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Values and goals: Can we intervene to reduce materialism?

Values and goals: Can we intervene to reduce materialism?

In order to live well within the earth’s limits we need to prioritise ways of living that enable us to have more fun with less stuff. This will inevitably require an end to the pursuit of ever more material possessions as a means of acquiring ‘the good life’. Given the fact that people who prioritise materialistic pursuits are consistently found to have lower wellbeing and higher ecological footprints, our research asked whether it is possible to intervene to reduce materialism?

CC.0 :: NeONBRAND Digital Marketing / Unsplash

Materialism can be conceived of as a value-orientation and a goal-orientation. Our values are our beliefs about what is important and what makes a good life. They act as guiding principles that influence our choices in all aspects of our lives. Someone with materialistic values might believe that the possessions they own are an important symbol of success and that life is better the more you can afford to buy. Materialism can also be conceived of as a goal-orientation. Whereas values can be relatively unconscious beliefs that guide our choices and behaviours, goals are more intentional. Goals involve setting a chosen direction for specific aspects of our lives and practical plans to achieve them. Having goals to strive for and making progress towards them is very important for our sense of wellbeing. They give us a sense of purpose and a reason for being, adding structure and meaning to our daily lives. But not all goals lead to better wellbeing. The achievement of materialistic goals tends to lead to a temporary, short lived boost in happiness that offers no real nourishment to long term wellbeing. Individuals who consistently prioritise materialistic goals are therefore more likely to display indicators of psychological ill-being such as loneliness, eating disorders, depression and anxiety.

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Recovery or Renewal? Time for an economic rethink

Recovery or Renewal? Time for an economic rethink

A recent study of long-term fluctuations in economic growth published in Nature Scientific Reports suggests both danger and opportunity in the emerging debate about post Covid-19 economic recovery. In this blog, Craig D. Rye and Tim Jackson outline their findings.


© matejmo/iStock

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the global economy to contract by 5% this year alone, making it the largest downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Advanced economies are likely to see a 10% decline in output and even the emerging economies of south-east Asia are unlikely to escape a recession.

Unprecedented though this is in the modern era, its real impact lies in the wider tapestry within which this uncomfortable economic portrait is drawn. Rates of economic growth across the OECD have been in decline since the 1970s, a phenomenon known as ‘secular stagnation’. The average growth in GDP per capita across the rich economies fell from over 4% in the mid-1960s to little more than 1% in the pre-pandemic years. The decline is related to an underlying stagnation in labour productivity growth.

In a recent study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, we’ve been exploring an even longer story about the ups and downs of economic growth and recession. Critical Slowing Down (CSD) theory is most commonly used to understand the oscillations (waves) in physical systems. In our study, we used the same techniques to analyse long-term trends in the gross domestic product (GDP) in datasets from as far back as the 1820s.

Imagine a pendulum or swing which is held in its equilibrium position by gravity. A push or a shove in one direction or another will shift the pendulum away from the central position or a random gust of wind might move the swing, but gravity pulls it back again.

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Recovery or Renewal? Time for an economic rethink

Recovery or Renewal? Time for an economic rethink

A recent study of long-term fluctuations in economic growth published in Nature Scientific Reports suggests both danger and opportunity in the emerging debate about post Covid-19 economic recovery. In this blog, Craig D. Rye and Tim Jackson outline their findings.

© matejmo/iStock

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the global economy to contract by 5% this year alone, making it the largest downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Advanced economies are likely to see a 10% decline in output and even the emerging economies of south-east Asia are unlikely to escape a recession.

Unprecedented though this is in the modern era, its real impact lies in the wider tapestry within which this uncomfortable economic portrait is drawn. Rates of economic growth across the OECD have been in decline since the 1970s, a phenomenon known as ‘secular stagnation’. The average growth in GDP per capita across the rich economies fell from over 4% in the mid-1960s to little more than 1% in the pre-pandemic years. The decline is related to an underlying stagnation in labour productivity growth.

In a recent study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, we’ve been exploring an even longer story about the ups and downs of economic growth and recession. Critical Slowing Down (CSD) theory is most commonly used to understand the oscillations (waves) in physical systems. In our study, we used the same techniques to analyse long-term trends in the gross domestic product (GDP) in datasets from as far back as the 1820s.

Imagine a pendulum or swing which is held in its equilibrium position by gravity. A push or a shove in one direction or another will shift the pendulum away from the central position or a random gust of wind might move the swing, but gravity pulls it back again.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Altruist Within: In pursuit of sustainability and justice in a broken financial system

The Altruist Within: In pursuit of sustainability and justice in a broken financial system

This blog is an edited version of a keynote CUSP director Tim Jackson gave at the 2013 Sea of Faith Annual Conference in Leicester. In outlining the philosophical foundation of a different approach to economics, this essay speaks as much to the financial crisis from 2008, as it does to the current health and economic predicament from COVID-19: “Out of crisis emerges this one completely rational insight, from a human perspective, that shows us that we are not the people the economic system says. When we begin to explore the idea that we’re not mindless, hedonistic, novelty-seeking, selfish consumers, then we can begin to unpack the interesting stuff. This is when we begin to see how altruism actually might have a role to play”.

The Good Samaritan, by Vincent Van Gogh

I’m not going to give you a standard Prosperity without Growth talk. You can do that much more easily and much more fluently just by looking on the internet—there are hundreds of them out there somewhere on the internet. What I wanted to do here today was to talk about what I think is the philosophical foundation of a different approach to economics. I’ll talk a little bit about how economies are supposed to work, about why the model is wrong, and then I’ll try to build a different model, based on this very simple idea that locked within us is some kind of altruist, some kind of other-regarding behaviour.

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Why Cleantech Investment Should be a High Priority Now and after COVID-19

Why Cleantech Investment Should be a High Priority Now and after COVID-19

Prior to the COVID crisis, progression to Net Zero carbon neutral emissions was rising to the top of the policy agenda in many countries. Understandably, the global health and economic crisis has thrown a spanner into the works. It is crucial though, Robyn Owen and Theresia Harrer write, that in our attempts to recover, we tie in the fundamental need for a better funded systematic government-led Green Deal approach to early stage Cleantech funding. 

CC.0 :: Casey Horner / Unsplash.com

The COVID-19 crisis threatens all of our lives. Understandably, it is currently the central focus of government policy globally. Yet history tells us that post-crisis economic reconstruction is most successful where investment is greatest in new emerging sectors. It is crucial, therefore, that investment in the UK is directed towards globally leading innovations for environmentally sustainable development, rather than simply to become more efficient at producing and selling more of the same.

Prior to the COVID crisis, progression to Net Zero carbon neutral emissions was rising to the top of the policy agenda in many countries. There was a widespread declaration of the climate crisis and climate war and a proliferation of Green New Deals—overarching policies for integrated government-led approaches to delivering reduction in carbon use and emissions.

We have argued that an essential element of climate change policies is a recognition that investing in early stage SME Cleantech innovators is crucial. These are companies developing technologies that lower carbon use and which are key to reaching the ambitious goals of an at least 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions set by the UNFCCC Paris Agreement of 2015. However, the costs and risks of investments in the cleantech sectors such as renewable energy, transport, building and communications infrastructure are high.

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What does COVID-19 mean for sustainable consumption?

What does COVID-19 mean for sustainable consumption?

Our priorities shift when the wolf is at the door, Iona Murphy writes about the impact of the current crisis. It’s quite understandable that people may not have the headspace for sustainability right now. Nonetheless, we’re currently on a hiatus from consumerism—will it last?


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Back in the beginning of March, which feels like a lifetime ago, there were signs that the British public might be living more sustainably. 1 in 5 people who fly abroad, commute by car or eat meat were planning to cut back, and expected reductions for clothing and plastic packaging were even higher.

To state the obvious, a lot has changed since then—many of us won’t be driving to work anytime soon, and holidays abroad are off the cards. Our priorities shift when the wolf is at the door, and it is quite understandable that people may not have the headspace for sustainability right now. Even the zero-waste influencers buy plastic in a pandemic.

But there’s reason to think we might act differently when once the dust has settled. We are most likely to change our behaviours during a major life event, like moving house or having a child; COVID-19 imposes such an event on everyone. Change is not always unwelcome; polling for the UK Food, Farming and Countryside Commission found that 6 in 10 adults want to make changes in their life once this is over, whereas only 33% want their life to go back to how it was before. That means almost twice as many adults want change, than don’t.

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Disobedience, Protest, and the Pandemic: Climate Change and Citizen Action under Conditions of Social Distancing

Disobedience, Protest, and the Pandemic: Climate Change and Citizen Action under Conditions of Social Distancing

Civil disobedience is not just a checklist of components, but a tradition of morally purposeful action and an expression of citizenship, CUSP Fellow Graeme Hayes writes. As the pandemic ushers in new social norms, and political and economic interests may seek to capitalise on the crisis to further deepen social inequality, how social movements rethink their tactics may have profound consequences for the effectiveness of future protests.by

Sheffield’s Women of Steel (Martin Jennings), modified; Photo by Tim Dennell/Flickr (CC-BY-NC 2.0)

So far, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people; if we measure excess deaths against the five year average, the figure is even higher, at over 300,000. To stem the tide, liberal and authoritarian states worldwide have introduced social restriction regimes with varying intensities, speeds, and success. By the end of March, 2.6 billion people, or a third of the global population, were living under some form of ‘lockdown’. The social and economic consequences are profound, with the IMF predicting the global economy to shrink by 3% in 2020, the ILO emphasising the devastating effects of workplace closures on 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy. Poorer and more marginalised populations are not only more likely to be exposed to the virus; they are less likely to be able to adapt to and cope socially and economically with conditions of lockdown. This is, as Richard Horton writes in The Lancet, a global health crisis whose meanings are not biological but biographical, located in the vast social inequalities and organisational assumptions that underpin late capitalist societies.

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What will the world be like after coronavirus? Four possible futures

What will the world be like after coronavirus? Four possible futures

The world-wide Corona-Crisis shows the limits of market-oriented economies. A key task for us all, Simon Mair writes, is demanding that emerging social forms come from an ethic that values care, life, and democracy. The central political task in this time of crisis is living and (virtually) organising around those values. This blog first appeared on The Conversation, as part of the Insights series—’longform journalism derived from interdisciplinary research. 


CC.0 :: Martin Sanchez / Unsplash.com 

Where will we be in six months, a year, ten years from now? I lie awake at night wondering what the future holds for my loved ones. My vulnerable friends and relatives. I wonder what will happen to my job, even though I’m luckier than many: I get good sick pay and can work remotely. I am writing this from the UK, where I still have self-employed friends who are staring down the barrel of months without pay, friends who have already lost jobs. The contract that pays 80% of my salary runs out in December. Coronavirus is hitting the economy bad. Will anyone be hiring when I need work?

There are a number of possible futures, all dependent on how governments and society respond to coronavirus and its economic aftermath. Hopefully we will use this crisis to rebuild, produce something better and more humane. But we may slide into something worse.

I think we can understand our situation—and what might lie in our future—by looking at the political economy of other crises. My research focuses on the fundamentals of the modern economy: global supply chainswages, and productivity. I look at the way that economic dynamics contribute to challenges like climate change and low levels of mental and physical health among workers.

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Moving towards low-carbon lifestyles: a question of collective action

Moving towards low-carbon lifestyles: a question of collective action

Our way of life must change if we want to avoid climate breakdown—but how much can we do as individuals? Ahead of the upcoming ICTA-UAB Conference on Low-Carbon Lifestyle Changes, Joël Foramitti, Lorraine Whitmarsh and Angela Druckman are outlining a roadmap.

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CC-BY 2.0 :: Mark Gillow / Flickr

Recent news about the state of our planet is alarming. Scientists warn about an “existential threat to civilization”, as we might already be crossing a series of climate tipping points that could lead to the irreversible loss of, for example, the West Antarctic ice sheet and the Amazon rain forest. Thanks to social movements, awareness of this problem has risen considerably. But we are currently failing to take the necessary actions, and greenhouse gas levels continue to rise. We are trapped in a culture that seeks status and fun through consumerism, in a political debate that is manipulated by vested interests of the fossil fuel industry, and in an economic system that is perceived to become unstable if there is a lack of economic growth.

In this commentary we discuss some promising ways to move towards low-carbon lifestyles – a topic that is the subject of the upcoming ICTA-UAB Conference on Low-Carbon Lifestyle Changes. Before going further, we need to make it clear that our arguments apply mostly to Western cultures, as these are where most emissions are caused and where changes towards low-carbon lifestyles are most necessary. Furthermore, the choices discussed here do not generally apply to people on low incomes, as they tend to have lower carbon footprints and less financial freedom to choose.

Our central argument is that the emissions of our economy are deeply connected to the way we live: the goals we pursue, the values and practices we share, the stuff we buy, and the jobs in which we work.

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Our climate is like reckless banking before the crash—it’s time to talk about near-term collapse

Our climate is like reckless banking before the crash—it’s time to talk about near-term collapse

Our food, finance, and logistics systems are worryingly vulnerable to climate shocks, Aled Jones and Will Steffen write. These are not distant existential issues raised by uncertain and abstract models of future climatic risk. They are urgent questions that humanity has been ducking for decades, but now demand urgent answers. 

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After a quarter of a century of nations from around the world coming together to discuss progress in dealing with climate change, emissions are still rising. The 25th annual United Nations climate change summit is now underway—and for the sake of the planet, it’s high time it changed its approach.

While climate scientists, policymakers and environmental campaigners have been engaged in a decades-long conversation about the future of the planet, most people on planet Earth see no climate emergency. Put bluntly, the science of global warming has failed spectacularly to emotionally connect with much of society, particularly those in the most powerful positions—rendering policy makers ineffective despite repeated warnings.

The science and the warnings focus on curtailing the emission of heat-absorbing gases into the atmosphere that, left unaddressed, may threaten the viability of contemporary society and worsen a mass extinction event already in motion.

But these warnings are not connected with complex human systems, such as food, finance and logistics, leaving them to evolve as if climate change didn’t exist. Terms such as “tipping points” are on their own technical, distant and abstract, while humans are wired to prioritise the short-term.

This failure to connect the dots means humanity has rapidly entered uncharted territory, pumping out carbon ten times faster than at any point since the extinction of the dinosaurs.

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We need a new common consciousness of what’s necessary and possible to curb climate change.

We need a new common consciousness of what’s necessary and possible to curb climate change.

Cultural resistance to the need for a fundamental, urgent, unprecedented rethink of the way we conduct life in order to limit temperature rise is continuously fed by the apparently affirmative but actually misleading words of charismatic thinkers such as Rutger Bregman and Steven Pinker, Teresa Belton finds. What we need instead are fresh holistic narratives of contented material sufficiency and personal and social enrichment —to create the critical mass for a new common consciousness, and to protect the world from catastrophic ecosystem destruction. (This article is an edited version of a piece first published in The Ecologist on 5 November 2018.)


We need a new common consciousness of what’s necessary and possible to curb climate change. | Guest blog by Teresa Belton
Mural by Super A and Collin van der Sluijs. Image: (CC.0) Pavel Nekoranec / Unsplash.com

Political and social consciousness of the looming threat and the measures necessary to limit rising temperatures is still largely unengaged. In the UK one need look no further than the government decision to build a third runway at Heathrow airport, the continued subsidies given to fossil fuel companies, the reduction in incentives to install solar panels, and the slackening of planning regulations to allow fracking applications free passage. And at the household level, sales of consumer goods and use of energy continue unabated, as though they’re no threat to tomorrow. Popular discourse is lacking in sound or alternative messages. Two recent books by ‘believers’ in anthropogenic climate change offer clues as to why public attitudes are generally so apathetic.

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Govt economic advisor warns British defence planners that growth is ending

Govt economic advisor warns British defence planners that growth is ending

Study charts the protracted collapse of industrial economic growth and why prosperity must be built on a new economic model. And no, the Singularity won’t save us.

Source: Art by Cornfreak

Economic growth isn’t coming back. While some level of growth might continue in coming decades, the boom era of seemingly unlimited material throughput we became accustomed to in the middle of the twentieth century is unlikely to ever return again as we enter a fundamentally new age of diminishing returns

These are the conclusions of a new working paper by leading ecological economist Professor Tim Jackson, Director of the University of Surrey’s Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP).

And the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is taking notes.

An earlier draft of the paper, notes Jackson, was “prepared as input into the UK Global Strategic Trends Review”, a forecasting research programme run by the MoD’s Defence Concepts and Doctrines Centre (DCDC), which every few years produces an updated Global Strategic Trends report for the MoD and wider UK government. Jackson also acknowledges feedback from MoD officials in revising that draft to create the concurrent version.

Jackson is former Economics Commissioner for the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission. From 2010 to 2014, he was Director of the Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group, funded by the UK Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Scottish Government, and the Economic and Social Research Council. He also advised many other government departments, and held advisory roles for the UN Environment Programme, the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the UN Industrial Development Organissation, the European Environment Agency, the European Parliament, and the New Zealand Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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