After studying sustainability for the past two years the word consumer now tends to leave a nasty taste in my mouth. As stated in the prompt, our society does believer that the bigger the better and of course, biggest is best. Unfortunately, as we learned in The Tragedy of the Commons, it is seemingly impossible to maximize the greatest good for the greatest number of people. These two concepts link only if we believe that “good” equates to “more”, as it does now, instead of “enough” as it should. With the consumer giant that is western civilization, our ratio of percent consumed v. percent of world population is absurd. According to the Worldwatch Institute
“The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent.”
Chew on that for a second (or don’t). I found this on a page titled “The State of Consumption Today”on the Worldwatch website and found it’s logic to follow exactly where I was headed with my blog response, check it out if you have a minute. My basic thoughts are this, how can we ask a developing country whose population is struggling to meet it’s basic needs and to step up into the “consumer class” to stop consuming so we can stay at our disproportionate level of consumption. We can’t. You wouldn’t tell your neighbor to stop planting plants because you need to use her water for all of yours (what an awesome example, I know.)
So we can’t tell the developing nation to stop, what can we do? We can decrease our levels of consumption, and I think it’s going to take a combination of both collaborative consumption AND green consumption. Beyond that, it’s a simple understanding that more and good are not synonymous, and our well being can, and must, be viewed as independent of our level of consumption. There is a basic need for each human that must be met, and beyond that, many studies, such as the ones Robert Glatter talks about in his Forbes article, show that even a double in income will not satiate our consumer appetites like we think they will. We should be focused on how to understand what really generates well being and how to pass that knowledge on to developing nations. It’s in our best interests to identify our mistakes, and hope the rest of the world can learn from them.