocratic DBSA

  • Denise Smit says:

    This is coming from a Sociologist and Political background. Nothing scientific about it. All based on theories of sociologist a political sciences. And maybe quite dangerous as well. The comment of the use and attributes of rage. I was disappointed and shocked. And a academic of such high standing. Could anyone understand anything he theorised about? Denise Smit

  • Denise Smit says:

    And a swollen head. Denise Smit

  • Denise Smit says:

    He says our electricity minister is doing a good job. Optics as one of the cadres must be. Denise Smit

  • David Walker says:

    A very interesting read, thank you. Two questions: How will we in Africa increase the average citizens’ supply of cheap energy when we are about to add another billion people to the continent in the next 30 years? How about net zero population growth as an urgent environmental goal? And secondly, it may be that 45% of retirement savings is invested offshore, but surely most of it returns to be spent in SA when pensioners make use of their pension pot?

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