Reflections on Striving, Sufficiency, and Simplicity 

By Sahra Kress

 

Reflections on Striving, Sufficiency, and Simplicity

“When we lose the Earth, if we lose the Earth, oh how desperately we will long to go back to how it was. How we will wish that we had not taken all of this for granted” -Peter Kalmus, NASA scientist 

And how we will wish that we had taken things more seriously, that we had absorbed the
meaning of all the endless data and careful analyses, and that we had actually,
collectively, taken responsibility.

These notes are my brief reflection on the bizarre climate predicament we are in: a
slow-moving force that is pushing against the wall of our normality, which will
push and push and at some point- our normality is going to crumble. What is the
point of striving in the face of this? There are no solutions, only responses, so let’s talk about the meaning of sufficiency, and what living with simplicity might actually offer.

Burning urgency 

The climate crisis is here. The ecological emergency is here. It is not something remote or
possible in the future: global weirding has become an everyday news reality and we are seeing unprecedented events becoming normal.

Risk tolerance, analysis and calculating impact is fundamental to precautionary
measures. Climate breakdown is not a ‘Black Swan’ event: we are staring directly at a ‘High Risk-High Probability’ reality.

It is clear that we must turn more to agendas of deep and transformative adaptation. Like
with a pandemic threat, we must take precautionary action.

People are rightly concerned by all manner of inequity in our society. It is clear things
are not remotely evenly shared. But where do we draw the lines of inequality:
between people within or between countries? Or between humans alive now and
future generations? Or is it inequality between species? If we don’t
collectively learn to live within biophysical limits, nothing else matters.

 

 

Failure to act on climate breakdown reveals a disturbingly shallow concern for the future
of our children. Because we are all to some extent enmeshed within the systemic
destruction that is driving climate breakdown, we are doing worse than failing
to protect our own children. As Rupert Read says, we risk being complicit in their ruin.

Striving 

My heart weeps with Peter Kalmus; I share his despondency and shock that despite humanity’s unbelievable accomplishments, we simply cannot slow the momentum of this life-destroying machine. I’m grateful people like him are so honest about the crushing sense of futility. I have come to the point where I am nearly convinced that the only thing that will actually make people change, is climate breakdown.

And so that leaves us concerned folk as a sort of substrate- the ‘climate-changed’; or as I
said to someone recently, the ‘climate-broken’. Our hearts have been broken over and over, and so the raw core is tender and fierce at the same time.

How do we use our lives best to align with the physis of this extraordinary biosphere?
How do we channel our energy to be as catalytic as possible when nothing seems
to work? Sorting out that question has got to be the project of our lives.

The themes emerging consistently around us are that it’s time to wake up- individually and
collectively. We can no longer pretend that we can get away with just focussing on, say, changing our energy infrastructure to renewable energy. We all need to wake up more fully, to live, and to amplify the alarm.

We can strive, wherever possible, to simplify. So many systems thinkers are talking about the future as a time for Re-localisation and De-complexification. We can strive to
be less concerned with arguments about standard of living, and more concerned
with ensuring life has a chance of going on; realising that Life is at risk of evaporating,
however ‘high’ our short-term standard of living.

In this time of damage control, we must stop looking for excuses to speculate -we are
already into dire circumstances. We must rebel against apathy, we must all become
‘parents for the future’. Slowing down, there is an opportunity to join with others, to continually rediscover agent-iality, find shared vulnerability, and shake off the threat of anhedonia. We can strive to reconnect with inspiration, playfulness, and an alignment with all life.

 

Sufficiency 

Is it possible to enjoy both economic growth and environmental sustainability? This
question is a matter of fierce political debate between green growth and post-growth advocates. The literature reviewed clearly shows that there is no empirical evidence for such a decoupling currently happening, no matter the colour of growth. The focus of economic growth is based on the flawed assumption that successful decoupling can be achieved through increased efficiency without limiting economic production and consumption. This is the case for materials, energy, water, greenhouse gases, land, water pollutants, and biodiversity loss.

Only with the direct downscaling of economic production in many sectors together with the parallel reduction of consumption will a good life within the planet’s ecological limits
be enabled. Given that all good things are said to come from economic growth, a movement labelled “Degrowth” would seem to be a non-starter. But just the opposite seems to be happening. This is a movement that is mobilising people’s passion for finding sufficiency; enough-ism; the condition or quality of accepting adequate satisfaction, fairly shared. And I would add, an internal process as well as an external one- how do we feel adequate and sufficient, within ourselves?

The Degrowth literature from academia is proliferating at a fast rate, businesses are
beginning to pay attention, and the most recent United Nations Climate report
mentioned Degrowth 29 times.

Climate breakdown is a symptom of our dysfunctional ways of living. Essential natural systems, like the ones that provide us with a stable climate, are being disrupted,
possibly beyond repair. It is this overuse of natural materials and energy that
are causing the problem, but it is impossible for our economy to grow without
using ever more natural materials and energy. The Degrowth movement emphasises that relying primarily on technical solutions to deal with these issues is actually counterproductive and making the problem worse. Hence the dilemma Degrowth is addressing.

The absolute need to significantly reduce human pressures on natural systems is now accepted
science. The Degrowth movement is at the forefront of sounding the alarm and
drawing attention to the urgency of everyone cooperatively working out a way forward.

Simplicity 

The philosophy of Enough-ism is supported by people who are alarmed about the health of the planet and have decided to take personal responsibility and action. If minimalism seems too austere, you can re-label your flavour of simplification, and can choose your own from any of the following -isms:

Intentional-ism
Enough-ism
Essentialism
Naturalism
Simplism
Less-ism
Practical-ism
Livingwithinyourmeans-ism

Any others? Create your own!

As someone wise said recently, so much of what we desire our lives to look like can be found on the other side of owning less:

Less debt, more flexibility

Less cleaning, more time

Less clutter, more purpose

Less busy, more calm

Less house, more home

Less mess, more peace

Less stuff, more freedom.

When we allow ourselves to be deeply touched by simplicity we can open to the profound beauty of the complexity of the web of life. We can find meaning in being part of this cycle of life-force. The life that breathes in us, moves through us, and connects us with the being-ness of all life.

When we truly profess a deep love for our children, when we are utterly moved by the
power of that love, we come to understand that love will inextricably,
determinedly compel us to genuinely do what we must to protect the future. Let
love be the driving force that provides the greatest hope that together we can
still hold onto. This sense of connection with life and love is what remains as
the simple core of authentic hope.

 

 

 

 

 

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