Policies aimed at effectively mitigating climate change through a reduction in economic growth and consumption of fossil fuels would have a monetary impact on the economy, but also an impact on the wellbeing and happiness of individuals. Researchers at the Institute for Environmental Science and Technology at the UAB have taken advantage of the current economic crisis to analyse the impact this situation would have.
Scientists used data from a survey conducted in 2011 to measure the degree of happiness and satisfaction in a sample of 950 inhabitants from Barcelona, in relation to their current levels of income and to how they have evolved in the past five years. The questionnaire included data on their level of education, work status, health, consumption habits, and leisure activities, as well as other variables.
With regard to income levels, "when there is work stability, there is a point of inflection in the co-relation of income and happiness" affirms Dr Filka Sekulova, main author of the research: "up to 1,750 euros we can say that money favours happiness, but after this amount the co-relation we observed is negative."
Dr Sekulova highlights that the fact that "the reduction in salaries in the two years before the survey, from 1,373 to 1,310 euros monthly in average, did not represent a reduction in the level of happiness. Even in more recent periods, reductions in salary periodically presented a positive relation with a subjective wellbeing." Researchers consider that the most plausible explanation of this positive relation, albeit the reduction in salary, is that there is also a reduction in working hours and, therefore, an increase in leisure time. Data show that the happiness of individuals is directly related to the hours they work when measured up to 16 hours a week. In contrast, those working more than 16 hours a week are less happy the more hours they work.
"If we apply these results to climate change mitigation policies, we see that reducing consumption and salaries as well as working hours, while maintaining workplaces, can have a positive effective on people's wellbeing" researchers affirm. One must bear in mind however that unemployment, unstable jobs and economic vulnerability caused by the crisis have a very important negative effect on the quality of life, and this can also be seen in the survey.
Although the consumption of goods such as cars and furniture can also positively affect participants' happiness, researchers believe that encouraging this type of consumption is a short-sighted strategy to reach that goal, given that the effects of consuming these types of goods disappear shortly after.
The results of the study demonstrate that climate change mitigation policies need not reduce the level of happiness of individuals in the long term. Their effect can even be positive if they are accompanied by measures to reduce working hours and consumption standards, while maintaining work stability.
According to the study, another factor to be included in environmental policies aimed at degrowth and positive effects on the happiness of individuals is the habit of sharing objects, cars, living spaces as well as volunteering, known as "social capital." This tendency can be seen in 68% of the participants in the survey, and is materialised in 50% who share living spaces with people who are not family or a significant otherand in 26% who share vehicles.
"Not applying environmental policies to mitigate climate change can have negative consequences when it comes to happiness," Dr Sekulova states. Researchers confirmed that being exposed to extreme climate experiences, such as a forest fires or flooding, phenomena which could occur more frequently in the most common scenarios of climate change, have considerable and lasting negative effects on the wellbeing and happiness of individuals.
- Filka Sekulova, Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh. Climate change, income and happiness: An empirical study for Barcelona. Global Environmental Change, 2013; 23 (6): 1467 DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.07.025
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