Controlling consumption that’s consuming the planet

Dr Robert Crocker is concerned that we’re spending a lot of time giving people low-carbon houses to live in, without asking them – and helping them – to do something about their high-carbon lifestyles.

There’s no point in having an energy-efficient fridge if we drive long distances to get the food to put in it, and then waste quite a bit of it anyway. It’s even worse if we keep buying new fridges, or mobile phones, just because we can.

“We don’t just need to change the way we make and do things; we need to change the way we as a society think about economics, design, industry and consumption,” he said.

Dr Crocker’s views are set out in a new book, Somebody Else’s Problem: Consumerism, Sustainability and Design. It’s not intended to provide the answers, but to encourage people to think about things they probably haven’t thought about.

“I think consumption is the engine driving climate change,” he said. “Most people would sort of agree then immediately change the topic, but I think we have got to really start dealing with this.”

As Deputy Director of the China Australia Centre for Sustainable Urban Design at UniSA, Dr Crocker will lead a new project designed to create alternative, low-carbon shops for eco-precincts. He will bring together disciplines such as retail marketing, urban agriculture and ecological economics to model the most sustainable way of provisioning eco-precincts, making clever use of modern communication technologies.

“Today everything in our food sector is run by a few larger companies created years ago when things were very different,” he said. “I’m not saying these guys should go away and we should all shop locally; I’m saying that we should pioneer ways of doing things that these guys will eventually have to take notice of, because the environmental and social costs of their system are just too high.

“This project will contribute to what the UN calls ‘sustainable production and consumption’. The idea is that we trial a more sustainable ‘circular’ model of food provisioning that benefits local farmers and suppliers, feeds people nutritiously and affordably, and is more resilient to climate change.”