Current Issues in Ecological Economics series
Edited by Lucia A. Reisch and Inge Røpke
Chapter 6: Changing human behaviour and lifestyle: A challenge for sustainable consumption?
Elizabeth Shove Over the last decade or so, there has been a wealth of social and natural scientiﬁc debate about the environmental consequences of contemporary consumption and there is, by now, something of a consensus. It is clear that lifestyles, especially in the West, will have to change if there is to be any chance of averting the long-term consequences of resource depletion, global warming, the loss of biodiversity, the production of waste or the pollution and destruction of valued ‘natural’ environments. To put Brundtland’s famous deﬁnition1 another way round, future generations will encounter a much degraded world if present trends continue. Apparent agreement on this point disguises important theoretical divisions regarding the conceptualisation of behaviour, lifestyle and consumption. Are ‘lifestyles’ in some sense ‘chosen’ or are they better seen as ‘ways of life’, that is, as part of the social fabric (Harrison and Davies 1998)? What is the relation between ‘behaviour’ – what people do – and what they think? Is consumption an expression of taste, or a moment in a complex system of social, cultural and material reproduction (Shove and Warde 2002)? The task of sifting through these differences is of more than academic interest. As I suggest below, policies designed to promote sustainable consumption are generally founded upon an extraordinarily narrow understanding of human behaviour. It is not too difﬁcult to explain why this might be so, after all, some theoretical positions are much more amenable to policy-making (as it is presently conﬁgured) than others....
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