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Our warped understanding of leisure time is killing the planet

Redefining our leisure time with cultural activities can help us reclaim our rightful human experience. Further discussion on topics “Fun” and “Stuff” from our Position Paper.

Over time, markets and trade have undergone a significant transformation that has expanded their boundaries far beyond the necessary exchange of goods and services. At one point in time, these boundaries were confined to the process of exchange; meaning people would visit the market solely to acquire the goods they needed, and once they had obtained them, they would typically disengage from the market. Specific commodities were produced by those that possessed the skills to do so, and they were then traded for other goods based on their use value. Things were grown and produced because they were actually needed and the boundaries of the market were clear.

However, in our current era, markets have become much more than just a place for buying and selling necessary goods. Now, trade is conducted on the primary basis of exchange value, which is calculated based on the potential profit that a given good or service can generate for the larger economic system. This destructive valuative framework continues to lead energy companies to prioritize oil rigs over cleaner alternatives at the expense of our future.

With this said, tt is no longer possible to simply "disengage" from the market once we have what we need. Rather, the market’s reach surpasses the scope of our necessary purchases. This reach extends far beyond our work hours and our essential errands. Not surprisingly, the boundaries of the market have enveloped our leisure time and fun, as these rightful human conditions are also coupled with unsustainable levels of consumption and extraction.

In fact, a significant portion of our total carbon emissions arise from our leisure practices. While the intensity of these emissions is largely determined by how we choose to spend our free time, it underscores the hold that the broken system has on our leisure.

We are also faced with constantly hurdling corporate greenwashing when we want to connect with the natural world. Corporations are utilizing our will to stop climate collapse as a marketing ploy to encourage further consumption. Consider the plethora of eco-consciously branded eco-touristic activities and trips, which are in actuality destructive to our natural world. Let alone the unjustifiably branded "sustainable" transportation means that we use to reach these destinations, such as Lufthansa's "Green Fare" flights, which are essentially regular flights marketed towards environmentally-conscious travelers. This greed has led nature tourism within the EU to have one of the largest aggregate carbon footprints of any leisure type within the region.

The evolution of trade and markets to a pursuit of capital accumulation and profit has become self-perpetuating, and our collective ability to experience authentic human life stands victim to this destructive cycle. This is a direct infringement to our leisure time. What we need is a paradigm shift that disentangles leisure from market control and ensures its accessibility to all. One possible answer may lie in increasing cultural engagement, as it allows for time away from nonconsensual market reach. Instead, it fosters a sense of community, identity, and freedom of expression.

We know that it is possible to have fun without buying things, without disrespecting planetary boundaries, and without overconsumption; however, we need decision-makers to be aware of this possibility too.

Cultural activities as possible antidotes to consumption

The Nordic region has some of the wealthiest countries in the world, which, within our current system equates to a significant level of consumption. In fact, the consumption by countries within the Nordic region far outweighs the European Union’s average. ReGeneration 2030’s position paper highlighted that leisure time and well-being are strictly linked to our current system that reinforces the idea of consumption as a means of enjoyment. Our socially constructed norms around how we should spend our free time critically challenge the boundaries of our planet.

Within our position paper, we simultaneously pointed out that this regional wealth has been instrumental in maintaining high levels of happiness through provisioned state support for arts and culture. Given the understanding of this positive link, it is imperative we decommodify our leisure time and override existing destructive perceptions of how it should be spent.

With this said, cultural activities encompass a wide range of sports, hobbies, and other pursuits that can enrich individuals' historical and social development. This includes, but is not limited to, artistic expression, sport participation, and engaging with cultural traditions. Cultural activities foster and strengthen human connection and appreciation of society as a whole; it’s an essential aspect in facilitating our transition towards more human-centric, sustainable, and accessible leisure time.

By redefining our leisure time with cultural activities instead of market consumption, we could ensure that our leisure time is less carbon intensive while still providing us with high subjective well-being. Not only would this help us break the chain between regional wealth and overconsumption, but it may also strengthen our connection with the natural world. By redefining our perception of leisure time from being focused on consumption to instead, cultural engagement, we could also regain more time for living. This is as the current growth perpetuating system and its spending culture enforces competitive material acquisition as a means to social status, which leaves people void of genuine happiness, identity, and connection.

Researchers continue to emphasize the need to incorporate the merits of cultural activities within general sustainability discourse and urge existing cultural and creative sectors to become fairer and greener.

Cultural activities are also an important tool for mediating information and knowledge, which is essential in furthering our collective fight for a better tomorrow. By prioritizing sustainability in this important area of our lives, we could be able to partake in more meaningful and fulfilling leisure practices.

To attain a truly sustainable system, we must enhance our existing cultural capacities to allow for more collaboration, curiosity, science, creativity, and learning. Those that are in power and continue to violate our leisure time will not go down without a fight. We need to get organized and strike, protest, march against this infringement on our basic right to the human experience.

ReGeneration Week 2023

Join us in August (12-15.8.23) on Åland to mobilize for action!

Change is coming - and it is youth-led. We cannot wait for politicians and companies to act. They are choosing to ignore the urgency of the crisis to continue profiting from its disastrous consequences. So this year, we are bringing together youth social movements from around the Nordic and Baltic Sea region to share different strategies for making this change happen.

By sharing our strategies with each other, we can coordinate our work, work

more effectively, and gain new powerful allies. Today, tomorrow, together!


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