What are you doing to fight the climate crisis? That question drives me nuts. Are you driving an EV? Are you buying sustainably manufactured products? Are you powering your five bedroom detached house with renewable energy? These are the questions you hear all the time.
What you never hear is “what are you doing less of?” Are you switching from working full time to just a couple of days a week? Are you buying less clothes, less shoes, less tech, less stuff? The focus almost always seems to be on “sustainable consumption”, which is basically an oxymoron. Yes, we need to consume certain things to survive, but that’s not what people mean when they say that. It’s about continuing to over-consume things we don’t need, but in a slightly less bad way than before. That’s not going to do anything to stop our climate predicament getting out of control.
We’ve been hearing recently about 4 day work weeks and UBIs. I’m certainly in favour of both of these policies, but while they promise positive things for quality of life, mental health and reducing poverty; they don’t really do anything about our rampant over-consumption. A 4 day work week with the same pay as now would reduce emissions from commuting, but presumably it would lead to an increase in leisure consumption and long weekend travel.
As far as a UBI, I think that concept is something that would have been great if it was implemented decades ago. Now, it feels like far too little, too late. It’s not about providing people with a great, simple, high quality of life. It is intended to allow people to actually get by when they’re unemployed. It’s basically a decent level of unemployment benefit similar to what you can get in numerous countries now.
I think what we need now is more like a full universal income that can provide people with everything they need to live a healthy and sustainable life, rather than an unemployment safety net. And I think that should be the way everyone lives. The only people who will work in this scenario would be people who make a real positive difference to society, and they wouldn’t be doing it for money. We would all live in a broadly similar way, with different hobbies, interests, opinions and so on to differentiate us. We could get rid of currency entirely. I’ve talked about that before.
The general point I’m trying to make is that it’s the big things that we don’t talk about reducing or eliminating. To be fair, we do hear people talking about eating less meat and dairy or flying less, or even eliminating those things entirely (very rare when it comes to flying). But when do you ever hear people talk about how we need to have less kids to reduce the population, or live in the smallest homes we can? I don’t hear it. Sometimes you see people talk about the insane emissions of the richest 1%, and how we need to tax them 99%; and that’s true. But people never talk about how not only do they need to live like the rest of us; but that we all need to live much smaller and simpler lives than almost any of us do currently.
Many people get frustrated when activists like Greta, scientists like Paul Beckwith, or nobodies like me tell them how bad our situation is. They want to know what they can do. Well, here you go: just do less. While it’s true that certain elements of sustainability require you to do something differently, like ride a bike or use reusable containers, fundamentally it always comes back to living simpler, smaller, and more local lives. All of the things we need to do differently come naturally once you’ve made that decision to just do less.
It’s really that simple. The media, politicians and neoliberal economists want to make it sound so complicated, but the truth is that it couldn’t be simpler. Just do less.