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How much is enough?

Early in the age of affluence that followed World War II, an American retailing analyst named Victor Lebow proclaimed, Our enormously productive economy ... demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.... We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing rate." Americans have responded to Mr. Lebow's call, and much of the world has followed.

Overconsumption by the world's fortunate is an environmental problem unmatched in severity by anything but perhaps population growth. Their surging exploitation of resources threatens to exhaust or unalterably disfigure forests, soils, water, air, and climate. Ironically, high consumption may be a mixed blessing in human terms too. The time-honored values of integrity of character, good work, friendship, family, and community have often been sacrificed in the rush to riches. Thus, many in the industrial lands have a sense that their world of plenty is somehow hollow-that, hoodwinked by a consumerist culture, they have been fruitlessly attempting to satisfy what are essentially social, psychological, and spiritual needs with material things.

Of course, the opposite of overconsumption-poverty-is no solution to either environmental or human problems. It is infinitely worse for people and bad for the natural world too. Dispossessed peasants slash-and-burn their way into the rainforests of Latin America, and hungry nomads turn their herds out onto fragile African rangeland, reducing it to desert. If environmental destruction results when people have either too little or too much, we are left to wonder how much is enough. What level of consumption can the earth support? When does having more cease to add appreciably to human satisfaction?

Answering these questions definitively is impossible, but for each of us in the world's consuming class, asking is essential nonetheless. Unless we see that more is not always better, our efforts to forestall ecological decline will be overwhelmed by our appetites. THE CONSUMING SOCIETU

Skyrocketing consumption is the hallmark of our era. The headlong advance of technology, rising earnings, and consequently cheaper material goods nave lifted overall consumption to levels never dreamed of a century ago. The trend is visible in statistics for almost any per-capita indicator. Worldwide since midcentury, the intake of copper, energy, meat, steel, and wood has approximately doubled; car ownership and cement consumption have quadrupled; plastic use has quintupled; aluminum consumption has grown sevenfold; and air travel has multiplied 32 times.

Moneyed regions account for the largest waves of consumption since 1950. In the United States, the world's premier consuming society, on average people today own twice as many cars, drive 21/2 times as far, use 21 times as much plastic, and travel 25 times as far by air as did their parents in 1950. Air conditioning spread from 15 percent of households in 1960 to 64 percent in 1987, and color televisions from 1 to 93 percent. Microwave ovens and video cassette recorders found their way into almost two-thirds of American homes during the eighties alone.

Japan and Western Europe have displayed parallel trends. Per person, the Japanese of today consume more than four times as much aluminum, almost five times as much energy, and 25 times as much steel as people in Japan did in 1950. They also own four times as many cars and eat nearly twice as much meat.

Still, Japan has come to the high consumption ethos hesitantly. Many older Japanese still hold to their time honored belief in frugality. Yorimoto Katsumi of Waseda University in Tokyo writes, "Members of the older generation ... are careful to save every scrap of paper and bit of string for future use." Says one student, "Japanese people are materialistically well-off, but not inside.... We never have time to find ourselves, or what we should seek in life."

Like the Japanese, West Europeans' consumption levels are only one notch below Americans'. Taken together, France, West Germany, and the United Kingdom almost doubled their per capita use of steel, more than doubled their intake of cement and aluminum, and tripled their paper consumption since mid-century

The collapse of socialist governments in Eastern Europe, meanwhile, unleashed a tidal wave of consumer demand that had gone unsatisfied in the region's ossified state-controlled economies. A young man in a Budapest bar captured his country's mood when he told a western reporter: "People in the West think that we in Hungary don't know how they live. Well, we do know how they live, and we want to live like that, too." Says German banker Ulrich Ramm, "The East Germans want cars, videos and Marlboros." The late 80s saw some poor societies begin the transition to consuming ways. In China, the sudden surge in spending on consumer durables shows up clearly in data from the State Statistical Bureau: between 1982 and 1987, color televisions spread from 1 percent to 35 percent of urban Chinese homes, the share with washing machines quadrupled from 16 to 67 percent, and refrigerators grew in prevalence from 1 percent to 20 percent of homes.

Meanwhile, in India, the emergence of a middle class with perhaps 100 million members, along with liberalization of the consumer market and the introduction of buying on credit, has led to explosive growth in sales of everything from automobiles and motorbikes to televisions and frozen dinners.

Few would begrudge anyone the simple advantages of cold food storage or mechanized clothes washing. The point, rather, is that even the non-western nations with the longest histories are increasingly emulating the high consumption style of life. The lure of modern" things is hard to resist: Coca-Cola soft drink is sold in more than 160 countries, and Dallas," the television series that portrays the richest class of Americans, is avidly followed in many of the world's poorest nations.

Long before all the world's people could achieve the American dream, however, the planet would be laid waste. The world's 1 billion meat eaters, car drivers, and throwaway consumers are responsible for the lion's share of the damage humans have caused to common global resources. For one thing, supporting the lifestyle of the affluent requires resources from far away. A Dutch person's consumption of food, wood, natural fibers, and other products of the soil involves exploitation of five times as much land outside the country as inside-much of it in the Third World. Industrial nations account for close to two-thirds of global use of steel; more than two-thirds of aluminum, copper, lead, nickel, tin, and zinc; and three-fourths of energy.

Those in the wealthiest fifth of humanity have built more than 99 percent of the world's nuclear warheads. Their appetite for wood is a driving force behind destruction of the tropical rainforests, and the resulting extinction of countless species. Over the past century, their economies have pumped out two-thirds of the greenhouse gases that threaten the earth's climate, and each year their energy use releases perhaps three-fourths of the sulfur and nitrogen oxides that cause acid rain. Their industries generate most of the world's hazardous chemical wastes, and their air conditioners, aerosol sprays, and factories release almost 90 percent of the chlorofluorocarbons that destroy the earth's protective ozone layer. Clearly, even 1 billion profligate consumers is too much for the earth.

Beyond the environmental costs of acquisitiveness, some perplexing findings of social scientists throw doubt on the wisdom of high consumption as a personal and national goal: Rich societies have had little success in turning consumption into fulfillment. Regular surveys by the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago reveal, for example, that no more Americans report they are very happy" now than in 1957. The share has fluctuated around one-third since then, despite a doubling of personal consumption expenditures per capita. Whatever Americans are buying, it does not seem to be enough. IN SEARCHW OF SUFFICIENCY

In simplified terms, an economy's total burden on the ecological systems that undergird it is a function of three factors: the size of the population, average consumption, and the broad set of technologies the economy uses to provide goods and services.

Changing agricultural patterns, transportation systems, urban design, energy use, and the like could radically reduce the total environmental damage caused by the consuming societies, while allowing those at the bottom of the economic ladder to rise without producing such egregious effects. japan, for example, uses a third as much energy as the Soviet Union to produce a dollar's worth of goods and services, and Norwegians use half as much paper and cardboard apiece as their neighbors in Sweden, though they are equals in literacy and richer in monetary terms.

Some guidance on what the earth can sustain emerges from an examination of current consumption patterns around the world. For three of the most ecologically important types of consumption-transportation, diet, and use of raw materials-the world's people are distributed unevenly over a vast range. Those at the bottom clearly fall below the "too little" line, while those at the top, in what could be called the cars-meat-and-disposables class, clearly consume too much.

About 1 billion people do most of their traveling-aside from the occasional donkey or bus ride-on foot, many of them never going more than 100 kilometers from their birthplaces. Unable to get to jobs easily, attend school, or bring their complaints before government offices, they are severely hindered by the lack of transportation options.

The massive middle class of the world, numbering some 3 billion, travels by bus and bicycle. Kilometer for kilometer, bikes are cheaper than any other vehicles, costing less than 100 new in most of the Third World and requiring no fuel. The world's automobile class is relatively small: Only 8 percent of humans, about 400 million people, own cars. Their vehicles are directly responsible for an estimated 13 percent of carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels worldwide, along with air pollution, acid rain, and a quarter-million traffic fatalities a year.

Car owners bear indirect responsibility for the far-reaching impacts of their chosen vehicle. The automobile makes itself indispensable: Cities sprawl, public transit atrophies, shopping centers multiply, workplaces scatter. As suburbs spread, families start to need a car for each driver. One-fifth of American households own three or more vehicles, more than half own at least two, and 65 percent of new American houses are built with twocar garages. Today working Americans spend nine hours a week behind the wheel. To make these homes-away-from-home more comfortable, 90 percent of new cars have air-conditioning, doubling their contribution to climate change and adding emissions of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons.

The global food-consumption ladder has three rungs. At the bottom, the world's 630 million poorest people are unable to provide themselves with a healthy diet according to the latest World Bank estimates. On the next rung, the 3.4 billion grain eaters of the world's middle class get enough calories and plenty of plant-based protein, giving them the healthiest basic diet of the world's people. They typically receive less than 20 percent of their calories from fat, a level low enough to protect them from the consequences of excessive dietary fat. The top of the ladder is populated by the meat eaters, those who obtain close to 40 percent of their calories from fat. These 1.25 billion people eat three times as much fat per person as the remaining 4 billion, mostly because they eat so much red meat. (See Table 9-1.) The meat class pays the price of its diet in high death rates from the so called diseases of affluence-heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer.

In 1990, the U.S. government officially endorsed recommendations that have long come from the medical profession, urging Americans to limit their fat intake to no more than 30 percent of their calories. Meanwhile, early results of the largest-ever study of diet and health, which has been monitoring thousands of Chinese villagers, provides compelling evidence that the healthiest diet for humans is nearly vegetarian, containing 10-15 percent of calories from fat.

The earth also pays for the high-fat diet. Indirectly, the meat-eating quarter of humanity consumes nearly 40 percent of the world's grain-grain that fattens the livestock they eat. Meat production is behind a substantial share of the environmental strains induced by the present global agricultural system, from soil erosion to overpumping of underground water. In the extreme case of American beef, producing 1 kilogram (about 2 1/5 pounds) of steak requires 5 kilograms of grain and the energy equivalent of 9 liters (about 9 quarts) of gasoline, not to mention the associated soil erosion, water consumption, pesticide and fertilizer runoff, groundwater depletion, and emissions of the greenhouse gas methane.

Beyond the effects of livestock production, the affluent diet rings up an ecological bill through its heavy dependence on long-distance transport. North Europeans eat lettuce trucked from Greece and decorate their tables with flowers flown in from Kenya. japanese eat turkey from the United States and ostrich from Australia. One-fourth of the grapes eaten in the United States are grown 11,000 kilometers (1 kilometer equals about five-eighths of a mile) away, in Chile, and the typical mouthful of American food travels 2,000 kilometers from farm field to dinner plate.

Processing and packaging add further resource costs to the way the affluent eat.

Global beverage consumption reveals a similar pattern.

In transportation, diet, and use of raw materials, as consumption rises on the economic scale so does waste-both of resources and of health. Bicycles and public transit are cheaper, more efficient, and healthier transport options than cars. A diet founded on the basics of grains and water is gentle to the earth and the body. And a lifestyle that makes full use of raw materials for durable goods without succumbing to the throwaway mentality is ecologically sound while still affording many of the comforts of modernity. Yet despite these arguments in favor of modest consumption, few people who can afford high consumption levels opt to live simply. What prompts us, then, to consume so much? THE CULTIVATION OF NEEDS

"The avarice of mankind is insatiable," wrote Aristotle 23 centuries ago, describing the way that as each of our desires is satisfied a new one seems to appear in its place. That observation, on which all of economic theory is based, provides the most obvious answer to the question of why people never seem satisfied with what they have. If our wants are insatiable, there is simply no such thing as enough.

Much confirms this view of human nature. The Roman philosopher Lucretius wrote a century before Christ: "We have lost our taste for acorns. So [tool we have abandoned those couches littered with herbage and heaped with leaves. So the wearing of wild beasts' skins has gone out of fashion.... Skins yesterday, purple and gold today-such are the baubles that embitter human life with resentment."

What distinguishes modern consuming habits from those of interest to Lucretius, some would say, is simply that we are much richer than our ancestors, and consequently have more ruinous effects on nature. There is no doubt a great deal of truth in that view, but there is also reason to believe that certain forces in the modern world encourage people to act on their consumptive desires as rarely before. Five distinctly modern factors seem to play a role in cultivating particularly voracious appetites: the influence of social pressures in mass societies, advertising, the shopping culture, various government policies, and the expansion of the mass market into the traditional realm of household and local self-reliance.

In the anonymous mass societies of advanced industrial nations, daily interactions with the economy lack the face-to-face character that prevails in surviving local communities. Traditional virtues such as integrity, honesty, and skill are too hard measure to serve as yardsticks social worth. By default, they are gradually supplanted by a simple, single indicatormoney. As one Wall Street Banker put it bluntly to the New York Times, "Net worth equals selfworth.' Under this definition, consumption becomes a treadmill, with everyone judging their status by who is ahead and who is behind.

Psychological data from several nations confirm that the satisfaction derived from money does not come from simply having it. It comes from having more of it than others do, and from having more this year than last. Thus, the bulk of survey data reveals that the upper classes in any society are more satisfied with their lives than the lower classes are, but they are no more satisfied than the upper classes of much poorer countries-nor than the upper classes were in the less-affluent past.

More striking, perhaps, most psychological data show that the main determinants of happiness in life are not related to consumption at all: Prominent among them are satisfaction with family life, especially marriage, followed by satisfaction with work, leisure, and friendships.

Yet when alternative measures of success are not available, the deep human need to be valued and respected by others is acted out through consumption. Buying things becomes both a proof of self-esteem ("I'm worth it," chants one advertising slogan) and a means to social acceptance-as token of what turn-of-the-century economist Thorstein Veblen termed "pecuniary decency."

Beyond social pressures, the affluent live completely enveloped in proconsumption advertising messages. The sales pitch is everywhere. One analyst estimates that the typical American is exposed to 50-100 advertisements each morning before 9 o'clock. Along with their weekly 22-hour diet of television, American teenagers are typically exposed to three to four hours of TV advertisements a week, adding up to at least 100,000 ads between birth and high-school graduation.

Marketers have found ever more ways to push their products. Advertisements are broadcast by over 10,000 television and radio stations in the United States, towed behind airplanes, plastered on billboards and in sports stadiums, bounced around the planet from satellites. They are posted on chair-lift poles on ski slopes, and played through closed-circuit televisions at bus stops, in subway stations, and on wall-sized video screens at shopping malls.

Ads are piped into classrooms and doctors' offices, woven into the plots of feature films, placed on board games, mounted in bathroom stalls, and played back between rings on public phones in the Kansas City airport.

The proliferation of shopping centers has, in a roundabout way, also promoted the compulsion to consume. Mall design itself encourages acquisitive impulses, many critics believe. But perhaps more important, suburban malls and commercial strips suck commerce away from downtown and neighborhood merchants. Shopping by public transit or on foot becomes difficult, auto traffic increases, and sprawl accelerates.

Particularly in the United States, shopping seems to have become a primary cultural activity. Americans spend six hours a week doing various types of shopping, and they go to shopping centers on average once a week-more often than they go to church or synagogue. Some 93 percent of American teenage girls surveyed in 1987 deemed shopping their favorite pastime.

Countless government policies also play a role both in promoting high consumption and in worsening its ecological impact. Urban and transport planning favor private vehicles-and motorized ones-to the exclusion of cleaner modes. The British tax code encourages businesses to buy thousands of large company cars for employee use. Most governments in both North and South America subsidize beef production on a massive scale. Tax law in the United States allows virtually unlimited deductions for purchases of houses: The more homes a family buys, the more taxes they save. Partly as a consequence, 10 million Americans now have two or more homes, while at bare minimum 300,000 are homeless.

Land-use and materials policies in most of the world undervalue renewable resources, ignore natural services provided by ecosystems, and underprice raw materials extracted from the public domain. More fundamentally, national economic goals are built squarely on the assumption that more is better. Finally, the sweeping advance of the commercial mass market into realms once dominated by family members and local enterprise has made consumption far more wasteful than in the past. Over the past century, the mass market has taken over an increasing number of the productive tasks once provided within the household. More and more, flush with cash but pressed for time, households opt for the questionable "conveniences" of prepared, packaged foods, miracle cleaning products, and disposable everythings-from napkins to shower curtains. All these things, while saving the householders time, cost the earth dearly, and change households from the primary unit of the economy to passive, consuming entities. Shifting one economic activity after another out of the home does boost the gross national product (GNP)-but that is largely a fiction of bookkeeping, an economic sleight of hand.

Like the household, the community economy has atrophied-or been dismembered-under the blind force of the money economy. Shopping malls, superhighways, and "strips" have replaced corner stores, local restaurants, and neighborhood theaters-the very things that help to create a sense of common identity and community in an area. A CULTURE OF PERFORMANCE

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he could count the rules of ethical behavior on the fingers of his two hands. In the complex global economy of the late 20th century, in which the simple act of turning on an air conditioner sends greenhouse gases up into the atmosphere, the rules for ecologically sustainable living run into the hundreds. The basic value of a sustainable society, though, the ecological equivalent of the Golden Rule, is simple: Each generation should meet its needs without jeopardizing the prospects of future generations to meet their own needs. What is lacking is the thorough practical knowledge-at each level of society-of what living by that principle means.

Ethics, after all, exist only in practice, in the fine grain of everyday decisions. As Aristotle argued, "In ethics, the decision lies with perception." When most people see a large automobile and think first of the air pollution it causes, rather than the social status it conveys, environmental ethics will have arrived. In a fragile biosphere, the ultimate fate of humanity may depend on whether we can cultivate deeper sources of fulfillment, founded on a widespread ethic of limiting consumption and finding nonmaterial enrichment.

For individuals, the decision to live a life of sufficiency-to find their own answer to the question "How much is enough?"- is to begin a highly personal process. The goal is to put consumption in its proper place among the many sources of personal fulfillment, and to find ways of living within the means of the earth. One great inspiration in this quest is the body of human wisdom passed down over the ages.

Materialism was denounced by all the sages, from Buddha to Muhammad. (See Table 9-3.) "These religious founders," observed historian Arnold Toynbee, "disagreed with each other in the pictures of what is the nature of the universe, the nature of the spiritual life, the nature of ultimate reality. But they all agreed in their ethical precepts.... They all said with one voice that if we made material wealth our paramount aim, this would lead to disaster." The Christian Bible echoes most of human wisdom when it asks "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

The attempt to live by nonmaterialistic definitions of success is not new. Social researcher Duane Elgin estimated in 1981-perhaps optimistically that 10 million adult Americans were experimenting "wholeheartedly" with voluntary simplicity. India, the Netherlands, Norway, the former West Germany, and the United Kingdom all have small segments of their populations who try to adhere to a nonconsuming philosophy. For these practitioners, motivated by the desire to live justly in an unjust world, to walk gently on the earth, and to avoid distraction, clutter, and pretense, the goal is not ascetic self-denial. What they are after is personal fulfillment; they just do not think consuming more is likely to provide it.

Still, shifting emphasis from material to nonmaterial satisfaction is no mean feat: it means trying both to curb personal appetites and to resist the tide of external forces encouraging consumption. Mahatma Gandhi testified to the difficulty of living frugally: "I must confess to you that progress at first was slow. And now, as I recall those days of struggle, I remember that it was also painful in the beginning .... But as days went by, I saw that I had to throw overboard many other things which I used to consider as mine, and a time came when it became a matter of positive joy to give up those things."

Many people find simpler living offers rewards all its own. They say life can become more deliberate as well as spontaneous, and even gain a sort of unadorned elegance. Vicki Robin, president of the Seattle-based New Road Map Foundation, which offers courses on getting off the more-is-better treadmill, notices that those who succeed in her program always have "a sense of purpose larger than their own needs, wants, and desires." Many find that sense of purpose in working to foster a more just, sustainable world.

Others describe the way simpler technologies add unexpected qualities to life. Some come to feel, for example, that clotheslines, window shades, and bicycles have a utilitarian elegance that clothes dryers, air conditioners, and automobiles lack. These modest devices are silent, manually operated, fireproof, ozone- and climate-friendly, easily repaired, and inexpensive. While certainly less convenient," they require a degree of forethought and attention to the weather that grounds life in place and time.

Realistically, voluntary simplicity is unlikely to gain ground rapidly against the onslaught of consumerist values. As historian David Shi of North Carolina's Davidson College chronicles, the call for a simpler life has been perennial through the history of North America, from the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay to the back-to-thelanders of the 70s. None of these movements ever gained more than a slim minority of adherents. Elsewhere, entire nations such as China and Vietnam have dedicated themselves to rebuilding human character-some times through brutal techniques-in a less self-centered mold, but nowhere have they succeeded with more than a token few of their citizens.

It would be naive to believe that entire populations will suddenly experience a moral awakening, renouncing greed, envy, and avarice. What can be hoped for is a gradual weakening of the consumerist ethos of affluent societies. The challenge before humanity is to bring environmental matters under cultural controls, and the goal of creating a sustainable culture-a culture of permanence-is a task that will occupy several generations. Just as smoking has lost its social cachet in the United States in the space of a decade, conspicuous consumption of all types may be susceptible to social pressure over a longer period.

Ultimately, personal restraint will do little, though, if not wedded to bold political steps against the forces promoting consumption. In addition to the oft-repeated agenda of environmental and social reforms necessary to achieve sustainability, such as overhauling energy systems, stabilizing population, and ending poverty, action is needed to restrain the excesses of advertising, to curb the shopping culture, to abolish policies that push consumption, and to revitalize household and community economies as human-scale alternatives to the high consumption lifestyle.

The advertising industry is a formidable foe and on the march around the world. But it is already vulnerable where it pushes products demonstrably dangerous to human health. Tobacco ads are or soon will be banished from television throughout the West, and alcohol advertising is under attack as never before. By limiting advertisers' access to the most vulnerable consumers, their influence can be further dulled. In late 1990, the U.S. Congress, for example, wisely hemmed in television commercials aimed at children, and the European Communities' standards on television for Europe after 1992 will put strict limits on some types of ads.

At the grassroots level, the Vancouver-based Media Foundation has set out to build a movement boldly aimed at turning television to anti-consuming ends. The premiere spot in their High on the Hog campaign shows a gigantic animated pig frolicking on a map of North America while a narrator intones: "Five percent of the people in the world consume one-third of the planet's resources ... those people are us." The pig belches.

Irreverence aside, the Media Foundation is on target: Commercial television will need fundamental reorientation in a culture of permanence.

All these things help control the consumerist influence of marketing on the shape and spirit of public space. Shopping is less likely to become an end in itself if it takes place in stores thoroughly knit into the fabric of the community rather than in massive, insular agglomerations of retail outlets each planned in minute detail to stimulate spendthrift ways. The design of communities shapes human culture.

Direct incentives for overconsumption are also essential targets for reform. If goods' prices reflected something closer to the environmental cost of their production, through revised subsidies and tax systems, the market itself would guide consumers toward less damaging forms of consumption. Disposables and packaging would rise in price relative to durable, less-packaged goods; local unprocessed food would fall in price relative to prepared products trucked from far away.

The net effect might also be lower overall consumption as people's effective purchasing power declined.

Ultimately, efforts to revitalize household and community economies may prove the decisive element in the attempt to create a culture less prone to consumption. At a personal level, commitment to nonmaterial fulfillment is hard to sustain without reinforcement from family, friends, and neighbors. At a political level, vastly strengthened local institutions may be the only counterweight to the colossus of vested interests-ranging from gas stations to multinational marketing conglomerates-that currently benefit from profligate consumption.

Despite the ominous scale of the challenge, there could be many more people ready to begin saying "enough" than prevailing opinion suggests. After all, much of what we consume is wasted or unwanted in the first place. How much of the packaging that we put out with the household trash each year would we rather never see? How much of the rural land built up into housing developments, "industrial parks," and commercial strips-23 square kilometers a day in the United States-could be left alone if we insisted on well-planned land use inside city limits?

How many of the unsolicited sales pitches each of us receives daily in the post-37 percent of all mail in the United States-are nothing but bothersome junk? How many of the 18 kilograms of nonrefillable beverage bottles each Japanese throws out each year could not just as easily be reused if the facilities existed? How much of the advertising in our morning newspapers-covering 65 percent of the newsprint in U.S. papers- would we not gladly see left out? How many of the kilometers we drive-6,160 a year apiece in the former West Germany would we not gladly give up if livable neighborhoods were closer to work, a variety of local merchants closer to home, streets safe to walk and bike, and public transit easier and faster?

In many ways, we might be happier with less. In the final analysis, accepting and living by sufficiency rather than excess offers a return to what is, culturally speaking, the human home: to the ancient order of family, community, good work, and good life; to a reverence for excellence of skilled handiwork; to a true materialism that does not just care about things but cares for them; to communities worth spending a lifetime in. Maybe Henry David Thoreau had it right when he scribbled in his notebook beside Walden Pond, "A man is rich in proportion to the things he can afford to let alone."

For the luckiest among us, a human lifetime on earth encompasses perhaps 100 trips around the sun. The sense of fulfillment received on that journey regardless of a person's religious faith-has to do with the timeless virtues of discipline, hope, allegiance to principle, and character. Consumption itself has little part in the playful camaraderie that inspires the young, the bonds of love and friendship that nourish adults, the golden memories that sustain the elderly. The very things that make life worth living, that give depth and bounty to human existence, are infinitely sustainable.
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Title Annotation:excerpt from 'State of the World 1991'; determining what level of consumtion the earth can support
Author:Durning, Alan
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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