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Rewiring sustainability

19 January, 2024

While there is the occasional good news story on emissions reductions, our addiction to fossil fuels continues to break records. We’re pretty far away from the scale of reductions we need to avoid dangerous warming. 

And while there has been progress developing renewable energy and improving efficiency, a recent paper suggests that our approach to managing greenhouse gas emissions is a sticking plaster over the issues. The authors suggest that a ‘human behavioural crisis’ is at the root of the ecological problems we see, driven by three factors: economic growth, marketing, and pronatalism.  

It makes for a very interesting read. The interdisciplinary team applies an understanding of human behaviour to the social, economic and demographic drivers of our ecological problems, suggesting that tendencies to seek pleasure and avoid pain, acquire resources and display status and appeal to others have been exploited to the extent that they’re now dangerous for us. 

And, in dissecting these factors, the authors suggest we can instead use them to build a sustainable world, starting with more interdisciplinary collaboration involving social scientists and the practitioners of social and behavioural sciences.  

The paper is a bold critique of mainstream thinking and invokes some of the big questions that are inherent to the degrowth movement and wellbeing economics – what is ‘enough’, what growth do we want and for whom?  

The authors are under no illusions about the fact that it will be uncomfortable to recognise and change the factors that influence our collective psyche and norms around consumption, reproduction and waste. But these may well be our best chance of ‘unlocking a truly prosperous and sustainable future for humans on Earth’. 

By Patrick Bapty

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