Ethify Your Life

Allotting Life Time

A day has 24 hours, 16 of which we are usually awake. Europeans can expect to live to the age of 85. In principle, we thus have more than half a million hours at our disposal that we can allot at our discretion. If you come to repent having spent your life at your desk, not having dedicated enough time to your friends and family, on your deathbed, it'll be too late. Why not allot time to certain activities without being walked by laziness, greed, the craving for recognition, hunger for success, or a blind desire to consume?

The German sociologist Frigga Haug1 suggests that we identify four areas of human activity and allot an equal amount of time to each of them: Work, Care, Culture, and Politics. It's our only chance to live a balanced and independent life, gathering experience from a vast array of activities. 'Work' comprises employed or self-employed paid work that generates the income for our material needs like the production of food but includes the production of things that make our lives enjoyable as well. 'Care' is meant to recognise the importance of housework and childcare, not only cooking, tidying up, washing, playing with and caring for the children, but also caring for or nursing other people. 'Culture' refers to activities that broaden our intellectual and emotional horizons and promote our personal development. Education, in terms of lifelong learning, belongs here as well as artistic activities and cultural experiences, but also making time for oneself. Last but not least, it is necessary to get involved in 'Politics' to shape society, which calls for a commitment to actively participate in associations or political bodies.

Frigga Haug's 'Four-in-One-Perspective'2 does not elaborated on the spheres of life down to the last detail but rather derives them from various concepts. I would add all services that we provide or use to the area of wage-labour. Frigga Haug originally uses the specific term 'reproductive labour', i.e. all that is necessary for sustaining and maintaining the labour force. I would prefer to call this area of life 'care' with regard to 'subsistence labour' that also encompass tasks like gardening or repairing things. Cultural activities include reading, learning, teaching, experimenting as well as having fun together or perhaps acting, letting oneself go when you dance, looking after your body, your health, or simply having time to reflect. And I would think that getting politically involved does not only imply the work done in committees, associations or cooperatives but also writing reports, suggesting improvements, or maintaining a weblog. Frigga Haug emphasises that all four spheres are basically equally important for a fulfilling and emancipated life. Both men and women should be actively participating in all four spheres of life. Looking after the family can be just as fascinating as one's career. Our contributions to shaping our environment are meaningful. We do need time for personal development and growth and, in terms of personal independence, an adequate income is equally important as being able to make time for both friends and oneself.

The 'Four-in-One-Perspective' suggests that we dedicate four hours a day to each of the four spheres of life.3 Of course this may vary from day to day or in different stages of life. Flexibility in terms of a daily routine, sometimes starting work at 5 am or working late on other occasions, has become a key element of greater job satisfaction for a lot of people. Some breaks in our working life will remain collective ones like summer holidays, weekends or at the turn of the year. However, we could try to allot our time differently, having a shorter working week, from Monday to Thursday, for example. Fridays as well as certain weeks during the year would allow time for political or cultural activities. Weekends could be dedicated to leisure, recreation and care, although caring, in particular, is a daily task indeed. If we start setting new priorities, we must make sure that it won't be to the detriment of others or the environment. If the head of a family, i.e. traditionally the man, has only cared about income and his career for, say, twenty years, chances for his partner to have a working life of her own will have dwindled over time. From a feminist point of view, having an income is key to independence and everybody should therefore have the possibilities to earn a living. German sociologist Klaus Dörre advocates an equal share in work and a 30-hour limit to one's weekly working time.

So, what could be my daily rhythm, if I wanted to lead a balanced life? How would, for example, a 4in1-day in a typical family with two school-age children look like?

6.30 am: Everybody gets up, the body needs to be cared for, breakfast, and the house needs some tidying up. 8.00 am: The kids are at school, the parents at work, where they also have a simple meal for lunch. About 3.00 pm: Everybody will be back home, there is time for listening to some music, playing, exercising, unwinding, or having a nap. About 6.00 pm: Cooking and having supper together, afterwards there will be time for social activities, for example, surf the Internet or watch a movie. The weekends allow for gardening, cleaning, spiritual activities, or to learn something new attending a course. It does sound familiar, doesn't it? In terms of household income, it should actually suffice if both parents worked 25 to 35 hours per week. Schoolchildren don't have to work, so their main focus will be on cultural activities through both education and their own possibilities to thrive on learning and playing. People who retire because of age or because they want to, will also shift their focus to cultural activities and get involved in caring for their grandchildren or relatives. What matters during holidays and the festive seasons is that we cherish and look after each other and ourselves.

By the way, taking a daily power nap is highly recommendable because a fifteen-minute snooze between 1 and 5 pm will restore wakefulness and performance. You are going to feel fitter in the afternoon, may be able to stay up longer in the evening, and you can do it virtually everywhere: on your way home on the bus or train, at the office or at school putting a little cushion on your desk4. If you don't have a nap room at work, it will be best to put up a 'power nap' sign to avoid confusion and perhaps indicate your nap time on a symbolised clock, so your nap won't be disturbed or your colleagues can wake you up if necessary.

In their Framework Programme for grant support, the European Commission acknowledged an average annual working time of 1,680 productive hours for full-time employment.5 With our 4in1-model we get fairly close to that mark: 1,460 hours (365 x 4), thus making it 35 hours per week, for example, including 5 weeks of holidays for people of working age. Of course, effort and commitment must pay off for hard-working people, but we need to become more circumspect in order not to gain our recognition and income at the expense of others and to distribute the work that is done in society more evenly.

But Frigga Haug's 4in1-model is not only applicable to a daily participation in those four spheres of life—earning a living, care, personal development, and political involvement—but also to our whole working life. A working-life time account could enable us to respond more appropriately to our different needs at different stages of our lives, and we could also remain in work for longer. Why not reduce the hours we spend at paid work a little and thereby prolong our working life? Pension crediting for caregivers6 has become a new and interesting approach in some countries. Care credits will be added to your caregiving account that you can draw from in later life. There is no other way of maintaining the quality of life in an ageing society.

So, has the, what one could call, old triple-40 rule (40 years x 40 weeks per year x 40 hours per week = 64,000 working-life hours) had its day? It certainly is still a desirable objective for employees in the electronic and fashion industries in Asia or Latin America, where weekly working hours amount to 70 or more. However, having moved on and established minimum social standards with the end of the industrial era in the developed countries, there is now a desire for greater flexibility. Our working lives are going be longer but we will also take less holidays or sick days because of our more balanced way of life. Thus, on the basis of our working-life time, a new formula might read as follows: 28hrs x 45wks x 45yrs, and that would still make 56,700 hours.

People with no children should not work much more. Workaholics distort the competition for promotions, jobs or tenders as against candidates who try to lead a balanced life. Childfree persons might just as well get involved in caring for the elderly or organising adventure games for adolescents. Gaining and giving recognition is not confined to the working world. Anyone who has completed training will gladly perform well, if they are given an appropriate period to settle into their tasks. And of course there are going to be expenses for accommodation and furniture to begin with. Raising a family will shift priorities but parents can share wage labour and family care. Political activities may not come to the fore until a later stage of life. Once the children have left home, the parents may want to restart as entrepreneurs or in a management position that requires their full commitment. Cultural activities, including learning and education, must not be neglected at any point in life. Lifelong learning does not only encompass standard education or brushing up your knowledge but also the conscious effort to gather new skills and experiences, be it participating in a conference or enrolling for a masters degree. And what about life at home? Anyone who does not participate in the provision of care, does not cook, wash, clean, or tidy up, for example, lives at the expense of the others. And last but not least, our own bodies need exercise and rest and care.

This model, of course, applies to both women and men. The first year after childbirth may see a shift in relative proportions, but parents can amend that in the second year. Modern families should organise and plan along the following lines: maternity leave for the first year, paternity leave for the second, shared organisational responsibilities for the children, when they are ready to attend kindergarten. A household with double income is less vulnerable to crises. If, for example, he suffers a loss of income, he could dedicate more time to looking after the children which is a wonderful task for men as well. His partner, in turn, might take the opportunity to get back into work before missing the boat in her profession. And if, at some point, the family had a hard time coping with all the tasks and duties, it would be only reasonable to seek for and accept help, as long as responsibilities are not delegated fully in the long run. Caregiving help will keep the household running or support parents in looking after their children. The Alton family provided an opportunity for two au pairs, a boy and a girl, to learn another language and discover a different culture. Everybody was pleased that there were more people in the house and caregiving help at hand. Li Ping, the Alton's last au pair from China, did not only learn German but also skiing.

The 'Four-in-One-Perspective' thus creates a balance with a view to participating in all spheres of life. If you loose interest in learning, you may well be going round in circles soon. If you don't know how to change nappies, darn socks or how to replace a light bulb, you're lacking in important life experiences that, in turn, may hone your judgement and tolerance at work. All four spheres of life are equally important and should therefore be appreciated in a similar way. With those spheres of life as a benchmark, we are going to look into how we may live in harmony with ethical principles in more detail.


The paid work we do is usually understood as an activity that serves the economic cycle. Workers or employees exchange their labour for a regular income as mechanics, cashiers, lorry drivers, lifeguards, nurses, clerks, bank advisors, scientists, secretaries, or cleaners. Other people are self-employed and offer their products or services against payment. As organic farmers, winegrowers, or bakers they provide our food, as plumbers, healers, therapists, or physicians they care for our well-being, and as designers or actors they enrich our cultural life.

But how many people are actually working? According to the International Labour Organization's (ILO) the working-age population is commonly defined as persons aged 15 years and older, who are employed (workers, employees) or self-employed (people engaged in trade or crafts, as freelancers, entrepreneurs, farmers, or family members who assisting in a family owned business). People who work in minor or temporary employment are also included. Even people, who do not work but are bound by contract with an employer (people on parental leave, for example), are considered part of the working population. This classification does not take the hours actually worked or specified by contract into account. In 2013, the EU-28 employment rate for persons aged 15 to 64, as measured by the EU’s labour force survey, stood at 64.1 %. Employment rates are generally lower among women and older workers. In 2013, the employment rate for men stood at 69.4 % in the EU-28, as compared with 58.8 % for women. The EU-28 unemployment rate was 10.1 % in September 2014.7 It means that 25.8% either do not seek employment or have taken early retirement, and indeed, Europeans retire earlier: only 44.7% of those aged 55 to 64 are economically active and a mere 8.6% of those aged 65 to 69, whereas in the United States, 28.7% work to the age of almost 70. In the Treaty of Lisbon the European Council aimed at raising the employment rate from an average of 61% in 2000 to as close as possible to 70% by 2010. Politicians of all persuasions do not tire of introducing measures for full employment: They put economic growth packages together and subsidise entire economic sectors in order to keep people employed. However, the economic crisis in 2009 hit the labour market severely, and the young in particular. Unemployment rates went up, in countries like France to above 10%, while youth unemployment rates of over 30% were observed in many member states, and sometimes way above like in Spain (53.7 %) or Greece (50.7 %), for instance.8

A 100% employment rate with everybody working 4o hours a week is and will remain an illusion. In 2007, in times of economic upturn, the overall EU employment rate reached 65.4%, that is to say, 34.6% of the working-age population (aged 15–64) could not or would not work. 18.2% were in part-time employment.9 In other words, almost half of the labour force was not in full-time employment.10 The policy of full employment needs to be redefined because economies obviously work even without 'all hands on deck'. There is no need to feel bad or guilty, if we do not work full-time or not at all from time to time, because it is not a minority issue. Markets—whether for labour, or for products or services—respond to the law of supply and demand. Once a market has become saturated, in the car industry, for example, there will be less demand for work as well. How then can we distribute work in a fairer manner? There is only one sensible response to this question: We need to part with full-time employment and give more people the opportunity—both employed and self-employed—to 'come on board'.

Active employment may vary at different stages of life. Children and young people should be able to enjoy a sound education. Later in life, it appears to be appropriate to take leave for childcare, further education or simply for taking time out. So there should be a right to a basic social security allowance,11 in order to provide housing and food at least because a minimum income allows freedom of choice12 and delivers people from inhuman working conditions. People devoted to furthering an unconditional basic income would be against means or activity testings. They believe that the unconditional basic income will rid us of our existential angst because it will increase freedom, democracy and human dignity. However, it would make a mockery of people living in developing countries, for instance, especially if we were to spend our money in, say, Thailand or South America because the cost of living is lower. A potential basic income should, on ethical principles, at least be tied to a life-long endeavour to actively participate in local communities with regard to the four spheres of life: work, care, cultural and political activities. This will be difficult to implement and practically impossible to monitor. So we should, for the time being, aim at enhancing a system of manageable basic social security provisions. Any down-the-line basic income13 will require a redistribution of wealth on a global scale as a prerequisite.

Are we working hard enough? First let us cast a glance at history and then one at people who identify with work. People in both ancient and medieval times had a completely different view on work. The ancient Greeks frowned upon physical work. Indulging the highly treasured passion of philosophy required time to spare. If we cannot free ourselves from the daily toil and the obligation to work, we won't be able to pursue our genuine interests, or have a fresh mind for new experiences or creative activities. During the Middle Ages work was considered 'travail', labour as a form of punishment. It was not until the Reformation and the Protestant work ethic that worldly work became a duty at the very centre of life. Luther and Calvin turned work into a moral imperative, as did the German philosophers of the 18th and 19th centuries. Millions of people emigrated to the Americas, where they created a civilisation based on the same ethos keeping the moral work imperative alive in their Protestant-Methodist creed.

Nowadays, we live in paradise. Scholars of past centuries would deem the world of our times the Garden of Eden. Machines do the hard work in many areas and to such effect that in Germany, for example, only 2% of the working-age population work in farming, and still produce too much: butter mountains and milk lakes depress prices and force more and more farmers to become double or even multiple job holders, or give up farming altogether. Meanwhile, the agony of choice awaits all supermarket customers: If we were able to pick and choose a soft drink within 25 seconds seven years ago, we now need 40 seconds to select among the range of differently flavoured sugary drinks.14 Marketing ploys make us reach for more expensive products, hoping that we purchase some kind of revelation at the same time. Advertising specialists, packaging manufacturers, food chemists, shelf stockers, and, of course, consumers are kept busy without any real benefit with regard to their quality of life. If we could limit the range of fruit juices, for example, to a dozen, some people would have to give up their full-time jobs, but it would still be the land of plenty. What is it that drives people to willingly work so hard for bringing us more and more goods and services that we do not really need most of the times? Social distinction and curiosity could be satisfied in other ways and we would have more time for care, culture and getting involved.

Chances of leading a good life relative to income

Based on Boulanger 2011:90, in accordance with Wright 1997:32

What is it that makes many of us work so hard and so willingly? Income provides social security and standing, and generates economic power. A company is a microcosm and as such well suited to keep life's big questions as to its meaning and purpose at bay. The working world is full of distractions offering ever more precise analyses, ever more stunning innovations or ever more brilliant sales strategies. They will often be planned with military precision until the competitor has been hunted down, unless there was a hostile takeover in the making. A Stone Age huntsman or a field marshal come into mind. Between anxiety and aggression on the market there is ample scope for displacement activity. Cats engaged in a territorial fight may disengage by suddenly licking and grooming themselves and ignoring the opponent. Emotional emergency exits in our modern workaholic world have taken the form of sorting through documents, deleting e-mails, chatting to colleagues, or exploring new ideas for a project.15 All that matters is that we keep ourselves busy. Another reason why men in particular prefer their office to home is that tidying up does not become a personal issue really. A cleaner will curb the mess, and if they can afford to have a secretary, the next coffee is only a matter of snapping one's finger—something an emancipated partner would certainly not attend to at home.

People giving their all at work and forgetting about their friends, family, and their own needs 'burn out'. We are faced with and try to live up to too many demands and expectations the media lead us to believe in: the fabulous home, dazzling partner, a delightful swarm of children, an exceptional career, and unforgettable adventures. In behavioural therapist Nico Niedermeier's opinion, people who suffer from burnout need to learn how to slow down. Just taking a break or a holiday won't do in most cases. Under most circumstances personal attitudes and dispositions need to be reviewed.16

In Japanese an occupational sudden death is called karōshi. The major medical causes are stress-related heart attacks or strokes. Many relatives of karōshi victims sued employers successfully. Their claims were recognised, if they were able to prove that the victim had been working six days a week and more than twelve hours a day. However, many people feel as happy as the working day is long. So, even if they have long run out of steam, they stay on, busily pretending that they've got things to do. This phenomenon has been coined 'presenteeism'. Work-related exhaustion will by then have reached a level that documents are just shifted from one pile to another or people are just 'clicking about' on their computers without adding any value whatsoever. British health journalist John Naish describes a different approach in his book. 'Enough' explores how our Neolithic brain-wiring spurs us to build a world of overabundance that keeps us hooked on ‘more’.17 Naish himself, consciously limited his freelance work as a journalist to part-time, thus sparing time for his voluntary commitments. When the British daily 'The Times' offered him a full-time job, he refused politely. He feared that by climbing up the greasy pole he would eventually get into a wrecking cycle of ever growing demands but receiving ever less in return because jobs in the media sector demand full commitment and the endless supply of new stories every day. He also feared that, even though riches were dangled before his eyes he would lose out in the long run because a fortune would not necessarily improve his sense of life.18

The wealthiest 1% do not feel much better than the man or woman in the street. A lot of worries are tied to the billions they own. Only the best is good enough. They need alarm systems and guards for all those external signs of wealth, if not, the insurance company may not renew the policies. That luxurious dreamworld becomes a little less glamorous, once the torchlights of the guards on their beat cut through the drawing room. However, greed is insatiable, and even a Gulfstream V—a jet-setters' must-have if one were to breakfast in Paris, go shopping in New York in the afternoon, and host a reception on the Bermudas the next day—won't quench it. To quote Epicurus: Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.

But when is enough enough? By rule of thumb, an income slightly above the monthly average of a country should suffice to lead a happy life. Economists have long assumed that if income increases substantially, then overall well-being will move in the same direction. However, parties of the better-off are full of disgruntled and frustrated peers, as John Naish observes. High earners do not necessarily set priorities right. They overestimate the emotional boost money and property may give in comparison to the energies that originate from family life, cultural activities or health. The latter is all too often sacrificed to the quest for riches. But who stands to benefit from it? Our children? A survey for the British daily 'The Observer' in 2011 actually suggests that most Britons now believe that their children will be worse off.19 Our children are fine as long as their parents stand by them in all situations, and not because of an inheritance. As a matter of fact, inheritance disputes are the most common cause for feud between siblings and sudden cardiac death is the most frequent cause of death in industrialised countries—it mainly occurs on Monday mornings, according to Austrian cardiologist Günter Stix due to increased stress after the weekend.20

Reducing their weekly working hours may be hard to imagine for people in full-time jobs at first and, admittedly, there are extremely busy times in almost every job. While bringing in the harvest, or supervising several projects at the same time and finalising them on schedule, even a 60-hour week may not be enough. People working in tourism or event management may have to work weekends or to cope with periods short of sleep. However, in order to restore the Ethify Balance, such peak times should be followed by times with a focus on care for the children, parents or neighbours, for cultural or political activities. This is also a way to make paid work more readily available to other people, provided that people abstain from making themselves indispensable.

Job and career have become such a big deal. What do you do for a living? This has become a key question whenever people try to get to know each other, and it appears to be a matter of social background how much time people allow to pass before they ask. Thirty seconds for those who work in advertising. Freelancers, doctors and lawyers need less than two minutes, and workers hardly ever ask,21 unless they are interested in forging a friendship. Why don't you try and respond by letting people know that you are keen on scale modelling, cycling or that you have been building a snowman with your kids—and both sides are going to feel more relaxed, you'll see.

In her 1958 book The Human Condition, the political theorist Hannah Arendt advanced the thesis that our societies based on work will run out of work, that is to say, the only activity they are really good at.22 A fateful thought, but we should not worry. We won't run out of work. We will keep on operating machines, baking bread, driving lorries to secure food supply, providing medical care, insulating buildings, teaching children, programming web sites, or drafting studies. However, the status of work ought to be reconsidered. Work should cease to be the only means of identification or our main raison d'être.

People strive to increase their personal value to the labour market and improve their career opportunities by working very hard. However, it entails the risk of being classed as a workaholic because questions as to one's work-life balance have become a standard in job interviews or performance reviews. The glutton for work may soon be considered a ticking time bomb. Clients and employers know by now that people are prone to develop sustained depressions or burnouts without a family, joy and relaxation. Companies should refrain from offering services—even to their top employees—for private tasks, like washing the car or laundry, finding a tennis partner, or picking up children from school who, besides, should rather walk or cycle to school and will certainly be glad if one of their parents gets home earlier to help with their homework or play ball, for example. Companies that take the work-life balance out of their employees hands are getting it wrong.

How does the future world of work look like? We need to find new tasks all along because employment has long ceased to be a warrant for job or income security. Self-employed or freelance workers will need to refresh their qualifications continually. They also need to be able to present their skills, products or services in a favourable manner. Companies or clients, we'd like to work with, should have cooperative and friendly teams, care for the people they work with and the environment, and should not 'entertain' gamblers as executives. If we can take pride in the results of our work in a team, we will be motivated and committed to what we do, yet there are many jobs and employers that are still far from living up to this ideal. A basic income could relieve us of our existential anxieties, in addition to that we would no longer constrained to accept any job that is thrown at us. It would cause markets to change because we wouldn't let things slothfully slide, sitting at home doing nothing. Most people want to do something meaningful for their community, for our society, and make some extra money. Also, really unpleasant jobs would need to be paid much better in order to get them done.

Mincome was an experimental Canadian basic income project that was held in Dauphin, Manitoba. The project began with a joint federal-provincial news release on February 22, 1974. No official findings concerning the labour market response of participants were ever published, and the vast amounts of data collected remain archived. The project itself died a quiet death in 1979. It allowed every family to receive a minimum cash benefit. Three support levels were used: $3,800, $4,800, and $5,800 (all in $1975) for a family of four. Former research director Derek Hum published only part of the results little by little, but they confirm that the reduction in work effort was modest.23

An unconditional basic income has by now come into focus and is being discussed across parties in Germany. In the 2009 coalition negotiations with the Christian Union parties (CDU/CSU), the Free Democratic Party (FDP) wanted to promote a significant change in social policy. One of their key political demands was the introduction of a citizen's dividend of EUR 662 per month that people in need should receive from inland revenue. In 2007, the former governor of the Free State of Thuringia, Christian-Democrat Dieter Althaus, proposed his concept of 'Solidarisches Bürgergeld'24, a solidary basic income scheme. The concept is based on an individual and unconditional basic income of EUR 600 per month for every citizen aged 14 or more (and EUR 300 per child paid to the parents), coupled with a basic health insurance voucher of EUR 200 per person, and funded by an income tax of 50% from the first Euro earned (but falling to 25% for higher income slices). This citizen's income would be administered under the form of a negative income tax.25 The Althaus model would encompass the pooling of all national transfer payments and significant restructuring of tax and social policies. The German government was then spending EUR 735 billion per year on its social security and welfare system. In an interview for the German daily 'Die Tageszeitung' the former CEO and founder of the drugstore chain DM, Götz Werner, confirmed hypothesis that the solidary citizen income would cost about EUR 600 billion a year, thus 'less than the country is spending on all current social services.'26 The Green party's means-tested basic income ('Grüne Grundsicherung') is looking for a reform based on several elements: phasing in of an unconditional basic income for children, an eco-bonus to fund a citizen's income financed by eco-taxes, a temporary cost-of-living or bridging allowance, and reducing financial sanctions for the unemployed in order to guarantee an income above subsistence level.27 However, I agree with Frigga Haug that the 'unconditionality' of a basic income should be challenged if we are to participate actively in all four spheres of life. At least a moral obligation should be attached to the basic income that will keep us from just holidaying on a far-away tropical island for most of the year.

We also need to increasingly fall back on local produce and services. It will retain purchasing power within the region and stop its draining to economic strongholds without the need for protectionism. Modern local currencies like the German Chiemgauer, Austrian Waldviertler, or the British Bristol Pound can increase local purchasing power. We could also promote local services and add value to the local production of a region by using open-source software or turning to European films or music instead of letting license fees drain to Hollywood or Redmond.

In terms of consumer demand our markets have by far reached saturation with the unprecedented abundance of shampoos, fruit juices, cars, or mobile phones. But we won't be sitting on our hands, on the contrary, we are going to roll up our sleeves and dedicate our commitment and willingness to work towards sustainability and creativity. We will care for the environment, our local communities, look after our families, enhance caregiving across age groups, get involved in education or sports. Climate protection is imperative and we must increase our environmental commitment. New technologies and approaches—like in insulation, or local thermal power plants operated by energy farmers, expansion and upgrading of cycle paths, or gravitation water vortex power plants—will help to reach our goals and offer ample scope for activities over the coming decades. And if we are to take global issues seriously, we must share, pass on and export our know-how.


A home is generally a place that is close to the heart of the owner, and according to Greek geographer Theano S. Terkenli 'the strongest sense of home commonly coincides geographically with a dwelling.'28 Popular sayings underline our emotional connectedness: my home is my castle, home sweet home, no place like home. Along with food (including water) and clothing, home, in the form of shelter, is considered one of the basic human needs. However, in Western European culture home has become a rather private place or intimate space for activities that have partly been excluded from public space: sleep, personal hygiene, being together with and looking after close friends and family, love, affection and sexual activities, safe keeping of personal items, as well as cooking and meals. Home has thus become the central place for caregiving and 'subsistence labour'. For a long time it has been almost synonymous with family. It was not until industrial and postindustrial times that single-person or shared households and similar ways of living together took hold in our societies. How we think about home and our current ways of dwelling go back to the 19th century when the bourgeoisie became increasingly influential in society. The bourgeois era joined the notion of home and family with that of a safe haven and privacy. In former times, peasants and craftspeople worked and lived in the same place, but these two areas of life become separated with industrialisation. Biedermeier—rather a particular mood and set of trends that grew out of the unique underpinnings of the time in central Europe than a historical period—then turned 'home into a castle' with an emphasis on family life and a blossoming of furniture design and interior decorating. The typical arrangement of rooms of that time into kitchen, living room and bedroom has left its mark on our buildings and homes until the 1980s. Any apartment was to emulate that standard that had been exclusive to a small privileged class a century ago. Nowadays, these functional boundaries become blurred, living rooms merge into kitchens and become multifunctional spaces. Mobile phones and laptop computers permit us to work almost anywhere, and we do, in the kitchen, on the sofa, at the desk, or on the balcony. On the other hand, there are people, singles in particular, who use their bedroom just for the night and the kitchen bar, if at all, only for breakfast. Beyond being a space for care and work, a modern home has become a space for culture and politics in the internet age as well. Hard drive recorders, flat screens and surround sound turn your home into a cinema. Blogs, Twitter and WikiLeaks have become means of tracking down injustices and showing solidarity.

Disparities in lifestyle depend on the respective stages of life and social standing of people. Ecofreaks may live in squats, students in shared apartments, singles in a tenement block, and families may dream of owning a house. Building your own home conveys feelings of autonomy, security, status, and achievement. However, once the children have left, the house will feel too big and lonely. Property may even become an obstacle tying the owner to that particular place. It thus may increase loneliness especially in later life, if kith and kin live dispersed and far away. A house with a garden will also require a lot of maintenance and care which may turn out a difficult and burdensome duty. The desire to own one's home has also unforeseeable ecological and social consequences and is part of what we now call urban sprawl. Private transport and commuting may sometimes require two or even more cars. An EU Directive has made energy performance certificates mandatory for properties since 2009,29 yet these do not take the amount of petrol into account that will be spent on commuting or shopping. Furthermore, we have strayed a long way from experiencing a communal life in familiar surroundings where the public space has a centre like a church or a village fountain, where people meet by chance and stop for a chat. We rather live in commuter towns and defend our properties with guard dogs, alarms and fences.

Resource consumption with regard to housing is affected by a number of factors. First of all, there is a consumption of land. Building a house on a beautifully situated plot of land is going to block the view for other people or prevent them from using it for recreational purposes or farming. A substantial amount of energy will be needed for the construction work already, especially if consumption in the production of tiles, bricks, concrete, PVC, copper pipes, and cables is entered into the equation. Many building and construction materials should actually be treated as hazardous waste. Wood, as a building material, is an exception, creates a pleasant indoor living environment and is environmentally sound. Solar technologies and controlled ventilation can turn a house into a low-energy building. Big and multi-storey buildings can be realised in wood by now and, contrary to what the concrete industry claims, there is no increased risk of fires given the use of up-to-date insulation materials. It cannot be the aim of sustainable housing to scatter the landscape with designer houses, it should rather be about condensing residential areas and refurbishing buildings that stand empty in many places. An energy-efficient conversion of a house may be costlier and more laborious at times, but making use of the space available during construction already will establish a good collaborative relationship with the local craftspeople and will offer the owners the unique experience of adding something of a personal note to the story and history of their new home.

Juliane and Roland Alton have followed that path and refurbished two houses. A year after he had graduated, Roland purchased a cottage in the Weinviertel, Austria's largest wine growing area, that the family used as a second home out of town for years. The walls needed treatment, a bathroom and heating were installed. A good friend and his partner are now looking after the turn-of-the-century cottage and enjoy its ambience and the little garden. The Altons, however, moved on and decided to live in the medium-sized city of Dornbirn close to the Alps where they could run almost all errands on foot or by bike. The Altons were the first to commission an architect to refurbish one of the farm houses of an ensemble of buildings commonly called 'Rhine Valley houses'. Numerous former farm buildings are still grouped around the Hatler Well to this day, thanks to such private initiatives in the 1970s.30 In 2006 the Altons installed solar hot water panels that also contribute to heating when the sun is out. Thermal insulation was improved bit by bit every year. They have put a hot air blower out of and the wood-fired heating back into operation using waste wood from a nearby sawmill, thereby having reduced their consumption of fossil fuels substantially. Getting rid of the deep freezer and replacing the old refrigerator with a combined fridge freezer added to their energy savings. The Altons have thus achieved an annual energy consumption well below average of about 6 MWh per person. Admittedly, they put on jumpers indoors in winter and don't heat the office but take the laptop to the kitchen or living room instead. And, recently, the tiled stove in the office has been rebuild and will heat the children's rooms as well via convector. A photovoltaic system has been installed and put in operation early 2015. It has been financed by members of the ALLMENDA co-operative, which offers paying back the yearly loan rates in TALENTE, a local economy exchange system. The photovoltaic system with a peak capacity of 5 kW is expected to serve more than half of the electrical power consumption of both household and office.

Energy consumption reduced by half—energy balance of the Alton's home in Dornbirn, 200 sq m in total, five-person household (2010: 6) plus office (consumption in kWh, reference period until September 30 of each year)

There are, of course, energy-saving alternatives to a single-family home. Many people dream of intergenerational homes, ecovillages, or car-free residential parks, but for most—with the exception of those having the adequate perseverance and budget—they remain a castle in the air. Quite frequently, the people who took the initiative drop out due to lengthy planning and coordinating procedures and other people move in. Urban life is also very attractive, and, actually, more then half of the world's population live in big cities. The array of cultural and political activities is vast and prospects of finding employment are often better. The ecological balance of living in small flat can sometimes be better than that of a single-family home in the countryside. If nature is not in front of one's doorstep, it is probably not further than a short trip away. Berlin, Prague, Budapest, and Vienna still offer affordable housing in Central Europe and are surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. In 'The Art of Stylish Poverty', Alexander von Schönburg holds that the beauty of an apartment is not to be found in its price or the borough it belongs to but in the naturalness of its welcoming atmosphere. He regards it as a different kind of wealth when people own a home that has become a place where friends like to gather and, along the same lines, when they have friends who have homes where one is welcome on a rainy day or when one simply needs a change of scenery.31 Von Schönburg certainly does not take up the cudgels for designer homes.

More and more people begin to shape their urban surroundings—courtyards, parks or pavements—on their own initiative. The 'Planquadrat' in the forth district of Vienna had been a mere 'grid square' on the map of urban planning. During the 1970s it became a freely accessible park, an urban oasis for young and old, surrounded by tenements and is being cared for and administrated by its users.32 And urban knitting has already gone beyond the simple 'cosies' of early graffiti knitting and on to tell 'stitched stories' in cities all over the world. Such reclaiming of public spaces and further reductions in individual motorised transport improve the quality of living in our cities.

But no matter how much space we have to live in, no matter whether we live in a city or in the countryside, we are all prone to accumulate too many things. Self-storage companies expand all the time because people simply don't know where to put their stuff: the inherited but wrong-size bed linen, the model railway nobody has time or space for, a tennis equipment that may be something to carry along on the next holidays, or all those novels one may want to read again after retirement. Strictly speaking, there is only one way to handle this: clearing out regularly and carting it all off to the flea market or the recycling yard. There is no need to cram every nook and cranny of your home or have carpets all over! Clearing out step by step is one of the five simplify-your-life rituals German theologian and author Werner Tiki Küstenmacher recommends. Going through one drawer or one shelf of books or clothes each day, for example, yet doing it thoroughly. Empty that unit out completely, tidy it up and then separate things into three piles: one that's dear to your heart, another for waste, and the rest goes into a bric-a-brac box with a big question mark on the outside. The latter will be stowed away in the attic and, after a year or so, much of it will be more easily given or thrown away because you realise that you haven't missed it. Important memorable or noteworthy things should have their own special box. We may need them for dementia therapy in later life, if we bear in mind that a quarter of the eighty-five-year-old suffer from it. The success of such a therapy depends to a great extent on being able to find recourse to our past life. A beverage label or a recipe may be able to trigger our emotional memory.

Food and Drink

Eating and drinking have a number of purposes. Alongside nutrition, food and drink are about maintaining relations, pleasure and enjoyment. A person's eating and drinking habits are often most telling. When people dine out all the time, they want to treat themselves after a long day's work. They are, most likely, 'townies' with an emergency stock consisting of a bottle of champagne and a frozen pizza in their fridge. They rarely bother about the origin of ingredients or working conditions in the convenience food industry and will, at most, have a quick look at the use-by date on the package. All-day breakfast people often live in flat-share communities in big cities. If they can dispose freely of their time, they may set up a breakfast buffet in the morning and keep returning to bread, cheeses, fruit and yoghurts until early afternoon. There would be time enough to read the paper, for phone calls and some work in between, if it weren't for the friends who have just popped in. Beers and crisps make perfect companions for whiling away the time, especially in front of the telly. Energy drinks are nice while you are at the computer or lounging on the couch with your notebook. In Austria people like to socialise at a Heuriger with a nice glass of wine (or Federweisser in autumn), or at a local pub with a freshly tapped pint of beer. They may also have some spicy egg or cheese spread like a Liptauer, or some sausages and pretzels with it. Lunch at the canteen, if there is any, has almost become a must-go at work. If you stay at your desk munching away on some carrots or go for a walk, you may loose out on all the latest news that is passed on over lunch. If you can arrange to have tea with your children when they come home from school, you will get their stories first-hand and can join in when they play or do their homework. If, in addition to that, you can make time in the morning to go to the market, buy some creamy avocado as a starter, pumpkin and polenta to follow, and fresh berries with sour cream for dessert, your family will probably be jumping for joy.

Have we stopped caring about what we eat and drink or have our eating and drinking habits been hijacked by corporate marketing strategies? As a matter of fact, only a few giants dominate the market. The Swiss multinational Nestlé S.A., for example, is the world's biggest food company with $103.5 billion in revenue 2013.33 It was not until the end of the 20th century that food became so 'dead' cheap to bring the sin of gluttony into almost everybody's reach. Of course, there have been some of the rich people sporting a belly in the past, but today we can't handle the abundance. Many obese people, nowadays, belong to underprivileged parts of the population, also, and in particular, in emerging countries where overweight was and still is part of an ideal of beauty. One quarter of the adult population in Europe, Australia and the USA is obese, another third overweight. According to the International Federation of the Red Cross, obese people now outnumber the hungry globally. People in industrial countries eat far too much fat and carbohydrates, and not enough fruit and vegetables. Fat is a key ingredient because it 'beefs up' the flavour so incredibly well. Furthermore, we eat far to often in the course of a day and too late in the evening. Feeling hungry between meals acts as a molecular switch that stimulates our urge to move. Insulin, released when we eat, switches it off. If, by all means, one needs to nibble at something, a fresh apple or some dried fruit is highly recommendable. Snacks, crisps or fruit yoghurts, prize solution to your 'little snack attack' as advertisements would have it, are, from a scientific point of view, nutritionally unsuitable. That we actually burn less fat, even though our mental activity has increased, can be attributed to our decreased physical activity.

'Super Size Me' is a 2004 American documentary directed by and starring Morgan Spurlock, an American independent filmmaker. Spurlock's film follows a 30-day period during which he ate only McDonald's food. Spurlock followed some simple rules: He must fully eat three McDonald's meals per day. He must consume every item on the McDonald's menu at least once. He must 'supersize' the meal, but only when offered. He will attempt to walk about as much as a typical US citizen, based on a suggested figure of 5,000 standardised distance steps per day. The film documents this lifestyle's drastic effect on Spurlock's physical and psychological well-being, and explores the fast food industry's corporate influence, including how it encourages poor nutrition for its own profit. He is seen by three physicians, as well as a nutritionist. All of the health professionals predict the 'McDiet' will have unwelcome effects on his body, but none expected anything too drastic, but the then-32-year-old Spurlock gained 24½ lbs. (11.1 kg), a 13% body mass increase, a cholesterol level of 230, and experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and fat accumulation in his liver.34

Children or young people playing with their consoles rather than playing ball won't burn a lot of fat. According to a survey (2008-2011) by the Robert-Koch-Institute35, 14.8% of the children and youths between the age of 2 and 17 in Germany are considered overweight. 6.1% of them suffer from morbid overweight, meaning they are adipose. A total of 1.7 million overweight girls and boys live in Germany and about 750,000 of them are adipose.36 A lower socio-economic status is associated with a greater risk of obesity in women and children.37 Even though genetic factors can contribute to childhood obesity, a commitment to a healthy lifestyle through physical activity and diet can help minimise genetic factors.38 Some studies suggest that obesity will shorten life expectancy over the coming years. The next generation is going to die earlier than the 'baby boomers'—who grew up without energy drinks, jelly babies and Pringles—due to diabetes, arthritis, or bilious complaints.

There are dietary therapies for the overweight and obese galore, but in the end, only moderation and increased levels of physical activity will help, if need be with Wii Sports as a stimulus. A glass of water, now and again, lessens the appetite as well as a piece of fruit. One could simply use a smaller plate and have only one cooked meal a day. Especially in the evening, some crispbread with cheese and some fresh cucumber slices will often do. Exceptions may become a rule, once the sense for satiety has been restored. And coaching can also be of help, because eating too much often points at other issues: not enough love, loneliness, anxiety, frustration, or stress. An upset stomach, poor diet, sugar, caffeine or alcohol, amongst others, block the release of the 'happiness hormone' seratonin. Studies by the UK charity Mental Health Foundation confirm that people who ate plenty of vegetables, fruit and fish actually had a lower risk of depression.39 Chocolate contains the biochemical precursor for seratonin, tryptophan, thus works as a mood enhancer...and we don't have to eat the whole bar, do we?

The Real Bears - DC by Lucas Zanotto on vimeo


People who pay attention to what they eat, will also pay attention to what their food is made of and where it comes from. Meat from your local butcher instead of meat trays from the supermarket; free-range eggs rather than battery-produced; instead of vegetables that have been picked unripe and shipped thousands of miles, locally and organically grown produce. Fresh foods are wholesome and filling. If you stop eating meat, you will help to prevent animal suffering and contribute to climate protection. Most concentrated animal feed is made mainly from soybeans, the cultivation of which endangers the rainforest. And the livestock sector emits 37% of all human-induced methane, most of that from enteric fermentation. Ruminant animals, like cattle, sheep, or goats, produce it as part of their normal digestive processes. In the rumen, or large fore-stomach, of these animals, microbial fermentation converts the fibrous feed and produces methane as a by-product. For the agriculture sector alone, livestock constitute nearly 80% of all methane emissions. In other words, cattle belch contributes considerably to global warming. Methane is also generated by the fermentation of organic matter including manure, wastewater sludge, municipal solid waste (including landfills), or any other biodegradable feedstock, under anaerobic conditions.40

Rice fields also generate large amounts of methane during plant growth. The traditional method for cultivating rice is flooding the fields while, or after, setting the young seedlings. This simple method reduces the growth of weeds but has its major drawback: it produces marsh gas, thus contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. However, flooding is not mandatory for the cultivation of rice and farmers could safe on water (and diesel for the pumps) while reducing methane emissions at the same time. Consumers should look out for rice from dry cultivation or simply go for local organic spuds.

Mountain pastures have served the ecological equilibrium in the Alps for centuries. Not only the milk from cows feeding only on fresh grass and hay is tastier but also the cheeses. However, we consume far too many dairy products in the German-speaking countries. The energy value of the animal feed for dairy production is many times higher than that of the milk, yoghurt, butter, or cream proper. In addition to that, most dairy products come packaged in plastic or beverage cartons—often lined with a layer of aluminium foil that is difficult to remove. 7 to 16 kg of grain or soybeans are needed to produce 1 kg of meat and 90% of the world’s soybean production serves as animal fodder.41 So why not take soya cubes or veggie mince directly instead, fry them in olive oil, add some soya sauce, fresh herbs and prepare a nice meal? By the way, the favourite dish of the Alton family is 'Spaghetti Tofunese'—no minced meat needed.

And what about drinks? Alcohol whets the appetite. If you drink beer or wine, you should alternate it with a glass of water. Various sayings have words of advice: Drink the first. Sip the second slowly. Skip the third. Or: First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you. Alcohol-free Mondays and Tuesdays may fend off the latent risk of becoming dependent. If 23% of men and 10% of women in Austria drink more than the recommended maximum intake of two to three beers a day, reducing our intake in the long term and days of abstinence are a first step to avert addiction.

But these are rather First World problems. The steep increase in global food prices—83% over the past three years—has added nearly 100 million to the number of people who are chronically hungry, pushing the world total to nearly 1 billion,42 most of whom, paradoxically, work in food production as peasants or day labourers. Typically, women care for the small garden plot and for water, sell some of their produce on the market, and look after the children. Women, however, are often not able to plan ahead because the decision-making is usually still subject to the vagaries of their husbands or fathers. Agro-fuels exacerbate global hunger. They have been introduced as a sop to our energy-demanding habits but have hardly had any positive impact on climate protection and raised a 'food vs. fuel' debate. Vast swathes of countryside are expropriated or cleared for enormous fields of maize and soybeans of large companies to keep First World mobility running. But can organic farming feed the world then? According to a FAO expert at the 2009 forum held in Rome, the answer is yes.43 Key to 'How to Feed the World in 2050' will be conservation agriculture that promotes permanent soil cover and diversified crop rotation and trees that fix atmospheric nitrogen. Supporting projects will assist with micro-loans and know-how. Net investments of $83 billion a year must be made in agriculture in developing countries if there is to be enough food to feed 9.1 billion people in 2050, according to an FAO discussion paper.44 But most importantly these initiatives should be about empowering people to produce food for domestic use and their local markets. Any form of export supports must be questioned, as they distort competition. If milk powder, originating from European milk lakes, is 'aggressively marketed' as breast milk substitute45, or chicken cuts, that won't make nice fillets, are shipped to Africa, then traditional, local, functioning structures are destroyed, creating dependencies that these people actually cannot afford. Food production must favour local economic cycles.

'Journey of a Yogurt', a study completed in 1992 by Stefanie Boge for the Wuppertal Institute, Germany, showed the food miles of a strawberry yogurt, pre-packaged in Stuttgart and then delivered in Germany. Fruits from Poland, yogurt cultures from Schleswig-Holstein, flour from Amsterdam, packaging parts from Hamburg, Düsseldorf and Lüneburg. Overall, the finished product traveled a distance of 9,115 km (5,664 miles).46 If we assumed that every Austrian household consumed three strawberry yoghurts a week, it would thus amount to 7.5 million kilometres over the course of one year—almost 200 times around the world. Food miles could be reduced by one third through the use of regional ingredients and reusable packaging, but as freight costs are low there would be little incentive for manufacturers. We can bring manufacturers to indicate the origin of ingredients through informed consumer choices, or simply make our own yoghurt at home. And what about 'green' beer? A locally produced draught beer will be the most eco-friendly one, followed by regional beers in reusable bottles. Imported beers in disposable bottles are the least sustainable.

The food on our supermarket shelves has literally travelled the world: apples from Chile, pears form Argentina, grapes from Brazil, South African wine, or Irish butter. Fruit and vegetables from overseas do not only have a poor environmental balance but are also contaminated with pesticides. A 2013 consumer guide by Pesticide Action Network UK stated that as much as 46% of the food we consume contains residues of one or more pesticides, and that soft citrus, oranges, pineapples and grapes all had pesticide residues exceeding the government’s maximum residue levels.47 Of course, tropical fruits are delicious and its nice to have some sometimes, but we shouldn't make a habit of it. It's only partially true if we assume that people in developing countries will thereby lose their source of income. Tropical forests are being cut down and agricultural land is bought up, thus reducing the amount of land available to local or subsistence farmers drastically. Landless labourers do not even earn enough to cover the most essential needs. Profits remain with the companies that handle marketing and logistics. In August 2003, the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) of ILO, published a report that estimated that 25,000 children were working in the banana industry, their average income was only 'US$3.50 for every day worked, […] 60% of the legal minimum wage for banana workers.'48 The Costa Rican pineapple producer Piña Fruit also violates workers' rights. The company pushes its workers to leave the union, threatening them with blacklists, salary cuts, mass firings and plantations closings. Piña Fruit supplies the Dole Company, the largest producer and marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables in the world and the number one marketer of pineapples in Germany.49

It's not all apples and pears in Austria, kiwi fruits grow as well around here, are harvested in October and can be stored well until late February. The Altons go and fetch only a handful of kiwis from the crate in the cellar each time and put them next to the apples in the fruit bowl where they soon mellow. Why don't you have a quick look into your fridge and guesstimate the food miles of its content? It's perfectly possible that the result might get very close to a trip around the world. And we need to be patient when fresh asparagus and strawberries water our mouths in early spring already. It's worth to wait some weeks—with regard to both taste and ethical, ecological considerations—until we can buy them locally.

Kiwis from the westernmost Austrian state of Vorarlberg in the Alton's cellar in winter: slightly shrivelled but deliciously sweet

A carbon emission label has first been introduced in the UK in 2006 by the Carbon Trust and describes the carbon dioxide emissions created as a by-product of manufacturing, transporting, or disposing of a consumer product.50 Governments have started to look into this issue more seriously and to examine whether carbon labels should become compulsory. Former environment secretary David Miliband took things another step further by announcing a carbon rationing scheme. Under the scheme, all UK citizens would have been allocated an identical annual carbon allowance, stored as points on an electronic card similar to Air Miles or supermarket loyalty cards. Points would then be deducted at point of sale for every purchase of non-renewable energy. People who did not use their full allocation, such as families who do not own a car, would be able to sell their surplus carbon points into a central bank. High energy users could then buy points from the bank.51

The concept of community-supported agriculture (CSA) seems easier to put into practice. CSA members or subscribers pay at the onset of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest; once harvesting begins, they receive weekly shares of vegetables and fruit, in a vegetable box scheme. In 2011 the first CSA Farm started in Austria: The 'Gärtnerhof Ochsenherz' was founded near Vienna. In 2012, two more farms came up in Styria and Upper Austria. In July 2013, there were already 9 established CSAs.52 And this scheme works well even in big cities like Vienna. Ochsenherz founder Peter Laßnig will deliver his veg boxes to the subscribers or he keeps them ready for collection at the Naschmarkt. Alongside delicious carrots and spuds, Ochsenherz supporters will find malabar spinach, tigernut, skirret, or cape gooseberries. In Japan this sort of non-profit partnerships between producers and consumers are known as Teikei. It can be traced back to the mid-1960s and it now provides fresh food to a quarter of all Japanese households. CSA does not only change and express our view on and respect for the produce of 'our' farm, but for the farmer as well. Farmers will not only have to be skilful, but also good communicators with respect to their proactive consumers who finance the operation and want to treated fairly.

Mobility / Transport

All our good and green shopping intentions, however, will come to nothing, if we back the wrong 'horse' to carry our shopping home. A 2005 report by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs indicates that it is not only how far the food has travelled but the method of travel in all parts of the food chain that is important to consider. Many trips by personal cars to shopping centres would have a negative environmental impact compared to transporting a few truckloads to neighbourhood stores that can be easily reached by walking or cycling. More emissions are created by the drive to the supermarket to buy air freighted food than was created by the air freighting in the first place.53 We might already improve the balance by organising a weekly shopping trip around a drive we planned to do anyway. However, we need to do our daily shopping by bike or on foot, otherwise we will undermine the footprint advantage of the local produce.

We do need a shift in transport culture: Transport as a means of personal mobility and of keeping fit every day rather than being transported to the gym. Trains as rolling coffee houses where you can work or unwind, having your individual time rather than individual transport in your 'jam jar'. Regular public transport and call-a-bus services in rural areas as well, saving you from feeling like an outcast or exile without a car.

As electricity is still generated from natural gas and coal in many countries, converting all cars to electric drive systems is, at present, not a solution. In Germany the proportion of fossil fuels is 56.6%, another 23.3% come from nuclear energy.54 Taking additional line and battery losses into account, the energy efficiency of electric cars is worse than if diesel or gas go directly into the tank. The car and nuclear lobbies may sound their trumpets over hybrid and e-cars, and many people surely fall for the promise that they will be doing good for the environment when buying a 'green' car, the 'ecological rucksack', however, in raw materials and energy for producing a medium-sized new standard car already generates more than 17 tonnes of CO2e—almost as much as three years' worth of gas and electricity in the typical UK home.55 And you won't curb greenhouse gas emissions when you fill up your e-car at the 'socket'. A life cycle assessment of a normal car may actually look better than that of a hybrid car.56 Light metals and huge batteries are neither socially acceptable nor environmentally friendly when it comes to sourcing of raw materials and their production. In addition, hybrid cars mostly have a lower mileage than a good old stinkpot. So, all in all, electric car won't get us anywhere.

A somewhat more down-to-earth view would assume that our mobility patterns are going to change over time. In 2007, 58.5% of all daily trips in Austria were made by car. According to a study by the Austrian Traffic Association VCÖ this figure will drop to 48% in 2020, a development that is also associated with the rising percentage of people who live in cities. In actual fact, the urban population in Austria has increased by 7% since 2001, which is two times more than the national average. Household expenditure on transport is substantially lower in urban than in rural areas. Monthly transport costs for an average household in Vienna amount to about EUR 330, while in the scattered villages of the Burgenland a family may spend as much as EUR 540 per month.

We will have to pay more attention to choosing the most sensible means of transport for the purpose intended. The so-called intermodal passenger transport will gain significance. We are going to cover short distance by bike or on foot more frequently, and if we need a car, we won't necessarily possess it. More and more people are going to use car sharing and enjoy its benefits because they can choose from a fleet of vehicles: a compact for just one or two persons, perhaps a convertible for a pleasure trip, and a van for transporting bulky things.

It's too far, I'm too unfit. 

I'll get all sweaty, there are no showers at work. 

The dress code is pretty strict, what about creasing my shirt/blouse?     

It's too hilly.

No really, I can't leave my bike locked outdoors, and there's nowhere to store it inside.

I need my car as I have errands to run before/after work.    


I'm just too nervous to cycle in rush hour traffic, I haven't ridden a bike in years

I just don’t have time, surely cycling is too slow!

Are you sure it's healthier, surely I'm just breathing in even more pollution than I would in my car? 

10 most common cycle-to-work barriers57

If you cannot afford a new dedicated utility bicycle, why not add front and rear racks to your existing bike? A handlebar bag or basket perhaps? What about a trailer? Many can be converted between carrying the kids and cargo shifting purposes, and some can even be used as trolleys in the shop. Roland Alton uses a trailer and a box that he can carry straight into the kitchen. Pedelecs have become much more affordable and have taken the sting out of going uphill. Though cycling in the rain in your jeans and t-shirt is hardly going to be a most enjoyable experience, you may feel snug enough with some cycle-specific wet-weather gear. And if you keep some dry socks and shoes at work, even deep puddles won't keep you from riding. If you feel insecure on your bike, you should check the frame height and your handlebar position and perhaps consider cycle training. Riding a mountain bike off road can be a good way to train how to balance your bike at low speed or how to react when you slam on the brakes.

Normal cyclists will have a power output of approximately 80 watts and will push their bike along at 18 km/h on the flat. 225 metres per watt-hour make bicycles the most efficient means of transport. A pedelec offers assistance when riding uphill and increases average speed in general. The same amount of energy would power both a small car and an electric car only three metres.

Optimum use of human power (photo CC-by-sa-nc Eva Freude)

Giving up the car altogether as a contribution to climate protection may seem a radical step. However, the Munich-based author Alexander von Schönburg describes the benefits: 'I've never owned a car, and so far it has made my life much easier. I'm no anti-motorist...however, cars have turned out to be a drag on most of my driving friends lives. All the money they have to cough up for fuel, insurance, repairs, parking, tickets, and so forth by far exceed my costs for train tickets and the occasional fare for a cab. Besides, I save a lot of time and hassle by not having to go round in circles for a parking space.'58

Of course, sales representatives, parcel services, or craftspeople with heavy tools need an appropriate vehicle. However, private journeys by public transport are not necessarily less comfortable and slower than the trip made by car. Transport networks have been improved and expanded in many regions and cities. On a train or bus we don't have to worry about the traffic, we can sit back, read a book or even do some work on longer journeys. We could use the wait at the bus stop for a bit of meditation or a little chat about the weather. If you replace a car by a well-considered selection of bicycles, a good knowledge of the timetables of local transport, and hire or share a car if need be, chances are that you won't miss owning a car at all.

That's exactly what the Altons do: No car but nine bikes and two trailers that carry almost everything: children, furniture, vegetables from the market, or a crate of beer. When daughter Verena plays a concert, her harp is strapped onto the trailer, and should it be raining they will just ask the neighbour for the car keys. In return, they fill the tank once a year and always marvel at the amount of money one leaves at the petrol station. They use a travel card for train journeys. Many work-related train kilometres (more than 50,000 actually) are accumulated commuting from Vorarlberg to Vienna, often on a couchette but unfortunately only by one parent at a time because of caring responsibilities at home ;-).

The parents, Juliane and Roland, also walk a lot and thereby have developed a much more accurate feeling for distances. A variety of studies has shown that human beings come to think that the time for a journey will quadruple when the distance actually only doubles. This sort of misleading exponential error appears to be embedded in our genes. Bees estimate distances in a similar way. The frequency of movements in their waggle dance decreases exponentially as the flown distance increases.59 It is apparently for this reason that, on the spur of the moment, we decide not to walk if the distance gets longer than five minutes because 15 minutes on foot seem infinitely long to us.

It's going to have a positive effect on your body and soul, if you have no car though. Using your body to be in motion will make you feel happier, unless cars restrict your freedom of movement. On a train you can play at cards with your kids, take a stroll to the buffet car, or have a nap because you want to stay up, maybe have a romantic night with your partner, whereas behind a steering wheel even the most cheerful and even-tempered person will sooner or later start swearing like a trooper and it's almost inevitable that all car passengers, belted up in their seats for hours on end, will eventually get bored, stiff and grumpy.

However, cars are still top priority in government policies. Since the 1950s, car manufacturers and their suppliers have been subsidised by the German government. An expenditure programme was introduced in 1977 with a view to providing every German citizen with a motorway slip road within 25 kilometres by 1985. According to a Ward's report, the number of vehicles in operation worldwide exceeded 1.015 billion in 2010, jumping from 980 million the year before,60 and up from the 500 million in 1986. On January 1, 2009, 82 million Germans owned about 41 million cars.61 The 2009 scrappage scheme was to boost car sales during the economic crisis and the German government had almost been blackmailed by General Motors into bailing out its Opel subsidiary. In Austria road construction plans from the 1970s were pulled out of the drawers to boost the economy during that same period, even though roads and parking spaces already cover almost 2,000 sq. km which corresponds to an area about the size of Vorarlberg. Roland Alton's research and blog posts contributed to prevent a second (!) motorway junction to serve a retail shopping centre. The state-owned ASFINAG, responsible for motorway operation, tolling and construction management, had already initiated the purchase of land despite having collected data that confirmed a decrease in HGV traffic on the corridor motorway across the Arlberg by 15.1%.62

The car lobby has been successfully securing subsidies for engine factories or scrappage schemes since 1924. The impact of such an innovation like the car on our societies would seem rather irreversibly. Pedestrians in the United States ridiculed those first stray motorists as 'joy riders' and called for walking pace. Between 1909 and 1911, the term 'jay walker'—an insult comparing free-roaming pedestrians to boorish fools—began to reach print. In the succeeding years, jay walker became a tool in an effort to redefine streets. It implied a new answer to the question 'What is a street for?' Auto clubs and dealers promoted the term. In at least a few cities from 1920 to 1922, Boy Scouts were recruited to hand out cards to pedestrians who crossed as they pleased. There was no official penalty, but the cards sternly warned pedestrians against 'jay walking'.63 And before long, there were policemen blowing their whistles for the right of way of motorists. In next to no time, a massive part of the public space was redefined as for motorised traffic only, and road safety education was introduced. It has been 'full speed ahead' for cars ever since. If it were up to the automobile industry, things wouldn't really change. They try to reassure consumers by more fuel-efficient engines or electric drive systems. However, the consumption of resources and energy remains pretty much the same because electric cars have a particular hunger for poisonous heavy metals. In addition to that, there are significant losses of energy until electric power has made its way from the plant to the vehicle on the road.

Yet even in those highly developed German-speaking countries less than half of the population actually own a car, but the majority lacks adequate pressure groups or an appropriate lobby. Since the 1980s, pedestrians and cyclists have been struggling to regain ground on public roads. Some token pedestrian lights at crossroads have been wired up to turn green at the same time so that they even could be crossed diagonally. Most crossings, however, keep pedestrians waiting sometimes for minutes before giving the green light despite being equipped with a control button and even if there is hardly any traffic at all. A pedestrian is going to feel stressed once his flow of walking has been held up for a longer period of time. Motorists, in turn, are less affected by waiting because they can quickly make up for the time lost. A 2006 study by the British Council proved that people are walking 10% more quickly than a decade ago,64 and this may partly be due to an increasingly restrictive regulation of pedestrian routes.

Critical Mass are monthly protests by cyclists reclaiming congested urban streets in many cities all around the world. These spontaneous gatherings should, participants insist, be viewed as 'celebrations' rather than organised demonstrations. The only requirement is a sufficient turn-out to create a 'critical mass' of riders dense enough to occupy a piece of road to the exclusion of drivers of motorised vehicles.65 However, these cycling events do not solve practical issues. In 2011, the ring road around the inner city of Vienna, for example, was still exclusively dedicated to motorists. Pedestrians and thousands of cyclists have to share the promenade alongside the three-lane one-way orbital. Cycle track markings twist and turn, and are neither respected by tourists nor the snow, thus inviting trouble all along. The half-hearted attempts to enhance the ring cycle path won't make much of a difference.

An accident on the cycle lane along the Ringstraße in Vienna (Source:

Alexander von Schönburg recommends that we should indulge in cars as pure luxury. Why not use it only on rare but exquisite occasions, a nicely planned trip across the Alps in a convertible or on a motorbike, for instance, instead of congesting the streets day in, day out? He adds: 'A car, therefore, may well turn into a most superfluous object of luxury we like to enjoy once in a while, or a no-frills commodity that we use without being personally attached to it. Everything else in between seems terribly square and reeks of Magic Tree and wet lambskin seat covers.'66 And yet, to most people it is apparently still unthinkable to do without a: Austrians spend an average of 5,000 euros a year on their cars and 70 minutes a day on the road, whereas they will spare only 45 minutes a day for childcare.

The Austrian civil engineer Hermann Knoflacher even compared the automobile to a virus. The effects of a virus will cause changes in its host and can be serious or even life-threatening. Tailgating and flashing headlights on motorways are only part of the 'viral response' observed in motorists. Once human beings get into a car, they forget about the point in driving, namely to travel from A to B safely, quickly and comfortably. The car alters the personality of drivers. They start to behave in an antisocial manner: cutting corners, driving aggressively, ignoring traffic markings, effing and blinding, and they appear to profoundly hate pedestrians and cyclists. They become the car and start defending their tarmac territory. It's probably the only way to explain that a person, asked 'Where are you?', responds: 'Two blocks away on a double yellow line.' It's not the person talking but the virus car.

Public awareness activities on a Car-free Day in Vorarlberg
(The banner reads: My car has taken a day off) on September 22, annually since 2009

Hardly any family can claim that they have not been affected by a road accident. Some may even have lost a relative or loved one. The dangers of our roads have become part of our lives and our culture. Road accidents are the stuff that German crime movies and US American TV series are made of. The fifth season of Desperate Housewives sees Susan Delfino's car crash into Lila Dash's car killing her and her daughter Paige Dash. In the last episode, husband and father David Dash then stages an accident to kill Susan's son M J in revenge.67

November 2009 was a dangerous month for the Alton family. And it never rains but it pours. An HGV pushed Juliane on her bike from the traffic lights on to the crossroads before the green light came on. She could only save herself by pedalling furiously and sprinting off to the right. And Verena was run down by another HGV at a pedestrian crossing on her way to school. The driver had seen her but applied the brakes too late: major repair work had to be done to the her children's bike, the chipped front tooth won't stay in place, but at least the bruises and scrapes have disappeared.

But sometimes not even a guardian angel can save one's skin. Although road fatalities across the EU have decreased continually since 1965, about 250,000 people are seriously injured in road accidents in the EU every year—compared to the 28,000 road fatalities in 2012. The most worrying feature of the road safety statistics for 2011 was a high increase in the number of killed vulnerable users such as pedestrians, motorcyclists and elderly people—in spite of an overall reduction of road fatalities.68 According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), road traffic accidents kill 1.3 million people each year around the world—more than malaria—and up to 50 million people are injured in traffic accidents, globally.69 If the United States Justice Department could file a massive civil lawsuit against the country's major tobacco companies, seeking as much as $280 billion in long term costs related to treating ill smokers because, as the suit also claimed, tobacco firms conspired to conceal the risks of smoking from the public,70 then it would seem high time to file a suit against the car industry. In 1999, a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that long-term air pollution from cars in Austria, France and Switzerland triggered an extra 21,000 premature deaths per year from respiratory or heart diseases, more than the total number of annual traffic deaths in the three countries. The report also found growing evidence that, as a major health burden, air pollution would add to the effects of road traffic through noise, accidents and barriers to cycling and walking.71

Cars are neither fair nor sustainable. They are inefficient, they hoodwink people into wanting or having bigger and more powerful vehicles than they actually need, and they just take up so much more space, no matter whether moving or parked, than pedestrians or cyclists. The production of cars requires resources on a big scale. Batteries for electric cars, in particular, require plenty of precious and heavy metals that are mostly mined under inhuman conditions. The lesson is clear: We should use cars only if there is truly no alternative to it. And there are already many people setting an example of how to turn our backs on the car culture who are, in fact, living a car-free life not because they could not afford one but because they choose not to own any.

But how can motorists be tempted to use public transport? Convenience, reliability, and price are at the crux of the matter. In Austria every passenger-kilometre in a car is subsidised by public funds with 41 euro cents in comparison to 21 cents in public transport. Experts regularly call for non-profit-making public transport schemes. Austrian Federal Railways ÖBB, including ÖBB Postbus services, had a turnover from ticket sales of EUR 659 million in 2008. Regional public transport providers collected about the same amount in fares. In their 'Green Paper on Energy Efficiency', commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Austrian regulation authority e-control arrived at the conclusion that public transport should be free of charge. 'It is to promote a shift in behaviour that transport measures so far employed were not able to achieve.'72 As costs for 'self-service' ticket machines, sales staff, and for administering the free travel passes for school children would be no longer applicable, the annual budget for such a scheme in Austria would amount to approximately 1 billion euros. A contribution of around EUR 20 a month, that could be directly deducted from salaries, pensions and bursaries, would make such a scheme financially viable. More than 370,000 Swiss citizens make use of the 'General Abonnement Travelcard' that allows unlimited travel by rail, bus and boat throughout Switzerland at a price of around EUR 3,000 per year.73 The Belgium city of Hasselt made public transport by bus zero-fare from 1 July 1997 and bus use was said to be as much as '13 times higher' by 2006.74

If we look at air traffic, delivering traffic, noise and air pollution seriously harm the quality of life of residents living under the flight paths, and its adverse impact on global climate change is beyond dispute. Due to their poor payload capacities and high jet fuel consumption, aircrafts are inefficient means of transport, on short-haul routes in particular. 180 tonnes of a Boeing 747's take-off weight of 420 tonnes are fuel. Such a departing aircraft will burn 5 tonnes of jet fuel within the first few minutes. At cruise speed it will need 16 tonnes per hour, that is to say 50 tonnes of CO2 are emitted per flight hour. Jet fuels account for around 6% of refinery production worldwide, approximately 200 megatons of kerosene per year. In most countries jet fuel is tax-free, thus airlines do hardly contribute to cover the external costs. A levy on airline tickets, the European Commission introduced without any support from other nations in 2011, is probably not going to have any major directional effect. CO2 emissions and water vapour produced by civil aviation are particularly harmful when airliners fly near or in the environmentally fragile stratosphere.

There are many ways of going on holiday. Short breaks, city tours, or exploring the region we live in can be just as interesting as an exotic location. Or maybe our neighbours are from Turkey or Serbia. We could invite them, get to know each other better, which can be just as exciting as a visit to a mosque or bazaar at the Bosporus. This way, we may find new friends, perhaps get to know a new recipe or some thrilling moments of a person's life, instead of bringing home another piece of souvenir clothing (that we actually won't wear). Of course young people want to see the world, visit other countries, spend a term or work abroad, but that does not imply that we must travel a lifetime as if we were constantly on the run or needed to hunt for trophies that testify our experiences or dealings in faraway places. We may spend some time in a cosmopolitan city full of contrasts and life or get the opportunity to share the simple life of a rural community, but perhaps we should actually regard it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, in particular, if these locations are far away or difficult to reach.

Admittedly, people like me who have the Alps right at their doorsteps, can escape from an everyday routine whenever they want to—it is a very special treat on a misty morning in the valley when you walk up the mountains and into the sun. Having said that, the Alps are in easy and environmentally-friendly reach by train from all over Europe and offer dense networks of local public transport. Two travel journalists, Daniel Elkan and Mark Hodson, founded snowcarbon, an independent website dedicated to helping skiers and snowboarders reach ski resorts by train from the UK. The Alps are served by special trains from cities like London, Hamburg or Bruxelles in winter. And in summer, travellers might be tempted to stop off in a picturesque German townlet along the way. Expeditions to the Himalayas or the Andes are already taking a toll on the environment because of 'adventurists' being flown in in flocks. But apart from greenhouse gas emissions, this sort of Sherpa expeditions is a neither ecologically nor ethically recommendable way of showing bravado, and quite a few have even lost their lives at it.

The number of frequent flyer cards in businesspeople's wallets is still considered a status symbol among peers, even though the private use of frequent-flyer miles are, at least in Germany, tantamount to a kind of tax evasion.75 The key thing about miles and miles through the air, however, is that people want to get away from home as often as they can. That is why, although the job could have been done via video or teleconferencing, many prefer a 'breeze' of jet fuel, the scent of on-board coffee and that of a foreign city. Scientists, in particular, are taking business-related flights to an extreme. They love to convene several times a year for meetings or conferences funded by a several billion euro EU research and innovation budget. Roland Alton was part of such a 'flying circus' in the late 1990s. Twice a week he had to get on a plane, although he had little children to care for. It came as a great relief to him when that time was over. However, reputation and standing within the scientific community still hinges on whether that colleague has widely—preferably on a global scale—travelled in research and teaching. It would only seem appropriate, if the very same scientists took a closer look at their own ethical and environmental contributions and impacts.

Pensioners with a still sketchy idea of the world, won't get the whole picture by going on a cruise, and yet, 60-plus 'adventurers' have become a special target group, a growth market in tourism. Cruise lines fiercely compete and try to offer unique features on their ever growing liners: wedding chapels, trains, climbing walls. Malls, fitness and wellness centres, bars, discos, casinos, and commercial entertainment have already become standard features. A cruise ship needs up to 10 megawatt hours in electricity daily. With 3,000 guests on board it is burning around 3,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil in ten days—roughly one tonne per passenger. While the environmental impacts include greenhouse gas emissions and oil pollution, cruises sometimes score better with regard to overdevelopment and destruction of landscape and countryside than conventional tourism.

Alexander von Schönburg recommends to travel less frequently but for a longer period of time, during which we could even sublet our apartment or house. Istanbul, Tallinn, Sofia, Venice, or Genoa are attractive destinations that can also be reached by train, and from the latter two we could even take a boat to Egypt or Greece. Such a way of travelling will surely enrich the life of the traveller, but of course we won't go on such a 'slow' trip four or five times a year. Instead of zapping through locations like a tourist and feeding that endless holiday-snap stream on the internet, we should keep our eyes open for the world(s) that unfold(s) on our journey—to fare well as it were.

Bregenz-based artist Hubert Matt 'went' on a journey to Mexico without actually leaving Vorarlberg. His means of travel: Facebook. His daily updates on bus schedules, photos of sights, or stories about places did not only amaze those who followed his virtual journey and posted their comments, but also the people who then ran into him on the street at home being aware of his virtual absence. All information was available on the Internet and was fed back into it, Matt explained. En route he 'met' a lot of interesting people. Thanks to the intensity of the communication and research, some have even become friends and they are planning to meet in real life.

Alexander von Schönburg actually holds that one cannot speak highly enough of staying at home as opposed to going on a holiday. You may find that the breakfast buffet and sauna at the hotel around the corner are not exclusive to overnight guests. If you still feel the need to beat it, you could start thinking about a complete change of scenery, perhaps getting a new job and moving to a different place, finding new friends, a different life. It does not necessarily have to be another continent that friends and family can only reach by plane. And maybe a second home, easy to reach by train, will already do. Many elegant recreation areas with houses dating from the early 20th century are enjoying something of a renaissance.

Another way to liven up things could be travelling from couch to couch. CouchSurfing is a hospitality website. It was founded in 2003 as a non-profit organisation.76 The website provides a platform for members to 'surf' on couches by staying as a guest at a host's home, to host travellers, join an event, and offer other services such as showing their hosts about town. CouchSurfing is credited with starting the trend more than a decade ago. It now boasts more than nine million members across 120,000 cities worldwide.77 Detailed profiles, personal references, an optional credit card verification system, and a personal vouching system help members to determine whether another user is reliable or not.

The demise of affluent societies and cars are closely intertwined, and perhaps an automobile will once again become what it originally was: a whimsical luxury, as Alexander von Schönburg put it. There is a trend in key tourist market countries like North America, Germany and Japan towards not using aeroplanes and/or cars and its becoming rather fashionable as well. Perhaps we are moving towards a new paradigm of mobility: away from the 'travails' of frantic city hopping or 'maxperience' trips like Europe-in-8-days towards a more leisurely pace while exploring our surroundings or simply taking more time to travel.

Austrian artist Gottfried Bechtold turned automobiles into 'immobiles' by casting them in concrete


Members of a consumer society will not only buy what they need to survive but also things that embellish life. The consumer society emerged in the late 17th century and intensified throughout the 18th century. People still purchased the goods they did not produce themselves on markets, prices were being haggled not fixed. A consumerist pattern became first visible in London where the gentry and prosperous merchants took up residence and created a culture of luxury and consumption that was slowly extended across the socio-economic divide. These trends were vastly accelerated in the 18th century, as rising prosperity and social mobility increased the number of people with disposable income for consumption. The purchase became more important than necessity. Important shifts included the marketing of goods for individuals as opposed to items for the household, and the new status of goods as status symbols. Having the means, the middle classes increased the demand for mass consumer goods like beer, sugar, tea, soap, and printed fabrics.

Advertising columns were invented by the German printer Ernst Litfaß in 1854 and later introduced in other countries as well. They offered space for announcement and advertising purposes. Advertising in newspapers, magazines and shop windows also proliferated and boosted consumption constantly. The Industrial Revolution dramatically increased the availability of consumer goods, and the advent of the department store represented a paradigm shift in the experience of shopping (at fixed prices). For the first time, customers could buy an astonishing variety of goods, all in one place, and shopping became a popular leisure activity.78

Consumption has become all-consuming in the modern world, says the British writer Will Self.79 Shopping has long ceased to be about meeting our basic needs. In the 1910s and 1920s, advertisers in the U.S. adopted the doctrine that human instincts could be targeted and harnessed—'sublimated' into the desire to purchase commodities.80 Or, in Alexander von Schönburg's words, advertisers must sell desires, hopes, wildest dreams...people don't buy what they need, they buy expectations and hope for the 'gift of the goods'.81 This sort of enticement will only work, if promises remain pie in the sky. It's a simple system: the carrot forever dangling in front of the consumer's nose.

Luxury goods became mass merchandise, worldwide shipping started the 'globalisation' of shopping in the 1950s. Electric appliances were booming in the 60s, plastic furniture, valuable raw materials, and fossil fuels in the 70s. In the 1980s, a luxury mania developed by which wealth and beauty came to the fore.

Shopping has become the favourite pastime in our days, and indeed almost a civic duty in order to ever boost the economy. Catalogues for fashion, tools, home electronics, and household appliances pile up at home, we can order directly via manufacturers' websites, and young people like to gather at their new adventure playgrounds: shopping malls. They are playing the returns game: shopping for fancy outfits on a Saturday, dressing up for the party, and returning the whole lot at the start of the week. Shopping and returns sprees are by now part and parcel of our Western culture and particularly so at and around Christmas. The film-maker, author and activist Kalle Lasn worries about our mindset: 'Plentitude is American culture's perverse burden. Most Americans have everything they could possibly want, and they still don't think it's nearly enough. When everything is at hand, nothing is ever hard-won, and when nothing is hard-won, nothing really satisfies. Without satisfaction, our lives become shallow and meaningless. In this era of gigantism—corporate megamergers, billion-dollar-grossing films and grande lattes—we embrace the value of More to compensate for lives that seem, somehow, Less.' 82

People in Western societies have more than 10,000 possessions on average, and if we take music, videos and other documents on a person's computer into account, this figure may well amount to 50 or 100,000. It's the old hunter-gatherer in us. The political economist Karl Polanyi tried to prove that our addiction to material possessions was acquired rather than congenital. He pointed to pre-capitalist communities holding to family, kin, religion, sense of honour, and tradition as supreme values. According to John Naish, Polanyi argued that the most fundamental desire of human beings was the feeling of being cared-for in their community. 'We are first and foremost social beings, and consumerism is nothing but a societal trap.' Along the same lines, Naish regarded the assumption of a congenital noble-mindedness as somewhat naïve.83 However, observations made by child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim in Israeli kibbutzim, an environment devoid of private property, suggested that the lack of private property was the cause of the lack of emotions in kibbutzniks. He wrote, 'nowhere more than in the kibbutz did I realise the degree to which private property, in the deep layers of the mind, relates to private emotions. If one is absent, the other tends to be absent as well.' 84

But where does the urge to consume stem from? Human beings have imitation down to a fine art and for Naish that is the key. 'Consequently, evolution drives us to imitate the habits, traits, and fashions of the most successful persons in our groups and by doing so, we hope that it will place us on a par with them eventually.'85 We live in constant fear of being rejected by the group we belong to, thus forfeiting our power of judgement. Naish makes reference to a study conducted by Roy Baumeister of the Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, according to which rejection can dramatically reduce a person's IQ and their ability to reason analytically. 'We've found that randomly assigning students to rejection experiences can lower their IQ scores and make them aggressive.'86 As a consequence, people make purchases on impulse, buying things that they hope will prevail upon the group to reaccept them.

Unless the persons we relate to will stop to judge us according to what we consume, we will eagerly continue shopping. Sonja purchased her new blouse not only because of its seasonal colours but also because she wanted to tell her friend all about the to-die-for material, all hand-picked cotton. Martin urgently needs a new game console, so he can rave about his sportive activities in front of the screen on Facebook. The Californian wine for our dinner guests displays our open-mindedness and curiosity. We hope to impress our guests, were it not for the slightly pungent aftertaste. And we want our holidays to bestow an air of cosmopolitans and connoisseurs upon us, at least in the eyes of our friends, even though we know that in terms of recreation and relaxation it would often be preferable to stay at home or explore our home region.

We should not lose sight of the purpose of our shopping. Do we really need the latest ice maker or is only a party gadget that'll gather dust for the rest of the year? Is a new pair of skis going to improve my skiing or do I rather get them because of those sneers—that I dread—at my last year's equipment while cueing for the lift? These days, chances have gone up to actually meet approval with sustainable second hand clothing rather than with bags full of H&M or C&A stuff.

Where does luxury begin? Well—everything is relative. John Naish describes the bizarre proceedings at a prestige car storage in West London. Maintenance staff polish Porsches, Bentleys, and Rolls Royces every week. Every two weeks, they run motors and switches, roll them backwards and forwards to rotate pressure points and prevent tyre 'flat spotting' issues. According to the manager, the guy with the £100k Ferrari comes in once in a while, takes the car for a short drive around the block, and then brings it back. Some only come round to get behind the wheel, smell the leather and listen to the radio. They won't even drive.87 Probably because there are a lot of dangers for luxury cars out there: speed traps, bad lots with sharp-edged keys and full of envy. But if we excite envy instead of appreciation, we have, in all probability, crossed the line into the realm of unimaginable and, for the majority of people, inaccessible luxury.

A hangover will follow any kind of bingeing on sensual pleasures as sure as eggs is eggs, Alexander von Schönburg tips us off. For Epicurus the limitation of all desire and the practice of the virtues is inseparable from pleasure.88 And in economics, the law of diminishing marginal utility proves that an individual’s want for a particular commodity gets satiated when he or she consumes more and more of it. At a certain point the 'hunger' will be gone and even the 'appetite' for more will decrease. All the luxuries can turn into a burden because the umpteenth car also needs servicing and somehow you want to make the most of your golf club membership. The rich are not necessarily happier people but do rather worry a lot more about their standing and the safety of their possessions.

As early as the mid-1970s, Pier Paolo Pasolini was an ardent critic of consumismo, i.e. consumerism. His view of a new totalitarianism whereby hyper-materialism was destroying the social and cultural diversity of Italian society can be seen now as foresight into what has happened to the world generally in an age of global consumerist mainstream culture that charges the notion of freedom with a 'duty' to consume, thus leading people into obeying the consumerist imperative with a 'sense of freedom'.89

A number of authors have packed their ideas on globalisation, social analysis, and the final victory of consumerism into novels. In '99 francs', French writer Frédéric Beigbeder picks up on a recurrent subject with contemporary authors such as Michel Houellebecq or Camille de Toledo and does not beat about the bush with regard to the contradictions of life in the noughties: excessive work, excessive lifestyle, botched relationships. The characters of his novel are wallowing in revolting hedonism. They fully know that they live it out at the expense of other people, either very 'remote' people producing the abundance for their empty pleasures, or very close ones, colleagues, lovers, or neighbours, they flippantly 'unwrap, devour, and throw away afterwards'.

Yoghurt subvertisement: 'Until your gut flora brims with money.'

'99 francs' follows Octave Parengo, who works in an advertising agency. Their major client is a food giant. Parengo's slogans for a low-fat 'Madone' yoghurt campaign are to tout customers, boost sales, and make shareholders happy. Despite his outrages behaviour he gets promoted and mulling things over he reckons: 'We're going to sack our friends. We're going to be shameless and megalomaniac. We're going to be buttoned up. And friends and family won't come to visit any more, but we won't give a hang about it.' While shooting the yoghurt clip in Miami, Octave, the clip starlet, and his pal from the agency break into the villa of a retired lady, torture and kill her because she owns 'pension funds' that exhaust shareholder value—a 10% yield won't do, profits must be increased, by hook or by crook, no matter the exodus of companies or social dumping.

At the beginning of his career, Frédéric Beigbeder himself worked as a copywriter in Young & Rubicam. It was Michel Houellebecq who called on him to write a behind-the-scenes novel about his time at the advertising agency and Beigbeder stuffed '99 francs' with inside knowledge with the firm intention of getting fired.90

The ailing advertising industry has justified concerns about its negative image. Recent research found that only 15% of adults in Britain trust the advertising medium.91 Advertising companies now fear tighter regulations that may include bans on certain types of advertising and advertisements for products that are harmful to health. In 2004, the British Medical Association called on the government to ban television advertising of junk foods before the watershed, and on all channels aimed at children.92 The Swedish and Norwegian governments have prohibited all TV advertising aimed at children under the age of 12 since 1991.93

So if we could stop to seek other people's recognition and to give ourselves up to smart marketing deceptions, the urge to consume would ebb out all of a sudden. We could actually be happy without the latest mobile phone, for example, like Manfred who has been using the same Sony Ericsson K750i for over five years. The battery, fully charged, still lasts six days (!), it has a fine snapshot camera, and the nav application has frequently put him on the right track even without GPS. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it, however, he won't put it on display, especially not if he's on a business meeting where all the latest smartphones glitter and sparkle. The loyalty credits with his mobile operator would have already got him a new smartphone for free but so far he has turned the offer down. He didn't want to spend hours on end to get his head around the features of a new gadget that, besides, would have a shorter battery life and no FM radio. Among friends he excuses his outmoded phone hinting at 'blood tantalum' coming from the Republic of Rwanda or the war zones in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tantalum is extracted from coltan. It is a rare and very hard metal. Tantalum is essential in the manufacture of electrical components known as pinhead capacitors.94 Manfred is going to bide his time. Once his daughter needs a new mobile, he's going to upgrade as well but will hold back on purchasing new electronic equipment in general. Roland and his son, in turn, have fun upcycling old PCs or game consoles into working servers or a photo booth for the poolbar-Festival (Feldkirch) in Vorarlberg.

All the year round, the Altons are looking forward to Dornbirn Flea Market. It's their personal highlight in autumn and they are keeping lists of the things they need and are piling up those they are going to hand in. It's the biggest flea market in Austria. In four huge fair halls, more than 400 volunteers pre-sort, arrange and offer snowboards, ski boots, clothes, textiles, bicycles, child seats, blenders, CD players, books, DVDs, flower pots, the works. Dornbirn Flea Market has become a very popular festival indeed, and has even inspired some poetry. Here is one written in kind of a fun blend of English and Vorarlberg dialect:

Bring mi the old schränks,

dän I say you sänks,

bring bilders with rahmen,

pelzmäntels for damen,

bring books mi tu read,

wil däs can I need,

bring forhäng and stöff,

and bring your old töff,

bring porzellangüter

and all ladenhüter,

that wud bi so frey.

I come ou forbey.

Floumarket-English for beginners (Lesson 1) 95

If there is no flea market nearby, you can browse through eBay or or join a local mailing list where things are bartered or offered for free. Clothes swapping parties can be real fun. Simply invite a couple of friends of a similar build and ask them to bring along some well preserved clothes. You are all going to feel like new persons the next day and probably will hear some very pleasing remarks on your new outfit that hasn't cost a penny. In addition, you may get some tips for free as to your hairstyle or your glasses, for instance. It's going to be much more personal than a tour round the shops. Once a year, the Altons and some friends organise a plant swap at the old Dornbirn gathering place, the Hatler Well. People bring seedlings and cuttings of salads, herbs or shrubs, and flower bulbs for the garden or balcony. We thus cherish and appreciate our connection with and working in nature and get interesting and GM-free plants as well.

John Naish suggests that if we asked ourselves the following nine questions before purchasing a product, we might come to the conclusion that we actually don't need it after all:

  • Do I really need this 'consumer thing' rather than simply want it?

  • Has my desire for this 'consumer thing' been planted by marketing techniques?

  • Do I want this 'consumer thing' because I want to be fitter, to be cleverer, more leisured or just look cooler? If so, will this 'consumer thing' really work that miracle?

  • Is there any other way that I could achieve my goal with out accruing more stuff?

  • How many more hours will I have to work to pay for this 'consumer thing'? What else could I do with that working time that would bring me more fulfilment than the consumer item?

  • Is there anything I already own that I could substitute for this 'consumer thing'?

  • Do I really want dust, dry-clean, pay to have it serviced or otherwise maintain this 'consumer thing'?

  • If I'm replacing something that I have already got, what's really wrong with the old one?

  • If I really do need this 'consumer thing' is there any way I can obtain it on a free-site, or to borrow it from a friend, neighbour or relative?

Extracted from Enough by John Naish96

John Naish then offers further advice. Instead of buying stuff, you could 'do it yourself', thereby enhancing the product's value. Your local DIY store or knitting shop, for example, will have the tools and materials you need, and web sites like makezine offer instructions and ideas (of which more in the chapter on the Creative Class). Or you could refrain from purchasing on credit and use your credit card less frequently in general. Studies conducted by Drazen Prelec, associate professor of marketing at MIT Sloan School of Management, found that credit card buyers are prepared to pay more than twice as much as the cash buyers on average.97

We are social beings and seek recognition. If we could manage to get our share of recognition and appreciation rather through what we do than through what we possess, we could leave the world of consumerism behind us. There's a lot to do and a lot of it will be fun and make other people happy. So we should do it well and actually talk about it! There are exercises on that point with a view to our daily life and the world of business in the following chapters and on where you can also contribute and share your own ideas and suggestions.

Recognition and Care

Human beings need attention, if they are to thrive and in order to find their lives worth living. It's no big secret that children starved of warmth and affection suffer lifelong health problems.98 And contrary to Maslow's hierarchy of needs the need for affection and recognition is always present and is not, as Maslow's theory suggests, a secondary higher level of needs that will not manifest itself unless the most basic level of needs is met.99 However, time spent aimlessly and in a playful manner has become nothing less than a luxury. Attention is in great demand because it's a sign of affection we get from other people, on the one hand, and on the other hand, it's a limited resource.

Austrian professor of computer-aided architecture and planning at the Vienna University of Technology Georg Franck holds that an economy of attention and an economy of money have a lot in common. 'If the attention due to me is not only credited to me personally but is also registered by others, and if the attention I pay to others is valued in proportion to the amount of attention earned by me, then an accounting system is set in motion which quotes something like the social share prices of individual attention.'100 Paying and receiving attention are elementary forms of interpersonal relationships. 'All of us are in the throes of the question how we appear to others. [...] The human soul [...] is permanently maimed and ends in bitterness if it does not receive a generous minimum income of attentiveness.'101 And attention is in high demand and scare in supply. How can we find the right balance? The desire for attention is not reprehensible in itself, but an indiscriminate grabbing for it is. Vanity is nothing but a voracity for smug complacency. However, we depend on the appreciation and affection of other people and as they come 'wrapped' in attention our desire for it would seem to become insatiable. If we want to strike a balance, we need to scrutinise at all times how much attention we may attract with a clear conscience. And we ought to be less selfish and more considerate towards other persons' attention needs.

The media are a prime example of a market specialising in attention. The currency of consumers is time dedicated to reading, watching, browsing, or listening, which must be 'repaid' by providers in an equal currency, namely attention to what their target groups actually want to read, watch, or listen to. Tangible results are then measured in units of circulation, ratings, or page views. The media deal in attention currency; they stir, pool and sustain it, and are in a position to sell it like a commodity.

If we take another look at the economy of attention in our daily lives, it becomes apparent that while exchanging attention with the aim of being recognised, we submit to a condition, namely to be successful in living up to other people's expectations. The commonality between attention and money economy then comes full circle as economic success, so far, has been made manifest by way of prestigious possessions or lifestyle: cars, a house with a garden, a posh home office, summer and winter holidays, or a Swiss wristwatch. But now people have become more guarded in exhibiting their acquisitions or achievements because they realise that hunting for recognition through what we consume and how we perform has its ethical and ecological side effects—having said that, maybe only the scenery has changed.

Social networks on the Internet are ideal for getting 'likes' and attention by posting some cool lines, comments, snapshots, or information. Facebook and the like are about to substitute external signs of wealth onto which, so far, we have been projecting our needs for recognition. The generation growing up with all these networks count 'friends' and 'followers' already as social capital and derive affirmation and self-esteem from it. However, if we remember to exchange appreciation and recognition with care, boasting about hundreds of contacts might leave you look like a show-off or a pompous twit.

The world as a stage for seeking personal recognition is as old as the boards that mean the world. Some feel called to perform on a stage proper and as long as their audience can benefit from it as well and there is some sort of an exchange—some may take home new impressions, others may simply have fun and enjoy the show—it will also be fair. However, celebrity gossip, airs and graces of movie stars or musicians become unbearable, if their self images have blown out of proportion compared to the public image. As long as mass media exist and find an audience, they will produce stars. In virtual communities stars become redundant because of their dynamic public esteem, i.e. feedbacks and ratings. Some systems use 'karma', a common name given to user reputation in online moderation or rating systems. Active users can earn rights and reputation through other members for activities perceived to promote group effectiveness.102

Karma earned for improving software

In an economy based on ethical conduct, attention and recognition will be 'paid' for aspiring to ethical values and won't take the traditional detour via luxury goods or lifestyle ratings. These thoughts shall be incorporated into the conception of an evaluation system that emphasises the ethical aspects of products and services and would also lend itself to bartering.

Another aspect of recognition is care. This regards notably our relationships with children. In article 24, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union sets out children's rights, and in particular: 'Children shall have the right to such protection and care as is necessary for their well-being.'103 Parents have an obligation to provide care and are subject to criminal laws against abandonment, abuse, and neglect of children.104 In Germany, kindergarten is widely accepted to provide care outside the family for children from the age of three.

Family sociologist Ulrike Zartler calls it a 'traditionalising trap' when three-quarters of the Austrian people believe that pre-school children suffer if their mother is working. With respect to nursing care—although things have slightly improved recently—and the progress of change in people's attitude, Austria is a developing, yet underperforming country. Critics of centre-based childcare like nurseries stress that the long-term and trustful relationship with the parents is the most appropriate environment to promote the emotional, mental, and social development of the child. On the positive side, however, it has become apparent that professional educators help children gain in terms of independence, academic achievement and primary socialisation.105 If you've ever been to some 'Little Monkey Nursery', you know that kids have a lot of fun there, learn many things that they might not learn at home like singing or dancing, and that they also have to practise how to be tolerant at an early stage in their lives. Professional care in a group in the morning and the care and attention of at least one parent in the afternoon match perfectly.

In order that parents take guardianship seriously, they should agree on sharing custody from birth either by court order or marriage contract.106 They will thereby protect their child from becoming the bone of contention, if their relationship is in trouble or if they ever split up.

We also have to care for the elderly. Our parents and grandparents love when we come to pay a visit and give them our attention. Their stories can be really fascinating. We could ask them to write them down or to tell them again in front of a camera, as long as they are fit enough to do so. A storytelling circle can also become a meeting place, and perhaps even intergenerational, for first-hand history narratives. Some local museums have actually started to take such forums for discussion on board under the heading of 'historical anthropology'107.

There is no substitute for finding the right balance. The importance of education, income, cultural activities, sport, children, perhaps the own garden, getting involved in your community, parents, or friends will vary at different stages of our lives. It is, however, paramount that we won't shut off any sphere of life completely and that we realise in time if something and if, what, may be missing to keep our balance. The Ethify Journal can assist you in finding out more about your personal balance and in setting new priorities.

It is, however, an important prerequisite for some freedom of choice that our basic needs like housing, transport and food are covered—and access to the Internet is more and more being regarded as a basic requirement. We still will have to work to cover our needs. Even with increasing automation the demand for human labour will always be there—people to operate machines, ensure the quality of products and services, and take care of communication. We are going to have a closer look at the world of work and what we can do in order to help shaping it in the following chapter.


Original text 'Ethify Your Life' (2.0) by Roland Alton.

Translation by Juergen Ghebrezgiabiher.


1:Haug 2008, Die Vier-in-einem-Perspektive; p.41. Frigga Haug is one of Germany’s best-known feminist and Marxist critics, chairwoman of the Berlin Institute for Critical Theory and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Attac.



4:In China many schools practise a lunch-time nap; pupils will rest their heads on a cushion on their desks or nestle them into their elbows. (Thanks to Li Ping Zhang for this piece of information.)

5:In FP5 the EU determined this would be 1,680 productive hours per annum or 140 productive hours per month for those working 5 days 8 hours per week.;

6:Pension Crediting for Caregivers – Policies in Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Japan; The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Washington, DC; 2011.



9:'Employment in Europe 2008' by the European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, 2008;

10:34.6 + 18.2 ≈ 46%, plus the people on unpaid leave and in training—because they are included in the employment figures—amount to approximately half of the working-age population not in full-time employment.

11:A basic social security provision shall be a need-orientated welfare benefit such as leave allowances or unemployment benefits to ensure subsistence.

12:Thomas Schmid: Befreiung von falscher Arbeit. Thesen zum garantierten Mindesteinkommen (Liberation from False Labour – Theses on a Guaranteed Minimum Income); 1986, p.62.

13:An unconditional basic income will provide all citizens or residents of a country regularly with an unconditional sum of money. It will typically cover the vital needs (monthly approx. 800 EUR, less 200 EUR for health insurance). It would amount to the current overall costs for social benefits like childcare allowance or pension payments, and thus not increase government spending as these social payments and the corresponding complex administration would be abolished.

14:John Naish, Enough: Breaking Free from the World of Excess, p.130 [pages indicated refer to the German edition Genug: Wie Sie der Welt des Überflusses entkommen, 2008]

15:Naish, Enough, p.136

16:N Niedermeier interview 'Extrem viel Adrenalin', German weekly Die Zeit; 2011;


18:Naish, Enough, p.144


20:Interview in the Austrian daily 'Der Standard';

21:Alexander, Count of Schönburg-Glachau, The Art of Stylish Poverty, p.67 [pages indicated refer to the German edition Die Kunst des stilvollen Verarmens, Hamburg 2006]

22:In The Human Condition, philosopher and political thinker Hannah Arendt argues that the vita activa, or 'active life', is the fundamental condition of human existence. In the book’s first chapter, Arendt lays out the three fundamental categories of the vita activa: labour, work, and action. These categories also make up the main topics of the book. For further information see:

23:; Derek Hum & Wayne Simpson (2001-01-02). "A Guaranteed Annual Income? From Mincome to the Millennium".




27:; see: German Green Party votes against Unconditional Basic Income

28:T S Terkenli, Home as a Region;



31:Alexander von Schönburg, p.92




35:As part of the Federal Government of Germany, the Robert Koch Institute (abbreviated RKI) is an organisation responsible for disease control and prevention. It is located in Berlin and Wernigerode, and is a part of the Federal Ministry of Health.





40:See the following sources on the topic: // FAO; LIVESTOCK'S LONG SHADOW – environmental issues and options, Part IV, p. 95; //



43:Dr Isobel Tomlinson, campaigns officer at the Soil Association, underpins that view, however, she also points out that 'although we should perhaps be talking about how organic farming can help the world feed itself. As well as investment in organic and other agro-ecological methods for farmers in the Global South in order to increase local food production and markets, for the Global North it is imperative that we see a significant shift in diets.'


45:Nestlé boycott;é

46:; original study 'Der Weg eines Erdbeerjoghurts', Stefanie Böge;





51:The scheme was scrapped in 2008.

52:European Handbook on CSA; For further information on CSA/gela (gemeinsam landwirtschaften) in Austria see:


54: (German)


56:For controversy on 'From Dust to Dust – Hummer vs. Prius' see:;


58:Alexander von Schönburg, p.113

59:Hermann Knoflacher, Virus Auto (Car Virus – The Story of Blight), p.117 (German), but see also on waggle dance and spatial information:



62: (German only)




66:Alexander von Schönburg, p.116






72:; Green Paper on Energy Efficiency (German only); p.179

73:Prices for 2nd class travel cards as of 2014: GA travel card for adults CHF 3,550; German Rail BahnCard 100 EUR 4,090; Austrian Rail Österreichcard Classic EUR 1,640 (trams and buses excluded). When are we going to get an European travel card?



76:In 2011, the assets were sold to the private for-profit corporation Better World Through Travel, later renamed Couchsurfing International, Inc., which defines itself as 'a mission-driven for-profit corporation'. For further information see:





81:Alexander von Schönburg, p.174

82:Lasn,Culture Jam, 1999, p.11;

83:update 78: Naish, Enough, p.92


85:update 79: Naish, Enough, p.95

86:update 80:

87:Naish, Enough, p.90


89:update 85:; (German only)

90:; or see:ßigneunzig (German only)





95:keep 89:




99:If Maslow's theory were right, there probably would be no penniless artists, musicians or writers. (Thanks to Drupal project manager Thomas Zahreddin for this suggestion)

100:; first published in German intellectual magazine 'Merkur', No. 534/535. English by Silvia Plaza.

101:; English by S Plaza





106:For forms of custody see:

107:The beginnings of historical anthropology as a transdisciplinary project have to be located in the 1970s. ... The intention of the endeavour ‘historical anthropology’ is far from questioning established disciplines such as the historical scholarship but to put man in its historical contingency and cultural complexity into the focus of research and academic teaching. (Quoted from: Or see German wiki: