"A culture of contented sufficiency". Is that how humans have to live to save the planet?


We are on the look-out, post IPCC, for those who can imagine a response to climate breakdown that integrates the realms of I-We-World - personal, collective and worldly. Here’s an aspirational claim to the kinds of psychologies and values required to survive the coming environmental disruption.

It’s from CUSP (the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity), and the author is Teresa Belton, who says we need a “new common consciousness of what’s necessary and possible to curb climate change”;

We need to create a fresh individual perspective too, showing that we can live in different, better ways. My study of individuals living in Britain who actively choose to live lives of modest material consumption, elaborated in my book Happier People Healthier Planet: How putting wellbeing first would help sustain life on Earth, tells a different story from that of the materialistically aspirational norm of social communication.

People who are keenly aware of the state of the natural world and of human inequality, and who focus their lives on creativity, connection with and protection of nature, making a positive difference in the world, and other intrinsically rewarding concerns, are actually likely to enjoy higher than average life-satisfaction.

…Increasing numbers of ‘modest consumers’, ‘voluntary simplifiers’ and ‘minimalists’, who value time and self-determination over money, are experiencing the enjoyment and fulfilment which flows from lifestyles organised around the non-material riches that life has to offer.

For ecological destruction to slow significantly many more need people to cross the ‘threshold of understanding’ that ever increasing possessions, convenience and luxury do not actually deliver deep or lasting happiness, but that ‘non-material assets’ do.


We need a critical mass of people with such values. The willing withdrawal of much custom from consumer society, and active support of alternative ways of conducting life that benefit the human and the natural world, would help build the political pressure to instigate the reconstruction of our larger systems from the top down.

…Personal and social wellbeing thrive in a climate of respectful, supportive relationships; belonging and community; responsibility and a sense of agency; active engagement and meaning; personal creativity and shared cultural experiences; green space and wild places; and material sufficiency, for everyone.

It is in our power to redirect the trajectory of human development, to build a culture of contented sufficiency, to protect the world from catastrophic ecosystem destruction.

Alongside the extraction of maximum energy with minimum emissions, our challenge is to work out how, individually and collectively, we can get the most out of life using the minimum of material resources. Unlike economic growth, the potential for personal and social growth has no bounds.

More here. Yet what vehicle can take this ethos forward, or embed it in everyday life? We observer our friends last week in WeAll - the Wellbeing Alliance - launch their project at the G20:

The Nobellist Joseph Stiglitz was there, and supports the project. Katherine’s new book, The Economics of Arrival, toys with a fascinating metaphor: what if we decided to “arrive” at our economic destination, rather than always yearn for a growth beyond the norm?

Yet Belton’s prescriptions for attitude and behaviour change can’t be underestimated, either in their necessity or their difficulty. There needs to be less of a march of abstractions, and more of a set of visceral or transformative experiences, to help people with their internal revolutions around climate disruption. A “personal and social growth” that is “unbounded”, as she puts it, maybe needs more potent advocacy than the academic or political advocates of wellbeing can provide.

Meanwhile the CUSP site runs this extraordinarily sharp debate between the sustainability economist Tim Jackson, and the Deutsche Bank Chief Economist David Folkerts-Landau. It seems to be staged in a church that looks like Fellini-esque film-set: