The headlong obsession with corporate and economic growth, creates societies of time-impoverished individuals who can easily lose any holistic sense of their place in the environment.
In the Western world, the progress of society is measured by capital flows and commercial growth. These financial goals are often put ahead of life values. The pace of life is getting faster and faster because the common assumption is ‘more is better.’ This has negative impact on both life satisfaction (which is one’s cognitive appraisal of one’s life as a whole) and climate change.
What humans really require for happiness is life satisfaction as well as the health and well-being of our children, families, communities and natural environment. This is possible to realize in sustainable societies, comprised of personally fulfilled people who create sustainable lifestyles based on a socio-ecological empathy.
Combating climate change requires an honest and critical analysis of the world we inherit from a society that emphasizes values such as individualism and consumerism ahead of more holistic and non-material qualities. Climate change cannot be addressed without social change. Corporate and other material interests underpin the cynical problem of emotional, institutional and cultural denial of the problem. As long as we are bound by our allegiance or enslavement to these forces, two of our most precious assets in the fight against environmental disaster — time and energy — are destined to become diminishing resources as the obsession with commercial growth encroaches inexorably on our personal freedom and work/life balance.
From Materialism to Post-materialism
Consumerism is a global trend and despite being widely held as a desirable indicator for healthy economic growth, is strongly linked with climate change. People rarely try to define how much is enough or how much is too much—they simply want to get more. This is an irresponsible search for short-term benefits without concerns for long-term consequences.
In the bigger picture, transforming societies from consumerism to sustainability is a more important issue to address than the control of population. For instance, a child born in the Western world will stress the Earth, causing as much environmental damage as 15–150 children born in developing countries. The global population is projected to reach 9–10 billion in 2050, but is projected to remain approximately the same in 2100.
Citizens of industrial nations have reached material individualism that poses a threat to their own subjective well-being as well as environmental, economic and social sustainability. In these affluent and highly-developed countries, people who pursue happiness through material gain tend to feel worse, which is related to negative appraisals of their life satisfaction. Consumption levels in overdeveloped countries are at unprecedented levels. There is a prevalent culture of envy, competition and comparison fuelling desires and wants instead of real needs. Consumption-based carbon dioxide emissions are now a key metric.
People who prioritize prosperity and possessions tend not to be satisfied with their life. They experience less happiness and life satisfaction, have fewer pleasant emotions such as joy and contentment, and more unpleasant emotions such as anger, depression and anxiety. Physical problems like headaches, intestinal disorders and back pain as well as substance abuse and gambling or other addictions are associated with a strong focus on material values Focusing on material wealth tends to neglect well-being problems, such as stress and fast pace of life, depression, loneliness, and ecologically destructive behaviour. A spiral can also develop whereby the pace of life has the effect of weakening social relationships which drives people to work and consume more. Paradoxically, increased opportunities to spend more causes an inability to enjoy things obtained with money.
Universal basic needs are fresh water, food, shelter, healthcare and education. Shifting from materialism towards post-materialism means fundamental thinking and behaviour changes. These changes have multiple benefits as they improve subjective well-being. Yet what is most important is that they are necessary for human survival on a finite planet. The re-orientation from materialism to post-materialism a ‘silent revolution’ which is already occurring in Western societies.
Value shift from material values to non-material values
|Material values||Non-material values|
|Physiological needs and safety needs||Social inclusion and needs of love, needs of esteem and achievements|
|Having||Loving and being|
|Security, conservation, self-enhancement||Openness to change, self-transcendence|
Post-material values emphasize human relationships and the meaningfulness of people’s unique lives, including trust, community resilience and participation in the life of society as well as establishment, and flourishing of civil rights and personal expression. In everyday life, post-material behaviour means that the importance of ownership has decreased, services are used instead of owning goods and renewal of goods is motivated by real needs.
Activation of post-material values has wide-ranging positive effects. Increasing post-materiality might not only result in the stability and recovery of socio-ecological systems but also increasing health and happiness of people. At best, post-material values produce a culture of trust, which supplies future generations with opportunities for a better life.
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