May 23. 2024. 8:36

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Post-growth thinking in the Brussels Bubble

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A study released this month by the Hot or Cool Institute found that more consumption does not translate into higher levels of human well-being.

The findings are the latest in a long line showing that once people have their basic material needs catered for, more absolute levels of money or possessions don’t do much to improve their happiness. [The relationship is more complex when researchers consider people’s relative income – how wealthy they are compared to their peers.]

This truth is one of the conceptual cornerstones of the ‘post-growth’ movement, which holds that economic growth is pushing us past fixed planetary boundaries, like the twin climate and biodiversity crises, without fundamentally making us happier.

Post-growth proponents want society to orient away from rampant consumerism and towards activities that do actually boost people’s well-being and have limited ecological impacts. For example, spending more time with loved ones, having creative hobbies, or better supporting the sick and infirm.

Detractors point out that people seem to quite like consumption, if their behaviour is any guide.

They also say that environmental challenges can be solved by that one limitless resource – human ingenuity. Society has developed technical solutions to big problems like food shortages or the threat of nuclear war – we will always think up clever new fixes.

The concept is extremely popular in academic circles and amongst NGOs. European centrist parties accept that GDP cannot be society’s only goal, but they are not prepared to jettison it either.

Both proponents and detractors will often distil the concept down to its purest form. But in practice, there is a spectrum of societal outcomes that are closer or further away from an absolute post-growth state.

For example, Europe traditionally has slower growth relative to the US. Many economists attribute this to Europeans’ preference for more holidays and a better work-life balance.

Europe is de facto swapping some economic growth for greater well-being. It’s post-growth thinking, but it doesn’t feel particularly radical.

Like most grand theories of everything, we’ll never get a definitive answer on whether post-growth is the right way forward or an idealistic pipedream.

But with issues of economic competitiveness and security continuing to dominate the election campaign, it is no bad thing to remember the things that ultimately make life worth living.

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New EU scheme could hike petrol, gas prices higher than expected, key lawmakers admit

The EU’s new carbon pricing scheme for road and heating fuels (ETS2) – set to be introduced across the bloc in 2027 – could lead to higher price hikes than initially thought, key lawmakers told Euractiv.

2023 may well have been the last time global power sector emissions increase. “The renewables future has arrived,” said Ember’s director of insights, Dave Jones. “Solar in particular is accelerating faster than anyone thought possible.”

Global renewables approach 30% share in 2023, on the back of solar, EU leadership

Renewables made up 30% of power generation in 2023 for the first time ever, a global analysis by clean energy think-tank Ember has found – putting green power on track to displace coal.

  • Brussels updates rules for fast-track renewable zones, restricted auctions – By Nikolaus J. Kurmayer
  • Europe Ahead: ECR’s Hoogeveen on why EU needs ‘deregulation’ – By Thomas Moller-Nielsen
  • Key EU lawmaker Peter Liese already eyeing next CO2 price revamp – By Nikolaus J. Kurmayer

PARIS. Renewables: slow progress means France remains on collision course with EU Commission. France achieved a 22.2% share of renewable energy in its gross final energy consumption in 2023, according to the French Ecological Ministry figures from 7 May, but the trend is not sufficient for the country to reach a target of at least 44% renewable energy by 2030, as set by EU law. Read more.

BERLIN. Climate activists want to change EU politics before it changes them. Several activists with roots in climate protest movements are likely to get elected to the next European Parliament, hoping to shake up an institution known for its technocratic ways. Read more.

Chinese solar firms probed in Romania pullout. LONGi Solar and Shanghai Electric have pulled out of the bidding process to build a 450 MW solar park in Romania after the European Commission launched a probe based on the newly activated Foreign Subsidies Regulation, to see whether the companies had benefitted from undue amounts of subsidies previously. French Single Market Commissioner Thierry Breton welcomed their withdrawal. A previous case similarly saw the withdrawal of a Chinese railway firm. The withdrawal means the investigation is closed. [Nikolaus J. Kurmayer]

  • The struggle to put a price on climate change – By Giada Santana
  • The Czech fossil fuel magnate with a passion for media – By Giada Santana

  • 30 MAY. Energy Council
  • SPRING 2024. First European Climate Risk Assessment
  • 6-9 JUNE: European elections
  • 17 JUNE. Environment Council (Luxembourg)
  • 27-28 JUNE. European Council

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