Seeking a Consumer Culture Revolution

In this culture, says the book-length report, people find meaning and contentment in what they consume, but this cultural orientation has had huge implications for society and the planet. The average U.S. citizens, for instance, consumes more each day, in terms of mass, than they weigh. If everyone lived like this, the Earth could only sustain 1.4 billion people.

Cross Posting 2010 Article
Seeking a Consumer Culture Revolution
Matthew Berger

WASHINGTON, Jan 12 2010 (IPS) – The last 50 years have seen an unprecedented and unsustainable spike in consumption, driven by a culture of consumerism that has emerged over that period, says a report released Tuesday by the Worldwatch Institute.

This consumerist culture is the elephant in the room when it comes to solving the big environmental issues of today, the report says, and those issues cannot be fully solved until a transition to a more sustainable culture is begun.

“State of the World 2010”, subtitled “Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability”, tries to chart a path away from what Worldwatch president Christopher Flavin calls “the consumer culture that has taken hold probably first in the U.S. and now in country after country over the past century, so that we can now talk about a global consumerist culture that has become a powerful force around the world.”

In this culture, says the book-length report, people find meaning and contentment in what they consume, but this cultural orientation has had huge implications for society and the planet. The average U.S. citizens, for instance, consumes more each day, in terms of mass, than they weigh. If everyone lived like this, the Earth could only sustain 1.4 billion people.

Flavin admits consumerism is not the only factor driving environmental degradation but says it is one of the key root causes on which other factors are built – and, as a cultural framework, it is expanding.

“In India and China, for instance, the consumer culture of the U.S. and Western Europe is not only being replicated but being replicated on a much vaster scale,” Flavin says.

Consumption has risen sixfold since 1960, the report says, citing World Bank statistics. Even taking the rising global population into account, this amounts to a tripling of consumption expenditures per person over this time. This has led to similar increases in the amount of resources used – a sixfold increase in metals extracted from the earth, eightfold in oil consumption and 14-fold in natural gas consumption.

“In total, 60 billion tons of resources are now extracted annually – about 50 percent more than just 30 years ago,” the report says.

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