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Finding my enoughness: a climate researcher’s personal journey
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I'm reading
Finding my enoughness: a climate researcher’s personal journey
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Finding my enoughness: a climate researcher’s personal journey
Pass it on
Pass it on
2 April 2015

Finding my enoughness: a climate researcher’s personal journey

Contrary to our obsession with growth, perhaps an attitude of “enoughness” is the key to healing our planet.

Written by Paul Yacoumis

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people.

I have a six-year-old. No, I’m not talking about a little one who likes rearranging the food on her dinner plate to disguise her hatred of anything green and nutritious. I’m talking about my mobile phone. In the occasional crowded bar it has elicited chuckles, as well as the wonderment of bystanders who revere it as the “eighth wonder of the retro world”. Compared to the newest smartphones on the market, I suppose they have a point. But for me, it’s enough.

It’s not that I’m a Luddite, but in recent years I’ve come to reflect a little deeper on this notion of “enough,” its place in my own life, and the important role it plays in addressing our climate predicament.

Like many who watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, I became terrified by this thing called “global warming” and felt compelled to do something about it. So in 2006 I began researching it—first as a hobby, and later in an academic setting.

It didn’t take me long to discover that tackling the problem is much more complex than carbon taxes and clean energy. In fact, even if every Australian switched to renewable energy and stopped using fuel tomorrow, household carbon emissions would drop by only 18 percent! Most of our ecological impacts are actually linked to the foods and goods we consume.

I quickly realised that to solve the climate crisis we need to radically rethink our consumption. You might say this awoke the anti-consumer in me. I sold my car. I searched out fresh, organic produce. I bought less “stuff.” Fortunately for friends and family, I drew the line at hemp clothing.

Deep down I knew my actions alone weren’t enough. Climate change has become an in-built feature of the economic system we’ve created. We’re locked in a cycle of consumer growth, and we need ever-greater amounts of natural resources and energy to fuel that addiction. To cease this trend, the whole world needs to be on board.

For now, the news is dire. We are fast-approaching critical tipping points with our climate that scientists have been warning us about for decades. We are pumping out carbon pollution at such a rate that our species has all but committed the planet to levels of warming over and above the “dangerous” two-degree limit.

There have been times when, under the weight of this research, I’ve felt like a mosquito attempting to bring down a herd of charging elephants. In my darker moments, I’ve even found myself hoping for some kind of global cataclysm—at least then the human race may have the chance to start anew.

But then I recalled some words from Aristotle: “It is our choice of good or evil that determines our character, not our opinion about good or evil.” And in that moment these words took on a new meaning. I decided that humanity does have another choice, and it sits firmly within our reach. We can choose to allow the “evil” of social or ecological collapse to fall upon our future kin, or we can start to shift the power away from this unsustainable economic system that’s caused it and build a better one in its place.

How do we do this? I go back to my earlier point about consumerism and “enoughness.” We need to become active citizens, not passive consumers. We need to put our energy into nurturing local economies and community participation, not corporate power. We need to value the goal of “enoughness,” not growth. In the words of Epicurus, we need to reconnect with the age-old notion that, “Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.”

We all have a role to play in this transition. And the beauty is there is no transition blueprint, so we can be creative! For me, it’s involved a process of downshifting. This doesn’t mean living in miserable poverty. I’ve actually never been more satisfied with the little (relatively speaking) I do have. And while I’m conscious of the quantity of my consumption, I’m also increasingly mindful of its quality. I pay more attention to who and what I support, prioritising the local over global, and organisations that value people and planet over profit (Shop Ethical! is an excellent resource).

This year I will be further experimenting with self-sufficiency and minimising my participation in the corporate economy. I’m delving into urban foraging, trying my hand at dumpster diving and cultivating a small garden in my front yard—although the food gods have not been especially kind so far. I aim to mend rather than discard and buy second-hand rather than new.

Of course, even with these efforts, I’m conscious that my lifestyle—like most of us—is still heavily dependent on the current fossil-fuelled, growth-oriented system. But the tide is turning.

Because I am a firm believer in a knowledge-sharing economy, I am building networks with other concerned communities—including the diverse and global “degrowth” movement—and communicating about these issues with a wide audience through various platforms and projects. Who knows, perhaps I can inspire a few people along the way.

I’m currently involved with both the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute and the Simplicity Institute, a Melbourne-based cooperative aiming to demystify and popularise the ideas of degrowth and voluntary simplicity. I’m also a member of the International Society for Ecological Economics, which advances the steady-state economy as a necessary alternative to growth-oriented economics. In the future I’d like to become more involved with the local “hands-on” scene including permaculture groups and the Transition Towns movement. One step at a time, though!

These are just some of the ways I have chosen to make an impact in my own search for “enough”. Of course what works for you, and what you feel is the most meaningful path to take, will probably look very different. But the important thing is that we take that first step. A good place to start is figuring out ways we may bring our personal and political actions better in line with our values. By imagining what kind of future we wish to see, we can get a sense for the kinds of choices we might make to begin building it today.

And while the road ahead may be long and uncertain, it’s also full of possibility, which is incredibly exciting! Perhaps it’s time we just put those hands into the soil, and see where our imagination takes us.

Use your power

  • Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson—an excellent discussion of the limits to growth on a finite plane.
  • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein—a scathing critique of the current global system of exploitation and greed.
  • Culture Jam by Kalle Lasn—the anti-marketing, anti-mass media, anti-consumerism manifesto of our time.
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho—a classic fable that has inspired thousands around the world to search out beauty, truth and adventure in their own lives.
  • The 6-part short documentary series presented by Alain de Botton called Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness.

Paul Yacoumis

Paul Yacoumis teaches at RMIT and Melbourne University, is an editor at SHIFT Magazine, and believes that Bramley apples are simply misunderstood as a snack food. He tweets via @NoTongues where he shares a broad range of articles related to enoughness and post-growth.

Feature image by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig

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