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May This Year Bring Less Gifts and Far More Christmas

May This Year Bring Less Gifts and Far More Christmas

Even The Grinch Knows This

May this year bring to all more Christmas and less of the junk we have all come to know as gift giving. This time of year I find the mind-numbing barrage from stuff that peddlers are rushing to fill any need I can imagine overwhelming. These needs appear to be both real and imagined, I’m even asked to reach out and consider, and speculate, on the needs and desires that others might have. Over the years our lives have become so crammed with material goods, our drawers and closets are now chucked full of the trendy apparel of last season, exercise equipment, knick-knacks, and electronic equipment. For some people, the place where they live is about to explode unless they move to a larger house or rent a storage unit.Many garages across America are so full of this stuff cars can no-longer be parked inside. Neurotic people with overactive pack-rat syndrome literally destroy their quality of life with clutter and junk. This stuff will often sit in one place for years while they can’t find a chair to sit in or a clean tabletop on which to eat. Ads like – “get it all” or “have it all,” live on the cutting edge, buy all of these high-powered models, and “put your life in the zone.” fill our lives. This new-fangled electronic gizmo does it all and more, look at the artwork, let it wash over you, surround you, and cover you up. Check out that car, is it not perfect? Wouldn’t driving it make life a zen-like experience – got to have it, no payment for 90 days.

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The pandemic as the end of consumerism. Everything that’s happening is happening because it had to happen

The pandemic as the end of consumerism. Everything that’s happening is happening because it had to happen

 These Medieval ladies look like fashion models. With their splendid dresses in silk brocade, they are displaying their wealth in an age, the 14th century, in which Europe was enjoying a period of economic growth and prosperity. They couldn’t have imagined that, one century later, Europe would plunge into the terrible age of witch hunts that would put women back to their place of child-making tools. It is the way history works, it never plans, it always reacts, sometimes ruthlessly. And all that happens had a reason to happen (above, miniature by Giovanni da Como, ca.1380)

Can you tell me of at least one case in history where a society perceived a serious threat looming in the future and took action on it on the basis of data and rational arguments? With the best of goodwill, I can’t. Societies react to threats using a primeval stimulus-reaction that may be aggressive or defensive, but that’s almost never rational.

Curiously, our society, that we call sometimes “The West,” was the first in history to have a chance to do something rational to avoid the destiny awaiting it much before the threat was clearly visible. It was in 1972 when the newly developed digital computers were coupled with a powerful analytical tool, “system dynamics.” The result was the study called “The Limits to Growth” that foresaw how the gradual depletion of natural resources coupled with increasing pollution (that today we call “climate change”) would cause the whole Western economic system to collapse at some moment during the first half of the 21st century. The study also suggested rational solutions to avoid collapse: reduce consumption, stop population growth, manage pollution, and the like.

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Capitalism Will Ruin the Earth By 2050, Scientists Say

Capitalism Will Ruin the Earth By 2050, Scientists Say

The good news is, by cutting our consumption, there’s another way.
GettyImages-1161614032
IMAGE: GETTY IMAGES

A spate of new scientific research starkly lays out the choice humankind faces in coming decades:

By 2050, we could retain high levels of GDP, at the price of a world wracked by minerals and materials shortages, catastrophic climate change, and a stuttering clean energy transition —paving the way for a slowly crumbling civilization.

Or, we could ditch the GDP fetish and enter a world of abundance, with energy consumption safely contained within planetary boundaries, and high-tech economies that support jobs, health and education for everyone without costing the earth.

On the first option, scientists backed by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program have concluded that capitalism-as-we-know-it cannot support a successful clean energy transition.

Not only that, but capitalism is on track to lead the world into mineral shortages and supply bottlenecks that could cut short efforts to decarbonize transport systems, guaranteeing dangerous climate change.

The new study published in the journal Energy Strategy Reviews finds that electrifying our cars, trucks and trains so that they run on renewable energy is only viable if we reduce the endlessly growing levels of consumption in industrial societies. That, effectively, means fundamentally transforming the very sinews of capitalism.

The good news is that separate research published in September proves that such an economic transformation is perfectly feasible while still maintaining a good quality of life for people all over the world.

Modeling the world

The transportation study is based on a highly sophisticated ‘integrated assessment model’ (IAM) that brings together a vast amount of empirical data. Known as the MEDEAS-World model, it incorporates feedback relations between global and regional economies; renewable, fossil fuel energy flows and energy infrastructure; technology developments and costs; minerals and land requirements; climate change and water; and many other sectors.

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

Penalizing Prudence

PENALIZING PRUDENCE

“Economy, prudence, and a simple life are the sure masters of need, and will often accomplish that which, their opposites, with a fortune at hand, will fail to do.” – Clara Barton

“Affairs are easier of entrance than of exit; and it is but common prudence to see our way out before we venture in.” – Aesop

One of my conceits, of which there are many, is the belief that because I have entered the third trimester of my life, I am now in possession of great volumes of wisdom and perspective. Thankfully Mrs. Cog is always nearby to efficiently and surgically remove any such thoughts of grandeur and omnipotence. That said, at some point during the flight of life, even birds of prey eventually turn their thoughts to the comfort of a nearby nest rather than their next fearless fight.

Even the most reckless among us begins elevating to greater importance the preservation of resources rather than mindless squandering, especially when we are closer to the end than the beginning. This is a good thing, by the way. It adds balance to the socioeconomic system, both personally and collectively, as well as countering the self-destructive tendencies of those obsessed with endless consumption.

There’s a reason we’re no longer referred to as ‘citizens’ in mainstream media or political speech, but rather the more personal-responsibility-evading ‘consumer’. If given even a minimum of thought, one quickly realizes this subtly propagandized term (consumer) is a significant, but not the only, component of the obvious agenda to infantilize the US (and global) population.

Like the one year old who eats, sleeps, plays, defecates, eats, sleeps, plays……with no personal responsibility other than to be self-indulgent and consume food and attention, we are being reduced (distilled down might be a better term) to our most base impulses. I suspect most people, if told this to their face, would not react well to my observation, assuming instead I was being critical of them personally.

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“The Focus is ‘Enough’ Rather Than ‘More’”

“The Focus is ‘Enough’ Rather Than ‘More’”

The mainstream economics notion that unfettered growth accompanied by greater consumption and productivity benefits society is false, argues Rob Dietz, Program Director at the Post Carbon Institute. In an interview with getAbstract, he shares his vision of a new economic way forward.

“The Focus is ‘Enough’ Rather Than ‘More’”

getAbstract: In a nutshell, could you give us a short definition of “steady-state economics”?

Rob Dietz: You can think of steady-state economics as a sustainable alternative to mainstream or neoclassical economics, which assumes perpetual growth of production and consumption. So steady-state economics is the study and practice of how to maintain an economy with a stable level of resource consumption and a stable population. Such an economy keeps material and energy use within ecological limits, and the unsustainable (and unrealistic) goal of continuously increasing income and consumption is replaced by the goal of improving quality of life for all. In short, the focus is enough rather than more.

Why do you think adopting a steady-state economic model is the only way to promote widespread prosperity and resource sustainability for future generations? 

I’m not sure it’s the “only” way, but it’s our best bet at this pivotal point in history. Let’s start by establishing working definitions of the terms “widespread prosperity” and “resource sustainability.” Widespread prosperity means that everyone is able to meet his or her basic needs for physical health and sustenance, plus some standard of comfort. No one lives in poverty, and daily life offers opportunities for fulfillment and enjoyment beyond toil just to stay alive.

Related Summary in getAbstract’s Library

Image of: Enough Is Enough

Enough Is Enough

This provocative book challenges many beliefs about the value of unfettered economic growth.

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You don’t have to live like this—review of Kate Soper’s Post-Growth Living

You don’t have to live like this—review of Kate Soper’s Post-Growth Living

In her new book, Post-Growth Living: For an Alternative Hedonism, Kate Soper calls for a vision of the good life not reliant on endless economic growth and points us to the ways in which our current patterns of living are not only environmentally harmful, but also make us miserable. A provocative and necessary book, Nick Taylor writes, that provides us with the means to rethink consumption, work and sustainable prosperity without losing sight of what makes us feel good. (This blog also appeared on the PERC website.)

CC-BY-NC 2.0 :: Pete/Flickr

What kind of changes will the Covid-19 pandemic bring about over the long-term? While this question is on the minds of many, for those who study and work towards making our societies and economies more sustainable it brings particular concerns. Global emissions have seen a record-breaking drop during the pandemic, but not enough to slow the overall trend in atmospheric CO2 concentration, which reached its highest ever level in May, and not even enough to bring us close to meeting the 1.5C global warming target. How we respond to and attempt to recover from the deepest recession on record in a way that is not simply about restoring GDP growth is a question that should involve us all.

For critics, the pandemic has made an easy but misleading target of the post-growth or degrowth movement. They falsely equate the social and economic devastation wrought by coronavirus with the planned, long-term downscaling of society’s throughput (the materials and energy a society metabolises) that degrowth advocates argue for. Sceptics of ‘growth as prosperity’ do not want a recession, or, as is looking increasingly likely, a depression. Indeed at their most compelling, arguments for moving beyond growth as an overarching economic, social and political goal draw on the promise that a sustainable society can and should be a better, more equal and more prosperous society.

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Central Planners At Work

Consumption without Production

“Every man is a consumer, and ought to be a producer”, observed 19th century philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.  “He is by constitution expensive, and needs to be rich.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882), who inter alia opined on consumers and the need to not only consume, but also produce. The latter activity has recently become even more severely hampered than it already was. And yet, government is spending like a drunken sailor. [PT]

These days Emerson’s critical insight is being taken to its extreme.  Consumers, many whom lost their jobs due to government lockdown orders, no longer produce.  Yet they still consume.  They are expensive.  Not rich.

What’s more, this consumption is not funded through personal savings.  Nor is it funded through government transfer payments.  Rather, it is funded via the printing press.

Emerson, no doubt, was lacking in the unique perspective we are presently granted.  He did not have the special opportunity to watch his government destroy the economy in short order.  Perhaps if he had, he would have penned a neat axiom to distill the essence of what happened.

The world today looks nothing like Emerson’s day.  The 19th  century was an age of honest money.  Central bankers did not roam the land.

Printing money to buy bonds and stocks, and to sprinkle on people, would have been quickly dismissed.  The experience of the Continental Congress during the American Revolution, and their over-issuance of paper “continentals”, had shown that resorting to the printing press was an act of suicide.

 

Promises, promises… “not worth a continental” became a saying after this early experience with paper money. [PT]

 

Currently, printing press money is considered enlightened central banking policy.  Inflation targets, zero interest rate policy (ZIRP), direct bond purchases, twisting the yield curve, unlimited credit.  This is merely a partial list of the trouble central bankers are up to.

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Human over-consumption causes far more biodiversity loss than climate change

Human over-consumption causes far more biodiversity loss than climate change

Preface.  Human ancestors began reducing biodiversity 4 million years ago, when large carnivores in Africa began disappearing, probably due to our ancestors stealing food predators had caught, starving them to death and eventually driving some of them extinct (Faurby, S., et al. 2020. Brain expansion in early hominins predicts carnivore extinctions in East Africa. Ecology Letters.)

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2016-8-13. Climate change isn’t the biggest danger to Earth’s wildlife, our thirst for natural resources is even more damaging

2016-8-10 “Biodiversity: The ravages of guns, nets, and bulldozers” Nature)

Even though climate change is going to have a very powerful impact on plants and wildlife world-wide, climate change has also become a scape-goat, with a “growing tendency for media reports about threats to biodiversity to focus on climate change.”

But scientists have found that over-exploitation, including logging, hunting, fishing and the gathering of plants is the biggest single killer of biodiversity, directly impacting 72% of the 8,688 species listed as threatened or near-threatened by the IUCN. Agricultural activity comes second, affecting 62% of those species, followed by urban development at 35% and pollution at 22%.  Species such as the African cheetah and Asia’s hairy-noes otter are among the 5,407 species that find themselves threatened by agricultural practices, while illegal hunting impacts several populations such as the Sumatran rhino and African elephant.

Climate change on the other hand comes in on a surprising, if somewhat unimpressive, 7th place in the 11 threats identified by the team. Even when you combine all its effects, it currently threatens just 19% of the species on the list, the team reports. Species such as the hooded seal, which the team reports has seen a population decline of 90% in the northeastern Atlantic Arctic over the past few decades as a result of declining ice cover, are part of the 1,688 species directly impacted by climate change.

This Sucker’s Going Down: The Destruction of Demand

This Sucker’s Going Down: The Destruction of Demand

Demand based on debt, unfulfilled promises and unaffordable habits is burning down.

The first-order effect of the lockdown was demand destruction as shelter-in-place orders and business closures restricted consumers’ ability to spend.

The second-order effect will be the permanent destruction of demand because people will realize they’re better off reducing their consumption of high-cost, questionable-value goods and services. Let’s start with the resurgence of savings, the most basic form of security you actually control and the most basic form of hedging against promises of a return to wonderfulness failing to arrive in the real world.

Comically, security you actually control, i.e. savings, are viewed by the status quo as a mortal threat to the economy: how dare you keep some of your own money rather than squander all of it! Notice how this bit of twisted CNN humor labels savings “hoarding,” as if retaining a bit of your hard-earned wages is evil “hoarding” rather than prudent self-sufficiency.

New threat to the economy: Americans are saving like it’s the 1980s

For those who weren’t alive to experience the 1980s, it was a boom era of widespread prosperity. In a functional economy, savings are understood as one of the foundations of prosperity. In today’s insanely dysfunctional neofeudal economy, savings are a despicable evil because they take the bread right out of the bankers’ and corporate elites’ mouths. How dare you rob poor Jamie Dimon and Jeff Bezos with your awful, horrible, cruel savings of money that you actually control, money that protects you and gives you some security!

In other words: how dare you serve your own needs and interests rather than our monomaniacal obsession with increasing our profits at your expense.

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

The Biggest Economic Threat Today

The Biggest Economic Threat Today

The Biggest Economic Threat Today

Kind heaven, no! A fresh economic scourge is upon the land. Announces CNN:

“New Threat to the Economy: Americans Are Saving Like It’s the 1980s.”

Is a higher evil possible? Thus we are informed:

Americans are slashing their spending, hoarding cash and shrinking their credit card debt as they fear their jobs could disappear during the coronavirus pandemic…

Although caution is a logical response to that uncertainty, hunkering down also poses a risk to the recovery in an economy dominated by consumer spending. A so-called V-shaped recovery can’t happen if consumers are sitting on the sidelines…

The savings rate in the United States climbed from 8% in February to 13.1% in March. That was the highest savings rate since November 1981.

The article further reminds us that consumer spending constitutes some 70% of the United States economy.

And so the old bugaboo rises from the grave yet again — the “paradox of thrift.”

The Evils of Saving

The individual saver may be the model of prudence, of frugality, of forbearance… of thrift itself.

But if the entire nation tied down its money?

A savage cycle would feed and feed upon itself… until the economy is devoured to the final crumbs.

Consumption would dwindle to near-nonexistence. GDP would collapse in a heap. Waves of bankruptcies would wash through.

All this because the selfishness of savers. They refuse to untie their purse strings… and spend for the greater good.

This paradox of thrift is perhaps the mother myth of economists in the Keynesian line.

Yet no paradox exists whatsoever.

Today we maintain — again — that saving is an unvarnished blessing, at all times, under all circumstances.

Let us first plunge a stake through the squirming heart of another myth:

The myth that consumer consumption constitutes 70% of the United States economy…

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Chinese Debt Could Cause Emerging Markets to Implode

CHINESE DEBT COULD CAUSE EMERGING MARKETS TO IMPLODE

The novel coronavirus has brought the world economy to a grinding halt. Global growth is set to fall from 2.9 percent last year into deep negative territory in 2020—the only year besides 2009 that this has happened since World War II. Recovery will likely be slow and painful. Government restrictions to prevent the virus from resurging will inhibit production and consumption, as will defaults, bankruptcies, and staffing cuts that have already produced record jobless claims in the United States.

But not all countries will bear the pain of the global recession equally. Low-income countries suffer from poor health infrastructure, which inhibits their ability to fight off the coronavirus, and many of them had dangerously high debt levels even before the pandemic necessitated massive emergency spending. Foreign investors are now withdrawing capital from emerging markets and returning it to the rich world in search of a safe haven. As a result, countries such as South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria are seeing their currencies plummet in value—making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to service foreign loans.

Faced with the threat of financial ruin, poor countries have turned to multilateral financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The IMF has already released emergency funds to at least 39 countries, and by the end of March more than 40 more had approached it for help. The World Bank has fast-tracked $14 billion for crisis relief efforts. Yet even as they offer extraordinary amounts of aid, the IMF and World Bank know that these sums won’t be nearly enough. For that reason, they called on Group of 20 creditor nations to suspend collecting interest payments on loans they have made to low-income countries. On April 15, the G-20 obliged: all of its members agreed to suspend these repayment obligations through the end of the year—all members except one, that is.

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Permaculture Alternatives to Waste-to-Energy (W2E)

Kowhai Festival
 Photograph by author, Trish Allen.

Permaculture Alternatives to Waste-to-Energy (W2E)

Waste-to-energy (W2E), particularly incineration, is being promoted as a good alternative to landfills – it gets rid of all that plastic we use and generate energy, right? In this article I’d like to first outline what’s wrong with W2E and then talk about permaculture alternatives.

So What Is Wrong With W2E Incineration?

W2E is a continuation of the ‘take-make-dispose’ economy which lulls people into the belief that we can continue our wasteful ways without changing our behaviour. But we live on a finite planet and most environmental harm comes at the extraction stage – so why would we want to burn resources and get rid of them? It doesn’t make sense. We need to get away from an extractive to a regenerative culture.

There are multiple negative impacts of W2E plants, which are seeing many being decommissioned internationally. For example, the toxic ash that remains after burning still has to be disposed of in a landfill.  This can be up to 25% of the original volume of waste material, but with more toxicity. So incinerators don’t do away with the need for a landfill, instead they require a landfill for more toxic and dangerous waste.

Aside from the toxic ash, W2E incineration plants create an on-going demand for waste to fuel the incinerator. They are very expensive to build, have huge embodied energy, and once built, have to run for years to get a return, locking us into a destructive system.  Right now our planet’s ability to sustain life is seriously at risk. We cannot afford the luxury of investing in bad ideas.

Our young people are calling for Climate Action now and we have a major responsibility to urgently reduce emissions. Incinerators create emissions. New Zealand’s electricity is currently 80% clean (water, wind, solar, geothermal) so why would we want to start burning trash to generate power?  It just doesn’t add up environmentally, economically or socially.

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Human Consumption of Natural Resources Exceeds an Annual 100 Billion Tonnes.

Human Consumption of Natural Resources Exceeds an Annual 100 Billion Tonnes.

In 1969, the late Professor Albert Bartlett famously delivered a lecture, entitled “Arithmetic, Population and Energy”, which begins with the observation that, “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” The truth of this is profound and irrefutable, as is further compounded by Bartlett’s averment, as the first law of sustainability, that “You cannot sustain population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources”. Nonetheless, exponential growth has continued, unabated, over the past half century, as is attested by an increase in the consumption of natural resources from 27 billion tonnes in 1970, to 92 billion tonnes in 2017, which corresponds to around 12 tonnes/year for every person on Earth. If recycled material is also included, the total rises to 100.6 billion tonnes, and hence 13 tonnes for every breathing human on the planet, and significantly, the proportion being recycled has fallen from 9.1% to 8.6% in the past two years. This rate of material consumption is expected to rise to between 170 and 184 billion tonnes by 2050, on the basis of a BAU, “take-make-waste” economic model, which equates to more than 18 tonnes per person, given an expected population of 9.8 billion by then

Over the entire 1970-2017 period, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for resource consumption of 2.6% may be deduced, and hence we may infer that, by 2021, total annual demand for virgin natural resources will have exceeded 100 billion tonnes. The breakdown of this tally into individual components is interesting, and for 2017 amounts to: 24.06 billion tonnes [Gigatonnes (Gt)] of biomass, 43.83 Gt of non-metallic minerals, 15.05 Gt of fossil fuels, and 9.12 Gt of metallic ores; when these figures are compared with those for 1970 (9.00 Gt biomass, 9.20 Gt of non-metallic minerals, 6.21 Gt of fossil fuels, 2.58 Gt of metallic minerals), some patterns begin to emerge. Thus, the corresponding (2017/1970) ratios are: 2.67 (biomass), 4.76 (non-metallic minerals), 2.42 (fossil fuels), 3.53 (metallic ores).

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

Strategies for Cultural Change: Degrowth and the Use of Space

Strategies for Cultural Change: Degrowth and the Use of Space

Degrowth addresses the negative consequences of consumerism (psychological stress, long working hours and positional competition) and discusses the benefits of frugal lifestyles. Henri Lefebvre, a French philosopher from the 20th century, argues that if ideas or values are not physically implemented in space, they become mere fantasies. As such, if degrowth wishes to prevail, it has to leave its mark on space, just as consumerism has successfully done. This article considers ideas of creating space and human-nature connectedness, which in combination, seem to be a perfect match in forming a strategy for degrowth.

Consumption Culture

Supermarkets, drugstores and bazaars have all kinds of techniques to make consumers want stuff that they do not need. The placement of toys at children’s eye level or sweets near checkout counters are just two examples. These are processes of rationalization according to Henri Lefebvre. Rationalization leads consumers into buying more than they intend to. On the other hand, there is something that Lefebvre calls enchantment. Processes of enchantment make consumption seem more attractive to consumers by branding the product as artisanal, locally sourced or socially conscious. An example of this would be McDonald’s creation of a ‘rustic’ burger.

Through the interplay between rationalization and enchantment, people are constantly lured into the role of a consumer.

If the consumption paradigm is secretly oppressing consumers, why do individuals not break free from this role? All they have to do, so it seems, is stop purchasing superfluous goods. In other words, one might wonder, are consumers not responsible for their own oppression? According to Lefebvre, individuals occupy space the way it is offered to them. People are constantly stimulated to exercise their individual freedom by means of purchasing a variety of goods. Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, perceived consumption as a collective behaviour that has been forced upon humankind.

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

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.

*****

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.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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