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.
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.