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How can the transformation to sustainability succeed?

What does sustainability mean, what distinguishes a life in their sense, and how can it be implemented socially? ZIN spokeswoman Prof'in Doris Fuchs talks about these and other questions in the 7th WWU Podcast (recorded in early February, published on 17.04.2020). We provide a brief overview of the contents of the podcast here:

At the beginning of the interview, we will discuss the term "sustainability": It is a term that is widely used nowadays - but it is not always understood in the same way. In the podcast, Prof'in Fuchs defines sustainability for himself as "a good life for all who live now and in the future" (Fuchs, 2020, 01:15*). For her, this includes three points: 1. the satisfaction of the most important, most basic human needs, 2. justice between the people who live now and in the future, and 3. adherence to planetary boundaries, i.e. not consuming more than the earth provides us with.

In the interview Prof'in Fuchs makes it clear in many places that for this social and ecological sustainability much more must change, much more urgently and with much more drastic measures, than we as a society are aware of or are suggested to us above all by politics. All our systems, both the economy and science, are based on consuming finite resources and exploiting people, especially in countries of the global south.

According to Fuchs, for a transformation towards a sustainable, good life for all to succeed, both are needed: the commitment of each individual and clear political signals and measures, in other words, fundamental systematic changes.

This shared responsibility is discussed in detail using the example of our consumer behavior:
Without a certain amount of consumption, a good life cannot function. And at the same time it is not possible for any consumer to make every everyday (consumption) decision in terms of a sustainable lifestyle. This would simply be opposed by financial and time resources as well as the lack of all relevant information. Nevertheless: In order that everyone, without exception, all over the world can lead a good life today and in the future, many people will have to reduce their current consumption to a significantly high degree. Overall, "often the best thing [one] can do is not to buy something [...] to consume less" (ibid., 11:04). (Consumer) areas in which Fuchs sees potential for change are mobility, nutrition and living.

Nevertheless, structural changes are also needed here. The political decision-makers have the responsibility and the duty to take the warnings and appeals of scientists seriously and to create laws, regulations and other control mechanisms in a consequent way, which limit life beyond the planetary borders significantly and in the long run. For Fuchs, it takes courageous politicians who are willing to take more rigid measures even if they involve uncomfortable costs for potential voters. The Fridays for Future movement shows that many people would like to see a change in thinking and clear legal guidelines. Fuchs appeals to the citizens to continue to interfere politically and to put pressure on their elected representatives.

The design of our current democracy in Germany is also not insignificant here. So far, for example, short time horizons such as legislative periods, or the influence of economic power and money on political decisions have posed problems that need to be overcome. This is becoming clear: Germany does not (any longer) have a pioneering role in climate protection and sustainability.

All in all, Prof'in Fuchs takes a realistic look at the possibilities of transformation and at the same time is "not yet ready to give up hope that we will be able to lead [a] social discussion" (ibid., 19:10), which is necessary for this transformation and makes it possible.

*The quotes are taken from the WWU Podcast, episode 7: "How can the transformation to sustainability succeed? Interview with Prof. Dr. Doris Fuchs" from 17.04.2020.

For classification into the current situation: The podcast was recorded before the effects of the corona pandemic. Prof'in Fuchs discusses the new opportunities that the lock-down could open up for the transformation to sustainability in her ZIN blog article "What remains?" from 20.04.2020. (published in German)