Rethinking Prosperity attended the Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative Conference in June. SCORAI, as its known, is a knowledge network of professionals working at the interface of material consumption, human well-being, and technological and cultural change. There aim to foster a transition beyond the currently dominant consumer society. SCORAI “provides a forum for scholars and practitioners striving to understand the drivers of the consumerist economy in affluent technological societies; to formulate and analyze options for post-consumerist lifestyles, social institutions, and economic systems; and to provide the knowledge for emergent grassroots innovations, social movements, and public policies.”
The Conference brought together researchers from diverse fields, such as business, sociology, and engineering around the theme “Transitions Beyond a Consumer Society.” Keynote speakers included the Founder of the Ecological Footprint, Professor William Rees and Giorgos Kallis, a leading voice for the degrowth movement in Europe.
To get a feel for the conference, check out the posts from the Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy blog:
Which opened with a keynote address by Giorgos Kallis on Political Ecological Economics, arguing that major international figures continue to live in a fantasy land in which decoupling of economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions is possible, even though the two have historically grown together…
Apocalypse opened the afternoon of the second day with William Rees uttering what have become standard warnings of doom. We are breaching planetary boundaries, heading toward tipping points, into the abyss. Fish stocks are collapsing, bird populations are 30% lower than 50 years ago, forests are disappearing…
Reisch pointed out that she is privileged to serve in countries with a particularly strong environmental ethic. Germany, notably, has a long history of influential environmental parties, namely the Greens, dating back to the 1980s. It was then that the Green Party published the first book on the energy transition, which, 25 years later, Germany has finally embarked on. This massive transition project has a very long tail, without which it would not have been possible. For those frustrated that they are getting nowhere, the message is that academic and utopian projects can lie dormant for years, before circumstances and the long, hard work of preparation allow them to be realized.
If the keynote speeches at the 2016 SCORAI Conference were thunder and lightning, dramatically expounding on vast global issues, a panel at the end of the second day was more meditative, more Beethoven’s sixth symphony than Wagner. “Consumption on the Mind” dealt with how particular individuals, designated as wise and mindful, handle the decision to simplify, to avoid the glut of consumption that overtaken so many of us.
Ehrenfeld’s talk focused on complexity, on systems made unpredictable by convoluted networks of interactions, leaving a constant possibility of sudden change. Complex systems are “not amenable to description via the usual deterministic, scientifically based laws.”