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Adapting to climate change: can we improve our happiness?

Updated Monday, 19th April 2010

Sargon Nissan asks if climate change adaptation can help solve issues of happiness and well-being

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Tejas Ewing, Carbon Markets Coordinator for the New Ecoomics Foundation, considers the socio-economic impacts of climate change. He suggests the current economic system of production and consumption results in long working hours and high living costs. Can adaptation help to create a happier and more equal society?

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Tejas Ewing:  Hi there.  My name’s Tejas Ewing and I currently work at the new economics foundation.  I’m the carbon markets coordinator, which means that I’m doing a lot of work related to how the carbon markets can function better to help reduce emissions overall.  I’m working on climate change adaptation, trying to make climate change adaptation more part of carbon markets, because climate change adaptation is about the actual impacts that are being felt by climate change on the ground in poor communities.  Whereas mitigation is always about reducing emissions and to be honest people like those villages they do burn firewood, but to be honest their emissions per capita are tiny.

So to go in and say actually they should burn less firewood, that’s not the reality of what needs to be done in small communities, the reality is why are they burning more firewood?  Why?  It’s because there’s less rain, there’s not as many sustainable crops being planted that they could harvest themselves.  There’s a lot of other systemic reasons and in small communities it’s not really about mitigation, it’s about adaptation, adaptation is how do you deal with the effects of climate change, taking into account socioeconomic issues and environmental issues.

Interviewer:  And what do you see yourself working on in the next years and even a decade in the future?

Tejas Ewing:  It fits in with that perspective, but what I’m really interested is in when we’re trying to work through the environmental issues that we face as a planet, what I’m most interested in is what is it about the current system that we’re actually trying to protect?  Because what you find is a lot of the discussions end up being about we need a new system, this is the system we have now and there are a lot of vested interests that seem to be trying to protect the existing system, but what I like to challenge people when I go and do presentations or when I do lectures is what is it about the current system that actually needs to be protected and what are the things that need to be changed?

So I mean do people actually really enjoy working from 9am until 10pm when they live in London just for the privilege to live in London? Is it something that you would’ve chosen to do when you were designing your dreams as a child that you would live in a city where property is so expensive that you have to work amazingly crazy hours just so that you can afford a place to live and that you force yourself to work harder so you can have not only that house, but a TV and a car and at the same time as you’re doing that the system itself doesn’t do anything to help you find affordable housing. I mean so why is it that people are willing to protect the status quo when it actually doesn’t benefit them?  And I find that’s what I’m interested in working on, because if you actually present people with those questions then I think the answers become more clear, I don’t think there’s a lot of people who want to work 14 hours a day.

Interviewer:  So how optimistic do you feel about these issues in looking at the future maybe say by 2020?  Where do you think we’ll be at?

Tejas Ewing:  I would say I’m a realist rather than a optimist or a pessimist and that’s why I focussed it as a question of what it is that you actually want to see, because what happens is people can get caught up in specific patterns quite easily, but if you take it from the perspective of what is it that I want to protect and what is it that I want to change?  I feel that if people actually have those options then there’s a lot of changes they would make. As I said I feel that most environmental problems are based around the fact that we over consume. Humans by nature over consume, but I don’t think there’s actually a fundamental reason for doing that that makes people’s lives better.

So in a setting where you don’t question what’s going on, there’s a tendency to over consume, to make as much money and then spend it, but I don’t think that process actually makes people feel better and so much research has shown that it doesn’t, that once you get above a certain level of income, what happens after that makes a very, very small impact on your wellbeing and then there’s more research that’s been shown lately that the happiest societies are the ones where there’s the least discrepancy between the poorest and the richest.  So I feel that if you actually show people that and ask them the question, so do you work so much because you enjoy your job or just because you need the output, which is the money, because you want to buy more things, because that’s what you believe you have to do.

So what I think is that now that we’ve focussing more on a choice based system, I feel optimistic. I think the failure of the environmental movement was in the past when people said this is what you should do, because this is what will protect the most forest, whereas I’m interested in asking the questions, is what you’re doing now actually benefitting you or anyone else and if the answer is no then consider the different options and I think most environmental solutions actually fit within that paradigm. In the past it seemed like a lot of options are things that will make your life worse, but I don’t think that’s actually the reality if you focus at the systemic changes.

 

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