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We Can’t Go On Like This

Over Consumption

Image source: www.morallymarketed.com

In the face of rising debt levels and environmental degradation, many writers now argue that economic progress (as we currently know it) is destined for collapse. They claim that it is – by its nature – doomed.

This is shocking news for people who live to shop or who view television as the panacea to unhappiness.

Is it possible that the over-spending, over-consuming, credit-card lifestyle of our contemporary age is on a trajectory to oblivion?

Despite threatening the ecosystems upon which it depends, the overblown expression of human self-interest known as economic development (aka modern wealth) perpetuates a vision for the future that undermines its own existence.

As Paul Ekins highlights in Wealth Beyond Measure: An Atlas of New Economics (1992), the modern economy envisions a future in which everyone, in a population twice our current size, should actively aspire to the over-consumption, over-exploitation, pollution-inducing lifestyle of today’s rich minority.

Everyone deserves a super-sized flat-screen TV, right? Everyone deserves the latest mobile technology, food to burn, and a wardrobe of clothes they wear once and then throw away. Right? Unfortunately for the consuming masses of the Western world and the rising middle-classes of Asia and elsewhere, the conventional wisdom of this economic vision is hopelessly, helplessly flawed – and not only for environmental reasons.

In a world as rich as ours, why is it that today more people than ever before live in abject poverty? It is no exaggeration that over one billion individuals struggle to survive from one hour to the next. While we park our SUVs in air-conditioned comfort and eat daily from the supermarket mega-stores, countless people all over the world have nothing. Nothing.

Besides being obscene, this is no accident. Our beloved economic progress – that same machine that enables the upper- and middle-classes to thrive – systematically transfers wealth from the poor into the hands of the rich. In creating “wealth”, we create poverty as well.

If we are to pay more than lip-service to a sustainable future, we must change our thinking and our behaviour toward a new path of economic progress. “Business as usual” can be no more. We must envision a form of economic development (a conception and activation of genuine wealth) that is motivated by the wellbeing of people and planet alike, one that strives toward equitable quality of life rather than the disproportionate over-consumption of material accumulation.

Some people take flight at such a call. They view it as retrograde, socialist, communist, or some other label that justifies their fear of the unknown. But a new vision is not something to be feared; it is a necessity to be explored, understood and acted upon as a matter of urgency.

Here in Australia, our power-brokers and politicians behave as if there are no environmental or social issues of much import at all. Climate change does not exist. The natural world lives in service to economic growth. Poverty is invisible. And everyone is happy to see a decade of environmental and social inroads take a sharp turn in reverse.

We need to lift back the veil of human self-interest to discover the remarkable and often confronting dimensions of our economic relationships with the human and nonhuman worlds.

overspending

Image source: www.inedc.com

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