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Consumption Conundrum by The Happy Ones

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Michael Bosscher

Apr 15, 2014


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This paper is a few years old, but a great read nonetheless. Take it with an open mind and you will see it makes some valid points and outlines a few practical steps in the right direction.

Michael Bosscher

Apr 24, 2014


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Who wants to join me in discussing and subsequently writing a proposal!?

Doron Bracha

Apr 30, 2014


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This proposal touches one of the main issues, and that is indeed the need to reduce consumption. As a green architect I believe the greenest building- is no building at all... If we really need to build, we should prefer renovating and reusing existing buildings, and make our buildings as compact and efficient as possible (as much as practically possible). Yet what causes people to consume less? One thing is education and awareness, and a more effective thing is simply availability and affordability. The recession has forced the world economies to slow down, unemployed people had to consume less, the crash of the stock market and big losses brought many to significantly cut expenses, which translated to reducing consumption. The proposal has good points, please please develop and elaborate. Cheers !..

Chris Miller

May 3, 2014


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I agree. I think one of the best avenues for changing consumer behavior would be placing moderately high taxes on non eco-friendly items and services. The money raised by the taxes could then be dedicated to behavioral re-education and to improving eco-friendly technologies.

Tom Morris

May 6, 2014


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tax incentives for repurposing of unused buildings and re-use of materials from demolishined buildings along with a "replacement requirement"; basically if your new building causes the destruction of a previously unbuilt area you have to contribute to a fund which will be used to develope new forestation.

Claudia Gossow

May 20, 2014


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I agree with Aftermacx and also have a look at this link as well as the concept of a "participatory society". Good luck with your Proposal (:

Michael Bosscher

May 28, 2014


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I am currently working on my proposal and your comments have certainly been helpful. If you have any more comments or inpup that I could use please share them. I will present the proposal soon :)

Lindsay Ford

Jun 15, 2014


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This is a brilliant proposal but needs more structure, I think. I completely agree that our collective attitudes of consumption are the driving force that's damaging our planet. Whenever I hear of a proposal that's technology-focused, or economically-focused, I worry about its sustainability and its ability to truly target the dysfunction that has damaged Earth and Us. I think the main problem is that we haven't been reflective enough to realize that our culture has "evolved" over the past 1000+ years or so (although I really think, in many ways, it has devolved), and our primitive brains have largely stayed the same. We seek novelty and we want to be secure in our assets/resources, and the way that that manifests in modern culture in developed countries is through excessive consumption. However, there are other ways to generate novelty than through excessive consumption. And, excessive consumption and a capitalist culture has drawbacks. In my knowledge, capitalism is inherently bad for us. I could go on and on about this. I really like your idea and I hope you can keep developing it!!

Dan Whittet

Jun 17, 2014


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Yes, if there was a proposal that really gets to the core issue it's this,all the band aids and smartphone apps in the world won't help at all unless we begin to deal with the media created emptiness that taught all of us to hunger for more, better, newer everything from TV sets and shoes to partners. "In the chemistry of the soul, a substitute is almost always explosive if for no other reason than that we can never have enough of it. We can never have enough of that which we really do not want. What we want is justified self-confidence and self-esteem. If we cannot have the originals, we can never have enough of the substitutes." Where to begin? Lets agree to support this proposal and raise awareness of the benefits of less.

Neil Harrison

Jun 19, 2014


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I agree with the proposal and the comments above: we need to reduce consumption. However, I think that the suggestions are misdirected. Let me explain. The suggestions that the previous commentators have made are fairly standard. Texts on sustainable development are all pretty similar. They spend 98% of their space – whether an article or a book – explaining the mess we are in, diagnosing the disease and 2% offer broad brush, top-down solutions. They want more positive and negative incentives; regulation, rules, and requirements; technological innovation; and generally more government meddling in the market. I am not against government – in my view it provides many necessary functions to an effective market economy – but I doubt that it would or could enact all the changes necessary to force us to consume less. Is it likely that a democratic government could so constrain our lives that we would consume so much less than we do now, enough to save the planet? Even if it could pass the laws would they be effective. After all, humans are highly adaptive, learning animals – that is the cause of our success and the cause of our current concern. Would we want to live a police state that monitors our every move to make sure we are not consuming too much? For ideas along these lines see books by Ophuls and Herman Daly. And I don’t think that a Great Recession or mass unemployment is a sustainable way to sustainable development. It may be more effective to work from the bottom-up. Would it not be better to persuade people to change their ways by showing them that there is a better way to live – that shopping therapy for a shriveled soul is a short-term fix? Research shows that beyond a certain point increasing wealth does not increase happiness or life satisfaction. Once we have met our material needs, satisfying want – on which modern economics are built – does not make us happier or increase our well-being. Psychology research suggests that we have psychological needs that are not met by buying stuff; material goods only temporarily satisfy (and indirectly) what we really crave. A recent book by Neil E. Harrison, “Sustainable Capitalism and the Pursuit of Well-being” (Routledge/Earthscan) argues that a bottom-up solution is possible. We only need to show people that what is truly in their self-interest is the pursuit of their own well-being, the direct satisfaction of psychological needs. The proposer quotes Hoffer: “What we want is justified self-confidence and self-esteem. If we cannot have the originals, we can never have enough of the substitutes.” Consumption of material goods and services is a poor substitute for what we really need; some psychologists suggest what we need is autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Others propose "flow" or a deeper engagement with life or mindfulness of ourselves and our surroundings. You might want to consider how to persuade each person to pursue their personal well-being by spending their time on activities that engage directly with and satisfy essential human needs?

Zoe Whitton

Jun 20, 2014


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It would be great to get some more content in this proposal. You've written up a great introductory section, and it would be good to build on this and get an impression of what you're driving towards. Re the suggestions above, I agree with harrow, in as much as we need to get to grips with why people are unsatisfied, rather than incentivising them in whichever direction. People seem to have an ever expanding appetite for utility, which isn't satisfied even by sustained increases in consumption. Even in the countries with the highest HDIs on earth, cost of living tends to be the number one voting issue most of time. I'm going to check out the book you mentioned, harrow - it looks very interesting. I think it might also be important to cover the structural barriers to reduced consumption. Tim Jackson goes into these a little in 'Prosperity Without Growth', suggesting that as long as we have a productivity motive, increased consumption becomes necessary for economic stability. This is in some sense the other side of the coin. If consumption at such a rate is seen as necessary to maintain employment, then it may be encouraged by the same people who might be expected to support alternatives.

Stefan Pasti

Jun 26, 2014


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The main point of my comment: Reducing consumption is an important piece of the Culture Change needed to resolve the Climate Change challenge (with the qualification that the “reduce” piece applies specifically to individuals, societies and cultures which are in the “overindulgence” stage of consumption—and not to people who are having difficulties meeting basic needs) This “Consumption Conundrum” proposal seems to have created the most discussion yet on the subject of reducing consumption, and so I give it credit for its thought provoking “Summary” (especially “But the key point is this. The energy supply/technological problem is more easily solved than the consumption problem….The 'consumption crisis' is messier. Social. Spiritual. Relational….”) I am somewhat puzzled though, as to how this proposal got 7 votes when only the “Summary” section has been completed…. However, since this comment section does have some discussion about reducing consumption, I would like to add to the discussion. I believe this “reduce” piece can be described as a spiritual/moral issue related to climate change, and I have commented on this “reduce” piece, and another piece—“Entreprenuers” who prey on people’s fears, manipulate people’s trust, and/or encourage people to abandon hope in higher aspirations, and indulge in unhealthy, or immoral behavior—in a long commentary in the “Comments” section of my proposal “Tipping Point Action: Citizen Participation in Times of Unprecedented Challenges”. One of the key questions I bring up, in the above mentioned long commentary is: How can the “reduce” piece be incorporated into the dominant values, social norms, and attitudes of communities around the world without somehow coming to terms with the fundamental inconsistencies between cultures which encourage indiscriminant consumption and the treasured wisdom of most religious, spiritual, and moral traditions, which emphasize a) sacrificing personal desires for the greater good of the whole b) finding contentment and quality of life while consuming less material goods and ecological services c) using resources carefully, so that there is surplus available for emergency assistance I believe that there are so many challenges intertwined with the climate change challenge that we need problem solving on a scale most of us have never known before--see “A List of Ten Critical Challenges” which links to a 1 page list with supporting evidence from longer documents. Three of the challenges in that list are: 2. “Cultures” of violence, greed, corruption, and overindulgence—which have become so common that many of us accept such as inevitable; which are a significant part of the current crises of confidence in financial markets; and which are in many ways slowing the restructuring of investment priorities needed to respond to an increasing number of other critical challenges 4. The increasing world population and its implications relating to widespread resource depletion— a) with special focus on the increasing number of people who are consuming material goods and ecological resources indiscriminately b) “More than half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling as aquifers are being depleted….“ 7. A marginalization of the treasured wisdom associated with religious, spiritual, and moral traditions—treasured wisdom which includes many teachings relating to sacrificing personal desires for the greater good of the whole, and finding contentment and quality of life while consuming less material goods and ecological services I advocate for a combination of collaborative problem solving and citizen peacebuilding which give much emphasis to Community Visioning Initiatives and Neighborhood Learning Centers. If we take into account all the intertwined challenges that are necessary to resolve the climate change challenge, we are talking about a degree of culture change which would seem unlikely to accomplish in a hundred years, but which we need to achieve significant progress on in about ten years. I advocate for collaborative problem solving processes which maximize citizen participation in identifying critical challenges, and identifying solutions—but with no predetermined agenda, so the process does not get bogged down on issues residents not ready for… and yet does help citizens gain problem solving skill sets as preparation for when critical challenges which have not been adequately addressed must be addressed. I advocate for culture change initiatives which can represent problem solving on a scale most of us have never known before --so that it is visible and accessible for those segments of communities which are ready for that kind of problem solving --so that it can be an example to others (who are not ready) of efforts to build towards communities with a healthy appreciation for each other’s strengths, communities with a well-developed capacity to resolve even the most difficult challenges—and communities which demonstrate a high level of compassion for their fellow human beings --to increase the likelihood that in the near future there will be examples of efforts comprehensive enough to keep momentum on the side of “We can do it” --with the faith that helping such communities learn a collaborative problem solving and citizen peacebuilding process (which, in itself, many people are not ready for) will help in the long run, when avoidance of many of these issues is no longer possible. I encourage readers of these comments to explore the “Tipping Point Action: Citizen Participation in Tiimes of Unprecedented Challenges” proposal (in the contest “Shifting Behavior in a Changing Climate”), and the comments I have made in Comment #9 on “Three Spiritual/Moral Issues Related to Climate Change” (in the “Comments” section for that proposal). If the “reduce” piece and the indiscriminant consumption piece are fully appreciated, and incorporated into many proposals, it can provide a multiplier effect in the sense that there will be exponentially less issues to resolve—including those related to climate change. If many people can learn to find contentment and quality of life while consuming much less, this limiting of desires at the ‘root’ will save much trouble trying to respond to the symptoms as they materialize worldwide. This is part of the ‘spiritual teachings’ element which often gets overlooked.

Kimberly King

Jul 18, 2014


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Yes, I too would like to see this proposal fortified. And the assertion about energy supply/technological problem is dead on. However, in the case of the renewable energy(RE)/energy efficiency industry, conservation practices, er reducing consumption, from energy efficiency technology deployment have mostly been decoupled. And this needs to change if we expect human beings to change their behavior. Here's an example of teaching the general public how to manage energy consumption that's got a coolness factor. I think another factor that needs to be included in changing behavior is how the need is perceived, visualized--we are, after all, most of us anyway, visual creatures. Leveraging deep beauty, the visceral to transform a movement needs to be embraced more, instead of being based in the intellectual. Have a look at this: "Why does sustainability need beauty?"

Climate Colab

Aug 5, 2014


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We think that you definitely touch on some key points of the problems related to consumption, but your proposal is incomplete in many areas and doesn't address key aspects of the contest prompt.