By Amerissa Giannouli
Are you interested in participating in environmental education and activities that go beyond the rhetoric of Sustainable Development and SDGs?
Do you feel that “go green” practices might be too individualistic and somewhat superficial? Maybe it’s time for you to explore what degrowth has to say about sustainability.
Below, you may find five simple exercises which you could do with your group!
1. Divide the group into sub-groups of 3-4 persons. Ask them to discuss their everyday life experiences and activities, focusing on what they consume, produce, how they move around, how they work, how they study, how they care for each other, and how they spend their free time. Encourage them to share 5-8 key points they gather as a group.
This exercise is designed to be enjoyable and to provide a comprehensive understanding of the real economy by considering not only purchasable items. It aims to bridge the gap between the public and private spheres as participants share experiences of sharing, community engagement, and alternative solidarity-based economic practices. Depending on the interest, you could delve deeper into the organization of alternative economies and attempt to develop new economic paradigms beyond profit-making. It also presents an excellent opportunity to recognize the significance of reproductive work and how care work is undervalued in mainstream economic thinking. You may look into J.K. Gibson-Graham’s diverse economies and use the iconic iceberg picture to position participants’ contributions.
During the discussion, participants may also raise criticisms of GDP growth, what is included and excluded in its calculation, and alternative indicators of well-being. University students of economics may appreciate an in-depth critical discussion on these topics, including critiques of monetary valuation methods.
2. Divide the groups into sub-groups of 3-4 persons. Instruct each group to select a product that has been influenced by globalization. This product could be a fashion item, a digital device, or an agricultural product such as coffee or chocolate.
For this exercise, each group will mark the life cycle of the chosen product on a map, including stages such as extraction, production, transportation, consumption, and disposal. In each stage, the group should identify potential political, social, economic, and ecological conflicts and impacts associated with the product.
This exercise aims to shed light on issues of inequality, injustices, and exploitation. Globalization, like the division between production and consumption, creates a disconnect between a product and the true costs it entails to make it available in our local markets. This disconnect prevents us from seeing or experiencing the socio-economic and ecological implications in places beyond our immediate reach. Consider topics such as land grabbing, the creation of environmental sacrifice zones, and climate racism, among others.
By mapping out the life cycle of the chosen product and examining its associated conflicts and impacts, participants can gain a better understanding of the hidden consequences and cost-shifting of globalization. This exercise encourages critical thinking about the systemic issues and power dynamics involved in the production and consumption of goods in a globalized world.
3. Take this opportunity to ask each group to brainstorm ways of moving beyond the linear exploitative economy.
The most common responses may be related to local production and consumption, recycling, upcycling, fair trade, and green technologies, among others. Despite positive intentions, some of the approaches may be ineffective, reproduce systemic oppressions and injustices mentioned earlier (eg. green growth solutions). This exercise can open up space for interesting discussions regarding greenwashing, rebound effects, and the controversies surrounding technological efficiencies.
Encourage the groups to build upon the previous exercises and delve deeper into the topic. They could explore data and information related to unequal exchange and climate debt, furthering their understanding of the challenges and complexities of transitioning to a more sustainable and just economic system.
This exercise could pave the way for solutions centered around self-sufficiency, community building, and resilience. By engaging in these discussions, participants can critically analyze the potential drawbacks and limitations of certain approaches while exploring alternative solutions that address the root causes of exploitation and inequality. It encourages a holistic and nuanced perspective on sustainable alternatives.
4. A role play can be a great tool for exploring different positions and interests within a group.
After dividing the participants into subgroups, each group can identify a case of environmental and social conflict. One option is to choose an actual case from the Environmental Justice Atlas.
During the role play, each group should assume the roles of different actors involved in the conflict and work together to come up with decisions and solutions. It is crucial to remember that social groups are not homogeneous, so participants should consider their understanding of privilege and authority when taking on roles. This approach helps avoid stereotyping and creates space for potential allies and collaborations to emerge.
After the role play, it is beneficial to compare and contrast the different positions and perspectives presented by the groups. This analysis can help identify opportunities for intervention and change within the context of the case. Additionally, instead of a traditional role play, forum theater can be used. Forum theater actively involves the audience, allowing for a more critical analysis of the issue at hand. It can be particularly impactful when performed in a public space.
By engaging in role play or forum theater, participants can gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of environmental and social conflicts. These exercises foster empathy, critical thinking, and collaborative problem-solving skills, enabling participants to explore diverse perspectives and work towards more just and sustainable solutions of collective responsibility and action.
5. Sharing and reflecting in a circle is indeed a powerful method to empower learners and foster community building. Here’s how you can incorporate it into your activities:
Begin by asking participants to reflect on what constitutes a good life. Ensure that each person has an opportunity to share their thoughts, one by one, while being mindful of respecting the time and space of others. It’s helpful to establish some basic guidelines in advance, such as active listening, speaking from the heart, taking notes when wanting to contribute, freedom to choose not to speak, and allowing individuals to leave the circle if needed.
After each complete round of contributions, summarize the ideas expressed. Then, proceed with additional rounds, with or without posing new questions. Encourage creativity by asking participants to collectively create artwork that represents their ideas about a good life and how to achieve it.
Do you want to make it more “academic”?
If you want to add an academic touch to the activities, you can incorporate relevant academic references after each exercise.
Do you want to make it more “policy oriented”?
Depending on the conversations, concepts like Universal Basic Income, Services and Job Guarantee, and democratic planning may emerge. You can also structure the process around specific topics like fashion, urban planning and housing, food, energy, and more.
Feel the room! Listen to the group!
It’s important to adjust the content and methods based on the participants’ expectations, needs, and characteristics. Keep in mind that these activities have been primarily tested with young adults in non-formal educational contexts. Adaptations might be necessary for school students, such as softening debriefing discussions or using more creative and experiential activities. Experimentation and improvisation are encouraged to respond to the unique dynamics of your group.
Remember, the key is to create an inclusive and participatory environment that fosters meaningful dialogue, reflection, and collaborative engagement, ultimately strengthening the sense of community among the participants.
Beyond the educational experience
To further strengthen the community, consider organizing movie nights, cooking meals together, engaging in collective building or painting projects, participating in protests, and allowing the group to contribute with their own activity ideas. Skills sharing, gardening, and organizing study visits to relevant initiatives are other options that promote community building.
Amerissa Giannouli has developed the ideas presented in this piece based on past experiences and projects in the field of youth and adult education. Additionally, they have been further refined through the author’s participation in the Master on Degrowth: Ecology, Economics, and Policy. This practical and experiential response serves as a complement to the previous article, “The case of sustainable clothing: how degrowth shapes the way I think about economic activities.“
The opinions expressed in the text do not necessarily reflect those of R&D, but are those of the author.