Transforming narratives for sustainable consumption.

Laura Blanco-Murcia & Juan Moreno-Cruz

Narratives are stories that give meaning to the world around us, shape our relationships, and structure our reality. Narratives shape the dynamics within social-ecological systems as these can alter individual consumption patterns and aggregate economic outcomes. A dominant narrative that assumes a selfish and utilitarian human nature, has shaped economic outcomes in which exploitative activities and an unsustainable relationship with the planet are seen as “natural” or “given”. This narrative is reinforced and reinforces a consumerist culture, in which we prioritize individual interests, ignoring the harm imposed on a broader context. In this consumerist culture, sustainable consumption is often seen under the frame of self-sacrifice and loss, as it sometimes requires giving up personal benefits that are appealing to our “selfish nature”. Narratives in which humanity’s “selfish nature” does not allow us to act on sustainability challenges are not only paralyzing but incomplete, as humanity is also capable of altruism, cooperation, and care. In this theoretical paper, we establish a dialogue among the Complex Adaptive Systems theory, Narrative Psychology, Narrative therapy, and the Ethics of Care, to foster narratives that can help visualize and act toward sustainable consumption. We propose that tools from narrative therapy, such as externalizing the problem and finding unique outcomes, can aid in the transformation towards narratives that acknowledge our capacity for care. Through these tools, it is possible to develop an alternative story, in which we are also capable of cooperating with other humans and more-than-humans to reshape the dynamics within social-ecological systems towards sustainability. This alternative story releases us from the paralyzing idea of our inherent unsustainability and can help us navigate the tensions emerging from sustainable consumption by framing it under the idea of care rather than self-sacrifice.

Towards a Social Ecological Theory of Trade.

Shaun Sellers

The urgent and required response to the global ecological crisis that governments around the world need to engage in is hindered by current international trade governance, trade agreements, and industrial policies aimed at increasing the flow of goods, services, and capital across borders. This international trade regime is emissions- and material- and impact-intense and tied to significant land-use change, rising social inequalities, and violent market expansion that characterize the intertwined crises of what is often called the Anthropocene. How nations, regions, firms, and communities participate in international and long-distance trade must be a site of policy transformation toward long-term social and ecological futurity on a livable planet. Ecological Economics provides a critical lens through which to understand international trade, engages in rigorous research about trade, and is conceptual home to many proposals for a different approach to international trade that would reduce material and energy throughput while increasing well-being. There is, however, not yet a social-ecological theory of trade which ties together the normative goals of EE, the emerging Ecological Macroeconomic theory/ies, and the vast body of research into the structures and effects of international trade in recent history. I will present my work that weaves together critical and systematic reviews of the history of economic thought, Ecological Macroeconomics, and trade research and theorizing about trade in Ecological Economics. These first steps towards a new narrative of trade for Ecological Economics intend to contribute to a theoretical foundation for policy-making and trade governance in post-growth, degrowth, and well-being economies and also provide a clarifying framework to assess existing proposals for alternative long-distance trade practices within and adjacent to EE theorizing.

Thinking Differently about Money for an Ecological Economy.

Joe Ament

There is much discussion in the degrowth literature of a paradox between a degrowing economy and the constrained fiscal capacity of the state in such an economy. It is often argued that without the increased taxation capacity that economic growth allows, the revenue necessary to support the policy proposals of degrowth will be insufficient. This paper argues that this concern is not a function of a fiscal constraint per se, but rather, a concern over the effects of spending beyond taxation capacity, i.e., inflation and interest rate instability. It also argues that these concerns are capitalist in nature and are a function of the system of money creation and the macroeconomic framework of capitalist economies. In making this argument, this paper offers a definition of capitalism that includes capitalist money creation and macroeconomics. Exploring heterodox literature, the paper presents an alternative view of the fiscal capacity of the state. It argues that to address the fiscal-capacity paradox, degrowth must be explicitly anti-capitalist by placing macroeconomic resiliency over efficiency and fundamentally restructuring the banking system by socializing the money-creation process.

Making sense through stories: participatory narratives as a pathway to local resilience.

James T Jones

Human activity in the last 200 years has created a polycrises with globally significant impacts on climate, biodiversity, social equity, and justice. Recognition of limits to economic growth led to efforts to pursue sustainable development but progress is slow, with criticism that goals will not be met through continued growth amid the social complexity that underpins the current crises. New approaches shift the search for solutions to the problematic way we perceive and act within the world, including re-evaluating core values and beliefs contained in narratives which shape our interactions with the world and each other. Narratives are commonly framed as nouns (e.g., the sustainability narrative) but narratives are also a process of continuous coming into being of phenomena into patterns of meaning that shape human behaviour, particularly through values and ethics, and as part of the day-to-day, minute-by-minute ‘sensemaking’ that precedes action. Narrative approaches are a way of understanding and acting in the domain of complexity, however, they are not normative by design, so the oft-heard call for the ‘need for new narratives’ imposes conditions on the narrative process that challenge theories of non-linearity and uncertainty in social-ecological systems. Our research will explore the re-localization of narrative sensemaking as a regenerative approach to the current poly-crises Our research seeks to understand the role narratives play as a facilitator or barrier to transition in social-ecological systems including understanding the relationship between narratives at different scales, the role of narratives in revealing “the adjacent possible” and creating alternative basins of attraction. During much of their evolution, our narratives have emerged primarily through interaction at the local scale- family/ tribal completion of physical tasks in the community, such as hunting, tool-making, or child-care in place (the view from Somewhere). Modernity yields narratives of the highly mobile individual, structuring narratives without limits in virtual realms (the view from Anywhere/Nowhere).