Do you over-consume the world’s resources?


Today, Caitlin Matthews prompts us to meditate on the question of our own consumption.

The world is filled with many luxuries, and if you are one of the privileged who doesn’t live in a “third-world” country, the perks seem almost endless.

I do my best to balance the scales: I vote green party, recycle, compost where I can and when no one else is looking. I eliminate as much as possible my use of plastics. I use my dollar to purchase fair trade and eco-friendly products. Local foods fill my belly. Purified local waters quench my thirst. But I do consume a lot more I feel than I give back. This almost seems like a symptom of being human, but there are many in this world who have a much less carbon-footprint than us Westerners. We take long showers, leave lights on, burn enormous amounts of fossil fuels, leave sinks and engines running. The list can go on.

But there are other things that we do do in order to make an amends, and I named a few above.

There is a binding factor for all of these things in relation to consumption, and that is mindfulness.

Mindfulness of our actions, and not just the direct results, but the effects of those results for not just the next generation or the next, but for all future generations to come. If we start small, we can work, individually and as a family to work towards a better future for each other. We need to learn a bit from our lessor advantaged cousins in underdeveloped countries.  We need to learn a bit from our ancestors, when they didn’t need all the glitz and glamour of modern accommodations that aren’t sustainable.

The following is from The Worldwatch Institute, which was founded in 1974 by Lester Brown as an independent research institute devoted to global environmental concerns.

I hope it will help you to analyse whether or not you over-consume the world’s resources, because they are not ours alone.


Solar question posed by Caitlin Matthews, Celtic Devotional.
Permaculture photo from The We Are All Farmers Institute

“By virtually any measure—household expenditures, number of consumers, extraction of raw materials—consumption of goods and services has risen steadily in industrial nations for decades, and it is growing rapidly in many developing countries.”

By one calculation, there are now more than 1.7 billion members of “the consumer class”—nearly half of them in the developing world. A lifestyle and culture that became common in Europe, North America, Japan, and a few other pockets of the world in the twentieth century is going global in the twenty-first.

Worldwide, private consumption expenditures—the amount spent on goods and services at the household level—topped $20 trillion in 2000, a four-fold increase over 1960 (in 1995 dollars).

As incomes rise, people are gaining access to a multitude of consumer items associated with greater prosperity:

  • In 2002, 1.12 billion households—about three quarters of humanity—owned at least one television set.
  • There were 1.1 billion fixed phone lines in 2002, and another 1.1 billion mobile lines.
  • The Internet now connects about 600 million users.

“The economies of mass consumption that produced a world of abundance for many in the twentieth century face a different challenge in the twenty-first: to focus not on the indefinite accumulation of goods but instead on a better quality of life for all, with minimal environmental harm.”

Consumer advocates, economists, policymakers, and environmentalists have developed creative options for meeting people’s needs while dampening the environmental and social costs associated with mass consumption. In addition to helping individuals find the balance between too much and too little consumption, they stress placing more emphasis on publicly provided goods and services, on services in place of goods, on goods with high levels of recycled content, and on genuine choice for consumers.

Governments can reshape economic incentives and regulations to ensure that businesses offer affordable options that meet consumers’ needs. They also have a role in curbing consumption excess, primarily by removing incentives to consume—from subsidized energy to promotion of low-density development.

A New Role for Consumption

  • Several European governments are implementing or considering reforms to working hours and family leave benefits.
  • Industrial countries can help developing nations lower the impact of increased consumption by assisting with the adoption of cleaner, more efficient technologies.
  • Governments could rein in high consumption by removing economic subsidies for everything from gas-guzzling vehicles to suburban homebuilding—which total around $1 trillion globally each year.

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