Living Sustainably

What can we do?

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1. Building blocks for sustainable development

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 [CO2 - emissions stopping] and the recycling economy. This requires technological innovation, cooperation, and an innovative policy framework.

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.

Limiting global warming requires a rapid decarbonisation of the global economy. 

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

Align the economy sustainably

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The global economic system, with unbridled growth, and a barely controllable momentum by us humans, is increasingly endangering our natural basis of life and living together on earth.

We need to pave the way for sustainable economies and rethink our future economics on an Earth overflowing with people. 

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

Reduce over-consumption

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More and more people in the rich countries realize how irresponsible and selfish we behave and what a large, unpaid bill we leave to our children and grandchildren.

The wearing out of nature through the consumption-oriented lifestyle is too great and endangers our basis of existence. We have to rethink our way of life and cut back on over-consumption.

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Powerful status symbols have always determined our consumer behaviour, such as:

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.

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.

All three status symbols have a big impact on our environment and climate. 

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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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So far there is, figuratively, no algorithm to benefit us humans or algorithm to protect nature.

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.

2. How urgent is it?

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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

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.

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