How can we create the good life for 8 billion people?

Gjalt Huppes | 04 June 2010

Weblog linked to the Third International Conference on Eco-Efficiency Modelling and Evaluation for Sustainability: Guiding Eco-Innovation and Consumption

Global industrialization is coming, with an increasing proportion of the world population leaving poverty. By entering industrialized society the pressures on the environment will further increase. We face the global problems of climate change and habitat destruction with biodiversity loss now already, and the vicissitudes of resource scarcity coming up. With increased world income by a factor four by 2050 (3.5% per year), these pressures will increase and new issues will come up. As pressures are too high already, absolute decoupling is required. The environmental intensity of consumption, its eco-efficiency, will have to improve faster than global economic growth.

How can we create the good life for 8 billion people, as many of them as possible? There are three main entries in better fitting society into its physical surroundings: produce differently; consume differently; and consume less. Technological options have the attractiveness of actively creating the new world. But how far can we recreate our production system in a green way; how far can we get by technology fixes? Can we go for degrowth of the richest? What are the options and what constraints are to be overcome? Is it really possible to change our life styles, not using additional income for comfort and luxury but for cultural advancement? Is the global trend to consumerism and overeating reversible?

Assume that all these options might be feasible in principle, concretely specifiable as in detailed scenarios. Consumption styles and volumes, combined with the technologies, determine our pressure on the environment. How then might we get to an attractive future in practice, which drivers for change might be there? Is it new narratives; reorganization of the institution that shape our future, better directed research & development; or only some specific policies which are required? These are core questions in the debate on our common future.

There are many questions, with surely diverging and competing answers. Detailed technology-specific scenarios have never been made. We don’t know exactly what is driving economic growth. We don’t know how malleable our minds are. And we don’t know how the global political system functions. We do know a few things quite well. Increasing climate changing emissions pose an unallowable risk to man and nature. Biodiversity loss is on the increase, because of habitat loss, climate change and eutrophication and pollution.

What we also don’t agree, in our scientific community, is how to how to organize our knowledge and how to set the agenda for research on change. Simple issues, like the speed of implementation of a possible technological innovation, are essential in judging its attractiveness. What is a good improvement for tomorrow is not good enough for 2050.

Plenary presenters on 9 June will summarize their views in the Talking Heads interviews which will be uplaoded to this blog. The content of the discussion will be summarized in a conference statement open for discussion now, see the draft version . Contributions to the discussion are welcome at the Conference Statement Page.

Priorities for research, as Questions to be answered, are gathered and discussed in a separate document. Contributions are welcome at the Questions for Sustainability Analysis Page, see the draft now on the conference website. At the last conference day, 11 June, there will be discussion on how to better connect scientific approaches relevant for the debates on our future. Several authors have contributed a 1000-words vision . The Open Forum Page collects all other ideas.

Contributions to the discussion will be placed on this weblog, hosted by The Broker as part of their ongoing blog Global Green Economics: conference weblog. Please feel free to send your individual blog posts to the editors, Bas de Leeuw and Ruben Huele, at: or comment directly on the blogs already uploaded here.