Ricardo Garcia Mira is Full Professor of Social Psychology at the University of A Coruna, Spain, and an Honorary Professor at the Institute for Policy Research of the University of Bath during the period 2016-2024. He was the Coordinator of the GLAMURS project (7thFP) on Green Lifestyles, Alternative Models, and Upscaling Regional Sustainability.

Part two of Prof García Mira’s blog can be found here.

The issue of Climate Change

During the period since the declaration of the pandemic in 2020 and the first months of 2021, according to the data published by the Ministry of Ecological Transition, the number of forest fires in Spain had fallen below the average, considering the period between 2010 and 2020. On the other hand, the consumption of water and industrial energy and services decreased considerably as a result of Covid19 and confinement. Despite both things, climate change over the three years since the start of the pandemic remains an indisputable fact. The changes in the state of alarm that followed the year 2021 took into account the importance and urgency of maintaining certain policies related to forest management and restrictions on the use and consumption of water during the period of return to normality. Human beings have been slowly rebuilding our relationship with nature, and now we face the challenge of escaping the destructive practices of biodiversity in the sea and in the countryside, to which we are contributing with our excessive consumption and intensive agriculture. The Covid19 pandemic has revealed the relevance of our relationship with nature in the fight against this and future viruses.

The United Nations Conference, COP28, which took place last year in Dubai, based on the results of the previous summit, and recognizing the need to take action on fundamental issues to deal with the climate emergency, highlighted the difficulty of urgently reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and programs and commitments have been reconsidered to gain more resilience in adapting to the consequences of climate change, especially with regard to financing commitments for climate action in developing countries, something that was pending long before since the Paris Summit. The attempt at adaptation will be joined by discussions about the role of women as the axis of action. And to that is added the request of civil society to put an end to the financing of fossil fuels, emerging solidarity and climate justice as prominent values, where people are the engine of action.

In short, the world is reacting to climate change with all its force, and we are witnessing the creation of all kinds of institutional instruments to adapt to the transformations that are coming. Over the past decades, accumulated scientific evidence shows us that resource-intensive patterns of use, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, inevitably lead to increasing resource scarcity, biodiversity loss, and climate change- its numerous and disastrous effects. At the level of the European Union, the current and unsustainable models of production and consumption are responsible for these complex and related problems, so finding ways for sustainable change has become a priority for European citizens and politicians. The Green Deal has set itself the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50% by 2030, and focuses its strategy on cities, which consume 65% of the world's energy and are responsible for more than 70% of attributable global emissions to human action.

The health crisis due to Covid19 has added a devastating factor, which plunges Europe into a deep economic recession that raises the need for institutional changes and economic transformations that guarantee the protection of people's health as an integrated part of the environment, with smart, sustainable solutions, inclusive and generalized.

The Social Research of Climate Change. Where to start?

More and more often we hear voices calling for urgent action on this matter. The ‘when’ is clear, now. But how to do it at a fast enough pace? Which measures and strategies are more effective? Who should be responsible for adapting to climate change? Civil society? Our governments? What happens now that vaccination has spread and citizens are immunized?

The research on lifestyles that analyses different models of sustainability development, sponsored by the European Framework Program for Research and Innovation, set out to respond, among other things, to some of these questions, and it proposed measurements to help Europe in advancing in the transition towards sustainability. The main objective was to understand both theoretically and empirically the main obstacles and opportunities for change towards sustainability in Europe, by analysing the dynamics and conditions of lifestyle change. Such conditions, in which economic systems change, are exposed to the complex interaction of very diverse economic, social, cultural, political or technological factors, and influence the choices we make, more or less correct from the point of view of sustainability. The consensus on the fact that there is a fragmented and insufficient institutional response to the challenge of climate change is broad. Greater coordination and effective decision-making is required at government level to ensure a more demanding roadmap than the current one. But, on the other hand, what happens at the individual level? Is the population answering as it should be to one of the higher challenges of our time? In what degree are we contributing to the climate change?

The research on how to activate changes in our lifestyle choices covered different issues and lifestyle domains, within a multi-method approach focused on different lifestyle domains, chosen for their contribution to the production of environmental footprints: state and use of houses, energy use, mobility, food consumption, consumption of manufactured products and work-leisure balance. Sustainable initiatives were studied in depth in seven European regions: Aberdeen (Scotland), Banat-Timis (Romania), Central Germany; the Bohemian Forest area in Austria; Galicia (Spain); Lazio (Italy) and Rotterdam-The Hague (Holland). Both these European regions and a number of sustainable lifestyle initiatives in each of them were explored (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Vision of the regions and case studies and their initiatives in the six domains (García-Mira, 2017).


Well-being and the cost of materialism

The greater wealth of the countries of the North has given rise to models of high consumption of resources, which are still considered to have a high status in the definition of well-being, despite the evidence that shows the high cost that materialism imposes. The most current research on indicators of physical and mental health, studies of happiness or satisfaction with life, clearly question the assumptions that underlie current social and economic measures. Lifestyles characterized by intensive consumption of resources are harmful not only to the environment. In addition, they have failed to achieve the desired happiness and a freer life based on having more or consuming more. More often, the citizen experience is characterized by the realization that working more, to consume more, and thus achieve a greater degree of satisfaction and well-being, only generates a greater sense of pressure on our lives, less well-being and greater frustration. Material wealth, therefore, is also accompanied by a worrying increase in the ecological footprint.

It is true that there has been some progress in the dissociation between economic growth and environmental impact through eco-efficiency strategies, which introduce improvements in production processes. However, some of these processes generated unexpected effects and increased consumption, relativizing the positive effects  and making it necessary to implement strategies to change the consumption model to one with less impact and reduce material consumption, by other models with less environmental impact combined with alternative business model approaches . Although achieving a necessary balance in the work-time relationship is a desirable objective that tends to reduce the growth-wellbeing relationship, there is still concern about the negative effects that reduced consumption models may have in terms of employment in Europe.

Our carbon footprint analysis in the European framework confirms that household consumption is responsible for 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions and between 50 and 80% of the total use of land, materials and water. Our research shows that our current lifestyles are characterized by very intensive levels of consumption. The results also show that Galicial, in Spain, would pollute more than twice as much as an average person worldwide, for example (see Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Carbon footprint at home by consumption categories (Vita et al., 2016; García-Mira, 2017)

We can identify priority areas of intervention, in addition to relating emission levels to what may be socio-economic, socio-political or particular cultural characteristics. To be effective, changes towards sustainability must focus on those categories of consumption with the greatest environmental impact. Housing and the type of construction, mobility, food and consumption of manufactured goods are today the biggest culprits of environmental impact in OECD countries. The figure 2 shows a great variability in the analyzed impacts. In the case of Galicia, although one of the lowest footprints is observed for the housing category, compared to the rest of the autonomous communities, in terms of food, however, the results are among the highest. The good results in the case of Galician homes are mainly due to climate issues, related to the mildness of average temperatures throughout the year, which would avoid emissions related to the use of heating and ventilation systems. On the contrary, the poor results in food would be linked to the high levels of consumption per inhabitant in Galicia and to cultural reasons. Another noteworthy result showed that approximately 60% of the total carbon footprint is due to the consumption of unnecessary products, so it is essential to reduce the levels of widespread consumption. In this context and broadly speaking, how to define the population's response to environmental challenges? We will try to make some approximations.

Part two of Prof García Mira’s blog can be found here.

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of the IPR, nor of the University of Bath.

Posted in: Climate change, COVID-19, Culture and policy, Data, politics and policy, Energy and environmental policy, European politics, Evidence and policymaking, Global politics, Health, Science and research policy, Sustainability


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  • Very important and useful r.&d.project.