Last Update May 2023

Living  Sustainably

What can we do?


1. Turnarounds

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Instead of going on talking about abstract goals, politics, economics and society must judge themselves by what concrete measures they are taking now to curb climate change and biodiversity loss and to protect us humans.

The impacts of crossing climate and ecological tipping points are likely to last centuries to millennia.

Five extraordinary turnarounds are needed to substantially reduce risks:

1. Ending poverty
2. Addressing gross inequality
3. Empowering women
4. Making our food system healthy for people and ecosystems
5. Transitioning to clean energy

These extraordinary turnarounds will be disruptive. There is no getting away from it. The turnarounds will interact with ongoing disruptive trends, for example the next phase of the exponential technological breakthroughs.

They are not an attempt to create some impossible-to-reach utopia; instead, they are an essential foundation for a resilient civilisation under extraordinary pressure. And, what's more, there is sufficient knowledge, funds, and technologies in the world to implement them.

Dixson-Declève S. 2022. Earth for All. A Survival Guide for Humanity. A Report to the Club of Rome.

2. Building Blocks

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If we take the planetary boundaries seriously, then the environmental discourse may not be reduced to climate protection alone. Our economy as a whole needs to become more resource-light.

The interplay of resource, energy and prosperity turnaround marks the cornerstones for a global civilisation that organises itself within the planetary ecological boundaries.

On a fundamental level, it is always about both a resource turnaround and an energy turnaround. The 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

  • Turnaround in prosperity and consumption
    The question is how sufficiency - a "Culture of Enough" - is possible and how the formation of such a culture can be supported by politics with the introduction of framework conditions.
  • Energy turnaround
    The goal of a revolution in our energy systems can only be achieved if the switch to renewable energy goes hand in hand with energy efficiency and energy sufficiency. 
  • Resource turnaround
    Only if resource consumption per capita is reduced by a factor of 4 to 5 will humanity remain within planetary boundaries in the long term.
  • 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 [Stop CO2 - emissions] and the recycling economy. This requires technological innovation, cooperation, and an innovative policy framework.

3. Actions

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We must act swiftly, but keep a cool head. We need a prudent policy without doomsday scenarios, without ideologies and without individual interests.

Stop CO2 emissions

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A successful climate policy will only succeed if climate change mitigation and adaptation to climate change take place simultaneously and rapidly now.

Climate change should be of concern to all, who care about health, who care about economic stability and investment value and who care about intergenerational justice - which should be every one of us
Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac. 2020. The Future We Choose - Surviving the Climate Crisis.

The past years have been the warmest since weather records began, while global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. 

Limiting global warming requires a rapid decarbonisation of global economy. 

Align the economy sustainably

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Getting humanity back within a safe operating space in this century may be complex and monumental, but like many other complex and monumental undertakings, it can be set in motion by a handful of well-chosen levers, by groups of committed people.

Those levers are in plain sight and waiting to be pulled. And they all reside in one sector: the economy. Key among them:

1. Creation of Citizens Funds to distribute the wealth of the global commons fairly to all citizens.

2. Government intervention (subsidies, incentives, and regulations) to accelerate the turnarounds.

3. Transformation of the international financial system to facilitate rapid poverty alleviation in Most of the World.

4. De-risking investments in low-income countries and cancel debt.

5. Investment in efficient, regenerative food and renewable energy systems.
Dixson-Declève S. 2022. Earth for All. A Survival Guide for Humanity. A Report to the Club of Rome.

Turning away from a predominantly linear economy towards a consistent circular economy is moreover the order of the day.

Reduce over-consumption

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Powerful status symbols have always determined our consumer behaviour and have a big impact on environment and climate.

Big car 

In the past, it was the pompous coaches of a few, then the Rolls-Royce of some, the Chevrolet of many, and today the ever-bigger car of almost all people. Since 1980, the average weight of a car has doubled.

Large consumption of meat 

First, it was the feasting in the palaces of a few  - in Europe 200 years ago over 90% of all people generally had no meat to eat -  then frequent food in restaurants for the many, and today, almost all people eat meat daily.

The production of meat and dairy products already takes up more than 70 per cent of global agricultural land, although it only covers 18 per cent of humanity's calorie needs.
Source: Poore et al., Reducing food's environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science 360, 987-992 (2018)

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Large living space

It used to be the pompous castles of a few, then the spacious villas of some, the homes of many, and today the large apartments of almost all people. 

In Switzerland, for example, each inhabitant occupies an average of 42 square metres of living space - twice as much as in 1965.

The construction of these residential buildings means a large consumption of resources and entails a large increase in energy consumption in heating and a large subsequent consumption, such as the purchase of furniture and many additional home furnishings.

Worldwide, construction accounts for one third of CO₂ emissions, 40 percent of final energy demand and 50 percent of material consumption.
Translated from: Interview von Christine Mattauch mit Lamia Messari-Becker. Ökologisches Wohnen darf kein Eliteprojekt bleiben. Süddeutsche Zeitung. 23. April 2022.

Apply clean technology 

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Obsolete, polluting and inefficient productions must be rapidly replaced with new technologies.

However, we are falling for a great fallacy if we think that we can continue our lifestyle without change with increasing technological efficiency.

After all, the huge impact on our environment caused by our excessive consumption and rapid population growth can only be partially offset by technological improvements. 

In addition, environmentally harmful activities should no longer be kept alive with the argument of keeping jobs.  

Align digitalization with sustainable development 

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The three main objectives of ecological sustainability are decarbonisation, dematerialisation and renaturalisation. 

In theory at least, the growth of digital services can be compatible with the goals of ecological sustainability. But today's reality is far-removed from that ideal. 

The consumption of energy and material is actually increasing as digitalisation expands. This situation will not change unless the majority of affected companies adopt the three ecological objectives as binding principles.
Ortwin Renn, et al. The opportunities and risks of digitalisation for sustainable development: a systemic perspective. GAIA 30/1(2021): 23-28

The enormous scope for shaping digitalisation as a formative force of the 21st century must be at the service of sustainable development, as the most pressing design task of the 21st century
Wuppertal Institute (2021): Shaping Digital Transformation - Digital solution systems for the transition to sustainability: Study within the project «Shaping the Digital Transformation».

Redesign food system

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Only if there is a fundamental change in the way we manage land can we reach the targets of climate-change mitigation, avert the dramatic loss of biodiversity and make the global food system sustainable.WBGU German Advisory Council on Global Change. 2020. Rethinking Land in the Anthropocene: from Separation to Integration.

It therefore applies:

  • Change dietary Global dietary patterns need to converge around diets based more on plants.
  • Setting aside land for biodiversity More land needs to be protected and set aside for nature. It is the most effective way of preserving biodiversity.
  • Adapting the way we farm the land We need to farm in a more nature-friendly, biodiversity-supporting way.
    According to: Tim G. Benton etal. Food system impacts on biodiversity loss. Three levers for food system transformation in support of nature. 2021

Overhaul of education

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A mindset based on nineteenth-century reductionist and linear causal relationships, as if the best way to build knowledge is to assume the world is like a machine that can be understood from the parts, is a big part of the problem.

The overhaul of education everywhere should build on two foundations: critical thinking and complex systems thinking. Arguably the biggest challenge in the world today is not climate change, biodiversity loss, or even pandemic. It is our collective inability to tell fact from fiction.

Most real-world systems are complex dynamic systems, whether ocean and climate or urbanization and stock markets. So, an education system that largely ignores these bedrock features until university is obsolete.
Dixson-Declève S. 2022. Earth for All. A Survival Guide for Humanity. A Report to the Club of Rome.

4. How Urgent Is It?

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It is very urgent. System collapse is a real danger. (...) We face tremendous challenges due to rapid population growth, the overuse of resources and associated pollution, the loss of biodiversity, and overall we are experiencing a gradual loss of our basis of existence. 
Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker and Anders Wijkman - Come on! - Capitalism, Short-Terminism, Population and the Destruction of the Planet. 2017
The Limits to Growth report to the Club of Rome in 1972 dealt with the future of the world economy and, at that time, voiced the grim forecast according to which  

the absolute limit of growth on Earth will be reached within the next hundred years if the current increase in world population, industralisation, pollution, food production, and the exploitation of natural resources continue unabated. 

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Time is running out

What is needed now is «pressure» on politics and decision-makers from below - from us citizens - for fundamental changes to protect us humans against the impacts of climate crisis and biodiversity loss.

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