What Makes a Good Life?
Munich’s traffic grinds to a halt as hundreds of people sashay, skip and groove their way through hushed streets, moving to a beat only the dancers can hear. This street action is part of a European Union supported project to raise awareness of how lifestyle choices impact climate change and the environment.
“Nature has rights!” reads one hand-painted sign. “Buen Vivir!” reads another, and: “A good life for all!”. Drivers peer out of their cars and residents crane their necks over balconies to study the banners and peer at the strangely silent crowd, dancing to music played by a rickshaw-drawn DJ but only audible through the large, brightly coloured wireless headphones they wear.
“Oh yes! Everyone should have a good life!” one young passer-by agrees giving a thumbs up as she takes a leaflet. Further along the pavement, a group of men in business suits receive cheers and applause as they don headphones and dance wildly to the latin-funk beats before stopping to chat to dancers and find out more about ‘Buen Vivir’, or a good life.
The silent parade through the streets of Munich is the evening event of a two-day programme of lectures, panels, film showings and discussions around the theme: Buen Vivir, or in English, ‘Good Living’. Buen Vivir is actually a Spanish translation of ‘sumak kawsay’ – the worldview of the Kichwa peoples of the Andes, who adhere to a community-centric, ecologically balanced and culturally sensitive way of living. Conference organisers believe Europe could learn a lot from the Kichwa and other indigenous communities if we are to effectively tackle climate change.
“Here [in the ‘developed’ North], everything is always economic,” said Bernadette-Julia Felsch, from the Munich’s Department of Health and Environment and one of the Buen Vivir Conference organisers. “We always think in money and we think money makes [us] happy, but the indigenous people think money doesn’t matter – it’s important to have good relationships, and friendships and to respect nature.”
Among the speakers at the conference was Felix Santi, President of the Kichwa people from the Amazonia Region of Ecuador. He told conference attendees about the importance of community and the need to live harmoniously with nature, whether as a forest-dweller in the Amazon or an urban resident of Munich, if we are to stop climate change.
“It must be understood that there are people like us who bring balance to life, to mother nature,” said Mr Santi, his face painted with the pattern of the anaconda, regarded by the Kichwa as the mother of all water creatures and protector of lakes. “And this needs to be understood and reflected upon because only like this are we going to be able to save the planet.”
The Buen Vivir conference was part of the project, "Overdeveloped: The Future We Want”, set up by lead partner Climate Alliance and supported by the European Commission’s Development Education Awareness Raising Programme, or DEAR for short. DEAR supports public awareness raising actions that promote lifestyle choices and policies that can have a positive effect on the environment and communities both in Europe and the developing world.
The ‘Overdeveloped: The Future We Want’ project heightens citizens' awareness of development issues as well as promotes active EU citizen’s engagement with major development debates. The project was designed to give citizens and politicians a better understanding of global interdependencies and to force people to question and consider European overconsumption, especially of the world’s natural resources.
“We don’t just live beyond our own means [in the 'developed' North], we live beyond the means of others too, those others being the populations of the Global South,” Professor Stephan Lessenich told conference attendees. “Our wealth is based on the poverty of the Global South.”
Indeed, part of the ‘Overdeveloped: The Future We Want’ project, was a campaign entitled, “A good life is simple”, which encourages Europeans to consume less, be more active and think about their community and environment. Inspiration for the campaign came from the concept of Buen Vivir.
As well as promoting change at the individual level, the project is working with local authorities to see how change at the political level can have a positive impact on European communities: encouraging cities across the EU to learn from indigenous communities in South America.
“Changing our way of life is possible,” said Thomas Brose from Climate Alliance. “But what we can do on the more personal level has to be also followed on the political level so we need also political change and support.”
‘Overdeveloped: The Future We Want’ secured EU support as part of a 2013 call for proposals targeted at Local Authority and Local Authority associations engaged in education. So Climate Alliance partnered with local authorities across Europe to think about how their residents could live more sustainable lifestyles.
And Buen Vivir conference hosts are committed to doing just that according to Stephanie Jacobs, Environment and Health Advisor for the City of Munich.
“It’s important as a community that climate action doesn’t end at our city limits, but rather that we see climate action globally,” said Stephanie Jacobs from the City of Munich. “It is a global problem that can be solved locally and we want to do our part.”
Munich’s approach appears to be paying off. The city, the twelfth biggest in the EU with a population of about 1.5million, is regularly voted as one of the most liveable cities in the world, according to the Mercer Quality of Living Survey.
As the sun set over Munich, the silent dancers continued into the central part of Munich, using hand-held LED lights to create a makeshift dancefloor on the city’s streets and light up their message: ”Ein Gutes Leben Für Alle”, “A Good Life for All”.
DEAR supports raising awareness of global development issues and recognises that local authorities have an important role to play in this task. How did this project do that?
The European Commission recognises that Local Authorities can be a powerful player in changing perceptions and understanding of global development in donor nations like EU Member States. Furthermore, local authorities are one of the first responders to the fallout of climate change.
Climate change emergencies like droughts and floods are being seen ever more frequently and local authorities are often called on to provide the first response.
Climate Alliance and their partners want to encourage local authorities to take more steps towards climate change mitigation. So as part of this project, representatives from urban centres across Europe met with or travelled to South America to learn from indigenous communities about their different approach to what makes a good life: obtaining and exchanging practical and policy ideas that assist sustainable local development in Europe and elsewhere.
DISCLAIMER: This article has been written by the DEAR Support Team to provide information about a project that receives European Commission support via the DEAR Programme. The article should not be interpreted as the official view of the Commission, or any other organisation.