The Easiest Way to Address Climate Change is to Consume Less

We can certainly talk about reducing our consumption of meat, plastic, and clothes made by fast-fashion companies. But it’s much easier to talk about a single solution that effectively addresses them all: lowering our consumption rate.

Currently, there’s only about a 5% chance that we’ll be able to keep global warming below the dangerous threshold of 2 degrees. In fact, it’s more likely that global warming will rise to 3.2 degrees, and potentially as much as 4.9 degrees.

“Less is more” is not merely a platitude; it’s an iron-clad strategy to save our planet from the confines of man-made plunder.

What would a world that’s 4C warmer look like? Well, research suggests that it would bring about heatwaves that the Earth hasn’t seen for 5 million years. Spain and Italy could also shrivel up into a desert, and sea levels could rise by 1.2 meters, effectively drowning Amsterdam and New York City. Oh, and 40% of species will risk extinction and crop yields could collapse by 35%, destroying the world’s food system.

Technology might be able to save us in time. But are we willing to put all our eggs in a basket not yet invented?

The problem lies in how we measure standard of living: GDP growth. We assume that if our economy is doing well — based on monetary transactions associated with the production of goods and services— that human flourishing exists. But if we define human flourishing as the ability to meet basic human needs for the largest amount of people, we start to see a problem.

Human flourishing, when applying that definition, hinges on the sustainability of resources. Economic growth, however, hinges on scarcity of resources. We need look no further than the 1973 oil crisis to observe how supply and demand impacted the price of gas (which jumped from $25.97 per barrel in 1973 to $46.35 per barrel in 1974).

This is not a new argument. There have been tons of measurements that have been proposed over recent decades that have sought to assess welfare, economic quality (as opposed to quantity), and social and environmental well-being —my favourite being the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare/Genuine Progress Indicator. GDP has not, and will never be, a catch-all measurement to assess prosperity.

Simply put, because we focus on growing the economy, we end up consuming too much. Developing countries are only responsible for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, however bear 82% of the costs of climate change and suffer 98% of climate-change related deaths. In a recent study, 70% of those surveyed from 29 countries believe that overconsumption is putting our planet and society at risk, with half stating that they could happily live without most of the items they own! This begs the question: to what end is our overconsumption for?

It doesn’t take much to see that the ramifications of our purchases extend beyond the balance of our bank account: the environmental impact of the transportation of goods, the negligent labour conditions that certain workers in the Global South are subjected to, and the inability for the majority of our items to completely decompose or be recycled after we grow tired of using them.

Despite the doom and gloom, there is good news: it is not too late for us to reverse — or at least mitigate — part of the damage that we’ve caused. The strategy is simple and straightforward: stop consuming so damn much.

In other words:

  • Hold on to our perfectly-good electronics for an extra year or two;

  • Repair our shoes, clothes, and gadgets instead of throwing them out;

  • Purchase second-hand clothes and electronics instead of buying new;

  • Bike, car pool, or take public transit instead of driving alone;

  • Purchase from businesses focused on ethical sourcing and treating their workers well;

  • Purchase as locally as possible (and from small businesses that are invested in your community);

  • Support public services including libraries, community pools and parks;

Even small actions such as picking up a compost bin, asking the barista to pour your coffee into your reusable tumbler, and bringing reusable containers to restaurants to take home leftovers, can compound over time.

Instead of focusing on GDP growth, we must shift to emphasizing de-growth strategies: increasing restrictions on advertising, implementing carbon tax-and-dividend schemes, and reducing our reliance on private money (for example, credit from Big Banks that come with crippling interest).

There are lots of ways that we can do our part as individuals and as a community. However, we first need to acknowledge the gravity of our actions: we are contributing to the outcome — however positive or negative. Action begets action. And it starts with us today.

Simple Recommendations

This has been an exciting week for Deliberate Discourse.

Yesterday, Britt, who blogs at Tiny Ambitions and produces a podcast called Tiny Bites, released a podcast episode that we did together, where I dive into what I’m trying to do here at Deliberate Discourse and how I incorporate minimalism into my life. I must admit, litigation comes much easier to me than being interviewed for a podcast. I’m not very good with telling my own story as much as I am telling the story of others. Nonetheless, if you’d like to learn more about me, you can listen here. Also, if you’re interested in consuming more information about minimalism, I encourage you to check out her blog and podcast.

Also, NBC News published an article today about how I paid off my student loans. For anyone whose interested in how I incorporated minimalism into my debt repayment strategy, you can read about it here.

Okay enough self-promotion, here are my recommendations:

See you next Tuesday.