Can adopting a minimalist lifestyle help address climate change?

Hand and plant. Shutterstock.
1 September 2021

New Game Change Scholarship empowers students to work on urgent solutions to climate change and its impacts.

An A-frame house in the picturesque Cook Islands might seem an unlikely place for the genesis of a thesis on consumption, but this is exactly where Rebecca Blackburn found her inspiration.

Along with her husband, Rebecca had packed up her life in Canberra to work as an Australian Volunteer International. Their worldly possessions now consisted of two back-packs, two bicycles, a keyboard, an old computer, and two changes of clothes. To them, it was simple existence, but to their four-year-old neighbour in the Cook Islands, Rebecca and her husband still had “a lot of stuffs!”

This comment from the mouth of a babe was to become a life-defining moment for Rebecca; one that presented her with a rare opportunity to take an objective look at the way that she lived. Or, more specifically, the way that she consumed. Now, years later, Rebecca is realising the results of that encounter.

In February 2021, Rebecca commenced her PhD at ANU and has recently been announced as the recipient of the ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions (ICEDS) Game Change Scholarship, supported by the Game Change Fund.

The Game Change Fund was founded by Graham Waters, Anne-Marie Waters and Ray Kiley, who believe that finding solutions to climate change and its impacts is urgent. The Fund supports research into climate change through scholarships for PhD scholars. The objective of the Game Change Scholarship is to encourage an integrative approach to climate change solutions which crosses disciplinary and college boundaries.

Broadly, Rebecca’s research will focus on driving behaviour change to reduce consumption and its associated impacts. In particular, Rebecca will examine whether living a minimalist life actually leads to better climate and environmental outcomes.

“The impacts of minimalism are often self-reported, but with little focus on measurement. So that’s what I want to do -  actually measure the ecological footprint of a minimalist lifestyle,” said Rebecca.

Central to Rebecca’s research is her belief that technology alone is not going to be enough to overcome the societal challenges of climate change.

“We need a fundamental change to the way our society is structured and how we think about things,” she said.

Rebecca is particularly concerned with wealthier societies, like Australia, that are geared to over-consumption, which in turn leads to poor environmental outcomes.

“The good news,” says Rebecca, “is that there is evidence to suggest that living more simply makes us happier.”

This, she thinks, may be one driver that is key to influencing people to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. It is one of many theories she will examine through her research.

With the support of the Game Change Scholarship, Rebecca now has the opportunity to test her assumptions about the environmental impacts of minimalist lifestyles without the worry of financial burden.

“It means that I can dedicate more time and energy to my research, which increases my ability to test my hypotheses,” she said.

In terms of outcomes, Rebecca believes she can play a role in future policy development.

“My aim is for the information I gather throughout my studies to be translated into policy, and in this way be used to influence positive societal changes,” she said.

Rebecca is extremely grateful to ICEDS and the Game Change Fund for the opportunities available to her through the award.

“As a result of the scholarship, I will be able to access an extensive network of experts in academia, government and industry,” she said.

If you are interested in contributing to the Game Change Fund, or other philanthropic opportunities, please contact College of Science Development Manager, Tim Langford, at tim.langford@anu.edu.au.

To find out more about Rebecca’s work, contact Rebecca at rebecca.blackburn@anu.edu.au.

 

Photo: Shutterstock.