Archive for July, 2019

Sustainability in the 2050s

Saturday, July 27th, 2019


In September 2015, the town of Woking published a paper entitled ‘Woking 2050’ which takes a look at its whole way of living and how it can influence the local environment. It presents a balanced view of the town’s environmental aspirations and its needs for development to help reach the UK’s target of a carbon neutral economy by the year 2050.  The aim is to coordinate a wide range of objectives into one comprehensive document that can be used by the Council and Woking’s residents, businesses, community groups and others to reduce the Borough’s impact on the environment. Essentially, Woking 2050 is a vision of the type of place and community it is hoped the town will be and how everyone can help shape and achieve it.  The document also looks at the opportunities, threats and challenges to achieving this vision. 

Woking was one of the first communities to take this long term objective to heart which placed it at the forefront of local actions to tackle climate change.  This decision has now become part of a growing movement embedding into the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, a timeline covering  25 Years of effort and achievement highlighting key milestones in the evolution of international climate policy.  Analysis of Woking 2050 and similar visionary town and village strategies that have been produced during the last decade highlights the following seven structural concepts underlying planning for sustainable development:  

  • networking ideas; 
  • simpler lifestyles; 
  • community agendas, 
  • steady-state living; 
  • intergenerational wellbeing; 
  • re-defining prosperity; 
  • and cultural richness.

These concepts are now examined in more detail.

Networking ideas

The first UK action plans for sustainable development and biodiversity envisaged a citizens environmental network to share ideas and know how. This did not materialise.  But citizen groups are still needed to share conversations about living sustainably. The term Group refers to Internet communication, which is a hybrid between an electronic mailing list and a threaded Internet forum,  Group messages can be read and posted by e-mail or on the Group’s webpage like a web forum. Members can choose whether to receive individual, daily digest or Special Delivery e-mails, or simply read Group posts on the Group’s Web public access site.  Here are three examples of networking ideas.

1   Conversations2050 

This is an online discussion Group to promote international conversations about the socioeconomic changes necessary to reach climate neutrality by 2050. Group members will also be able to contribute to help assess the reality of a global steady state economy, where people are consuming only their fair share of Earth’s renewable resources measured by their country’s ecological footprint. By joining the Group people will have a facility to pose and address questions about the main drivers of change.  They will also be able to measure the rate of progress to ‘life without carbon’. The target is a time when future generations can take up cultural ecology as a humanistic democratic pedagogy to prosper in an international society fueled by renewable energy. Hence, the major question is can we have prosperity without economic growth? Conversations2050 has been created by Denis Bellamy, Professor Emeritus of Cardiff University, as part of his long standing research into online education for living sustainably. 

To obtain some information for starting conversations about potential drivers of change Technology Education and Design, TED2014 , challenged attendees to vote on ten potential drivers. Three of the ten topics received 56% of the votes.  These were, climate crisis, rising inequalities and machine intelligence. The TED list is one basis for establishing conversations2050 another is the 2015 all-Wales conversation that led to the government’s Future Generations Act 

2 The economic and social impact of small community hydro schemes in Wales.

This report examines the economic and social impacts of small scale and community-owned micro-hydro in Wales. It is intended to present a factual picture of the economic benefits of small scale community hydro projects in Wales.

3 Climate change and overconsumption

This is an experimental database of Tweets as windows on climate change and overconsumption. It has also been singled out to highlight the networking potential of social media.  The context is a democratic pedagogy to embed cultural changes in education at all levels required to adopt a 2050s steady state economy.

Simpler lifestyles

 There are three fundamental lines of argument for the rejection and replacement of consumer-capitalist society. The first is to do with its unsustainability, the second is to do with its injustice and moral unacceptability, and the third to do with deteriorating cohesion of humanity and quality of life.  

There is something fundamentally wrong in treating Earth as if it were a business in liquidation.  The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the reverse. According to Ted Trainer the central theme in the transition to a sustainable and just society,  is a powerful, inescapable logic connecting the ‘‘limits to growth’’ analysis of the global situation with the form that an alternative society must take. Thus, when the magnitude and nature of humankind’s global predicament is understood it becomes obvious that a satisfactory vision for future society must be some form of ‘Simpler Way’.  Surely the enjoyment of non-affluent lifestyles is the desired outcome within mostly small and highly self-sufficient economies under local participatory control and not driven by market forces. The Simpler Way is about ensuring a very high quality of life for all without anywhere near as much production, consumption, exporting, investment, resource use, environmental damage, work etc. as there is now.  There are many rich alternative sources of satisfaction other than materialistic acquisition and consuming. Consider having to go to work for money only two days a week, having much time for arts and crafts and personal growth, living in a rich and supportive community, living in a diverse and productive leisure-rich landscape, having socially worthwhile and enjoyable work with no fear of unemployment… and knowing you are not contributing to global problems. There is no need to sacrifice modern technology to achieve these benefits.  

This vision of the only way to create a sustainable society can be traced to 1992, when the United Nations released a ground-breaking global action plan for sustainable development called Agenda21.  This process is called the Local Agenda 21 (LA21). It was quickly realised that sustainability cannot be achieved, nor significant progress made toward it, without the support and involvement of individual communities geared to a common purpose. The Local Agenda 21 (LA21) is a blueprint that sets out actions that ordinary people can all take to move towards global sustainability in the 21st century. It recognises that most environmental challenges have their roots in local activities and therefore encourages Local Governments to promote environmental, economic and social sustainability by translating the principles of sustainable development into strategies that can be operated by their communities. 

A LA21 programme adopted by a town or village comprises systems and processes to integrate environmental, economic and social development. Founded on a strong partnership between local government and the community, progress towards local sustainable development is guided by the preparation of a long term strategic action plan that integrates existing policies and programs to realise an agreed vision of the future for families and their community.  At a community level this operates in four action areas.

Action Area 1: Building partnerships — establish an understanding of the community and develop ways and means of extending awareness and involvement in Local Agenda 21

Action Area 2: Determining vision, goals, targets and indicators — set out what the community wishes to achieve, ideally broken down into goals with indicators and targets

Action Area 3: Creating a local action planning document — prepare a statement of actions that the community will undertake in order to realise each target; this includes a timeline, budget and people responsible for each action.

Action Area 4: Implementing, reporting, monitoring and reviewing — consider whether the actions are helping to achieve the targets, whether progress is being made towards the goals and whether any aspect of the Local Agenda 21 needs changing 

The goal of a LA 21 is development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends. The core objectives are:

  • to enhance individual and community welfare by following a path of development that safeguards the well being of future generations; 
  • to provide for equity within and between generations; 
  • to protect biological diversity and maintain essential ecological processes and ecosystem services

Producing a LA21 is a tailor made process that facilitates sustainable development at community level. It is based on participation that respects the social, cultural, economic and environmental needs of the present and future citizens of a community in all its diversity.  It relates to a specific community and its future within the regional, national and international community of which it is a part. Any LA21 project will take into account the quality of life of the entire community in the long term, will include a high level of participation at local level and is integrated into other aspects of community life.  Projects should focus on environmental awareness and actions which complement national environmental policies such as those on waste, biodiversity, water conservation and climate change including community gardens and allotments, compost schemes, rainwater harvesting, biodiversity projects, waste reduction initiatives, educational initiatives and environmental exhibitions.

Community agendas

1 Schools and Communities Agenda 21 Network (SCAN)

SCAN was created in 1993 at St Clears Teacher’s Resource Centre for West Wales with funds from the Countryside Council for Wales, Dyfed County Council and Texaco Pembroke Oil Refinery. The stimulus was the young people’s Agenda 21 that emerged from the Rio Environment Summit  in 1992 as ‘Rescue Mission Planet Earth. SCAN was designed by a group of Pembrokeshire teachers to act as an online focus for community action in the context of curriculum targets being integrated with neighbourhood objectives for the LA 21. The assumption was that schools working with the communities they serve could play a key role in the introduction of sustainable development principles into everyday living.  Adopting the Simpler Way, the procedure was to state what was good and bad about where they lived, highlighting what should be done to protect the good and improve the bad. Links were made with the European Schools Network based in Portugal for pupils to compare their concerns about the environment and spread ideas about how they could be tackled locally by school and community working together.

SCAN’s first community action plan was produced by Johnston Primary School in Pembrokeshire and it activated the local authority to make significant environmental improvements in the village. 

For more information about School Scan and related topics go to:

2 Community Parish SCAN

The idea for a Community Parish Scan grew out of a network of Suffolk villages striving to take advantage of the newly invented Internet to say:

 “look how different we are, but we are bound together by a common deep history as a Saxon tribal group who settled on the upper reaches of a small river, which defined the physical boundaries of the Blything villages (the people of the River Blyth).  

Cultural heritage Blything 

The following article from a local paper sets the scene for an account of the invention of Community Parish SCAN by the Suffolk village of Parham in the late 1990s to celebrate the Millennium.  

Parham’s  tale of flowers, hedges, and 310 people 

A BOOK delving into almost every aspect of one small village comes out this week. 

“”The Suffolk village of Parham has produced a 173-page book containing information collected by its own villagers to celebrate the millennium. It is the first parish scan of its kind, and was the brainchild of Professor Emeritus of the University of Wales, Denis Bellamy. It will give future historians an insight into village life at the end of the 20th century. It will be distributed to each of Parham’s 113 households, and to various bodies who have helped along the way. 

Among the subjects covered are the 279 wildflower species that can be found in the parish, a survey of the 310 villagers, and a count of every hedgerow and what it contains. 

Annette Gray, parish clerk and co-ordinator of the scheme, said she felt ‘elated’ that the mammoth task had been achieved.  “I never imagined that it would take so much of my time just collating the information that’s come in”.  “There was so much people had done, such large quantities that we had to reduce it”. “We had hundreds of pages and we had to whittle it down to what is here” she said.””

Essentially Parham’s Millenium SCAN published in 2000 provided a solid baseline of the village as a ‘deep place’ with a well-researched cultural heritage that continues to enrich the people who live there and are adding to it. It is the basis for producing sustainability plans for conservation of their biophysical heritage assets.  The villagers were acting on a deeply held belief that community shapes their identity, quenches their thirst for belonging, and bolsters their physical, mental, emotional, and economic health. But in the chaos of modern life, community ties have become unraveled, leaving many feeling afraid or alone in the crowd, grasping at shallow substitutes for true community.  Paul Born describes the four pillars of ‘deep community’ as sharing our stories, taking the time to enjoy one another, taking care of one another, and working together for a better world.  

Two decades have elapsed since the parishioners took up the challenge to reveal Parham as a special place worth sustaining.  But what should they be planning for now? In the 1990s Agenda 21 was a pointer towards community planning for sustainability.  A much stronger international focus on poverty alleviation and international development came to the fore in September 2000. Building upon a series of United Nations conferences and summits, world leaders met at United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration (UN, 2000).  The Declaration committed nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty, and set out a series of time-bound global targets to be achieved by 2015. These have become known as the Millennium Development Goals. Then in 2018 came the strategic long-term EU vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate-neutral economy by 2050. 

Paham is now at the cutting edge of local moves towards decarbonising the national economy.   Planning permission has been obtained to build a solar panel farm on the village’s World War 2 airfield site.  The plan is to install 64,200 panels to generate 15 megawatts of electricity, which is enough for 4,600 homes.  The mindset of development is now beginning to be dominated by the need to abandon fossil fuels and make the transition to a steady state economy, adopting policies of degrowth to prevent over consumption of Earth’s renewable resources. 

Steady-state living

Economic growth is a primary policy goal of most governments but there is now a fundamental conflict between economic growth in the developed world and the impact of its carbon-based economy through global warming.  A majority in the international community believe this is a global crisis. 

Degrowth is a voluntary transition towards a just, participatory, and ecologically sustainable society.  The objective of degrowth is to meet basic human needs and ensure a high quality of life, while reducing the ecological impact of the global economy to a sustainable level, with natural resources equitably distributed between nations. Once right-sizing has been achieved through the process of degrowth, the aim should be to maintain a “steady state economy” with a relatively stable, mildly fluctuating level of consumption.  Regarding the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, on 28th November 2018, the European Commission presented its strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate-neutral economy by 2050. 

The European strategy shows how nations can lead the way to climate neutrality by investing into realistic technological solutions, empowering citizens, and aligning action in key areas such as industrial policy, finance, or research, while ensuring social fairness for a just transition.  The Commission’s vision for a climate-neutral future covers nearly all EU policies and is in line with the Paris Agreement objective to keep the global temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5°C.

For a post 2050 climate-neutral future the visionary elements of a sustainable society are: 

  • a decarbonised steady state economy operating within the limits of the world average ecological footprint;
  • stabilized/declining greenhouse gases;
  • births plus immigrations equal deaths plus emmigrations;
  • communities supported by national health services;
  • arts applied in the service of cultural prosperity; 
  • each generation adding to the pleasures of local sociobiological heritage 

How do we get there?

To reach this goal we need to make the transition to a steady state economy (SSE) by adopting the right macroeconomic goal which means restricting resource use, stabilising population, limiting inequality, reducing working hours, eliminating fractional reserve banking, and changing the way we measure progress and prosperity.

The following steps will gradually change existing policies from growth towards a SSE, all of which will be life changing at the community level and involve conversations between neighbours, schools and local government to establish community wellbeing.

1. Limit Resource Use 


There are few controls on use of resources and emission of pollutants  The Montreal Protocol: limits ozone-depleting substances The EU Emissions Trading Scheme: limits CO2 emissions 

In a SSE:  

Impose strict resource and emission caps  Employ a cap–auction–trade system Caps set based on ecological criteria  Permits auctioned by government Trade between industries to allow efficient allocation 

2. Stabilise Population 


Natural increase is low in many wealthy countries  But many rich countries are trying to encourage population growth 

In a SSE:  

Births plus immigration must equal deaths plus emigration  In wealthy countries: Balance immigration with emigration In poorer countries:  Provide education, access to birth control, and equal rights for women 

3. Reduce Inequality


Economic growth is used as an excuse to avoid dealing with poverty  “A rising tide lifts all boats” 

In a SSE:  

No growth, so no excuses!  Finite resource use = Finite amount of wealth  Must deal with distribution explicitly Need a minimum and maximum income 

4. Reduce Working Hours


Technological progress is used to increase production of goods and services  A better widget machine equals more widgets! 

In a SSE:  

We cannot increase production if it results in higher resource use  Instead, shorten the working day, week, & year Same salaries but more leisure time!

5. Reform the Monetary System


 Fractional reserve banking  Most money is created by private banks in the form of debt  Increasing debt drives economic growth 

In a SSE:  

All money would be created and spent into existence by a public institution  Banks would be prohibited from creating money, but would instead have to borrow existing money to lend it 

6. Change How We Measure Progress 


Rely on GDP, which doesn’t distinguish between:  Benefits and costs Quality and quantity 

In a SSE:  

What happens to GDP is not important  Replace GDP with two sets of accounts: Well-being to be maximised  Resource use to be reduced and kept within ecological limits 

7 Change How We Measure Prosperity


Prosperity is the income for an entire country measured as gross domestic product (GDP), a measure of the value of all market goods and services produced in the county in a year.

In an SSE

Within ecological limits becomes the guiding principle for design and the key criterion for success

Intergenerational wellbeing

As the planetary systems fail under a rapidly growing population now over 7 billion and expected to grow to 11 billion by the end of the century, intervention programmes focus on helping leaders define a framework to achieve “intergenerational well-being,” in which global needs for natural resources, shelter, food, water, and social systems, such as education, health care, and good governance, are met not only for today’s population but in the future.

A report produced by the Welsh Sustainability Commissioner in 2014 draws together the lessons about intergenerational wellbeing from a year-long National Conversation.  It distills discussions around vulnerable areas of Welsh sustainable development that impact on individuals, their communities and Wales; for example health, a growing and ageing population, education, unemployment, affordability, security of energy, inequality and the provision of adequate services.  Discussions also focused on areas of opportunity such as technology, skills, leadership, diversity, identity, local enterprises and preventative action. The combination of these areas has resulted in the following seven foundations for the well-being of future generations. As such they may be taken to indicate conversations within communities that are necessary to envisage life post-2050.

1. Children need to be given the best start in life from very early years 

2. Future generations need thriving communities built on a strong sense of place 

3. Living within global environmental limits, managing our resources efficiently and valuing our environment is critical 

4. Investing in growing our local economy is essential for the well-being of future generations 5. Well-being of all depends on reducing inequality and placing a greater value on diversity 

6. Greater engagement in the democratic process, a stronger citizen voice and active participation in decision making is fundamental for the well-being of future generations 

7. Celebrating success, valuing our heritage, culture and language will strengthen our identity for future generations.

Bearing in mind recent targets set for national decarbonisation and equalising the use Earth’s renewable resources between nations, an important topic to add to ongoing conversations is the need to define local prosperity.

Included  in the report were the following selective quotations from the 2014 conversation:

“We need to have greater parental involvement in children’s education, with more opportunities for skills-based learning, and means of encouraging independent thinking to better equip children for the future. ”

“We need to create a Wales where communities find it easier to do things for themselves through for example increasing people’s ownership of their community including spending.” 

“Many of these inter-generational challenges are interdependent that need a co-ordinated not an isolated approach. ”

“Natural environment should be accessible to all and used sustainably because people depend on it for food, fuel, clean water and clean air. ”

“Climate change needs to be top of the agenda and politicians have to take it seriously. ”

“We need to sustain local jobs in the area that pay living wages and help to grow the local economy and “unleash more entrepreneurial creativity through encouraging and developing more leadership networks” by creating “an employment, skills, enterprise framework based on natural assets, energy, food and transport” through “locally sourced skills and products to develop the local community and reduce reliance on public funds. ” 

“If Wales becomes a more equal nation where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential and are able to contribute fully to the economy, Wales will inevitably become more prosperous and innovative. ” 

“Everyone should be accepted for the way they are and children with disability should be treated fairly – with more parks and play centres for the disabled. ”

“The role of government needs to be re-imagined. Government needs to see itself as having a different purpose in the 21st century, and that is one of system stewardship rather than just deliverer of public services and guarantor of security. ”

“There is a need to showcase and build on the very essence of Wales – its language, culture, context and pride, and communicate the value of its differences to others and other countries. Media has a key role to play to actively promote and help establish the new belief that ‘Wales can be best in the world.’ ”

Welsh case study initiatives

Re-defining prosperity

Most supporters of the move towards a steady state economy do so in order to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and establish fair shares of Earth’s renewable resources. They proceed as if we can, and should, eliminate the growth element of the present economy of mass production while leaving the rest of the economic system more or less as it is. However, this is not possible because if economic growth is eliminated then radically different ways of carrying out many fundamental processes currently associated with it will have to be found.  In particular, the central societal consumer-capitalist goal of year on year growth in personal incomes will have to be abandoned. Major problems of climate change and the redistribution of Earth’s limited renewable resources from rich to poor nations cannot be solved unless fundamental systems and structures within the consumer-capitalist culture are radically remade. For example, current systems aimed at the pleasures of monetary prosperity cannot be reformed or fixed; they will have to be largely scrapped and replaced with systems that deliver cultural prosperity aimed at the pleasures of sustainability .  

At present, the widely acceptable definition of prosperity is such that continuous economic growth is deemed a necessary condition for its achievement. Tim Jackson seeks to prove an argument for “prosperity without growth” by undermining the claims made by supporters of continued growth. He begins with the old idea that in order to flourish with access to basic needs, and maintain economic and social stability, we need a year on year growth in monetary wealth. In this context, our attachment to ever more material consumption is borne out of our desire for social meaning related to our sense of belonging, identity and social status, where participation in society is through economic competition. Therefore, if societies were more equal we could perhaps extricate ourselves from this trap of “positional competition” whereby an individual’s well-being is founded on stable relative wealth, and he/she would seek less materialistic ways to participate in society. However, monetary wealth is not in itself the goal.  It is the means to well being suggesting there may be other strategies for meeting intrinsic psychological needs that are pre-requisites for personal ‘flourishing’ in a sustainable world.  

To support this flourishing Jackson proposes a radically different kind of economic structure he calls “ecological macroeconomics”. This economy is one in which “stability no longer relies on ever-increasing consumption growth… economic activity remains within ecological scale… our capabilities to flourish – within ecological limits – becomes the guiding principles for design and the key criterion for success”. Parallel to this, society must address the “social logic of consumerism” to deliver a more sustainable, equal, happy, and less anxious society. Requirements for social change towards prosperity without growth, include establishing the ecological bounds of human activity, fixing the “illiterate economics of relentless growth”, and, finally, transforming the social logic of consumerism so that it delivers enough to meet needs but not more to satisfy wants. 

Of course the whole discussion about moving towards sustainability isn’t popular because it’s always presented as a downgrade. It is inevitable that redistributing wealth to remove global inequalities will mean western countries taking a hit in so far as the process will involve a downward adjustment of their ecological footprints.  Picking up on this point, urban architect Bjarke Ingels asks for a new approach he calls “hedonistic sustainability,” which is “sustainability that improves the quality of life and human enjoyment”. 

The position has been, there’s a limit to how good a time we can have. We have to downgrade our current lifestyle to achieve something that is sustainable. That makes it essentially undesirable. People can be to the left [politically] and maybe shop a little bit green, but they’re not going to drop their car if they have to pick up their kids from football and go to the movies. It becomes an impossible mission.

Ingels believes it is important for sustainability to enhance the personal pleasure of living with a smaller ecological footprint by creating innovative interactive architecture on a humane scale and redefining the value of localised placemaking.  Both will increase cultural prosperity to the extent that they enhance the pleasures of living. Bertolt Brecht is more direct than either Jackson or Ingels in listing the personal everyday pleasures that cannot be bought. His list is a celebration of the simple joys in life.  This goes along with making things for the enjoyment of it.

“1 The first look from morning’s window/  2 The rediscovered book/ 3 Fascinated faces/  4 Snow, the change of the seasons/ 5 The newspaper/  6 The dog/ 7 Dialectics/ 8 Showering, swimming/ 9 Old music/  10 Comfortable shoes/ 11 Comprehension/ 12 New music/ 13 Writing, planting/  14 Traveling/ 15 Singing/ 16 Being friendly”.

Escaping from societal collapse by adopting a steady state economy would have us reliant on cultural prosperity based on our experiences of what we are grateful for and that helps us be present as unique individuals.  How else can we ground ourselves and know that we belong to a bountiful planet that needs urgent maintenance. By living sustainably we come to live with a variety of pleasures and a larger sense of who we are, inseparable from the web of life and finding contentment with the world around us.  The greatest pleasure in a sustainable world is to want to be there. We see this want in the 2030 vision for life in Saudi Arabia. “The happiness and fulfillment of citizens and residents is important to us. This can only be achieved through promoting physical, psychological and social well-being. At the heart of our Vision is a society in which all enjoy a good quality of life, a healthy lifestyle and an attractive living environment”.

Working from within culture innovators of the social platform of zero growth understand do not see poverty only, or even primarily, as an economic phenomenon. Individuals and even entire communities today are suffering from a poverty of relationships; knowledge, social and legal structures that can support fairness and justice and most importantly, guiding visions for the future. Taken together, these represent a poverty of culture, and this is the kind of poverty that cultural innovators are working to eliminate in the new cultural spaces they are creating.

Innovators of cultural prosperity are not development gurus or community professionals. Rather, they are the masses, individuals, people often working in small groups empowered with technologies and connections to one another that do the kinds of things large institutions simply can’t accomplish. In the process, they are re-writing the fundamental principles of what prosperity means and how to achieve it. And they are perhaps our best hope for discovering how to build prosperity that is in sync with our rapidly changing environment.  This is what the European 2050 strategy means by investing into realistic technological solutions which empower citizens to control their own futures.  

Ted Trainer sets a vision of local governance that goes with a new prosperity for zero growth:

“If we must abandon growth and greatly reduce production and consumption then there is no alternative but to develop an economy which is basically under social control, i.e., in which we discuss, decide, plan and organise to produce that stable quantity of the basic things we need to enable a high quality of life for all. In the coming conditions of intense resource scarcity, viable communities will have to be mostly small, self-sufficient local economies using local resources to produce what local people need. Such economies can only work well if control is in the hands of all citizens, via participatory-democracy exercised through whole town assemblies. This vision would enable most of the firms and farms to be privately owned or community cooperatives, and would involve little role for councils, state or federal governments”. 

This paragraph is a basis for conversations to be scheduled in a community agenda which is the vehicle for developing a local participatory democracy to adapt future generations to a climate neutral, equal shares simpler way to and through the 2050s.   

Cultural richness

Sustainability is already present in many aspects of our everyday life. We ensure we take care of the environment, we desire balanced economic development, and we defend social wellbeing in many fields. One of these fields is art as a medium of expression, a promoter or an indictment on behalf of sustainable development.

Art does not show people what to do, yet engaging with a revealing work of art can connect you to your senses, body, and mind. It can make the world felt and this feeling may spur thinking, engagement, and even action.  Art influences society by changing opinions, instilling values and translating experiences across space and time. Art is often a vehicle for social change. It can give voice to the politically or socially disenfranchised. A song, film or novel can rouse emotions in those who encounter it, inspiring them to rally for change.  Painting, sculpture, music, literature and the other arts are often considered to be the repository of a society’s collective memory. Art preserves what fact-based historical records cannot: for instance how it felt to exist in a particular place at a particular time. Art in this sense is communication; it allows people from different places and different times to communicate with each other via images, sounds and stories.  Research has shown how art affects the fundamental sense of self-in-place and so is central to learning to live in a zero growth economy where culture is a term that describes the entire way of life shared by a group of people. Cultural richness includes diversity in anything that has to do with how people live: music, art, recreation, religion or beliefs, languages, dress, traditions, stories and folklore, ways of organization, ways of interacting with the environment, and attitudes toward other groups of people. Cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations.  Cultural heritage includes tangible culture (such as buildings, monuments, landscapes, books, works of art, and artifacts), intangible culture (such as folklore, traditions, language, and knowledge), and natural heritage (including culturally significant landscapes, and biodiversity) specific or technical meaning in the same contexts in the other dialect.

Each of us seeks to know our personal identity and where and how we fit into the scheme of things so that we can make sense of our lives and plan for the future… Whereas we are Kenyan South Asians, we are not a monolithic community with an organised leadership. We are a conglomeration of many diverse communities, languages, religions and customs. Occupationally, though predominantly business-oriented, we also are professional, artisans and service workers.specific or technical meaning in the same contexts in the other dialect.

Each of us seeks to know our personal identity and where and how we fit into the scheme of things so that we can make sense of our lives and plan for the future.

It’s important to understand cultural richness at different scales, from individual identities to groups and societies—local, regional, national, and global. Cultural landscapes are continually changing due to migration, globalization, and modernization. All of these factors impact forces of cooperation and conflict among communities.

Living with prosperity without growth involves combining diverse knowledge systems. Art may be used as the bridging tool to promote resilience and adaptability of social-ecological systems to cope with unprecedented environmental changes and social uncertainty.  In particular, the combination of the knowledge systems of culture, heritage and ecology is necessary for communicating sustainability and for envisioning the good life in a world of environmental limits. The main difference between culture and heritage is that culture is based on what people create anew in the here and now, whereas heritage is what people inherit by nature, by history, by culture.  Therefore, art, culture, heritage and ecology are the inherent elements for bonding non monetary prosperity to everyday life. They are the targets for life’s fulfilment in future generations, adapting to climate change and establishing equal shares of Earth’s renewable resources. They are the foundations of tomorrow’s economy. 

Over the years, a significant number of people have weighed in on theories surrounding the correlation between art and culture, and the manner in which it impacts our day-to-day lives, particularly when it comes to our core beliefs. Some of these individuals, all with rather different views, come from all walks of life. Some of them are artists, playwrights, designers, academicians, and cultural directors.  Art in the service of culture, heritage and ecology is a tool for communicating sustainability and for envisioning the good life in a world of environmental limits. In fact it is an inherent component of non monetary prosperity, supporting life’s fulfillment in a zero growth economy where collective memory passes on cultural practices from generation to generation. It is in this context that art is an important facilitator in the life of society.  In particular, it contributes to a creative and fulfilling quality of life. For most people this interaction is activated through a personal exploration of the complex interaction between culture, ecology and place, involving the quality and availability of employment, leisure, and the rights to self-expression. Travel is an important component of this search for self awareness.

In a survey commissioned by American Express in 2017, travellers were found to demand more enriched lives and personal fulfillment through experience and learning. Over 72% of respondents said they would rather spend money on experiences than on things. Further, 88% said travel is their number one dream, ranking higher than family or wealth.  Travellers want to have life-fulfilling experiences when they travel, and they are seeking travel experiences that closely align to their own personal values. In this connection, people are seeking travel experiences that will allow them to interact with the local community; “they want to visit private homes, schools, orphanages and smaller villages”. They are “specifically looking to immerse themselves in the destinations they visit and to travel like a local.”  Over 20% of respondents indicated that they want to experience adventure, arts and culture, e.g. experiences “… that include gondola lessons in Venice and pastry-making classes in France.” Boomers and older generations are demanding more experiential and adventurous travel options, although their definitions of experiential and adventure travel are sometimes just a little different. We may therefore need to expand our understanding of cultural learning and education as part of lifelong learning, to include consideration of the many different ways people can be creative outside the arts and culture, for example in disciplines which combine scientific and artistic skills such as architecture, engineering and programming. Looking at the wider creative sphere might help us better understand the intersecting communities, sectors and industries which form this landscape.

The inherent value of art in culture, its contribution to society, its symbiotic relationship with education and its economic power makes the holistic case for public support of arts and culture. When we talk about the value of arts and culture to society, we always start with its intrinsic value: how arts and culture can illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world.  This is what we cherish. However, we also understand that arts and culture has a wider, more measurable impact on our economy, health and wellbeing, society and education. It’s important we also recognise this impact to help people think of our arts and culture for what they are: a strategic national resource. The value of arts and culture to people and society outlines the existing evidence on the impact of arts and culture on our economy, health and wellbeing, society and education.  Indeed, the primary reason we make both public and private investments in the arts is for the inherent value of culture: life-enhancing, entertaining, defining of our personal and national identities.

Art and culture at their very core serve as some of the most significant, dynamic, participation, and social influences of human behavior and interaction. When put together, they have the ability to generate empathy, stir up dialogue, induce reflection and charter new relationships and ideas.

Art and culture also provide a commanding and democratic way of sharing, shaping, and expressing human values. They allow us to explore our inner capabilities and give us insight on how we imagine and use different means to relate with each other. Art and culture also provide us with a way to create useful and meaningful things whilst increasing the value of our livelihoods.

To fully understand or comprehend the potential of art a person must look deep inside themselves to find out what factors actually impact their lives and values. You have to basically rethink how you view and appraise art because these two aspects play a vital role in steering our principles, behaviors, and general perceptions towards the world we live in.

Art and culture also help to shape the manner in which we view and understand the world around us. Native American artist John Nieto states that the two help to build our mental structures and how we form ideas. They act as the frame through which we can develop stories to tell ourselves and those around us regarding the most important things in our lives.

According to art enthusiasts and experts, art and culture serve as part of the basis for shaping the values we have, some of which include:

  • A sense of community or belonging
  • Affiliation
  • Self-acceptance
  • Creativity
  • Self-respect
  • Equality
  • Unity
  • Nature
  • Freedom

In their study, ‘An empirical examination with Inuit artists from Nunavut, Canada’, Kaitlyn J. Rathwell and Derek Armitage consider enhanced resilience in the context of social-ecological change as an outcome of bridging knowledge systems via art and artistic processes. They take the view that the role of art and artistic processes is one fruitful yet underexplored area of social-ecological resilience. Art and art making can nurture Indigenous knowledge and at the same time bridge knowledge across generations and cultures (e.g., spanning the small Inuit culture and the global scientific establishment).  The mechanisms are:

(1) embedding knowledge, practice and belief into art objects; 

(2) sharing knowledge using the language of art; 

(3) sharing of art making skills; 

(4) art as a contributor to monitoring social-ecological change; 

(5) the role of art in fostering continuity through time; 

(6) art as a site of knowledge coproduction.


“….at the end of the day, prosperity goes beyond material pleasures. It transcends material concerns. It resides in the quality of our lives and in the health and happiness of our families. It is present in the strength of our relationships and our trust in the community. It is evidenced by our satisfaction at work and our sense of shared meaning and purpose. It hangs on our potential to participate fully in the life of society. Prosperity consists in our ability to flourish as human beings – within the ecological limits of a finite planet. The challenge for our society is to create the conditions under which this is possible. It is the most urgent task of our times”. 

Tim Jackson Economics Commissioner

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Internet references

Research & Degrowth, 2010. Degrowth Declaration of the Paris 2008 conference. Journal of Cleaner Production 18 (6), 523–524.