Columnists: Isadora Wronski, Greenpeace Nordic

Published on: 5 Sep 2023

Wellbeing through sufficiency

Increasing natural catastrophes, heatwaves, water shortages, failing crops, soaring food prices, economic crisis and rising inequality is getting uncomfortable and life threatening. The outlook is bleak and there’s a lot of anxiety about the complexity and the obvious inability of power holders to lead us to safety. While oil and gas companies, actors speculating in commodities are making obscene profits on the crisis, it’s slowly starting to dawn on us how it’s all linked. We’re rediscovering what’s been known since Limits to growth was published in 1972 and the ecological movement was born. Infinite growth on a planet isn’t possible. 

Political ideologies across the spectrum base their societal models on extraction, production creating supply, advertising creating demand, consumption and waste. The profits accumulated in these processes go to either investments in society or fill the pockets of those with stakes in the process. The system concentrates wealth, power, control over information which in turn  erodes democracy and increase geopolitical instability. It’s a negative reinforcing spiral driving our civilisation towards collapse, taking the majority of species and stable conditions for life on planet earth with us.

A refocus from growth to wellbeing, through sufficiency

safe boundaries wronski

Click on image to enlarge

Figure 1.  Safe and just Earth system boundaries, Rockström 2023

The solution is a transition to post-growth economies, through degrowth, steady-state, and doughnut economics. In practical terms that means a massive reduction of production and consumption, at least in some segments of the population and certain economies – a managed decline of destruction, localisation, leaving one third of the worlds ecosystems to recover and nature based principles guiding human activities in the rest. A shift in focus from growth to wellbeing, through sufficiency measures.

Sufficiency - human wellbeing within planetary boundaries 

Sufficiency is a concept based on recognizing physical constraints and real world limits, things the current economic system has failed to take into account. IPCC formulates it as “Sufficiency policies are a set of measures and daily practices that avoid demand for energy, materials, land and water while delivering human wellbeing for all within planetary boundaries.” Sufficiency requires us to rethink and redesign society to cater to what people and ecosystems need in a fair way. Mental structures, social norms and fundamental economic principles will have to change. The essence in this concept is not new, the same kind of thinking can be found in the core ethics of permaculture ethics (earth care, people care and fair share), and other parts of the ecological and climate justice movement.

Energy sufficiency

Figure 2. Sufficiency, Efficiency, Renewable (SER) climate mitigation framework 

In the energy system sufficiency is a pivotal part of the SER framework: Sufficiency, Efficiency and Renewables. Meeting a growing population's need for energy, while keeping energy production and consumption within planetary boundaries can only be achieved through a  combination of sufficiency measures, efficiency measures and investments in renewable energy. A sufficiency approach to the energy transformation requires us to examine how much energy we can produce in a sustainable way and how much energy society (people) really needs and what a fair distribution of the energy we can produce looks like. Which waste must be curbed and cut and which gap and shortages must be covered to stabilise wellbeing for people and ecosystems? Irrational predictions of increased energy demand generated by growth projections in industries operating under dysfunctional economic principles must be put under scrutiny.

Resource sufficiency

Human wellbeing depends on the resilience of the ecosystems. Nature protection, restoration and just land and water use is urgently needed for ecosystem recovery. We’re dependent on various ecosystem services and need resilient systems to mitigate the polycrisis and the unavoidable changes that will come. For the last couple of decades we’ve been operating our economy as if there’s an unlimited amount of resources available and exploitation and extraction has no consequences. Science tells us with an alarming clarity, this is not case. To get our fantasy economy in tune with the real economy we first and foremost need to reduce our demand for resources.

The decarbonisation of energy system required to meet the Paris agreement, relates to various needs for resources in the transformation of the industry, transport and housing sectors. How much steel, concrete, rare earth metals, water etc. is there available and where are they needed the most in the bigger equation? Our broken food system is dependent on fertlisers, made from fossil fuels and also need a complete transformation. Our societal linear production processes and waster is poisoning the living systems we’re part of with toxins. No matter which problem you look at, the only no regret option is to reduce our use of resources and energy.

The views expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of eceee or any of its members.

Other columns by Isadora Wronski