Reports, Projects and Updates: A Year In Review

by Simon Ussher and Samuel Alexander on June 3, 2012

We’ve been busy at the Simplicity Institute this year, publishing many essays about voluntary simplicity, post-growth economics, and other related issues such as peak oil and renewable energy. We are also very honoured to welcome Ted Trainer and Mark Burch to our faculty, both of whom have been prominent participants in the Simplicity Movement for several decades. (For a summary of Ted Trainer’s work, please click here).

Below we have summarised and provided links to some of our recent projects and essays, which we hope you will find valuable. 

The Simpler Way Project – By now we all realise the importance of reducing resource and energy consumption and stepping more lightly on the planet, but figuring out how to do this in a consumer society can be very challenging. The Simpler Way Project is dedicated to providing the most comprehensive, practical guide to living ‘simpler lives’ of reduced and restrained consumption. For hundreds of practical ideas on how to live more simply, please see The Simpler Way Project here. The website was designed to be a collaborative project, so please leave comments and share your ideas.

The Simple Living Survey – Over the last 18 months the Simplicity Institute has conducted the largest empirical study of the Simplicity Movement ever undertaken. Our results were recently published in the prominent, peer-reviewed Journal of Consumer Culture. An expanded and revised version of the article is available here.

Living Better on Less? Toward an Economics of Sufficiency – This essay begins by reviewing the empirical studies that have examined the correlation between income and happiness. The weight of evidence suggests that once people have their basic material needs adequately met, the correlation between income and happiness quickly begins to fade. This has been called the ‘income-happiness paradox,’ because it contradicts the widely held assumption that more income and more economic growth will always contribute positively to human wellbeing. After reviewing the empirical literature, the analysis proceeds to consider the various explanations for this so-called ‘paradox,’ and it also considers what implications this paradox might have for people and nations that are arguably overconsuming. The paper concludes by outlining what will be called an ‘economics of sufficiency.’ Download full report here.

Can Renewable Energy Sustain Consumer Societies? A Negative Case – Ted Trainer has spent the best part of a decade tirelessly surveying the best available data on renewable energy and other technologies, and he has recently published the culmination of his efforts with the Simplicity Institute. Contradicting widely held assumptions, Trainer presents a formidable case that renewable energy and other ‘tech-fixes’ will be unable to sustain growth-based and energy-intensive consumer societies. Given the limitations and expense of renewable energy systems, any transition to a just and sustainable world requires a vastly reduced demand for energy compared to what is common in the developed regions of the world today, and this necessitates giving up growth-based, consumer societies and the energy-intensive lifestyles they support and promote. Download full report here.

Overcoming Barriers to Sustainable Consumption – Our lifestyle decisions, especially our consumption decisions, are not made in a vacuum. Instead, they are made within social, economic, and political structures of constraint, and those structures make some lifestyle decisions easy or necessary and other lifestyle decisions difficult or impossible. Change the social, economic, and political structures, however, and different consumption practices would or could emerge. With a practical focus, this research essay examines the extent to which people in consumer societies are ‘locked in’ to high consumption, energy-intensive lifestyles, and it explores ways that structural changes could facilitate a societal transition to practices of more sustainable consumption. Download full report here.

Peak Oil, Energy Descent, and the Fate of Consumerism – Another one of our publications explores the lifestyle implications of ‘peak oil.’ We examine the energy intensity of Western-style consumer lifestyles and consider whether such lifestyles could be sustained in a future with declining energy supplies and much higher energy prices. Although energy supply issues have the very real potential to cause unprecedented human suffering, our position is that, if handled wisely, the forced transition away from energy-intensive consumer lifestyles (whether due to peak oil, climate change, or broader resource constraints) could actually lead humanity down a more meaningful, just, and sustainable path, such that we should want to choose this path even if it were not to be forced upon us in coming decades. Download full report here.

For a list of these publications and others on similar themes, please click here.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter September 12, 2012 at 10:02 am

I am new to all this , having been a rather large consumer in the past, having very little thoughts of my actions.
I have just read Affluenza and would like to know more. Do you know of any meetings/discussion groups in Melbourne in which I can learn more?
I guess I am starting right at the bottom.

Trevor Smith September 16, 2012 at 9:27 am

How do we know how much we can consume ? ie Ted mentions in his treatise elsewhere about an Aussie consuming “8 hectare equivalents” but how do we measure how much I can consume, sure I might cut back but I might still be using more than the planet can support, in which case I am delaying the inevitable not helping prevent it ? I am not saying not to encourage people to consume less but how much less do we need to consume to make a “our fair share” difference ?

Do I know if I can buy a pushbike or is that too much consumption already and I need to walk ? Surely something we can put a $ on we can also put a hectare consumption equivalent on as well, a dual price ticket if you will ? Much like people know how energy efficient a fan is, can we not figure out how

I won’t even go into Pets and how much consumption that indulgence consumes (let alone the philosophical discussion about keeping an animal) but it would be nice to similarly know. I expect the average western pet dog consumes more than the average Bangledeshi for example.

David West November 26, 2012 at 4:45 am

Hi all
I have really enjoyed Samuel Alexander’s articles recently, particularly the one on the fate of the middle-class. A more concise article on such a large topic would be hard to find and I have been forwarding to friends. Just one request-could you publish these as html.or word documents rather than PDFs? I do most of my reading on a kindle ebook reader these days (for how much longer is debatable!) and PDFs are a pain-in-the-ass for such devices. I have been downloading the simplicity institute’s articles from the site as html but not all your work is there. But keep up the great work!

Estar Holmes January 8, 2014 at 8:50 pm

The vision expressed by these young people is what we should all be throwing our simple living energy behind. While I find the discussions here interesting, there needs to be laser focus on creating communities of living now, in other words doing rather than speculating. Those who prefer to stay in the system can be sharing some of their energy in the form of financial support and advocacy. Thanks for being interested in simple living.

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