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1. One of the key ways to promote the uptake of the Green New Deal will be to demonstrate that the policies at its heart are about improving our quality of life, not about “giving things up”. Prosperity without growth is a realistic and achievable goal. 2. Lifestyle change isn’t an alternative to policy change. Governments have an important role to play in providing an "enabling policy framework" which will make it easier for people to make lifestyle changes. 3. Individuals will play their part when they believe governments are playing theirs. A far more ambitious and consistent position from EU governments is needed so people believe that climate change really is as big a threat to our security as any military threat - we need more of a "war-time" mentality in terms of the urgency and consistency with which this agenda needs to be promoted. 4. We need to communicate positively about the Green New Deal, stressing the many benefits that will result - eg better public transport, stronger local communities, more stable local economies. We need to change the whole discourse around the climate crisis so that it's seen as one of opportunity, not just threat. 5. The Green New Deal offers an opportunity to combine the ecological transformation of European societies with better work-life balance in which men and women equally share responsibilities in public and private domains, in economic, political and family life.
Introduction The Green New Deal offers an historic opportunity to tackle both the climate crisis and the economic crisis at the same time, creating millions of new Green jobs, and kick-starting the urgently needed transformation to a post-carbon economy. Other papers/chapters in this Green New Deal report have set out the huge range of benefits which will flow from this transition: a more stable, resilient and accountable financial system, more efficient and competitive industry, millions of new Green jobs, and a stronger, fairer social Europe. Yet despite much public interest in the idea, and growing political debate, there has so far been very little progress towards actually implementing it. The negligible “green” component of the fiscal packages recently announced by a number of EU member states, for example, is just the latest reflection of a dismal failure of political ambition. As politicians start to compete with one another over proposals to get back to “business as usual” as soon as possible, many proposing draconian measures to slash public spending, it’s crucial to make the case that it is precisely the economics of business as usual which have caused the economic and climate crises. Now is the moment not only to highlight again the positive impacts of a Green New Deal, but also to identify the obstacles to achieving it. Why has this proposal not had more success? And what is the role of individuals in accelerating this transition to a greener, fairer Europe? Growth versus Well-being Our addiction to consumerism makes many people believe that we have already lost the battle for the policies at the heart of the Green New Deal, which would address both the climate and the economic crises. As well as leading most of us into an ostrich-like denial of its implications for our way of life, the strength of the consumerist ethos has reduced governments to a state of paralysis, too nervous of the electorate to dare to implement any policy capable of making a real difference. Yet given the failure of the economic model based on ever more growth and consumption, this is not a little perverse. In the past four decades, most people in the EU have become vastly more wealthy, and yet no happier. At the same time, environmental problems, above all climate change, suggest that our current lifestyles have potentially catastrophic consequences. There is much talk of costs and sacrifice, of a need to give up our cherished consumer indulgences in response to global environmental crises. Yet this is to misunderstand the challenge, and to ignore the opportunity. Since individual and general well-being aren’t well served by the resource-hungry path we’ve chosen, facing up to the current global challenges could, in fact, propel us towards much better ways of living. Indeed, tackling environmental problems gives us an extraordinary opportunity to pause and rethink the way we live. The advocates of the Green New Deal believe that the politics of sustainability and the politics of well-being go hand in hand; that if policies to address the climate crisis require a different economic paradigm, one that isn’t based on ever increasing, resource-based growth, then that’s to be welcomed, since such a paradigm is likely to have a much better chance of improving our well-being as well. Put simply, the policies we need to live good lives are precisely the policies we need to tackle the twin environmental and economic challenges we face today.
Over the past few years, there has been a growing understanding of this connection. An increasing number of reports are underlining the fact that happiness and well-being do not depend on endless economic growth and material wealth, but rather on contented families, strong communities, meaningful work, and personal freedom. There is a dawning understanding that treating GDP as a useful proxy for well-being can be extraordinarily misleading; and that good lives – defined as happy and fulfilling ones – don’t have to cost the earth. The recent report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, set up by President Sarkozy, for example, makes clear that while conventional economic theory assumes that rising consumer expenditure is strongly related to individuals' well being, the reality is often very different; that “traffic jams may increase GDP as a result of the increased use of gasoline, but obviously not the quality of life. Moreover, if citizens are concerned about the quality of air, and air population is increasing, then statistical measures which ignore air pollution will provide an inaccurate estimate of what is happening to citizens' well-being”.i In this paper, the terms “well-being” and “happiness” are used interchangeably, although there is a growing literature which equates happiness with pleasure, but attributes to well-being a deeper sense of developing as a person, being fulfilled and contributing to society. The British writer and psychologist Oliver James sums this up more succinctly than most: “I regard happiness as chimeric and temporary, akin to pleasure, and I tend to agree with the saying ‘we were not put on this Earth to be happy’….my focus is on why we are so fucked up, not with dangling a false promise of the possibility of happiness”.ii But whether good lives are defined as happy lives or lives of well-being, the bottom line is this: that living a good life and safeguarding our environment are not only compatible, they are inextricably linked and mutually dependent. It serves both our own well-being and the wellbeing of the planet radically to reform our deeply unsustainable economic system, based on the ever increasing consumption and waste of natural resources. The Growth Dilemma But what is an economy not based on growth to look like, how will it serve its citizens, and – crucially – how can politicians be persuaded to propose such radical change? Murray Bookchin, the American philosopher, sets out the scale of the challenge in his assertion that “capitalism can no more be “persuaded” to limit growth than a human being can be “persuaded” to give up breathing.”iii First, it’s important to distinguish between growth – more of the same “stuff” – and development – the same amount of better stuff. A steady-state system permits more qualitative development, but not more aggregate quantitative growth.iv Second, we need to recognize that, after a certain level of satisfaction of basic needs is achieved, much consumption isn’t about need. Material goods also provide a vital language through we communicate with each other about the things that really matter: family, identity, friendship, community, purpose in life. According to a groundbreaking work by British authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, the crucial key to reducing the cultural pressure to consume is through greater equality.v In The Spirit Level, they set out how greater equality makes growth much less necessary. It is, they argue, “a precondition for a steady-state economy.” A great deal of what drives consumption is status competition, so that inequality ratchets up the competitive pressure to consume. This would explain, for example, why more unequal countries spend a higher proportion of their GDP on advertising, with the US and New Zealand spending twice as much as Norway and Denmark.
The authors cite many examples to underline their case, one of the most persuasive based on a simple test. People were asked to say whether they’d prefer to be less well-off than others in a rich society, or have a much lower income in a poorer country but be better-off than others. Fully 50% of participants thought they would trade as much as half of their real income if they could live in a society in which they would be better off than others – powerful evidence of how much we value status, and a clear demonstration of the fact that income differences within rich societies matter to individuals so much more than the income differences between them. Once we have the necessities of life, it is the relativities that matter. Since an important part of consumerism is driven by emulation and status competition, about social appearance and position, we continue to pursue economic growth despite its apparent lack of benefits. It follows that if we pursue policies to reduce inequality, we will also have a positive effect on environmental impact as well. The task is urgent. Since 1998 the poverty rate in the EU has remained at around 15% of the population. In absolute terms, 79 million people were classified as poor in 2006 – ie every sixth European lived with an income below the poverty threshold.vi Growth versus Development Economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity. According to conventional wisdom, higher incomes should mean richer lives, and an improved quality of life for all of us. But the reality is rather different. Growth has delivered its benefits, at best, unequallyvii. A fifth of the world’s population earns just 2% of global income. Inequality is higher in the OECD nations than it was 20 years ago. Far from raising the living standard for those who most needed it, growth let much of the world’s population down. Fairness (or the lack of it) is just one of several reasons to question the conventional formula for achieving prosperity. The environmental impact of growth is another. According to Herman Daly, so-called “economic growth” has already become uneconomic: in other words, the quantitative increase in the economic system increases social and environmental costs more quickly than it produces benefits, making us poorer, not richer, at least in many developed countries.viii In the last quarter of a century, the global economy has doubled, while an estimated 60% of the world’s ecosystems have been degraded. Global carbon emissions have risen by 40% since 1990, while significant scarcity in key resources is a growing threat. Business as usual is already unsustainable. With a population of 9 billion by 2050, all aspiring to the same level of affluence achieved in the OECD nations, the economy would need to be 15 times the size of this one by 2050 and 40 times the size by the end of the century. The social and environmental impacts of such growth are hardly imaginable, even assuming far greater efficiency through at least a partial “decoupling” of growth from material throughput. The possibility that humans can flourish, and at the same time consume less, is arguably the most important question to be investigated. In Prosperity Without Growth, Tim Jackson examines the proposition that continued economic growth is a necessary condition for a lasting prosperity, and finds it false. Increasing evidence from around the globe suggests that people may turn out both to be happier and to live more sustainably when they favour “intrinsic” goals that embed them in family and community rather than “extrinsic” ones which tie them into display and social status.ix However, simplistic exhortations for people to resist consumerism will fail. Urging people to make lifestyle changes (driving less, walking more, buying locally, turning down the thermostat) when they fly in the face of the structures and values that dominate society is simply unrealistic.
Structural change is therefore essential, first to dismantle the perverse incentives for unproductive status competition, and second to establish new structures that provide the potential for people to flourish, and to participate meaningfully and creatively in the life of society, in less materialistic ways. This will include significant changes in gender relations. 'The female half of the world’s human capital is undervalued and under-utilised the world over. As a group, women – and their potential contributions to economic advances, social progress and environmental protection – have been marginalised. Better use of the world’s female population could increase economic growth, reduce poverty, enhance societal well-being, and help ensure sustainable development in all countries.x Accordingly, issues of reproductive work, care and social work need to be addressed in the Green New Deal. The ecological transformation of society, care policies and the provision of care services are intrinsically related to the GND and consequently to the achievement of equality between women and men. In this sense we follow the UN approach that "the significance of care is part of the fabric of society and integral to social development. To overcome the gender bias that is deeply entrenched in systems of social protection and to make citizenship truly inclusive, care must become a dimension of citizenship with right that are equal to those that are attached to employment".xi
As Jackson observes, the advantages in terms of prosperity are likely to be substantial. A less materialistic society will enhance life satisfaction. A more equal society will lower the importance of status goods. A less growth-driven economy will improve people’s worklife/gender balance. Enhanced investment in public goods, and green energy infrastructure, will provide lasting returns to the nation’s prosperity, and many jobs. As Jackson concludes, “For the advanced economies of the Western world, prosperity without growth is no longer a utopian dream. It is a financial and ecological necessity.” The kinds of policy changes that such an approach requires include the changes to industrial and financial policy set out in the other chapters of this Green New Deal report, as well as: Sharing the available work more equally – eg a 35 hour week Policies to promote gender equality, greater work/life balance, shared roles in caring etc Tackling systemic inequality through major redistributional policies, including via maximum as well as minimum income levels Reversing the culture of consumerism, including stricter controls on advertising The mainstreaming of alternative economic indicators (eg national well-being accounts) Investment in the enabling policy framework which will make it easier for people to make lifestyle changes – eg greater investment in affordable public transport, financial incentives for greener production and consumption etc Greater education and debate about population growth, and how to reduce it Communicating the Challenge We need to change the whole discourse around the climate crisis so that it's seen as one of opportunity, not just threat. If the climate debate continues to be framed in terms of “giving things up”, in terms of hair shirts and shivering round a candle in a cave, it’s not going to be effective. It’s hard to feel motivated by dread, or to feel excited about something when we feel
forced to do it. But perhaps we can feel excited about a zero carbon lifestyle if we recognise that it leads the way to a world that could be better for everyone. It follows that communication about the climate challenge needs to be far more honest. It doesn’t work to outline the scale of the threat of runaway climate change, and then simply tell people to put less water in their kettles, or to watch TV in the dark (both suggestions found recently in local green leaflets). Telling people that very small measures can resolve a huge problem is neither honest nor plausible. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) argues that these small, trivial measures “easily lapse into ‘wallpaper’ – the domestic, the routine, the boring, the too easily understood and ignorable.’ Of particular concern are headlines like “Twenty things you can do to save the planet”, with IPPR warning that putting trivial measures alongside alarmist warnings can lead people to “deflate, mock and reject the very notion of climate change.” A far more effective strategy for encouraging people to change their behaviour is not to argue it on the basis of “saving the planet” but because they decide it is the right thing to do, and want to do it – to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Different communications strategies will work with different people. George Marshall describes four distinct groups, the struggling Survivors, thrifty and change-averse Traditionalists, the highlivingWinners and ideological Strivers, all of whom will respond differently to different messages.xii According to Marshall, governments keep making mistakes by using the wrong message for the people they are talking to. “They keep telling Survivors that this is another threat, when they should be reassuring them. They keep telling Traditionalists that they need to make huge changes to save the world, when they should be telling them that there are solutions in the way they live already. They keep telling Winners that they can save money by insulating their lofts, when they should be telling them how they can succeed in a climate change world. And increasingly they are telling Strivers that they can be “cool” by buying the latest eco-products, when most Strivers won’t be cool until they are six foot underground.” Conclusion The key question we face is how to reduce our carbon footprint while simultaneously promoting equity and improving our quality of life. Increasing evidence suggests that this is not only possible, but essential. Lifestyle and behaviour change will have a key role to play, but only as part of a fundamental restructuring of our economy, society and culture. Lifestyle change isn’t an alternative to government action, it’s a necessary complement to it. But politicians need to act first, becoming far more sophisticated and positive in their communications about the challenges we face, and the role of the Green New Deal in addressing them, and also in putting in place an enabling policy framework to enable people to make changes to their lifestyles far more easily. Policies to promote greater equality, including gender equality, will have a central role to play in making it possible to shift to more sustainable lifestyles, and to kick-starting the urgently needed transformation to a post-carbon economy.
Stiglitz, J.E, Sen, A., Fioussi, JP, Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and social Progress, page 8 ii Oliver James, Affluenza, London 2007 iii M. Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom, Oakland, 2005 iv Herman Daly, Steady State Economics, Sustainable Development Commission, London 2009 v Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level, London 2009 vi EuroMemorandum Group, 2008-09, p. 14 vii Sustainable Development Commission, Prosperity without Growth, London 2009 viii Herman Daly, Steady State Economics, Sustainable Development Commission, London 2009 ix Sustainable Development Commission, op cit x OECD, Gender and Sustainable Development, 2008 xi UN, Research Institute for Soc Development: The Political and Social Economy of Care in a Development Context. Conceptual Issues, Research and Questions and Policy Option, Paper no. 3 xii George Marshall, Carbon Detox, London 2007
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