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Towards a sustainable society: who is taking the lead for change?

February 17, 2016 in General

In the aftermath of the Paris COP21, December 2015 (see previous blog post) it seems that even our (mostly) elected politicians have understood that things will have to change with an appropriate sense of urgency. This insight was not new however, as we are discussing climate change for a few decades now. We are aware of the ongoing depletion of not only fossil fuels, but also many important metals and minerals. We acknowledge the deterioration of ecosystems and declining access to safe and clean water and air, not only for future generations. We can already see and feel the impact right here, right now. Either by the growing amount of casualties of pollution, or by the refugees from climate change or at least in our wallet, with the staggering costs of energy and water.

First we expected that (state) organisations and utility companies were going to take care of it. Unfortunately, (with a few bright exceptions) they seem to have a hard time to change the business models. Often lots of time and money was lost through privatizations, green washing or bill boarding their ample efforts and meagre investments in change. Although some have started voicing different expectations, most shareholders often expect to prolong and milk unsustainable business models as long as possible.

Then, we put our hopes in politicians, on local, national, international and global level, to solve the supposed catch 22 of economic progress at the cost of ecological and social values. However, for the 4 or 5 years they obtained our mandate, they are mainly looking for a golden key to create one big solution. A massive investment which, at implementation, appears to be hard to control in terms of time, budget and results, often including unwanted side effects that were overlooked in the master plan, causing costly repairs afterwards (e.g. CO2 capture technology, the Finnish nuclear power stationsolar farms in the Sahara). Huge amounts of (taxpayers’) money invested in supply-driven solutions, and often in cooperation with traditional companies controlling that supply, have so far proven to contribute disappointingly. 

Subsidies of Capex (costly investments) and/or Opex (staggering operating costs) claim the majority of the attention and money available for change (e.g. woodchip feedstock for coal burners, windmills or imported biomass for electricity). Often the money is not even available due to obligated profits and dividends, and thus pushed right onto consumer bills or at the cost of ongoing environmental and social programs. The ambitious national and international pledges made during the Paris conference have in the meantime been followed by countless examples of downright contrary decisions in day-to-day situations, policies, legislations and allocations. In other cases, the necessary decisions are just being avoided, stalled or redirected (whose responsibility could this really be?).

We have learned that many unwanted, unhealthy or dangerous effects of certain consumer habits like alcohol, tobacco or drugs abuse could not be changed by attempts to control the supply of these substances. We long concluded that society (and economy) is demand driven in the first place. Although there is an important influence possible through the supply, it will not fundamentally change the need. When most of our bigger challenges today have risen from the fulfilment of our demands, wouldn’t it be logical that also the most needed, deep changes for society should in the first place be driven by a change in the demand as well, instead of attempting to change the basic character of supply?

So instead of forcing the supply to become more sustainable, how can we promote a sustainable demand? How can we become more sensible, educate and create awareness and conscious choice? How can we help and facilitate consumers to save energy, adopt sustainable norms, show that they can impact the supply-side or become prosumers (producing part of their own energy need) all by themselves? How can we bring power to the people? 

Read it in my next blogs here!

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