Our economic thinking is focused on permanent growth – which is not sustainable. It overstrains the ecosystems on which we rely: the ability of the oceans, soil and groundwater reserves to regenerate, the stability of the global climate and biodiversity. We have reached the ecological limits of growth.
Mankind must find ways to meet the future needs of energy through renewable energies instead of coal, oil or gas. And this goes even beyond the consumption of electricity by households or companies. Most products we use and consume consist of non-renewable resources. Plastic materials are made of fossil fuels; the technology of our smartphones does work without these literally rare earths.
The production process also requires a lot of energy. Yet, if that amount of energy is reduced by optimising the process, it often leads to simply producing more of that product. There is a rebound effect when the product gets cheaper and therefore people buy more of it. So the answer to the question, why our economy is so focused on growth, can also be found in parts with us, the consumers. Do we really always need the newest and most comfortable products? Why are we not more critical when it comes to learning how and where the products were made?
Now, there is good news: The problem is identified! There are visionaries working on a society that can do without a permanent growth. There are substantial approaches on how a post-growth-driven society should look like: urban gardening, regional currencies, unconditional basic income or re-focusing on locally produced food.
However, such a transformation of society is still overwhelmingly discussed by the younger generations. Quite often university students try to raise awareness of other students by taking action. It is also less complicated to reach children in schools (just like the YES! does)
Without a doubt, an enlightened young generation is indispensable to create a change within the society. Yet, it will take time until this generation will be in a position to have a decision-making power – and time is running out. It is critical to stop the current consumption of resources. In order to provide a living standard like in the industrialised countries to everyone on earth, we would need more resources than our planet can provide.
We must rethink our handling of resources. And the critical question is: How do we reach the older generations? On the one hand, what communication channel would be best with the greatest reach. On the other hand, what is the message? How can we inspire people to consume less? Would a simple appeal to common sense be enough? Is it sufficient just point out the benefit of saving money by consuming less? Or would they spend that money on something non-sustainable?
The topic “Post-Growth Society: How to Get Everyone on Board?” can be selected by YES! teams from the region South-West as a YES! 2017 topic.
The project “Post-Growth Society: How to Get Everyone on Board?” was proposed by researchers of the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) in Mannheim. The YES!-teams are supported by the researcher Michael Hellwig.
The ZBW is the world’s largest information centre for economic literature and excellently positioned to help students gain information literacy and provide relevant resources.
The Joachim Herz Stiftung is economically independent and politically neutral. The foundation has a wide experience in developing ideas and implementing projects for young people, in particular on economic education.
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Photo credits (top to bottom): (c) shutterstock.com / Maxim Gaigul, (c) Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung GmbH (ZEW) Mannheim, (c) shutterstock.com / Maxim Gaigul, (c) ZBW – Leibniz-Informationszentrum Wirtschaft, (c) Joachim Herz Stiftung.