Doing less as a key climate action

Slow by Meiying Ng

What do we want?
Climate action!
When do we want it?

If you have been to any climate protests recently you have probably heard the above rallying cry. Against the backdrop of deeply coordinated climate inaction on behalf of governments and corporations in rich nations, calling for climate action makes perfect sense.

We can view ‘climate action’ as any activity that aims to push us away from business as usual, from the status quo, in order to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

However, we can also look at ‘action’ or activity more generally: all the working, producing, consuming, playing and relaxing we do in our daily lives. Virtually all of our daily activities have a carbon footprint, and many could therefore be called climate inaction, or inertia. It has been shown that the richer you are, the larger your carbon footprint. For us wealthy, to live is to emit.

This brings me to a curious dilemma: Would the same amount of ‘change energy’ be better expended to reduce climate inaction by reducing overall activity in your daily life, rather than trying to specifically increase climate action? In which contexts does the former make sense over the latter, and vice versa? How would you quantify and compare these alternatives?

A related theme I have been thinking about is doing less rather than doing more. Going against conventional wisdom, this shift in behaviour would need to be built on wanting less rather than wanting more – especially our wanting of highly material and energy-intensive goods and services.

I feel that a key driver of the climate breakdown predicament is the more-ism and growth-ism of our rich market-obsessed neoliberal societies, enacted through our hyper-consumerist behaviours, which are compelled and amplified by the marketing and advertising machine.

All of that makes me wonder:

  • What if a key climate action was doing less overall?
  • What if we worked less and earned less, in order to spend less and consume less?
  • What if the the problems caused by yesterday’s technologies were better addressed by having less technology rather than more?
  • What if instead of ‘bigger better faster more’ we aimed for ‘smaller enough slower less’?
  • What if instead of defining ourselves through competitive accumulation we did so through collaboration and sharing instead?
  • What if instead of expansionist globetrotting we focused on relocalising our lives, and engaging more deeply with our immediate communities and surrounds?
  • What if we reoriented our futurism on bicycles instead of bullet trains?

Perhaps doing less is essential for letting plausible futures to exist.

A further provocation

Please read the whole thread – not intended literally:


Cross-references to my other essays:

Thanks to everyone who reviewed versions of this essay.

Author: Jussi

I would like to ensure that there remains a liveable world for our kids to enjoy – I'm @jopas on Twitter –