overcoming carbon-aholism

The bloke two seats away (there was a spare between us) leaned across, tapped his watch and said; “Its 5 o’clock, you can stop reading now.” I was reading a Report called Prosperity Without Growth, the economics was doing my head in, but it is also about the lifestyles we are addicted to. So there I was, on a plane for the 2nd of 4 times in a two day period, having just hosted a meeting about business and environmental sustainability. Oh to be free of compromises and hypocrisy.

Today I join thousands of other bloggers around the world in discussing Climate Change. www.blogactionday.org The encounter with my fellow passenger raises (at least) two interesting questions for me. What permission do we have to call each other on unsustainable practices? And how do we make judgements about our own hypocrisy?

What’s the relationship between climate change and so called work life balance? Both are related to healthy and sustainable living. Most people I know would say they struggle with so called work life balance. I think the real issue though is not about balance, it is about integrity. Integrity is about making sure the way we behave is aligned with what we say is important. If the people I love the most really are the most important thing, then my behaviour should demonstrate that; now – not in 10 years when I’ve managed to ‘free up’ some time. Too late then. So the problem is not that I work too much, it is that I haven’t cultivated a compelling life outside work.

The bloke in 21D might have thought I was overdoing it (with my heavy reading agenda on the plane while he sips his complementary red). I knew I had some activity planned for the rest of the week that tapped into other passions beside work. But I love that he called me on it. I hope desperately that society will shift in ways called for in the Prosperity Without Progress Report so that being addicted to work will become socially unacceptable, not as a regressive prohibition, but because it reflects an absence of other healthy stuff that cannot coexist with it. And it will be OK to dob in a workaholic.

The problem most of us have, I think, with changing our behaviour so we are part of the solution to damaging climate change, is that we are addicted to an unconstrained-carbon-lifestyle. We are carbon-aholics, without even knowing it, or caring. I think the solution to workaholism is not to coach ourselves to ‘work less’, it is to develop passions that compel us to stop work. In the same way, as carbon-aholics, we must change our view of the world so that we learn to appreciate, like and even love activity that is part of the solution.

For example, we need to learn to love buying local food so we do not perpetuate unsustainability of ‘food miles’, or we need to learn to love riding our bikes whenever possible, or we need to appreciate the discipline associated with turning appliances off, or we need to reset our idea of holidaying to exclude air travel.

We will move to a healthy and progressive carbon-constrained economy via action at all levels of society. As much as it is up to business (shifting the economy) and government (legislative incentive), it is also clearly up to each of us to do our little bit. I hope you can develop an appreciation of some behaviours and lifestyle options that provide incentive to give up some carbon.


It was 1984 when ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ moved poverty into pop culture. It took a long time but in the early part of this decade, there seemed to be a growing consensus among thinking people that global poverty was the moral issue of our time. Some high profile things were happening:

In September 2000, the world’s leaders signed on to the United Nations Millennium Declaration, committing to 8 major goals including halving extreme poverty by 2015.

Prior to that, the Jubilee 2000 campaign had significantly raised awareness of the economic injustice associated with development efforts.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation started investing so much money in health & education in the developing world it redefined the space and provoked lots of debate about the nature of monopolies, not just in the IT world.

The Make Poverty History and Micah Challenge campaigns got real traction, helped by the endorsement of pop culture icons like Bono.

Economists were also part of the call to action. By the time Jeffrey Sachs wrote The End of Poverty,  and CK Prahalad wrote Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, the public conversation had moved beyond charity. Yes, not-for-profits were increasing the rigour and professionalism of their operations. But business began to explore commercially sustainable ways to develop the opportunities among poorer communities via mass, low cost products such as alternative energy solutions. Mohammad Yunus won a Nobel Prize for his Grameen Bank work, the mother of mass micro-financing. And voices like Sachs’ were calling for tri-sector (Government, Business and NGO) approaches injecting hope that we could reach the targets set by the Millennium Develop Goals.

But then came the Climate Crisis. The attention shifted from the moral imperative associated with poverty, to the survival instinct related to Climate Change. Understandably. However, what needs to be reinforced is the relationship between climate change and poverty.

The implications for the North/West are all over our magazines and newspapers. But it is the poor who will have the most difficultly in adapting. Water shortages through Central Asia, extreme climate and geological events, rising sea levels, economic adjustments in developed countries to accommodate the low carbon imperative … and many other factors will all have a dramatic effect on the world’s poor.

It reminds me of a conversation I was part of in the nineties. Many of my friends were choosing lifestyles that enabled them to identify with people living in poor. It is true that one sees the world differently from ‘underneath’. However, part of this conversation was about understanding that poverty is not actually about material wealth, rather it is about the ability to participate in what is on offer. This might be about the capacity to get public transport to the CentreLink, or it might be about accessing medical assistance for mental illness etc. So, it is not really possible for those of us who are ‘powerful’ in the sense that we can access what our society offers, to choose voluntary poverty. At any point, if we chose to, we could step out.

I think the relationship between Climate Change and Poverty holds some parallels. Yes, it will be tough for those of us in developed countries to make the dramatic lifestyle changes required to lower our carbon footprint. But we do so from a position of power. We will survive.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for the poorest people. Poverty must not be allowed to slip off the agenda in light of the growing need to act on Climate Change.