Economy versus climate: what happens if consumption stops?

Munich (dpa) – “You are not poor if you have little, but if you want more.” With this quote attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca, the Canadian environmental journalist James Bernard MacKinnon starts his book “The day on which we stop shopping.”

He describes in a multifaceted and exciting way what could happen, would the people of affluent countries are satisfied with less. The book offers a wealth of interesting information and background information – and one sometimes wishes it would become required reading for the citizens of rich nations.

The world is stuck in a dire spiral: its economies depend on the Consumption decreases – but consumption increases carbon dioxide emissions. “The connection is so close that climatologists have long used growth in one phenomenon as an indicator of growth in the other,” explains MacKinnon. «If the fashion cycle accelerates, climate change accelerates; if the Christmas business shrinks, fewer CO2 molecules enter the atmosphere. ”

MacKinnon does not believe in“ green growth ”

Governments and companies are guided by the idea that MacKinnon writes that the entire economy, from textile factories to mass tourism, can be decoupled from damage to the environment. There is a belief that technology can stop climate change without us having to make significant changes to our lifestyle. “This is the holy grail known as” green growth “: an endlessly growing economy that does not harm the environment.” Using many examples and discussions with experts, MacKinnon explains why this is very likely a misconception.

First of all, it is important to know that little or no economic growth has been the norm throughout human history. «From the distant past to 18. In the 19th century, the world economy grew very slowly – probably at a rate of about 0.1 percent per year. And this economic growth was almost entirely due to a gradual increase in population. ” Before 1800 a person usually went through life with about the same amount of possessions as his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, many of these things like clothing were passed on from generation to generation. The consumer economy was only born after the industrial revolution.

A hundred years ago it was common for a man to be “married and buried” in the same suit and for a woman to be married to her mother and grandmothers Wore inherited clothing, as the book says. In the meantime, a 50 million ton mountain of new textiles is piled up every year. If the clothing market were a country, it would take the 15. Rank among the major economies, the number of people in employment there corresponds roughly to the population of the USA.

Does stopping consumption mean chaos and impoverishment?

What would happen if the People suddenly actually satisfied with less? “Let’s say the world actually stops shopping one day. It is precisely this thought experiment that is the subject of this book. ” Just halving the sales of Levi’s company would therefore initially deprive around 1. 25 million people of their income. The consequences of doing without it would also be immense for the climate: “If global textile production were to be halted for a year, this would have as much effect as stopping all international air traffic and the transport of goods by sea for the same period.”

MacKinnon extensively investigates the question of whether, as many economists fear, imploding markets, mass unemployment, deserted shopping streets, broken supply chains and “perhaps even a rule of the mob and famine” would be the inevitable consequence of abstaining from consumption. Together with the economist Peter Victor, he tries to clarify whether a barely growing or even shrinking economy can be a viable system.

Shorter working hours, better products

The ones presented Model calculations come to the conclusion that mass unemployment as a potential consequence of renouncing consumption can be prevented by distributing the remaining work among as many people as possible. The weekly working time could be reduced from five to four days. A switch to products that are more complex to produce but have a much longer shelf life would therefore be a measure.

In general, the planned obsolescence is an important point, as MacKinnon illustrates using examples such as lightbulbs and printers. This refers to the targeted efforts of manufacturers to develop devices and other products in such a way that they are used up quickly and have to be bought again, cannot be repaired or are subject to trends and quickly go out of style.

Today’s customer wants to buy things as cheaply as possible – nobody wants 5000 or 10. 000 dollars for spend a ten-year cell phone. The much more sensible choice for the environment and climate are long-lasting products, an economy of fewer things that are better for them. On the one hand, so much waste is avoided and resources are conserved. And because of the higher price, less is bought overall.

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