When Future Engineers Talk About “Environmental Transformation”

Less than a month after it was posted online on May 10, the video for the “Call to Abandon” of young AgroParisTech alumni has garnered nearly a million views. Although entering the stage in the very elegant Salle Gaveau to the catchy rhythm of Sexion d’Assaut’s “Wati by Night”, very quickly” [ne] bangs [plus] from pubs,” in a speech that resonates with the conclusions of the latest IPCC report.

The tone is serious in their intersecting narratives of “ecological conversion,” which we analyze here as the adoption of environmental beliefs and practices with the moral goal of changing oneself and the world. It is interesting to return to the way they express the individual and collective scale of their ecological transformation.

This environmental shift seems to testify to what they see as a conflict between their environmental convictions and the courses they receive in school, with a desire to come to terms with new ways of life, which would be signs of a “rise”, coming “from within, from the amount of sacrifices and hardships that Activist can afford it,” explains political scientist Florence Foucher.

AgroParisTech students are calling people to “abandon”.

An “environmental transformation” of prophetic cohesion

Besides prophetic connotations, we find here the religious symbolism of ecological practice, with the term “ecological conversion” used.

Sociologist Carol Waldvogel in particular presents various environmental ethics, such as Arno Ness’ “deep ecology”, as a form of secularization of religious values. For her part, political scientist Sylvie Oletroult sees environmental activism as “a clear missionary dimension to turning into an issue”.

What is most striking about these students is their focus on a particular requirement in their “quest for purity,” based on the (very) compelling “ethic of conviction.” in world and politics (1919), Max Weber presents it as the work of scientists (that’s fine, they are engineers), and it consists of all actions performed according to convictions.

In addition to the consistency of environmental identity, in Work for the planet (2015), Sylvie Oletrault notes the way in which “activists most interested in ‘revolution’ in others force themselves to manifest their own ‘revolution’. In this case, these very young graduates are keen to present their ecological alternatives, by developing a dialectical approach With the aim of diverting “those who doubt”, as they say.

They have thus provided physical evidence of the veracity of their “everyday ecological” (one, for example, participates in ZAD, one embarks on beekeeping, others plan to settle on a collective farm in Le Tarn…) to try to prevent criticism aimed at delegitimizing them Because of a discourse that is nothing but abstract and bodyless. **

Explosive environmental speech for engineers

Let’s talk for a moment about the content of their environmental discourse, which collides with engineers who are often presented as apolitical, “used to solving problems without questioning the data.” Their teachings are part of the positivist view of science, which is considered realistic and neutral. But, he represented French scientists at a forum in July 2021 at ReleaseThese AgroParisTech students question science for its “neutrality” and “depoliticization”, as understood in their academic training which, in their view, “contributes to ongoing social and environmental destruction”.

By illustrating their radical convictions with the term “destroying jobs” intended for broad sectors (agri-food, “green” energies, corporate social responsibility) rather than targeting specific professions, would they not go too far in their declared revolution? How do they explain their discourse not in the philosophy of science but in political science?

Politics of their practices…

If the verb ‘to the desert’, which rarely has a positive connotation in everyday language, invites us to address the political dimension of speaking openly, then the degree of ‘purity’ displayed in ‘Environmental Transformation’ is first and foremost a questions of the political aspect of their original approach.

A question that philosopher Frédéric Manzini joins in, when he wonders whether their company is more about “political discourse” or “existential choice”. In their ecological practices, on the farm, in ZAD or in the mountains, they claim to abolish the traditional division between intellectual and manual labor, by giving political meaning to a daily gesture that was previously free. Therefore, they stand for the “existential choice” rather than the “political discourse”.



Read more: “Concrete utopia”: what does the political use of the expression reveal?


Thus, even if they offer ecological alternatives (farmer-baker, woofing, construction site in ZAD, self-managed bicycle workshop, etc.), their ecological transformation raises questions in its political change to the greatest number, due to its sclerotic character which means no compromising on existing system. And what about the others? They concluded that “it is up to you to find your own branching methods”.

Which begs the question: if they are only saving themselves, where is the collective political dimension of their discourse as agronomists? Max Weber reminds us that within the ethics of conviction, a moral individual does not have to worry about the consequences, here political, of his action. It is sufficient that the latter be pure in its intention and respect the (political) values ​​of the individual.

But then, if these engineers are “abandoned”, who will care about “environmental transformation”, which they condemn to shame, when this term has just replaced “sustainable development”, which is actually more optimistic from a technical point of view? The question is raised and remains unanswered.

… while staying away from institutional politics

Although these young people live, or want to live, a “concrete utopia,” they define what they don’t want more than they want. In a well-argued forum, Lier (the Environmental Network of Public Work Professionals who brings together civil servants and experts in public policy) responded to them by saying that he is “convinced that a profound transformation of public work is necessary to respond to environmental and social emergencies.”

By positioning themselves as more stubborn, young AgroParisTech graduates thus reject any possibility of changing the system from within, refusing to view themselves as “talents for a sustainable planet”. “We do not see social and environmental destruction as ‘issues’ and ‘challenges’ that we must find ‘solutions’ for as engineers,” they justify.


The author is preparing his thesis under the direction of Yann Raison du Cleuziou.

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