F4SL workshop with TerraJusta and War on Want, October 2022
“Sustainable living” tends to make us think of lifestyles based on renewable energy and electrified transport, especially in the Global North. But extraction of materials for the renewable energy transition can lead to severe social and environmental harm, especially in the Global South. Our workshop explored the connections between unsustainable lifestyles and extractivism – and how achieving climate justice is dependent on deep reductions in consumption in the Global North.
New lifestyles or green colonialism?
Our first speaker was Seb Ordoñez Muñoz from War on Want:
Seb reminded us that 92% of emissions are connected to consumption in the Global North; scaling down use of energy and materials is essential to avert a “green colonialism” based on industrial mining for the renewables industries. Reducing extraction of energy and materials necessitates a fundamental change to Global North economies and lifestyles.
“Capitalocene” instead of “Anthropocene”?
Our second speaker was Leny Olivera Rojas, Director of TerraJusta:
Leny reminded us of the historical, colonial causes of current injustices. Explaining the connection between consumption and climate justice, Leny noted that lifestyles of overconsumption in the Global North are fuelled by extractivism that causes harm to communities and ecosystems in other parts of the world. The worst impacts are on places and peoples who have least caused the climate crisis, and who are least equipped to deal with the environmental and social impacts.
Recognising that an elite minority cause the climate crisis, Leny questioned the term “Anthropocene” which implies a common human experience: perhaps the “Capitalocene” is a more appropriate name?
Viewing the video Lithium and uranium mining concessions on the Snowy Quelccaya was shocking and moving, as we were confronted with the consequences of industrial mining for renewables – although we appreciated the power of these examples to bring life to the theoretical conversations around climate injustice.
“I wish more people would understand the implications of their lifestyle choices; we don’t spend enough time contemplating how and with what resources what we consume is produced.”
The roles of funders
Foundations have a dual role, not only through grants but also the investment of funds: we reflected on greenwashing of investments and the importance of shareholder advocacy. Foundations could put more focus on responsible investment policies, in addition their grant-making role – and indeed some foundations are already active on this issue.
Other issues included:
- The need for philanthropy to increase funding into the Latin America region, noting the longstanding, strong, intersectional and innovative movements there.
- The possibility for philanthropy to influence the upcoming generation of student engineers, architects and economists being trained on sustainability “solutions” that assume a future of industrial extractivism.
- The balance between changing language to increase funder engagement (for example, from ‘post-extractives’ to ´fair extraction´) and respecting how frontline communities communicate their work.
Framing for change
Funders raised questions about narratives, which will feed into our February workshop on Framing for Consumption + Climate Justice. The issues include:
- how to talk about the Global South impacts from Global North economic growth and overconsumption without inciting defensiveness and alienating some groups from dialogue?
- how to challenge the narrative from the fossil fuel industry that we need lots of energy?
- how to make environmental harm as unacceptable as other social and moral breaches?
- how to deal with the grief (and other emotions) that may be experienced when the hidden consequences of our lifestyles – such as electric vehicles – are revealed.
- how to include the perspectives of reparations and debt justice to make the connections between struggles?
“I notice the depth of the challenges we face in terms of building a narrative and movement that centres working people; the backlash from the right, the reluctance from funders and civil society to engage with the question of material limits and growth”
We need to talk about rationing
We reflected on why we don´t want to tell people about the need for fair limits to consumption: as rationing is known to appeal to justice, why do we feel so uncomfortable talking about it? There is a need to acknowledge diversity, as some geographies might be more open to discussing limits than others: it is useful to look at research on current public acceptance of rationing (See 1.5-Degree Lifestyles: A Fair Consumption Space for All (p100-101) for an overview of research on carbon rationing).
Some funders are interested in catalysing an international movement to support rationing, which could be linked to movements for reparations: this will be explored during 2023´s workshop series.
“I wish that these concepts and ideas were not seen as ´radical´.”
Global signs of hope
Positive change in diverse areas was discussed, including:
- Movement building for progressive taxation worldwide, which is making significant progress in Latin America, especially the recent political shift in Colombia.
- The shift in Canada from focusing on recycling to understanding the need for waste prevention, which is a fruitful way to start discussions about consumerism.
- The Dutch government has moved towards reparation with plans for a formal apology for their role in the slave trade, and a fund to raise awareness of the legacy of slavery.
- The growing understanding and work towards unravelling systemic injustices.
Moving forward together
Participants noted that they felt better informed, although there is still some confusion about the deeper connections between consumption, lifestyles and climate justice that need to be resolved. While some felt energised and empowered, others felt sad about the enormity of the situation.
„These presentations make me feel overwhelmed at the scale of the challenge – in terms of the systems we need to transform, with so much push back – even though the intersections of climate, nature, pollution, health and inequality crises are so clear. “
The workshop concluded with thoughts about how funders, movements and policymakers can strategize together to reimagine the economic, social and political systems – what are the messages, policies, and cultural transformation we need?
Seb shared this image and reflection: “Together we can teach and challenge each other to imagine the world in new ways . . .worlds where everyone´s essential needs and wellbeing are honoured, and the labour of nourishing life is equally shared. . . So many things hold us back from these worlds; among them is rigidity – the inability to believe the world could look differently and that we can do things differently together. We´re against rigidity: we propose play, experiment, ritual, embodiment and curiosity.”
Source: LiloAColor in Post-Extractive Futures encounter
Upcoming workshop themes: funder strategies for consumption + climate justice, limits to consumption, narratives and framing, care economy, rationing, sufficiency.
Kate Power convenes Funders for Sustainable Living, an open network promoting ambitious action for radically equitable and sustainable ways of living. It sounds depressing but it´s a lot of friendship and fun! If you are a funder curious about the connections between equality, ecology and society, feel welcome to join a workshop: firstname.lastname@example.org