Laurent Mermet, a prominent member of IDDRI's Scientific Council, passed away on Sunday 16th of June. IDDRI would like to pay tribute to the man who inspired, supported and enriched the action and strategies of many of us. IDDRI’s ideas and action in the environmental field have been influenced by Laurent’s thinking. He has trained, supported or steered many current and former members of IDDRI.
A route as close as possible to nature
Laurent Mermet’s childhood in Alsace initiated him to an enthusiastic and passionate relationship to nature. He became a passionate ornithologist from an early age, a passion that led him, for example, to cross part of Europe on a moped or to camp on floating islands in the Danube Delta.
As a brilliant student, he entered the Ecole normale supérieure in biology and specialised in forest ecology. His deep and personal desire to live together with nature led him to observe, during his forestry internship in French Guiana, that scientific knowledge is limited in its ability to act to preserve his object, if not accompanied by an understanding of power plays, an equipment to think about strategic issues, and finally a personal commitment to "move the lines" in the direction of one’s objective. He then turned to strategic thinking and public policy intervention, through his participation in an innovative team, the consultancy SCORENA, and spent a year at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA, an international scientific cooperation organisation) based in Austria, a milestone in his career. At Claude Henry's instigation, he worked towards "reversing the burden of proof" with regard to policies and projects that harm the environment, by criticising their core economic rationality. Rather than trying to defend a "value" of nature that he thinks is more a question of desire and meaning of collective existence, he questioned the relevance, often very insecure, of the projects and programs that threaten it.
He added a PhD in management to his list of achievements as a former student of Normale, and, to put his ideas into action, founded the consultancy AScA. He questioned the technical and economic justification of projected dams in the South-West of France, and then carried out, on behalf of Prefect Bernard, the first wetlands policy ex-post evaluation, which turned out to be of paramount importance in French environmental policy. In the same vein, he dismantled the system of actors that presided over the disappearance of the Pyrenean brown bear subspecies. He was qualified to direct research in 1994, and became a professor at Engref (merged in 2007 with AgroParisTech). He then developed the theoretical foundations of the Strategic Environmental Management Analysis, which served as a model for a whole generation of researchers and environmental actors.
An important legacy in thinking about the environment and its protection
Laurent Mermet’s thinking is based on the idea that the inadequacy of action for the environment is not (only) due to a lack of information or communication leading to imperfect coordination of actors pursuing the same collective goal. His approach centers on actors’ strategies. He rose against the hype of what he would call "hâtrology", i.e. the temptation to generalise systems of actors in an indistinct "we", a fuzzy collective where who precisely is supposed to act is overlooked. This led him to conceptualise the principle of "environmental actors" and pointed to organised and intelligent resistance to change in favour of the environment, which is to be opposed by change actors with a cautiously adapted strategy.
Within Environment Studies, Laurent Mermet's unique background is distinguished by at least two central concerns, which have guided his exploration of research fields, fields of political action, and the world of ideas:
- taking the strategic point of view of an actor whose mission is to protect the environment, thus revealing the complexities of public and collective action, but also laying the ground for a specific criticism of social, economic and political systems;
- studying long-term perspectives and the way with which representations are constructed in speeches and research, and how the fabric of futures itself becomes a strategic battleground.
To consequently equip environmental actors' in their strategy, Laurent Mermet has brought decisive ideas in the fields of futures thinking, policy evaluation, economic valuation and concertation procedures.
He has inspired scores of researchers or environmental actors, spreading his ideas to generations of students, and thus transforming, discreetly but profoundly, environmental thinking and debate in France. In recent years, he had discovered the power and interest of video to spread his thinking and dialogue with the world, and passionately fed a Youtube channel whose growing audience delighted him.
Endowed with a profound and eclectic culture, reading ancient philosophers in their language, he has constantly broadened his thinking and generously shared it with his entourage, while deepening his own philosophical and spiritual approach. He became ill at the end of 2018, and impressed his family and friends with his courage and serenity in preparing for his own end. He left this world in love and peace on the afternoon of June 16.
Former students, colleagues, friends, we are all very sad. Laurent’s legacy will support our actions, our thoughts and our strategies, and will keep diffusing students, researchers and all those who put dedicate their passion and energy to the sake of nature and the environment.