A Renewable-Based Society Adapts to the Energy Supply, just like Sunflowers do. From an Idea by Harald Desing and Rolf Widmer

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Reframing climate action: from sacrifice to liberation


Picture source: https://www.patagonia.com/stories/dont-buy-this-jacket-black-friday-and-the-new-york-times/story-18615.html

By Harald Desing

Most people still perceive climate action as sacrifice: Giving up owning a car, reducing meat consumption or not being able to operate devices whenever it pleases. Therefore, we call for technological innovations to fix the climate. If only technology would be available to reduce energy demand while increasing comfort, convenience and fun: change would be easy. The world is waiting for self-driving, electric cars to replace individual fossil car ownership, artificial meat or substitutes to provide the same "meat experience" while avoiding animal farming, or "smart" devices optimizing energy use while anticipating our desires. Increasing convenience while saving the world – sounds good, at least as a marketing strategy.

The promise of progress, convenience and physical abundance has led to the emergence of technology and their wide spread adoption, which brought us precisely into the multiple environmental crises we are trying to solve now. Considering that more of it, just "greener", would solve this problem is simply naive. Any more growth in energy demand on a global scale will make it more difficult to transition. The top one percent of the world's population is responsible for 175 times the carbon emissions (and thus energy demand) of the poorest 10% – raising the energy demand of the remaining 99% to this level is simply impossible on our finite planet. Keeping up this staggering inequality is morally unjustifiable. It is thus inevitable to reduce consumption of the rich and affluent; those having a car, large homes, high meat consumption and many gadgets. At the same time, they are also those who are most hesitant to sacrifice their acquired luxury for the common good.

As long as a climate action is perceived a sacrifice, it is unlikely to happen. Therefore, I think we need to reframe climate action as a liberation of the stress and pressure of modern society. Consider the advantages of giving up your own car: it frees time you spend driving, searching for parking, maintaining, and working to afford it. Mobility will have to be reduced and wisely chosen, both of which comes naturally when switching to public transport. When necessary, nothing speaks against renting a car for those few occasions. Going by car is about 1000 times more dangerous than taking a train, thus public transit is not only less energy intensive, but also much safer. Traveling without aircraft for longer distances is necessarily slower and thus richer in experience, so travels will be less frequent but more consciously chosen and more memorable. Eating vegetarian or vegan actually enriches the menu and it is healthier. Deficiencies are not a problem when eating consciously, which has the additional benefits of valuing food more, paying more attention to local and organic sourcing and avoiding food waste. Living in a small space reduces not only the energy and material demand for heating, lighting and construction, but also the time you need to spend maintaining and tidying up. It furthermore prevents overconsumption, because little space cannot hold unnecessary and useless stuff. Would we make rational decisions and maintain a long-term focus, all of this would come naturally with minimizing costs and maximizing utility.

But we don't. Marketing has genius tools to manipulate human desires making one buy what one does not need or can't even afford. Individual decisions are more based on feelings and social dynamics, maximizing reward rather than wellbeing.

Just imagine we could use marketing tools for the opposite purpose: making it attractive to give up what we actually do not need and simplify and reduce energy demand and material consumption, while freeing up time and space for collaboration and community. Reverse marketing could become an essential ingredient for achieving an equitable and sustainable world.

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