The Environmental Impacts of Human Needs and Lifestyles: Connecting the global economy, natural resources and human wellbeing
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Industrial ecology tools have a role in informing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. However, a more socially meaningful industrial ecology would have a stronger impact. Identifying the most feasible options calls for multidimensional systems perspectives. This research provides insights into opportunities and challenges to reconcile lifestyles, human needs and planetary well-being. This work assesses multiple environmental and social indicators to analyze synergies, trade-offs and lock-ins within the human-economy-nature triad. It views fundamental human needs and lifestyles at the center of socioeconomic metabolism. Paper I connects the framework of fundamental human needs to global carbon emissions. The needs for subsistence and protection require the most resources but remain largely unsatisfied. Most objective indicators of need satisfaction show a satiation trend with respect to footprints, while subjective indicators show no relationship, except for freedom and creation. This study signals the importance of considering both subjective and objective satisfaction to assess quality of life-impact relationships at the needs level. In this way, resources could be strategically invested where they strongly yield social outcomes, and spared where non-consumption satisfiers could be more effective. The paper sets the basis to measure the impact of fundamental human needs while jointly assessing their satisfaction. Paper II introduces an input-output model to simulate scenarios of alternative consumption and production. It draws on participatory methods of backcasting to build lifestyles scenarios based on citizens’ visions. The contribution is to provide a multi-indicator outlook of the sustainability implications of an assortment of sufficiency and green consumption options. We find that reducing transport by working from home and commuting actively, local and peer-to-peer services, durable fashion, and lower food waste are sufficiency options with significant mitigation potential. We find potential in shifting current expenditure towards green consumption options such as renting, sharing and repairing manufactured products, adopting passive house standards and eating plant-based diets. Paper III finds that members of sustainability-focused grassroots initiatives have 15% lower carbon footprints and higher life satisfaction compared to their socio-economic counterparts. The carbon footprint reduction by grassroots members are even larger for less context-constrained domains: 43% lower for food and 86% lower for clothing. The research shows the potential of grassroots initiatives to reconcile planetary and human well-being. The method bridges sound environmental impact principles of industrial ecology with social science tools such as behavioral surveys and psychological health. While grassroots might have a minor direct influence on total emissions, they can influence ) society through changing narratives of consumption and self-providing sustainable goods. Paper IV provides a perspective on the direct and indirect energy utilized by household durable equipment. We calculate the cradle-to-gate energy footprints of 200 goods across the 44 largest economies and five world regions for the period 1995-2011. We find durable goods to be responsible for 10% of the global final energy embodied in household consumption. However, the services and consumables complementary to durables amount to 8% global final energy footprints, while the fuels and electricity to operate durables amount to 51%. Thus, two-thirds of the global household final energy is associated with durable goods Paper V combines nutrition sciences that model individuals’ energetic metabolism as a function of biophysical characteristics, with epidemiology and demographic studies that provide evidence for large shifts in height, weight, life expectancy and age structure worldwide. The paper shows the disaggregated effects of short term human evolution for food demand. Across countries over the period of 1975 and to 2014, individuals’ weight gains ranged between 6-33% and energy needs increased between 0.9-16%. Globally, food energy increased by 129%. Population growth contributed with 116%, weight and height gains by 15%, while the aging phenomenon counteracted the rise in energy needs by 2%. This net additional 13% demand added only by larger human mass (beyond population numbers) corresponded to the food demands of 286 million global average adults. This research has implications for previous calculations of sufficiency and food availability: a given population size today can require up to 16% more food within 40 years from now. What previous analyses have estimated as rising food availability could actually be offset by increasing human mass.
Has partsPaper 1: Vita, Gibran; Hertwich, Edgar G.; Stadler, Konstantin; Wood, Richard. Connecting global emissions to fundamental human needs and their satisfaction. Environmental Research Letters 2018 - As the Version of Record of this article is going to be/has been published on a gold open access basis under a CC BY 3.0 licence, this Accepted Manuscript is available for reuse under a CC BY 3.0 licence immediately. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aae6e0
Paper 2: Vita, G; Lundström, R; Quist, J.; Stadler, K.; Ivanova, D.; Wood, R. and Hertwich, E.G. Sustainable lifestyle scenarios to curb European environmental impact: Connecting local visions to global consequences
Paper 3: Vita, G*. ;Ivanova, D*.; Dumitru, A.; García-Mira, R.; Carrus, G.; Stadler,K.; Krause ,K.; Wood, R.; Hertwich, E.G. The potential of grassroots initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and enhance well-being
Paper 4: Vita, G.; Narasimha, R.; Usubiaga, A.; Min,J.; and Wood, R. The energy footprints of household durables, consumables and services: A global study from 1995 to 2011
Paper 5: Vasquez, Felipe; Vita, Gibran; Mueller, Daniel Beat. Food security for an ageing and heavier population. Sustainability 2018 ;Volum 10.(3683) s. 1-19 https://doi.org/10.3390/su10103683 This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 4.0).