Living Sustainably

The Great Transformation

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1. Definition

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 [ecology] 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

Sustainability is a guiding concept to secure and foster humane living conditions for all people worldwide, in the present and future, and to facilitate restoring and preserving the environmental foundations to enable this. 
Mark Lawrence. 2023. How can I live sustainably. RIFS Research Institute for Sustainability Potsdam.

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. 

2. Sustainable development

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Sustainable development is hardly conceivable

1. without moving away from the predominantly linear economy towards a consistent circular economy

2. without simultaneously cutting back on overconsumption and 

3. without rapidly reducing CO2 emissions.

We have to acknowledge the next decade will be disruptive. Without a safety net people will dig in their heels, voters will be more likely to turn toward populist leaders, and citizens will reject a transformation that may feel like another attempt to line the pockets of the elite.
Dixson-Declève S. 2022. Earth for All. A Survival Guide for Humanity. A Report to the Club of Rome.

The transformation towards a more sustainable development will inevitably be linked to a structural change that knows winners and at least temporarily also losers.

In this respect, in addition to the effectiveness and efficiency of environmental policies, the associated distribution effects must also be taken into account. Issues of justice are thus to be taken seriously as the third central measure of environmental policies in order to ensure their legitimacy and approval.
Translated from: Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Nr. 310/August 2018: Verantwortliche Umweltpolitik - ökologisch wirksam und sozial gerecht. 

World Climate Council [IPCC] and World Council for Biodiversity [IPBES] independently agree that, from both a climate and a biodiversity perspective, a profound and comprehensive societal transformation is needed to halt biodiversity loss and global warming.

This change has a sustainable development as its goal and affects all sectors, including energy [moving away from fossil fuels in favour of renewable energies], land use [especially more environmentally friendly agricultural production] and forestry [protection and sustainable use of forests]. 
Translated from: Forum Biodiversität Schweiz. Akademie der Naturwissenschaften. Hotspot 43/2021

Changes in per capita consumption, shift in diets, and progress towards sustainable exploitation of natural resources, including reduced post-harvest waste, could make substantial contributions to addressing the biodiversity crisis, climate change mitigation and adaptation.
IPBES-IPCC co-sponsored workshop report on biodiversity and climate change. 2021. 

Last but not least, our resource-intensive way of life, with its immense emissions of greenhouse gases, the destruction of natural habitats and increasing pollution of land and sea, has led to a planetary crisis. It threatens the natural life-support systems on Earth and thus the health of all people. 

Because the increasing environmental and health problems often have common roots, synergies can be found in approaches to solving them. We are at a crossroads.

Society, business and politics must assume responsibility and initiate a comprehensive transformation that leads to healthy human life on a healthy planet.
Planetary Health: What we need to talk about. WBGU German Advisory Council on Global Change. 2021.

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

The large-scale social change, as required by the transformation to a sustainable development, first is a «battle» for hearts and minds of the people, and only afterwards accepted in legislation and economic policies.
Source: World in 2050 Initiative. 2018. Transformations to achieve the sustainable development goals.

3. Facts on non-sustainability

Earth Overshoot Day

On this day, humanity has used up all the natural resources that the Earth can restore within one year and thus provide sustainably.

Source: Earth Overshoot Day

Ecological footprint

On 13 May 2022, the Swiss population had already consumed more natural resources than it was entitled to for the whole year.

If all the people in the world lived like we do in Switzerland, then we would need three planets as big as our Earth. 

© freesoulproduction | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2018 

Every year, humankind consumes goods and services equivalent to the annual regenerative capacity of 1.7 planets. 

The 8-tonne society

For a truly sustainable lifestyle Germany, for example, should reduce its resource consumption by a factor of 4 from today's approximately 30 tonnes per capita and per year to around 8 tonnes in the longer term.

In order to curb climate change, greenhouse gas emissions are also to be rapidly reduced in the coming years by a factor of 4 to 2 tonnes per person and year, from the current level of around 8 tonnes.
According to Uwe Schneidewind. 2018. Die Grosse Transformation - Eine Einführung in die Kunst gesellschaftlichen Wandels.

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Growing consumption

The US population is 60% larger than it was in 1970, but consumer spending is up 400% (adjusted for inflation) - and other rich nations aren't much better. 
According to Jamie Waters. Overconsumption and the environment: Should we all stop shopping? The Observer. 30.May.2021

© Ljupco Smokovski | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2018

Within the lifetime of one single generation...

... the world population, global CO2 emissions, resource and energy consumption increased at an unprecedented rate:

Source: Christian Berg. 2020. Online presentation of the new report to the Club of Rome – Sustainable Action. Overcoming the Barriers.

4. Provision and solidarity

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Among other things, for us people in the rich countries, sustainable living means:

Providing for the future humans on our Earth. Showing solidarity with other people in the world.

Are we taking precautions today?

When it comes to action, environmental and climate protection has not yet reached the majority of us.

Almost everyone is in favour of climate protection, but basically the implementation of the really necessary measures for the 1.5 degree target is not even close to a majority. 
Translated from: Maurice Conrad. Keine Kehrtwende in der Klimapolitik? Was Fridays for Future stattdessen erreicht haben. Perspective Daily. 22. April 2022

Are we in solidarity today?

Around 20 % of the world's population, mainly people in rich countries, but also the rich worldwide, account for around 80 % of total global resource consumption.

The facts are clear: We are living at the expense of future generations. They will pay a high price for our overuse and pollution of planet Earth and may have to live with severe restrictions.

5. Sustainability worldwide

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The year 2015

A milestone for global sustainability?

  • UN Agenda 2030
    September 2015
    169 countries sign 17 Sustainable Development Goals to guide global policy towards sustainable development.
    United Nations - Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

  • The Paris Climate Agreement
    December 2015
    196 member states of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change agree to limit man-made global warming to well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels.
    United Nations - Paris Agreement

  • Pontifical Enzyklika Laudato Sì
    June 2015
    Pope Francis proclaims his vision of the world. At the centre is the vulnerability of creation.
    Laudato Si' by Pope Francis - On Care for Our Common Home.

Transformation of Our World

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals intend to guide world politics towards a sustainable development.

This means that all states are challenged to solve the urgent challenges of the world together.

People should have relevant information and awareness of sustainable development by 2030 - all across the world.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development charts a new path of balance for humanity and the planet. The 17 Goals are highly interconnected.

Recent studies on the interactions between the Sustainable Development Goals identify the conservation of biodiversity as one of the most potent levers to achieve sustainability.
Swiss Academy of Sciences. Achieving the SDGs with Biodiversity. 2021

© Romolo Tavani | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2021 
Unsustainable development is rapidly degrading Earth's capacity to sustain human well-being.
Making Peace with Nature. UN environment programme. 2021

A sustainable development is the new challenge with great opportunities for all of us, a learning process that demands all our creativity.

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