We live in a hyper-capitalist society that has left us decades behind seeing effective action in the name of climate responsibility. Consumerism leaves people yearning for ‘more’ in a way that never seems to leave one satisfied for long. With busier work lives than ever, an outrageous cost of living and never-ending new technology it often feels as though we are rats running faster and faster around a wheel that is about to fall off. Our current measure of success through the monetary lens of GDP, does not measure quality of life or connection to our community and environment.
Is it time to look at Degrowth?
Degrowth looks to critique the current model of capital and address the fact that GDP growth on a planet with finite resources is economically inept. It will enable our society to relearn the old ways of living in balance with Papatūānuku; never extracting more resources than our environment can manage and not polluting more than ecological boundaries can reasonably allow. Degrowth is a way of life that continues to be practiced by many indigenous communities around the world. The world’s richest 10% have been responsible for over half our planet’s total carbon emissions since 1990. The richest 1% emit 100 times more emissions than the poorest 50%, proving the need for a climate justice model that redistributes the wealth of the richest who do the most damage. This redistribution of wealth could be enacted through a new tax model that sees those at the top of the financial food chain pay higher taxes (a reasonable request seeing as they are hardly paid now).
What is needed for Degrowth on a global scale
The concept of GDP as a measure of progress needs to be replaced with a ‘Gross Progress Indicator’ that measures; health, education, housing, well-being, equity and happiness. We need to see a global economic shift in line with Kate Raworth Doughnut Economics where our economy is balanced with natural ecosystems and taxation/shareholding systems are made far more equitable.
Some steps to enable degrowth are as follows:
End Planned Obsolescence
- Change legislation
- Design products/materials to last as long as possible
- Stop inciting anxiety and creating problems to sell your product as a ‘solution’
- Sharing Platforms
- Product as a Service’ business models
- Composting for soil production
- Mitigate waste from the growing stage
- Fossil fuels
- Land intensive food production e.g. beef
- Sugar & obesity
Embracing a Life with Less
20 years ago, I was compelled to change my lifestyle for the good of the environment. While the concept of ‘Degrowth’ was far from my mind, I knew I had to change the way I lived in my day to day. I noticed the passionate environmentalists around me were focussing on various things whether it be; transport via cycling, food via a plant based diet or significant reductions in general consumption.
My first two big changes were converting to vegetarianism and quitting the corporate world for a job in the public sector. Giving up meat was relatively easy, most restaurants at the time offered at least one vege option and I learnt to just take it. Incorporating a wider range of herbs and spices into cooking helped make satisfying, flavorsome meals without the meat and made me more excited about cooking sustainably. Quitting my corporate job meant I took a reasonable pay cut but I easily adjusted to living with less. I now understand that an increase in salary is a direct correlation to an increase in consumption which eventuates to a rise in landfill.
I would advise people to pick one habit to change, sticking with it until it’s routine before moving onto the next one as I’ve found this to be the most effective way of making big lifestyle changes.
Aiming for a two-tonne lifestyle
The average New Zealander has a carbon footprint of approximately 9.3 tCO2/year, 13 times that of the global poorest 0.69 tCO2/year. The average person from the Pacific has a carbon footprint of 2.2 tCO2/year, again, far lower than the average rate of Kiwis. Ideally we would not exceed 2 tCO2/year in order to live a sustainable lifestyle that Earth can reasonably support.
If you are interested in learning where you sit on the spectrum, there are a bunch of carbon calculators that you can use to figure out where you and your whanau sit. Auckland Council's Live Lightly Team, have produced a Future Fit calculator which measures how you move, eat, power, shop and grow.
Some of the ways we have reduced our lifestyle
Growing Kai and Composting for Quality Soil
Gardening is a fantastic hobby, great for fitness and exposing yourself to microbes that are good for your wellbeing. With the right skills you can find yourself saving money and the environment and with a skyrocketing cost of living it is a smart skill to master. If you don’t have room for a garden in your home, there is likely to be a local community garden you can get involved with.
Eating a more Plant-Based Diet
Our whanau eat a primarily plant-based diet, I avoid meat and dairy and we get eggs from our chooks at home. My hubby likes a bit of meat as do a couple of my kids which is fine in moderation. I have mastered cooking and baking skills to maximize the flavor of nutritious plant based food, much of which we grow ourselves!
No New Stuff
I used to be an avid op shopper however am now pushing myself to fully embrace degrowth by purging our house of things we don’t need. I’ve found it quite liberating to reduce the amount of stuff around the house. Doing this has definitely kept more money in my pocket and given me more time to focus on indulging in my hobbies.
This is probably the hardest area for me to cut back personally as I’m originally from Ireland and have needed to travel home from time to time. I’ve found this is where the tonnes can really add up. Covid has definitely changed travel in general and I will definitely be scrutinising my long haul flights to keep down to a minimum.
If I lived in the city I would definitely invest in an e-bike, but as a rural dweller this is currently an impractical option. My kids are able to cycle to school but beyond that we need a vehicle to get around. Our whanau invested in a small e-car meaning we barely use our petrol car anymore and the advent of Covid saw our travel reduced by about 50%.
Travel is a hard area to cut down on but it’s good to try cycling when you can, using public transport where possible and when it comes to vehicles, be mindful of the size of the engine relative to required use (i.e. not having a massive car).
In 2018, I set up the ReCreators, an upcycle collective delivering DIY upcycling classes across the Auckland region. My skills have grown immensely through this collective and in the last 4 years I’ve learnt how to use woodworking tools, tech for design and laser cutting, an array of textile and other crafts. With my kids also attending these classes, our home is somewhat riddled with creations that I have not totally decluttered. It has instilled in me a desire to not bring in any more materials meaning I am truly embracing a lifestyle meaning I am truly embracing a lifestyle where I have gone from upcycling, to reusing, to reducing and now actively avoiding.
In a world where products and materials were designed to last - businesses would sell less, consumers would buy less, we would all work less and, if we distributed global income equitably, we could live a reasonable life.
This is not a super unfamiliar idea as it’s how humans used to live for centuries. It is clear that degrowth must start with active changes in our behaviour and we must practice restraint when offered something new and shiny. Think past the object and towards being satisfied with who and what you are.