Western society is based on economic growth. The engine of society is business and the classic task of business is to create profits for its owners and this way finally through consumption to whole society. However, our economic-oriented society is facing a serious threat.
There are two sides we have to think about: First, we are using more and more our resources like water, minerals, farmland and meat. Second, we are now using 30% more of bio capacity than the global ecosystems can provide in a sustainable manner.
Here in Europe we are using approx. 36kg/capita (ecological rucksack) of resources every day. In North America the average usage is about 90kg, because of bigger houses, bigger cars and people eat more meat. If we buy a product that weight’s, let’s say 7kg, the actual ecological weight is 60kg.
So, in addition to economic welfare alone, we should also be able to create environmental welfare. We know that, but technological progress and R&D is creating more efficient ways of producing products with lesser raw materials, energy and even at cheaper cost. True but a man is a man. There is a ”rebound effect” which means that if the production is efficient and the products are even cheaper, we buy more! We can see that when thinking of mobile phones market. People are changing them more rapidly because they are cheaper and with more features. So that won’t solve our environmental problems.
What are we doing in our free time? We are shopping, travelling, thinking of buying something new or talking with our friends what we would like to have. If we exclude housing and infrastructure, eating and drinking, nearly 40% of resource consumption in Europe is something we buy relatively often: electronics, clothing, cameras etc. That is the slice of pie where it’s easiest to save.
Attitudes are also moving towards respecting money more and more and being financially successful (Finnish study). People like to buy individual products and we like to spend more money in home. Attitudes don’t seem to be going towards less consumption.
Instead of buying and consuming more and more – using more and more resources – we should find new ways of being citizens and consumers. What would it require if we enjoyed our neighborhood in our free time instead of driving/flying somewhere? Can you choose books from library instead of new 50” flat screen? How about good conversation with good friends in home yard instead of weekend in Prague? There is a trend “Slow Food”, making and enjoying food with friends. Maybe we need a new trend “Slow Life”.
Attitudes change slowly. Taxation could be a quick and very effective way to change consumer behavior. At the moment, we tax consumption (for example VAT) and work (for example income tax). How about a world where we would not pay any tax on work but all consumption would be charged by how much resources it takes? Your salary would be 3 100 € and no income tax would be charged. In February carrots at your neighborhood store would still cost 1,30 € / kg but greenhouse tomatoes 15 € / kg and bananas from Brasilia 11 € / kg. Buying new shoes would cost twice as much as nowadays, but no problem: you wouldn’t buy new shoes as a shoemaker would fix your shoes for just a couple of Euros. All in all, human work would be cheaper than now. So, in the evening you would leave somebody else to clean your house and enjoy a concert instead.
As you would live in a small apartment and use public transportation your basic living cost would be relatively small. You sister, however, living in a big house at countryside would face trouble in buying expensive gasoline and energy. A solution for the trouble would be a new wind power which is built together with the neighbor’s and government’s support. Now they are driving electric cars by their own energy and get even some extra money by selling surplus energy.