Saturday 12 December 2015

2015 did not deliver, frugal abundance will

By Fran├žois Delvaux

2015 will soon be over. During this year, two major documents that were supposed to shape our common future were adopted – and as this blog post is being written, negotiations in Paris are slowly coming to an end.
The “Sustainable Development Goals” are supposed to define our common path towards a worldwide shared prosperity (by 2030) while the “Paris Agreement” aims at developing a “legally binding agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C”[1] (beyond 2020). At the heart of these agreements, one silver bullet solution: “the growth paradigm”. While goal 8 of the SDGs is dedicated to “promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth” and as the SDGs are seen as an opportunity to “strengthen sustainable growth”[2], Barack Obama affirmed in the speech he delivered in Paris that “we have proved that strong economic growth and a safer environment no longer have to conflict with one another; they can work in concert with one another”[3].

Back in September, CIDSE's assessment of the SDGs already highlighted that they were not overcoming “contradictions in seeking harmony with nature while prioritising sustained growth for all nations. The goals imply continued competition for limited natural resources and, hence, further rises in greenhouse gas emissions”[4]. Unfortunately, the same contradiction lies at the heart of the Paris agreement-to-come. It’s quite clear indeed that “nobody who sits at the negotiation table in Paris has neither the mandate, nor the inclination to ask fundamental, systemic questions of the logic of the dominant economic system and the way we consume the resources of this planet”[5]. If Obama highlighted that "one of the enemies we will be fighting at this conference is cynicism – the presumption that we can't do anything about climate change", our biggest enemy is in fact the idea that “we can change everything without changing anything”, that capitalism can further evolve by conforming climate change to its model – as with any threat or challenge it has had to face, fuelling itself from such threats to constantly push further its boundaries.

With such agendas, we keep acting as if our lifestyles were non-negotiable and that small changes in our habits together with market mechanisms and new technology could do. Worse, we tend to think that so called “developing countries” can catch-up with our lifestyles: while there is clearly a need for “developing countries” to follow some sort of development path to allow their population to live a dignified life, a life of frugal abundance, “we should be thinking of ways to get rich countries to “catch down” to more appropriate levels of development. We should look at societies where people live long and happy lives at relatively low levels of income and consumption (...) as exemples of efficient living”[6]. This is in fact what should really lie at the heart of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

The many issues our societies are facing today calls for a complete reshuffling of our societies. For people living in “developed” countries, this means coping with tremendous lifestyle changes. While more people seem to be conscious of these needed changes, we are still facing issues to realistically envision the deep changes that are required. Here is some information that could help us: “the world’s most successful and long-lasting ecovillages[7] (...) have yet to attain a “fair share” ecological footprint”[8] since they are “consuming resources and emitting waste far in excess of what could be sustained if everyone lived in this way”[9].

Fortunately, there are many attempts to try new ways of making society: from local currencies to community supported agriculture, and from self-organized cooperatives to transition towns: the quest for frugal abundance has already started in many places of the world. They’re all paving the way of an urgently needed transition. Here in Paris, people from all over the world are also exchanging, sharing and learning about such initiatives and reflecting on thematics such as sustainable lifestyles and post-extractivism ... This quest lies also at the heart of the CIDSE joint action campaign “Change for the Planet - Care for the People”. While moving forward, we can all be united under the same banner, one stating that “carbon emissions cannot be decoupled from growth. Well-being can”[10]. This requires not only a paradigm shift (changing the narrative and rethinking our political and societal structures) but also a cultural shift (a “revolution in consciousness[11]”). And while our leaders are ideologically and culturally locked in dead-end pathways, initiatives that are leading the transition towards frugal abundance will keep flourishing. As long as this inspires our work, that we do everything we can to be part of these, to initiate them or to support them we shall be on the right track.

[2] (among many other potential sources)
[7] “which can be broadly understood as “intentional communities” that form with the explicit aim of living more lightly on the planet”
[9] Ibidem.
[10] PostGrowth Institute

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