Climate change is the most pressing environmental issue, but certainly not the only one. The famous Rockström article lists nine environmental boundaries which human activity either has already over-run or is in danger of over-running. Of these boundaries, climate change needs the most immediate attention. Until now, the response to climate change has been much too timid. So much time has been lost that it is too late for incremental modifications. Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced drastically and quickly in order to prevent an irreversible transition of the climate system into a state which is so inhospitable to humans that modern civilization will collapse.
In order to preserve a hospitable planet for our children and grandchildren, the world economy must be de-carbonized and the footprint of human production and consumption must be radically reduced. This is a transformation of human activity as basic and pervasive as
the Industrial Revolution or the Neolithic Revolution. It requires profound changes at every level of society:
- International relations must become much more co-operative, and powerful transnational institutions must be created to make this co-operation possible
- Individual nations must write the preservation of the environment into their constitutions, and must pass laws and create institutions devoted to this important task. States must make huge infrastructure investments and they need more power to regulate the economy–subject to democratic checks and balances, of course.
- Instead of seeing ourselves as masters of nature, we must aspire to live in harmony with nature. Instead of consuming more stuff, we must focus on relationships.
This sounds like an unrealistic wish list. Politicians who want to be re-elected and business leaders concerned about profits will resist these changes. An autocratic regime (China) will also not be able to do it, because it would generate unrest if the government were to try to force these changes on a reluctant populace.
Instead, these institutional changes can only come about if they are backed and promoted by the people themselves. That demographic world-wide whose daily activity is causing the most damage to the environment has unique leverage here: if there is a broad enough groundswell among these people to voluntarily reduce their consumption, this will put the many other needed institutional and social changes on the agenda. Who is the demographic who should reduce their consumption? It is not only the super-rich or the super-wasteful, but it is all of us who in the US would be considered middle-class. If we have a comfortable life with a large home filled with consumer goods, a car, household pets, if we take long showers regularly, eat meat every day, and fly every year for vacations, then WE are this ‘demographic’!
The conference MESA is organizing on Oct 3rd has one purpose only: it will provide enough information that we will see why we each must re-think our own lifestyles and rid ourselves of things and habits that contribute to excess, and it will create a framework making it as easy as possible to reduce our consumption, convince others to join us, measure our progress, and decide on the best uses of the money we are saving by consuming less.
Can enough of us be convinced to voluntarily reduce our consumption? Yes, because our current affluence causes us to consume more than we need to be happy. On the contrary, the stuff we buy complicates our lives and creates unnecessary stress that detracts from simple, joyous living. Our lives will be more frugal and for many of us more arduous, but our lives will be less alienated.
Many affluent people fail to realize that our daily comforts use up so much of the earth’s resources that not enough is left for those living in the poor nations to rise out of poverty. Getting rid of excess and consuming less not only makes us happier but it is also an act of compassion toward our less fortunate brothers and sisters. We all basically want to do good to others, and here is a supreme opportunity!
MESA believes that such radical changes are possible because these changes do not go against our human nature. It is not human nature to want more and more. If that were so, big corporate advertisers would not have to spend billions getting us to want what we don’t need. We were not created (hard-wired) to be greedy.
Read more about how the October conference differs from many other manifestos of voluntary simplicity.