For a Happier, Healthier World, Live Modestly
By Marlene Cimons
Gibran Vita makes every effort to get rid of the dispensable. He lives in a small home and wears extra layers indoors to cut his heating bills. He eats and drinks in moderation. He spends his leisure time in "contemplation," volunteering or working on art projects. "I like to think more like a gatherer, that is, 'what do I have?' instead of 'what do I want?'" he said.
In giving up certain things, "I can say that I have discovered that having less allows you to be more," he said. "If you have less finished products, and not exactly what you want, you become more creative, spontaneous, more decluttered, less distracted, more resilient." He acknowledged, however, that his spartan lifestyle still includes flying. "I try to avoid it as much as I can, but I have my heart spread in several countries," he said. "I try to make my stays long, so I fly less often."
Airplane in flight. Pexels
Vita, a doctoral candidate in the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's industrial ecology program, said his choices are about more than reducing clutter. They represent a provocative new way of viewing the economy. To make a real dent in climate change, he proposes that satisfying fundamental human needs with minimal environmental costs should become the main focus of world economies, rather than growth.
It's a huge leap, to be sure. It calls upon peoples' willingness to do without, which is difficult in a world where the prevailing attitude is that more is better. Today, people satisfy their needs by working and earning money so they can afford to satisfy basic material needs—food and shelter—and they can afford the things necessary to do work—a car for commuting, clothes to wear to the office, a babysitter to look after the kids. People also earn money to afford to travel, to enjoy entertainment, and to understand the world around them by pursuing an education. "Even the need to transcend and do the right thing for our future gets transformed into commodities, such as eco-labels, fair trade clothes, and electric cars," he said.
The problem with all this is that "the original honorable quest of satisfying human needs is easily corrupted into the quest for rising material living standards," and "the goal keeps rising, indefinitely and for its own sake," he said. "On this pursuit, human needs get quickly overlooked and their status of satisfaction doesn't matter."
A woman taking in the view of San Francisco. Pexels
Once underway, people repeat the same loop, aiming for higher salaries and more goods, at which point "there are few options but to continue exchanging our time for money on the market, despite surplus food, perfectly fine goods going to waste, and a sense of disconnection and constant stress that many experience daily," he said. "This is precisely the danger of not reflecting enough on what is 'well-being,' which is the danger of using 'well-being' as a synonym for income or for material standards. This all implies a society which normalizes using more resources than what we actually need to stay alive and healthy." He added, "Many aspects that contribute to a person's quality of life are not improved by putting more material resources into them."
Vita and his colleagues used a system developed by the Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef to gauge the carbon pollution associated with meeting people's essential needs, such as subsistence, freedom, identity, protection and leisure. The perspective differs from the conventional analysis of prosperity, which focuses on economic indicators, such as the GDP. Their paper appears in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
"A driving belief is that focusing on external prosperity through consumption equals progress," Vita said. "But that isn't working so well for the poor, who suffer many other types of deprivation, or for the rich in terms of mental health, or for the environment."
Children laughing. Pexels
The scientists looked at goods and services necessary to meet people's needs as categorized by Max-Neef. They then computed the carbon footprint associated with providing goods and services in different countries. To determine how well these "carbon investments" paid off, they turned to indicators of well-being. For the "subsistence" need, for example, they looked at indicators of health, standard of living, and child survival rate. For the "protection" category, they looked at access to sanitation and health care quality, among others.
The researchers then asked if it was possible to meet these needs without emitting so much carbon. To find out, they used data on how well people in different countries felt their needs were being met. The researchers then combined these two calculations—the carbon footprint that resulted from meeting that need for each country and the percentage of the population for which a need was met in each country—to plot graphs and compute statistics.
The scientists found on average that meeting an individual's physical needs—good health, affordable housing and clean drinking water, for example—required carbon emissions of only 1 to 3 metric tons per person annually. But when they compared this number to how much carbon countries actually emitted per person to provide protection and subsistence, they found numerous differences. Some countries, including the U.S. and Australia, emit more than 6 metric tons per capita to meet physical needs compared with low-income nations, which emitted about 1 ton per capita.
Trash dump. Pexels
"What can we do?" Vita said. "Refocus society into satisfying needs as a main strategy to both fight climate change and enrich human life. This means that 'need satisfaction' has to be decoupled from working and earning. This can be done through many options. It is up to us to collectively decide which ones suit us best."
These options include ideas like capping living standards—such as the number of cars, roads, energy and buildings afforded people— instituting reduced working hours, or providing an "unconditional" income for all, he said. "Pay everyone a salary to provide for the basics, regardless of their profession or income and without bureaucratic hindrances," he said. "In general, people are more productive, make better decisions and thrive under this scheme rather than tolerating any given job and boss, as it is the only way to bring food to the table."
Most importantly, don't view the process as a sacrifice. "In reality, we are opening space for earning a double dividend, that is, when reducing consumption correlates with higher well-being," he said. "What there is to win is a system focused on being human. This, of course, requires radical changes from policies, but also from people."
He said that people need to acknowledge what overconsumption does to the planet. "Of course, I like barbecues and burgers, and the practicality of driving a car," he said. "I also understand the seduction of wearing new clothes or having a larger home. But I use logic, and not guts, to understand it is simply not possible to live like that. If you still think so, you need to try harder to understand the system Earth and see your connection to it."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
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