Category Archives: Nature & Sustainability

Does money rule the world?

By Marie Peffenköver

If you just open your news app on your smartphone, look up the top 10 news of your country or open a newspaper and you just pick a random article – what will you see? Of course, the answer to this question depends on from which country you are and what type of newspaper you are looking at but you will certainly find something about the refugee crisis, the EU deal with Turkey, the nuclear summit in the USA right now or maybe even the Greek financial crisis (although the latter has silently disappeared from the popular awareness during the last months). And all of these news, no matter from which topic, they have one thing in common – it’s all about the money.

How to pay the accommodation and integration of the refugees? Will Greece need more support from the ESM (European Stability Mechanism)? “The US government spends about $500 million per year to fight terrorism” (The Guardian, 2016) and “Erdogan gets another 3 billion to stop refugees” (Spiegel, 2016) – the world’s most important commodity is once again the key issue of action and reaction. “What I would like to change about today’s society? That’s clear to me: no money that hampers social interaction”, says Tobi Rosswog, an activist of the German social movement “living utopia”. The project and action network which describes itself as “money free”, vegan, ecological and which stresses an attitude of solidarity tries to spread its core idea by offering workshops, giving lectures and creating spaces of participation where everyone who is interested in joining can do so.

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Tobi Rosswog, an activist of the movement “living Utopia” explained his utopia in an interview with the Diplomat

A world without money? Where you do not weigh whether you buy the expensive or the cheap chocolate bar? Without the “Big Business” standing behind the politicians telling them what to vote for and what not? How shall this be realized? “Of course, this is a huge contradiction with our capitalist society”, explains Tobi, “but we already made positive experiences with living utopia. People are keen to dare experiments. And if you don’t gauge everything and everyone using the monetary measure, but you share and you offer what you don’t need to someone who is in need, a society can develop a completely new dynamism.”
Building upon the idea that the overall abundance of goods enables such a “gift society”, the movement too stresses this socio-economic interaction as a way to improve the societal living-together. According to Tobi, “the capitalistic doctrine of constant growth is also in conflict with one of our most limited resources – time. We always want to get better, build higher, be faster and more modern. But this obstructs our view on the fact that we already have everything we need to live a comfortable life. We are just taught to never be satisfied.”
Fact check: Since quite some time, scientists have tried to determine the happiest country by using various criteria which suggest states such as Norway, Costa Rica or Puerto Rico as the world’s most happy country. Surprisingly, many studies and indices (e.g. Business Week) have ranked the small Asian state Bhutan to be the place where people are the happiest although it lingers on rank 126 out of 194 by states’ GDP per capita. Moreover, psychologists nowadays claim that money only satisfies you if you were already contended before while bills can just amplify who you already are.

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Yet, there are many impediments to be overcome to realize such a utopia. The biggest of them is human nature. I bet we all know these people who ask “Can I quickly borrow your pen?” and who give it back almost empty, people who free ride when writing group papers or people who looked at your lunch in primary school and just wanted to “try a little bit” – briefly, those who take the mile when offered an inch. How would a “gift society” make sure that such companions don’t exploit the entire group?

For Tobi, this problem is home-cooked as well: “We need to wonder ‘why are these people doing that?’ Apparently, they are not a 100 percent motivated as the costs exceed the benefits – a rational calculation. And this is exactly the way we are taught to think: ‘What’s in it for me?’ But if people help because they want to help – that is, because they like to get a smile or ‘thank you’ back without being offered something themselves – we can unleash an incredible efficacy.”

Central to the project living utopia is the decision to non-consumption; hence, to say “I already have enough; I don’t need this right now.” This is also related to the project’s emphasis on veganism and sustainability. The message: consumption and sustainability can be united – “but only if this happens radically sufficient”. “Excessive consumption is socially suggested”, Tobi points out. “Of course, we have basic needs but everything beyond has been created by society. If we do not keep this surplus for ourselves but if we share it and give it to someone, then something interesting happens: our goods become personalized. Thus, we establish a very close and personal relationship with everything we possess. This has a much greater value than things that we only bought to compensate for our sadness or frustration. Additionally, we become much more open to our fellows and mistrust and greed get significantly reduced. This is also a positive observation that we could make.”

Does money rule the world? Right now, it does. For some, it is desirable to keep it like this, whereas others envision a different world. Whether we believe this to be true one time or not is for everyone himself to decide. But for Tobi it is important that we abandon phrases such as “I can’t imagine!” or “This has never worked!”. “We have to dare the experiment”, he elaborates, “otherwise, nothing will ever change.”

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A silent brainstorming during a workshop of living utopia

5 tips to save our climate

By Johannes Schroeten

Last Saturday, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris ended. 196 Countries participated, represented by 10000 officials. The expectations were high. Officials such as President Obama and German Chancellor Merkel had pledged massive cuts in CO2 emissions and fixed targets to keep the rising temperature below the magical 2 C° mark. The outcome has been perceived as a success by many observers. For the first time, the international community has agreed to a formal, legally binding treaty. The first step towards a clean future has been taken!

Reduction of CO2 shall take place in the energy sector as well as industry. But what possibilities do we have to decrease at least a little bit our personal emissions? Here are five suggestions for your very own tackle on climate change:

1) Less meat! On average, every EU citizen eats about 88 kilos of meat per year. Though depending on the animal, one kilo of meat is responsible for 10 kilo of CO2 on average. According to a BBC report a kilo beef equals 16 kilo of CO2, whereas a kilo chicken only accounts for 4.4 kilo. Of course, we should not expect everyone to become a vegetarian. At least, I could not say no to a nice rump steak. Nonetheless, if we reduce our meat consumption by only 10 percent, we could already save 88 kilo CO2 per capita.  With 500 million Europeans this would account for about 44 million tons of CO2 every year. So maybe think about one steak less during the week. Remember, Foodbank has shown us that no meat is not so bad after all. Worth a thought, right?

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And to all those who already quit meat: You can still do something! Kiwis are amazing, great taste, no CO2 emissions. Or so you thought! Because 1 kilo of the fruit from down under actually produces 3.2 Kilo CO2. Shipping, you know. Same goes for grapes produced in South Africa. One kilo is responsible for 7 kilo of emissions before its ready for you at the jumbo. So next time you do your grocery shopping, you might want to buy something locally grown. Fresh potatoes or a nice lettuce, for instance.

2) Shopping: Do it yourself! This goes out to everyone who is a victim of online shopping. It is easy, you can stay on your couch and if it does not fit you just sent it back. And that is the problem. The German newspaper ‘die Welt’ estimates that only in Germany, about 800 000 deliveries are returned every day. That accounts for 400 tons CO2 per day. So next time you order something online, just get what you really want. However, this is a critical point, because in fact, e-commerce can be more eco-friendly than shopping in stores. If you live on the country side, it might be preferable to get your stuff from amazon & co. But Maastricht, with all its fancy stores, is a good chance to reduce your personal emissions.

3) I believe I should fly… less. There is a German saying: “Why seek for the distance if happiness is close?” But of course, we all want to get out of our boring lives from time to time. Nonetheless, are you sure you always have to take the plane? The Arsenal football team recently took off for only 14 minutes. Not the most sustainable way to travel. A flight from Brussels to Berlin creates about 420 kilo of CO2 emissions. A car ride with a middle-sized vehicle will produce less than half of the amount. And you can further reduce the amount by taking others with you. So in the end, a flight would account for 9 times more emission than taking the car. Not to speak of Buses or Trains which are even more efficient.

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4) Know your Sh*t! Did you hear of this retro thing called a lexicon? In fact, it can be pretty helpful to look up things. And it is more eco-friendly than something called Google. Heard of it? Together with Wikipedia and Coffee the best friend and saviour of every student. But did you know that Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University scholar, claimed that the emissions for two searches on Google equal the boiling of water for a cup of tea? Every search, therefore, produces 7 grams of CO2. Only for this article, I boiled already more water than the Queen in the past ten years. You are probably thinking by yourself: Is this guy crazy? How can something happening in the magical digital world have so much impact on the real one? Well, every time you look something up on Google, data centres around the globe do the job for you. But those things are energy inefficient as hell (No joke intended!) All data centres combined consume the energy of 14 power plants with 1000 megawatt generation capacities. I am sure, the world would reach its climate targets if we would be willing to let questions unanswered. Next time, you might reconsider if you really have to know how many times Hugh Hefner has been married (actually only three times – I just googled it.) And by the way, CO2-neutral search engines like ecosia.org buy emission certificates and reinvest 80 per cent of their revenues into projects reforesting rainforests in Brazil.

5) Home, sweet, energy efficient home! At last, I would just like to mention a very basic one: turning up the heat in summer is actually rather useless. Letting the lights burn when you are not at home, as well. Come on! It is not that hard to check if everything is turned off. And a jumper is just as warm as heating up your room to a cosy 25 C°, so you can wear those self-made Bermuda shorts Grandma gave you for Christmas. In the US, an estimated 20 percent of Energy is wasted in Residential areas. The area outside of the old houses in Maastricht is probably better heated than the house itself. So why not turn off the heater while you sleep? And you are probably old enough to switch off the lights during the night despite potential Monsters under your bed. And by the way, this might save some money as well. Lower energy costs, you know!

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These are just a few tips. And honestly, I think if we all just restrict ourselves a little bit, we will not need to build a new arch to save at least two of us. There is no need to live in caves again, but to act with a little conscious when it comes to energy efficiency does not hurt.

 

2015 Paris Climate Conference 101

By Elysia Rezki

Talks surrounding climate change and “COP” have been particularly prevalent in the news lately, but what does it all mean, and why is it so important?

COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, is the international communities much needed response to the future of our planet. COP21 is simply an acronym standing for the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The event, hosted in La Bourget, Paris, sees world leaders, politicians and 25,000 official government delegates of the 195 UN states represented. The objective? To find a legally binding and universal agreement on tackling climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.  The level of corporation and the number of participates makes this one of the largest diplomatic conferences ever organized!

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The first COP was held 20 years ago in Berlin to review the UN Framework on Climate Change adopted by the Rio Earth Summit of 1992. The framework called for action on stabilising greenhouse gasses. After 20 years of climate summits, however, COemissions do not appear to have been reduced. Rather, they have increased by more than 60% (1992 – 2014). Furthermore, evidence suggests that the past 30 years have likely been the warmest period of the past 1400 years! Climate change is likely the greatest threat we have ever faced; requiring us to come together as never before! This all subsequently puts immense pressure on those negotiating in Paris, and especially on the French Government whom hold the responsibility of ensuring the success of COP21.

Since 1988 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been providing policy-makers with an objective source of information concerning the causes of climate change, the potential economic and socio-economic impacts, and most importantly, the possible options of response we have. To summarise the IPCC’s latest report

  • Human impact on the climate system is clear.
  • Continued emissions on greenhouse gasses will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and the eco-systems,
  • Humanity has the means to limit climate change, and to build a more sustainable, resilient future.

So, what does this mean? In essence, we are facing an unprecedented crisis, unquestionably caused by human activity. Impacts are already visible, with evidence providing increasingly worrying trends concerning extreme weather conditions. Floods, droughts, and severe storm surges are regular reoccurrences we face today; 80% of the world’s glaciers have diminished, and sea levels have risen 20cm within the last 100 years! Although industrialisation in the wealthiest countries hold most culpability, unfortunately it is the undeveloped, poorest areas that continue to suffer most.

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The world has a climate budget, and we are rapidly reaching the end of it. If we continue the way in which we are, it is estimated that by 2040, the budget will be exhausted, and it will be too late to reverse such damages. For this reason, it is the common objective of all participants in COP21 to keep the increasing global temperature below 2°C. Many experts, in addition to the Alliance of Small Islands feel the 2°C threshold is not sufficient enough, instead advocating for a threshold of 1.5°C, a level we may already be locked into. There is however some good news after all. The climate crisis can indeed be prevented. We have all the technology, knowledge, and resources to do so. Whilst a lack of political will and a lack of legal obligation has always prevailed over efforts at tackling global warming, for many COP21 is a light at the end of the tunnel.

What is being done?

The Sunday before COP21, hundreds of thousands of people came together in solidarity and took to the streets.  The Global Climate March took place in cities all over the world, from Berlin to Hong Kong, Sydney and Seattle, to name just a few. In Paris, around 10,000 pairs of shoes where set out to represent those unable to March due to a ban by French authorities following the aftermath of the attacks taken place there just weeks before. Whilst numerous events had been removed from the COP21 agenda for security risks following the attacks, President Hollande assured the world that the conference would still take place, “COP21 will bring hope and solidarity.”

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Whilst it is often argued that the political and economic elites lack the will to initiate change, it is certainly clear that the people do. Citizens from a far-reaching union of environmentalists, trade unions and other social movements are marching on the streets as well as acting online – applying pressure bottom-up where we are unsatisfied with the work of those governing us.

COP21 Progress

The draft negotiation for a global deal has already been completed. It is the role of Ministers to compromise this text into a legally binding deal accepted unanimously by all 195 parties. This will not be a simple task, in fact over 900 areas of disagreements have already been documented! The voluntary nature of previous COP deals have always been areas of criticism for the lack of progress. The fact that the aim is to produce a legally binding agreement is subsequently significant. Whilst negotiations continue to take place, most present are fairly optimistic that a deal will indeed be finalised by the end of the second week. Key topics discussed so far include questions of temperature (2°C or 1.5°C?), finance distribution (is it fair to make the poorest countries pay the bill?), renewable energies  (African Renewable Energy Initiative worth $5 billion), and deforestation (a new plan to restore forest cover to 1990 levels by 2050.) Of course, there are no overnight fixes. Whilst we cannot yet know whether COP21 will provide successful results, it is clear that climate change requires ambitious solutions which entail ongoing willingness and commitment to be fought by generations to come.

When you just want to go one day without hearing the “c” word

Dutch Citizens Taking the Climate Change Challenge to the Next Step

By Maddy Simpkins

Leading a secure, comfortable life is quite simple to achieve here in The Netherlands. Whether you’re a student or a long-term resident, it’s apparent that the country is more than capable of supporting our unique lifestyles effortlessly. And with a national infrastructure so sound, we’re surely protected from abrupt, life-threatening problems, right?

Well, one foundation in The Netherlands disagrees. The Urgenda Foundation first called upon the Dutch government back in 2012, asking them to take more significant measures to solve the climate crisis. Following this letter to the state officials, 900 citizens could file themselves as co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit to follow. On 14 April, 2015 the Hague-based district court opened its doors to hear these unprecedented arguments by citizens in a judicial setting. Urgenda Foundation’s Climate Case recently sparked controversy because it is the first case in Europe in which citizens are attempting to prosecute the government for their inaction. The Climate Case demands an upheaval of national climate policy, requesting from the state three central commitments:

“1. To declare that global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius will lead to a violation of fundamental human rights worldwide 2. To declare that the Dutch State is acting unlawfully by not contributing its proportional share to prevent a global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius 3. To order the Dutch State to drastically reduce Dutch CO2 emissions even before 2020, to the level that has been determined by scientists to be in line with less than 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, that is, to reduce Dutch emissions by 2020 below 1990 levels.” (Urgenda.nl/en/climate-case)

The concept of the two degree buffer which marks the dangerous climate change threshold was initially acknowledged during the UNFCCC 2009 held in Copenhagen. Since then, global emissions have been steadily rising and will continue to do so in the coming years. If emission reduction is not taken more seriously, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports, there will be a number of detrimental expenses including but not limited; to the obstruction of ecosystem adaptation, global food production will be threatened, and developing countries may not be able to progress sustainably. 

The Netherlands is a forward-thinking nation and has already invested millions in clean, renewable energy sources. Its people also swear by countless sustainable practises other countries might look to adopt, such as the cycling movement, solar-powered bike paths, and eco-effective buildings. However, The Netherlands’ global warming contribution is immense, with carbon dioxide emissions per capita ranking the highest in the world. But like most industrialized nations, when corporations gain government-granted authority over the air, water, and soil, carbon dioxide emissions soar as a result. There is reason to believe The Netherlands’ environmental protection policy is insufficient to prevent dangerous climate change. Already, climate change has posed a threat to The Netherlands – various negative effects can be observed from coastal flooding to rising temperatures and an overall decline in biodiversity. However unfortunately, the scope of issues this country and many others are yet to face is fully reprehensible.


If we can learn one thing from the Dutch citizens united with Urgenda, it’s that failure is no longer an option. If implementing limitations on our governments with judiciary intervention in order to avert climate change is our last resort, then we must dare to accept the challenge.

The Diplomat – A world of extremes!

By Alessandra Goio

Finally, spring! The sun is shining again and the new edition of the Diplomat will soon be published. This time we decided to explore the extremes that characterise our world.

Today, when we think about something extreme, we immediately link this idea to the world of Islam. To make us understand from where Islamist terrorism comes from, Jana drew a historical overview of this phenomenon. However, Alessandra reminds us that extremism is not just about Jihad and ISIS, but it can happen everywhere if the right conditions are met. Ilaria colours the debate by looking at eco-terrorism. She looks at the violent practices adopted by movements fighting in the name of animal and the environmental rights, when protection is not guaranteed by the authorities.

Extremism also manifests itself in the realm of Western politics, and this is the central theme of Alex’s article. Narrowing down the focus to Europe, Victoria and Gesine analyse the rise of Pegida in Germany as one form of extremism against another.

Extremes are not just about politics, but they are all around us. Zach looks into natural disasters as extreme phenomena. As global warming threatens our future, he investigates whether instances of extreme weather should still be considered as such, or if they are becoming the norm.

Sebastian focuses on the economy and its extreme manifestations and staying in the realm of economics, Marta turns the spotlight on to corporations. She tries to determine how dangerous their interests can become for the sovereignty of the modern State. Patricia adopts an historical point of view as she analyses the Spanish Inquisition. At that time, what we call now extremism was the norm.

Extremes can be studied also in psychological terms. This is what Lucia does, by exploring the world of Facebook and its consequences on human behaviour. Lifestyles can be also extreme and in order to explain this Kaloyan refers to the example of the movie “Rush”. Last but not least, Maddy looks at the opposition between anthropocentrism and eco-centrism. They represent two world views for the future of our planet.

This is just a taste of what the Diplomat is going to be about. If you want to feed your mind with interesting ideas and opinions, the Diplomat is definitely for you.

Reversing the Growth Trend? Clearing up Misconceptions on Degrowth

By Gesine Höltmann

When I think about the bigger picture, the all-encompassing problems that our world is facing at the moment, I feel that the lack of sustainability is the one most underestimated. People may roll their eyes when hearing ‘sustainability’, but its not only about recycling and turning off the lights – it is about the fact that our current living standards cannot be continued indefinitely, that the resources we rely on only serve to maintain this living standard for a small fraction of the world’s population, and that even this small fraction will not be able to sustain it further than 2050 (The Guardian). To put it more boldly: “If all the world’s 7 billion people consumed as much as the average American, it would take the resources of 5 earths to support all of them” (World Population Balance). It would seem that such prospects would cause more alarm amongst our societies, seeing how difficult multiple earths are to come by.

But it is not a first priority issue, since humans tend to prioritize their short-term problems, as well as those that they can throw money at. Solving our resource shortage – as naïve as the word solving might sound in this context – requires psychological and material sacrifices for the upper 2 billion., Iit seems an almost impossible endeavor to convince people that living standards are abnormally high and must be lowered or at least changed significantly. Degrowth movements are an outcry to reduce consumer behavior and change mentalities from the need to constantly produce more, to producing less, reusing, and reverting to the community. Since Degrowth is not necessarily a widely known concept, or at least one often met with skepticism, the Transition Action Group Maastricht has volunteered two of their members to answer some fundamental questions on the topic of Degrowth.

Degrowth – “the aim of moving away from a growth-oriented society and economy, one that takes into account the limit of resources, and environmental capacities” – How would you personally define de-growth? What aspects of it do you see that you think are not generally mentioned, such as moral implications, living a more ‘fulfilled’ life? Or merely a necessary move because our current system is set for collapse?

Laura: For me, Degrowth is a movement that combines a realistic view on our planetary boundaries with moral and value-based aspects of how we should then design our living. It’s about how we can create a society that is based upon the limits of our planet, but in such a way that it also leads to a better life for everyone. Important hereby is that a better life, or a more fulfilled life if you like to call it that, is not – as it is understood most of the time nowadays – about more products, money, a growing economy. On the contrary, I see a society based on Degrowth principles as one which centers around community, is about being connected, sharing skills, which I think will at the end lead to much more fulfillment than any amount of money can do – and thereby also respects the limits of our earth.

Lukas: For me, Degrowth is about taking the fundamental human need for community, justice and most importantly a livable environment seriously. Doing that means getting rid of our obsession with economic growth and blind faith in eternal technological progress. It also means learning skills to produce things ourselves, it means liberating ourselves from all the excess stuff we have and consuming less, it means strengthening sustainable local economies, decelerating our lives. Degrowth is a “concrete utopia”. It doesn’t exist yet, but we can build such a society. One important hint to achieve that is to spend less time on shopping and instead on gardening, repairing radios and knitting jumpers, discussing, partying and chilling with people you love and regaining political control over our lives.
What are the aims of the Transition Action Group? How are you planning to implement them?

Aims of the Transition Action Group Maastricht (TAG Maastricht) as stated in founding document: to foster the development of a new economy that abandons the growth paradigm and evolves around cooperation and sharing. This new economy is one that revalues the care-sector, strengthens local economies and builds community- and individual resilience while respecting planetary boundaries. TAG Maastricht will promote these aims by, among others, learning and teaching skills, creating sustainable livelihoods and engaging in and shaping an alternative economic discourse through education and self-empowering discussion.

Laura: the founding document states quite clearly what our mission is, why we started this group. In order to achieve these goals, we set up two project-teams for the moment. One of them is our ‘’Events-team’’ that organizes everything related to spreading the ideas of DeGrowth. We had a knitting workshop (and more skills-workshops will come), monthly discussion-evenings on a topic related to Degrowth open to everyone, and there will be more workshops and lecture sessions in the future.
Next to that we have a team that works on a proposal for a Regional Currency. This group is recently working on the design of such a currency, to design it in such a way that it contributes to the values so important in the Degrowth movement, such as sufficiency and local community-building. Local currencies are not necessarily a Degrowth project, there are more groups in Maastricht working on it, so what we do is providing a Degrowth perspective on it.
How far should Degrowth go in your opinion? How far does it need to go to have an effect? Can it be merely a change of attitude/ a more widespread awareness and small changes? Can it take a middle way, where states reorient their environmental priorities, restrict trade to their regions, etc..? Or does it need to be more radical, a reversion to subsistence?

Laura: What is so essential to the Degrowth ideas is that it requires a change in thinking: one in which you go away from the idea that economic growth is a necessary condition for a successful society to one in which you start valuing different aspects as the most crucial foundation of a society. At the moment, the ‘’system’’ on which our society is based is closely linked to the growth model, and in that sense, it is hard to ‘’just’’ have a society that reorients its environmental priorities etc. The problem I see with these ‘’small’’ changes is one which we have often encountered already: where being more sustainable is incorporated within the growth paradigm, thereby resulting in a situation in which policies meant to ‘green-up’ a society or an economy do not have the desired result because of an equal or bigger increase in consumption at the same time.
In that sense, I tend to be a bit more radical, and say that the society as a whole should turn away from this growth-paradigm in order to make it work. However, I think that works closely together with an increase of awareness: it is exactly this wide-spread awareness that in my opinion can contribute to this change. It is important to realize that we are part of the system we are living in now, and therefore I also see the power of the people to bring change to that same system. And yes, I hope that awareness also will lead to a change in behavior from us, the people: a change that is very necessary. By reducing our consumer-behavior, by becoming more resilient.

Lukas: I also believe that a radical change is necessary. Radical means going to the roots, and in this case these roots are those of our economic system. The “Law of Accumulation”, aka Growth is in the DNA of capitalism. A lot has to change. However, sustainability efforts in the past have usually been coopted by business (CSR and “greenwashing”) but also by governments. Often, the state is part of the problem by preventing fundamental change. However, it is key to realise that, ironically as a side product of modern capitalism, individual empowerment and a strong civil society have huge potential to start transforming our economy and society without waiting for big business or the state. We are part of the “system”, but we can start building alternatives by simply ignoring it, where it hinders us.

Is the conception that Degrowth involves decentralization misconceived?

Lukas: Decentralisation does play a very important role in degrowth scenarios. Part of the problem are global economic chains that require insane transportation and make hyper-specialisation possible, resulting in an environmental and social “race to the bottom” – all in the name of stimulating growth. Instead, we need to strengthen local economies and build short economic chains. Another important aspect is a human scale in technology. Degrowth advocates do not condemn technological progress. On the contrary, we believe that the impressive human capabilities to innovate should be channeled into developing technology that is easy to reproduce, repair and to control. Why should every community not have their own open access printing press and weaving loom? This tendency to democratically controllable and controlled technology already evolves today: the fablab movement is only one example. (http://fablab.nl/)
Is it realistic to imagine de-growth on a large scale? Do you see Degrowth happening on a micro or macro level? Is the concept even designed to encompass entire states?

Laura: For me, the problems we are dealing with are problems that affect every person on this planet, and therefore there is a large-scale dimension to DeGrwoth. What is so nice about Degrowth is that it is a movement that clearly stresses certain values, ideas, conceptions etc. but it does not provide you with a detailed plan of how to live. This is very important, because in that way the values central in the DeGrowth movement can be used as guidelines for communities when designing their way of living, while their own culture, religion etc does not need to be abandoned. In that way, although different communities might implement the DeGrowth concepts differently, a large-scale implementation of Degrowth ideas is still highly possible.

Lukas: Talking about degrowth and large scale is a bit of a paradox. Degrowth is small-scale – but everywhere! As Laura pointed out, there is no one solution to fit all, but yes, an economy and society based on degrowth values is possible and appropriate for everyone. An interesting example of similar concepts that are from a Global South perspective are “buen vivir”, “ubuntu” and others. They aren’t the same, but the underlying values and many of the consequences are similar.
What will it take to change mentalities on a large scale? Is a top-down approach necessary? Can it be justified?

Laura: It’s actually funny, we just had a discussion evening on this theme called ‘’Transition: top down or bottom up?’’. I think it’s not an easy question to answer, especially because we do have to realize that the limits of our planet are coming closer and raising awareness takes time. However, at the end a Degrowth society will only work if people really stand behind it, so, although I sometimes wished I could just implement policies that would make people limit their flight-behavior etc., I do think that you have to be careful with a top-down approach. Moreover, I do believe that even without a top-down approach, people’s mindsets change. There are so many initiatives popping up at the moment, and especially because they are coming from ‘’the bottom’’ they are easily accessible for people and thereby have quite an influence.

Lukas: For me, a top-down approach is doomed to fail. You can’t change mentalities top-down. I think only by people organising spontaneously, meaning following their own impulse, we can achieve something. Government can certainly play a role in making the effects of our growth economy slightly less bad or prohibit or put taxes on certain practices. However, government as we know it today will not be at the heart of a fundamental transition, I think: the state as well as the political and business elite has a vested interest in the persistence of the status quo.
What can people (students especially) change in their everyday lives to make a difference? How do you make a difference?

Laura: There are so many little things that you can start doing already, like deciding to go by bus or train (instead of plane) to your favorite holiday destination, exchanging your clothes with your friends (or sewing or knitting your own!) instead of buying new ones, or sharing your leftovers with others. However, what I think is the most important step -from which the rest will follow hopefully automatically- is to realize that your behavior does have an influence and that changing it is not necessarily a sacrifice but something that is beneficial to all of us, including you. We are all part of this planet, and so do we all have to deal with the realities that exist – and changing your behavior accordingly is actually interesting: it will definitely make you discover and enjoy new things!

Lukas: Don’t fly, don’t eat meat, buy fresh and good food from your region and when it’s the right season. On a positive list: prioritize what makes you happy and simply don’t do the rest! Refuse to make career your top priority. Trash your TV and read books. Organize with other people, be political, learn new things.
What are your personal hopes for the Transition Action Group, and what are your hopes for the Degrowth movement overall?

Laura: For TAG Maastricht I mostly hope that we stay that motivated and enthusiastic as we are at the moment –and that, when part of our members have finished studying or are abroad, there will be others that take over because they see the importance of this as well. And of course I hope that we will have at least a small influence on the people here in Maastricht by fostering dialogue and discussions. In general, I actually also hope that the movement keeps growing (yes yes, so much is the growth ideal present everywhere) and that all together we can show that a change is possible.

*My thanks go out to Laura Meijer and Lukas Warning for their effort to so precisely and passionately answer my questions. The Transition Action Group initiates regular events and organizes discussion evenings where central problems to implementation of Degrowth are being debated (such as the top-down or bottom-up discussion ).
You can follow TAG on Facebook, or on their website

Nuclear Contamination Doesn’t Care about Time – the News Do

by Jana Echterhoff

There are some pictures that just stay in your mind. They are too impressive and sometimes too cruel to simply forget them. For me, there’s this one scene that took place after the triple-catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan. A four-year-old girl and a mother approached each other, both thinking that the other one have died. Both of them are crying insanely while running through the debris. The reason for their dismal situation is the combined force of an  earthquake, the tsunami and the “ultimate MCA” of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima on the 11th March 2011. This catastrophe happened only three years ago, even if it doesn’t seem so. And yet it feels as if it is almost ages ago – nobody talks about it anymore, especially not the media. The news lost its currency. The nuclear radiation did not.

Source: http://cryptome.org/eyeball/daiichi-npp2/pict62.jpg
Source: http://cryptome.org/eyeball/daiichi-npp2/pict62.jpg

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