|Although they are good things, the planet needs more than changing to efficient light bulbs and |
lowering the thermostat in the winter.
According to the UN, "today’s consumption is undermining the environmental resource base. It is exacerbating inequalities. And the dynamics of the consumption-poverty-inequality-environment nexus are accelerating." That sounds dire indeed. But wait, there is more.
"If the trends continue without change — not redistributing from high-income to low-income consumers, not shifting from polluting to cleaner goods and production technologies, not shifting priority from consumption for conspicuous display to meeting basic needs — today’s problems of consumption and human development will worsen."
Can individual action alone reverse the trend of increasing consumption? The answer to that question seems to be "no", although we can have great effect by voluntarily adopting simpler ways of living.
The idea of changing our lifestyles to sustainable levels of consumption is considered unthinkable right across the political spectrum. A most inconvenient situation that presently is best met by taking individual action. There are other important areas that need to be addressed as well.
One is the notion of infinite economic growth. As long as that is a societal goal, consumption will continue to increase regardless of how simply some may choose to live.
Another problem that has been lurking quietly in the shadows for decades, is population growth. As long as our population continues to grow, overall consumption will increase.
Over the weekend I visited a site that dealt specifically with consumption growth, notably, exponential growth. It is a concept that is impacting our world right now, and it must be addressed to avert disaster down the road.
Consumption Growth 101 recommends the following as actions that individuals can take that "will have a real impact":
1. Find and support a charity dedicated to preventing unwanted pregnancies throughout the world.
2. If you are young, decide to have one less child than you would otherwise like. Encourage others concerned about consumption to do the same.
"It's that simple," the site says, "and the impact on consumption reduction will literally be immeasurable."
We have been ignoring population growth partly because it is such a controversial topic. It is not the only one.
We will also need a radical restructuring of the global economy in order to operate without the expectation that growth can be infinite in a finite system. It is unlikely to resemble anything currently in existence, although early free market thinkers predicted it would have to happen eventually.
Unfortunately, none of these problems is going to be addressed any time in the near future. It probably won't happen in time to avert major global hardship. Such hardship, if you look around you, has already begun. And it is getting worse.
If all we can do right now is take individual actions to reduce our own consumption, then by all means we should be doing so. Yet another illustration of how any movement worth the change it asks for, has always formed from the bottom up. It is up to those of us at the bottom. We can be the leaders.
We can be the change. Live the change. Share the change. That is the only immediately doable solution to reducing consumption to a sustainable level starting right now. And since that will not be enough, we can work on attaining the other necessary parts as soon as possible.