executive summary

The new challenge with great opportunities for us all.

The environment and the climate need to be fully protected. This can only be achieved if we open ourselves to a sustainable life.

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For a long time we have

  • ignored the impacts of technological progress,
  • concealed the consequences of constant growth,
  • followed the instruction «multiply and subdue the Earth»,
  • put «having» before «being»,
  • kept thinking as if there were still as few people on earth as there were 200 years ago.

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«The human ability to act has far surpassed the ability to understand. 
As a result civilization is faced with a perfect storm of problems driven by overpopulation, overconsumption by the rich, the use of environmentally malign technologies, and gross inequalities.»
Blue Planet Prize Laureates, Gro Harlem Brundtland and others  - Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act. 2012

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In a few decades, there will be 10,000 to 12,000 million people on Earth.

200 years ago, there were just 900 million people.

We act and live as if we were still as few in the world as we were two hundred years ago.

We consume and exploit the earth's resources as if there were no people after us.


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With our steadily growing consumption and resource consumption as well as rapid population growth, we are reaching the ecological limits of the Earth and are endangering our basis for existence.

«If we defeat nature, we will find ourselves on the losing side.» 
Translated quote from Konrad Lorenz, biologist and Nobel Price winner.

In this context, let's not forget: Only 15 - 20 % of the world's population, mainly in the rich countries, account for around 80 % of total global resource consumption.

And the richest 10 percent account for half of all global climate-damaging CO2 emissions.

The illustration shows the magnitude, exact data are lacking. 

The industrialized countries have also to answer for the majority of the global environmental impacts in recent decades. 

The facts are clear,

  • today we humans are clearly living at the expense of future generations,
  • our descendants will have to pay a big price for our irresponsible and short-sighted overuse of planet Earth, and
  • they will have to live with severe restrictions.

Our way of life in the rich countries today is not sustainable and therefore no longer an option for the future people on our earth.

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Global pollution is reaching a threatening level.

We are experiencing a gradual loss of our basis of existence everywhere in the world.

We also do not know whether the changes on Earth caused by our pollution will continue to progress gradually, or whether individual systems such as the climate or the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic will suddenly and unexpectedly tip over.  

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«Emergency situation» Climate

For 30 years, we have ignored the results of scientific research and its forecasts regarding climate change.

Now we know for certain that climate change, and its effects on us humans, can no longer be stopped.

But if we act today and reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuels worldwide to zero by 2050, we can still prevent the worst.

We will probably soon be confronted with a hostile climate. Millions of people worldwide will have to leave their homes because they are flooded or no longer habitable due to prolonged drought.


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Humanity is unlikely to go under right away, as so many alarmists want to tell us. But the concerning question comes to mind:

Do people still have a chance for a life fit for humans in a world such as the one we are leaving behind?

A life fit for humans in no way means a life of ever-increasing material wealth, as it does today in rich countries. 

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However, the basis for a life fit for humans is sufficient food, sufficient living space, opportunities for education, meaningful work, medical care, retirement provision and sufficient natural living space.

Let's think about this in this context: Around as many people in the world as 3 times the entire population of Europe currently have no prospect of leading a life that truly provides human dignity.

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We need to fully protect the environment and climate.

At the moment we are probably creating more new problems in terms of the environment than we are solving existing problems.

A much-discussed concept in science is that of the nine Planetary Boundaries

If we exceed these boundaries, abrupt or irreversible environmental changes could occur.

If we do not exceed them, humanity will be able to evolve and thrive over generations.

We have already passed four of the nine Planetary Boundaries - [marked in red]

  1. Climate change
  2. Changing the integrity of biospheres [biodiversity loss and species extinction]
  3. Degradation of the ozone layer
  4. Acidification of the seas
  5. Biogeochemical cycles [phosphorus and nitrogen cycles]
  6. Altering ecosystems [e.g.deforestation]
  7. Use of fresh water
  8. Exposure of the atmosphere to microscopic particles (aerosols affect the climate + living things)
  9. Entry of new substances into the environment (organic pollutants, radioactive substances, nanoparticles and microplastics)

Quelle: Stockholm Resilience Centre

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Our dilemma

Our dilemma is that we live in a finite world, but behave as if it were inexhaustible.

With regard to our consumer behavior and a sustainable development the rich countries of the world are, as it were, «developing countries».

The steadily growing consumption of all of us is the engine that drives the steady growth of our economy. 

This in turn results in major environmental impacts with partly irreversible damage worldwide.


So we have to face 
the growth dilemma 
that is:

Giving up on growing our current economy means the risk of economic and social collapse.

Maintaining growth implies the risk of destroying global ecosystems that are our basis of existence.

It is clear that there are no simple answers to this - none that could be proposed without proposing at the same time a transformation in the whole of the way we think, work and order our lives.

1. Tim Jackson. Prosperity without Growth - Foundations for the economy of tomorrow. 2016
 2. David Fleming, Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy. 2016

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The conventional response to the growth dilemma is the call for decoupling of economic growth from resource consumption, including harmful environmental impacts.

The decoupling is to be achieved with more efficient production processes, «sustainable goods and services», «Smart Growth», «Green Growth» and «Sustainable Growth».

With the decoupling we are currently achieving a slightly smaller increase in resource consumption with the economic growth today [relative decoupling].

What we need in the medium term if we maintain economic growth, however, is at least no increase in resource consumption with continued economic growth [absolute decoupling].

The results so far do not allow for optimism, because the consumption of resources increases very strongly.

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Therefore a double decoupling is required: 
The decoupling of economic growth from resource consumption and the decoupling of quality of life from economic growth. 

«Two different decoupling tasks must be pursued: Decoupling the production of goods and services from unsustainable natural consumption and decoupling the satisfaction of human needs from the imperative to ever more consumption».
Maja Göpel. 2016. The Great Mindshift. 

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So today we are faced with the Herculean task of satisfying the basic needs of what is soon to be 10 billion people worldwide while, at the same time, respecting the ecological limits of our planet.

The great fallacy of the environmental debate over the past 30 years has been the hope that an ecological turnaround can essentially be implemented through some technological innovation programme within the existing economic order.

The continuing impressive development of prosperity has not been able to slow down climate change, resource consumption or the loss of biodiversity - on the contrary, all these pressures have increased massively.

Translated from: Uwe Schneidewind. Die Grosse Transformation - Eine Einführung in die Kunst gesellschaftlichen Wandels. 2018

It is quite simply a fact that the current ways of life and economic activity have a comprehensive and deep impact on various ecosystems.

Future generations and other living beings therefore face drastic and irreversible disadvantages.

To date, environmental and sustainability policy has far from succeeded in achieving a sufficiently strong reduction in ecological burdens.

Translated from: Gesellschaftliches Wohlergehen innerhalb planetaren Grenzen, Texte 89/2018 im Auftrag des Umweltbundesamt.

We urgently need a clear vision, a bold policy, and a truely robust strategy to find the way out of the growth dilemma.

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We are all called to embark on a journey towards a sustainable life.

Sustainability is on everyone's lips, but often only vaguely understood.

Sustainability is a development that satisfies the needs of the present without risking that future generations will not be able to meet their own needs.
Brundtland Report - Our Common Future, World Commission on the Environment and Development, 1987

Sustainability is a principle according to which no more can be consumed, than can respectively be regrown, regenerated, and provided again in the future.
Translated from: Duden German Dictionary

Sustainability means - concisely formulated - good life for about ten billion people within the ecological boundaries on our planet.
Translated from: Uwe Schneidewind. Die Grosse Transformation - eine Einführung in die Kunst gesellschaftlichen Wandels. 2018

As simple as these definitions are, it is difficult to achieve a unified, shared understanding of sustainability.

Without such a common understanding of sustainability, however, the transformation to a sustainable society can hardly be accomplished.

A sustainable development is the promising path that leads us from today's - ecological and social - global crisis into the future.

We do not have a master plan on how to achieve the transformation of our society with its perpetual expansion towards sustainable development.

And what a future and sustainable society will look like, we do not know it either.

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Sustainable development
What can be done? 

  • Align the economy sustainably.
  • Reduce the imbalance between poor and rich countries.
  • Stop the growth of the global population.
  • Reduce consumption.
  • Apply clean and efficient technology.
  • Put digitisation at the service of global sustainability.

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The concrete building blocks for sustainable development mainly consist of the following adjustments to our way of living, which are all closely linked:

Source: Uwe Schneidewind. Die Grosse Transformation - Eine Einführung in die Kunst gesellschaftlichen Wandels. 2018

  • Prosperity and consumer turnaround
    The question is how sufficiency - a «Culture of Enough» - is possible and how the formation of such a culture can be supported by framework conditions of politics.
  • Energy turnaround
    The goal of the energy turnaround can only be achieved if the conversion to renewable energy is combined with an energy efficiency and energy sufficiency
  • Ressources turnaround
    Only if the resource consumption per capita is reduced by a factor of 4 to 5, is humanity long-term within the planetary boundaries.
  • Mobility turnaround
    The change in mobility is closely linked to the energy turnaround and the resource turnaround and therefore needs more than just technological developments.
  • Nutrition turnaround
    Today's food production is responsible for an important share of the burdens placed on global resources as well as CO2 pollution. 30% of consumer-related environmental impacts in Europe are caused by our eating habits. Our consumption of meat and fish needs to be significantly reduced.
  • Urban turnaround
    By the middle of this century, around 80% of the world's population will be living in cities. The nature of urban development is therefore of central importance for sustainable development as a whole.
  • Industrial turnaround
    Two goals are paramount here: Decarbonisation [CO2 - emissions stopping] and the recycling economy. This requires technological innovation, cooperation, and an innovative policy framework

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Living sustainably
How can I take the first decisive step?

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  • In addition to my basic daily needs, only consume what gives me real added value.
  • Less time sitting in the car and on the plane.
  • Eat less meat.
  • Heat less and use less space.
  • Align my lifestyle with a good balance between quality and quantity.
  • Ask me the highly topical question: To Have or to Be?
  • Pay more attention to the environment:

For example with

My very personal contribution to environmental and climate protection, no matter how small, can achieve a significant effect together with the contribution of all other active people.

© Kevin_Hsieh | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2018  

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Living sustainably
My threefold benefit.

1. I can better adjust my life to my needs.
2. I will burden our environment less.
3. I will save money and gain time to live.

© Vjom | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2018

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Living sustainably
For what? 

For our children and grandchildren and all future people.

By the end of the century, our children and grandchildren too may be confronted with a hostile climate, depleted resources, devastated habitats, large-scale species extinction, food shortages, mass migration and, almost inevitably, war.

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So, are we not unquestionably obliged to change our way of life now?

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