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Skip to 0 minutes and 4 seconds In this step, we are going to think about the future, and how we can develop without contributing to climate change and over-exploitation of our natural resources in the way that is currently happening. As we saw in earlier steps, achieving development through industrial production to grow our economies is not a sustainable option. Moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy will help, but actually it is not enough – fossil fuels account for about 70% of our greenhouse gas emissions, but other emissions come from elsewhere, including deforestation, agriculture and industrial processes, such as cement making and manufacturing. Many of these activities take place due to consumption – using natural resources to make goods to consume.

Skip to 0 minutes and 45 seconds Often when we think of the term ‘consumption’ we think about it literally, about eating and drinking. But in economics and development it also refers to what we buy. Every time we buy a new item we consume. For example a new t-shirt consumes cotton – a crop which has to be grown, using land space, water, fertile soil and labour for looking after and harvesting it. Then there are the labour costs, emissions and other products used in making that cotton into a t-shirt, followed by emissions associated with transporting it to a shop. Every item that we buy consumes resources. Our economy is currently driven by this consumption, in order to increase GDP, as we saw earlier.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 seconds So to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and live within our planetary boundaries we not only have to move to renewable energy sources, we have to reduce this consumption too. This sounds really challenging, and it is! We need to reframe the whole way our economy runs, and also how we as individuals and society frame and judge success. For example, we often judge success by what we consume – a bigger house, a new car, the latest phone or fashion accessory. Earlier, we looked at the different ways that development can be measured, such as through happiness and wellbeing. What if we judge success by these measures instead, and use these indicators to guide our development pathways?

Skip to 1 minute and 59 seconds To improve happiness and wellbeing we could reduce the hours that people work, and increase the number of people who work – thus having more people working fewer hours. We wouldn’t have excess money to purchase goods so our consumption would fall, and we would have time to spend with friends, family and community, time to exercise and reconnect with nature, activities that we know make people happier and improve wellbeing. This is an example is just part of how we can reframe our economy away from growth to stability, or even degrowth, to build a better future.

Future development pathways

In this video, Dr Eleanor Jew discusses how we can develop without contributing to climate change and over-exploitation of our natural resources.

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This video is from the free online course:

Tackling Environmental Challenges for a Sustainable Future

University of York