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Long live minimalism

Long live minimalism

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts

Wishful thinking

Imagine you, a researcher, are given a bag of money, unlimited time and personnel. What research would you do? Cultural scientist Miriam Meissner would set up an extensive study into sustainable initiatives such as repair shops, tiny houses, and the sharing economy. But not just in the west, in other cultures as well, other times and in the arts.

Biodiversity is decreasing, oceans are acidifying and climate change is inevitable. Miriam Meissner, lecturer at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences feels that governments are not resting on their laurels. “They are doing their best, but one may wonder if they are on the right track. Governments often invest in new technologies in order to use fossil fuels more efficiently and to reduce pollution. Working on the basis that economic growth can go hand in hand with a clean environment.”

Research seems to falsify this strategy: the growth of the gross national product is at the same pace as the CO2 increase. “Since the climate top in Kyoto, in 1992, worldwide CO2 emissions caused by the generation of energy has risen by 40 per cent.”

Letting go of economic growth doesn't seem to be an option. However, social initiatives for a more sustainable life are springing up everywhere, says Meissner, who carries out research into the advance of repair shops, tiny houses, the sharing economy, recycling projects, et cetera. “Yet it seems as though not everyone who supports these initiatives is worried about the environment and the disadvantages of economic growth. Many welcome minimalism because of individual motives. For example, just because it is cheaper.”

Meissner wouldn't go as far as to call this selfish. “You could also just see it from a sociological point of view and it is also because people have been conditioned by neo-liberalism and have been responsible for their own well-being for many years. Maybe that is the reason why they are less concerned about the environment, about the context.”

Aside from that, Meissner would like to broaden the scope of her research for her dream study. “I think it would be very interesting to go back in time, to see what people did in the past to save raw materials, but also how they viewed consumption. My grandparents - I grew up in Cologne - paid a lot of attention to the quality of the material when buying new clothes. Today many people look for the best price.”

Meissner would also like to include visionaries of the past in her research. “What was their idea of the future, and what could we learn from that? Maybe the time has come to put their visions into practice? Take, for example, the Swiss economist Ernst Friedrich Schumacher, who became renowned in the nineteen-seventies for quoting: ‘Small is beautiful.’ And: ‘Infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world is an impossibility.’ Even then, Schumacher was searching for ways to create an alternative economy, he even came up with the idea of a Buddhist economy.”

Meissner would also like to look at other cultures (“All countries have their own minimalist traditions”) as well as artists. “Just think of the trends in art, Bauhaus, cubism, contemporary architecture, which is often very austere. What we can learn from these is how to design minimalist products in such a way that they are attractive.”



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