Assessing the viability of downshifting initiatives in the Netherlands
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In the last decades it has become increasingly evident that increased consumption has caused the ecological footprints of rich countries to surpass what they should be,in result threatening the survivalofthe human-andmany other species (Rockstrom et al. 2009).In dealing with this situation the overall strategy of the Dutch government is, just as in other developed countries, typified by: the belief in win-win strategies, in which the environment and the economy prosper through the decoupling of growth and throughput; reliance on innovation and technology; the assumption that growth is needed for renewal; and finally that consumption reduction and the change of individual habits is not really needed (de Geus 2003). Increasingly scholars and citizens share the concern that decoupling will not be enough and that a reduction in consumption levels and the increaseof sustainable lifestyles will be necessary in order to remain within the Earths carrying capacity. Downshifting consumption has so far only been promoted at the grassroots level. In this thesis, the main focus will be on the viability ofthese initiatives to contribute to or influence current societal consumption practices in a direction of less consumption.An overview is provided of around forty initiatives that promote downshifting;nine cases among these have been selected and studied in depth. A framework is developed in which viability is determined by internal factors (a framing process, the mobilization of resources, and networking skills) and external factors (social, structural, and political barriers and opportunities). I conclude that there is a rich diversity of initiatives promoting downshifting in creative ways, providing inspiration and toolsfor those people interested in lowering their consumption levels. The positive message provided by these initiatives reflects adeparture in environmental organizations from ‘doom scenario’s and guilttriggering strategies. Downshifting is interpreted as a form of identity politics, following the lines of ‘think globally, act locally’, which makesthe initiatives central weakness theirfragmented character and lack of collective protest. The major external development contributing to the viability of these initiatives is the diminishing trust in neo-liberal strategies and the adoption of the notionthat personal consumption choices matter and that people want to ‘vote’ with their money according to their beliefs.