The notion of products as circular goods and the desire to leave a smaller footprint in the environment have gone from exceptional ideas to the norm. Nowadays, more and more people prefer to buy less and choose higher quality and durable products. Some people also want to extend the life of their products by giving them new uses, repairing them, reusing them, and recycling them.
In other words, while the European Union is pushing the European Green Deal to become the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050, the majority of ordinary European citizens are making their personal contribution to this goal by changing their lifestyle.
While these carbon reduction actions are useful in mitigating the effects of increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, they are often poorly understood. For this reason, two new projects funded by the Horizonte Foundation intend to investigate this issue.
The FULFILL research project was recently launched to analyze a lifestyle that avoids excess and relies on “sufficiency” to shed light on this trend, marked by youth climate protests, the COVID-19 pandemic, and even the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“It is clear that interest in sustainable living is growing,” says Elisabeth Dütschke from the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems Research and Innovation in Germany. “However, it is not yet clear whether this means that profound changes are coming to our societies.”
Although this is a relatively new value, the concept of sufficiency is central to the European Green Deal goals as it requires practices that require fewer natural resources and less polluting energy, which is the main reason why the climate crisis is worsening.
This question has become more relevant now that it has become necessary to reduce oil and gas consumption due to the reduction in supplies caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
During the first year, FULFILL plans to survey households and analyze initiatives from both the five EU countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Latvia) and India.
Its aim is to determine the extent to which a lifestyle based on sufficiency can be adopted in today’s globalized world by identifying the barriers to doing so. The research team will also look at how this affects other areas such as health or gender equality.
After that, together with citizens from different social strata, policy recommendations will be formulated and realistic ways of moving towards a more adequate lifestyle will be proposed.
Barriers to Sufficiency
Early evidence suggests that there are many barriers to living a wealth-conscious lifestyle. “So far, our research has highlighted the close relationship that exists between all areas of our lives and how deep the changes need to be,” says Dutschke.
“People who try to lead a very wealthy lifestyle face many problems and, to a greater or lesser extent, cannot lead a normal life, just like the rest of the population.” The acquisition of new clothes, new products and the continuous process of consumption is a central element of economic activity.
In rich and democratic societies, it may be difficult to make significant changes on this front, while in poorer countries the problems are different.
“In many places around the world, people lead a very sufficient lifestyle, but not by choice,” says Dutschke. And he adds: “We need to find ways to optimize their lifestyle and improve their well-being without falling into the mistake of overconsumption and the negative consequences that it entails.”
The second project, EU 1.5 Lifestyles, links the individual transformation of consumer habits with a transcendent rethinking of the same economic and social institutions. The name of the project is taken from the global goal set in the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
The risk that we will reach tipping points with irreversible climate impacts is increasing. The warning of this increasingly likely scenario has helped to focus on understanding what actions in our daily lives can contribute to the goal of limiting the rise in temperature.
Supporters of this approach, more and more people, point to the carbon footprint of average households and buyers.
Manufacturers and retailers, while rarely held accountable, say manufacturers and retailers are equally important to progress . in this crisis as consumers.
“Adopting a lifestyle verdes and the choice of appropriate products and services should not depend only on consumers,” he notes. Hirt. “Producers decide what to produce, how and in what quantity. We cannot let the solution to the overconsumption crisis consume us,” he adds.
“This means that strict political rules will be needed to discourage unsustainable economic activity and, more broadly, to reorient production methods towards environmental goals,” Hirt explains.
Opening to change
The project’s first findings show that turning a lifestyle that would achieve the 1.5°C goal back into the norm requires overcoming “a number of deep-seated structural barriers” and “openness to embrace important changes in addition to a good dose of imagination about how will look like a carbon neutral society.”
While the research team’s ultimate goal is to influence politicians and other agents to make a difference, Hirt believes there is reason to be both optimistic and pessimistic: enough technology to solve it, but not able to draw the necessary political conclusions and take decisive steps towards real social change.
“Moreover, according to recent research, an imaginary society that solved the climate crisis by emphasizing basic needs could be much happier and more prosperous than today’s fossil fuel-based capitalist society.”
The study described in this article was funded by EU funds. Article originally published in HorizonEuropean Union Journal of Research and Innovation.
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