From SAMUEL ALEXANDER
For several decades Ted Trainer has been developing and refining an important theory of societal change, which he calls The Simpler Way (Trainer, 1985; Trainer, 1995; Trainer, 2010a). His essential premise is that overconsumption in the most developed regions of the world is the root cause of our global predicament, and upon this premise he argues that a necessary part of any transition to a sustainable and just world involves those who are overconsuming accepting far more materially ‘simple’ lifestyles. That is the radical implication of our global predicament which most people, including most environmentalists, seem unwilling to acknowledge or accept, but which Trainer does not shy away from and, indeed, which he follows through to its logical conclusion.
The Simpler Way is not about deprivation or sacrifice, however; it is about embracing what is sufficient to live well and creating social and economic systems on that basis. This essay presents an overview of Trainer’s position, drawing mainly on the most complete expression of it in his latest book, The Transition to a Sustainable and Just World (Trainer, 2010a), an analysis which is supplemented by some of his more recent essays (Trainer, 2010b; Trainer, 2011).
My review is designed in part to bring more attention to a theorist whose work has been greatly underappreciated, so the review is more expository than critical. But in places my analysis seeks to raise questions about Trainer’s position, and develop it where possible, in the hope of advancing the debate and deepening our understanding of the important issues under consideration. I begin by outlining the various elements of The Simpler Way and proceed to unpack them in more detail.
2. Outline of The Simpler Way
The premise of Trainer’s position, as noted, is that a necessary part of any transition to a sustainable and just world involves those who are overconsuming accepting far more materially ‘simple’ lifestyles. Given the extent of ecological overshoot (Global Footprint Network, 2012), Trainer argues that there is no way to sufficiently decouple current economic activity from ecological impact in the time available, which necessitates moving away from high impact, Western-style consumer lifestyles without delay.