How Much is Enough?


By Zora Lathan, January 2018

“The Neutral Zone,” a Star Trek Next Generation episode, which aired in 1988, depicts the following scene:

The capitalist, Mr. Offenhouse, from the 20th century who has been brought out of a 300-year-state of cryonics, demands to speak to his lawyer and law firm.

Jean-Luc Picard responds: “Well a lot has changed in the past 300 years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We’ve eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy. This is the 24th century, material needs no longer exist.”

Mr. Offenhouse: “Then what’s the challenge?”

Jean-Luc Picard: “The challenge, Mr. Offenhouse, is to improve yourself, to enrich yourself. Enjoy it.”

Throughout most of human history the story of mankind has been one of scarcity, where securing shelter and enough food to eat were overarching concerns. We’ve now reached a point in human history where—in wealthy western countries for many of its citizens—the defining problem is no longer scarcity, but abundance. At the same time, the gap between the Haves and the Have-Nots is widening. The consumer revolution of the 20th and 21st centuries have profoundly transformed western standards of living. And the rapidly developing pace and emulation of western lifestyles and consumption-driven markets in developing countries is fast adding to environmental pressures worldwide. “Indeed, lack of attention to the needs of the poorest can result in greater insecurity for the prosperous and in increased spending on defensive measures. The need to spend billions of dollars on wars, border security, and peacekeeping arguably is linked to a disregard for the world’s pressing social and environmental problems,” according to the World Watch Institute.

The world will have more than 9 billion people by 2050, and the middle class will have swelled by 3 billion by 2030. On top of this, consumer expectations for yet more are being stoked by trends such as fast fashion. The rapid expansion of consumption-driven markets in the coming decades is the anticipated engine for continued business growth. The problem is that the planet’s natural systems and finite resources cannot keep up. Studies cited in this report show that we are already at or close to the limits of the planet’s ability to provide. A continuation of business as usual would mean not just a slight additional strain, but three times our current consumption on the planet’s already overused resources.”
–Samantha Putt del Pino, Eliot Metzger, Deborah Drew and Kevin Moss,  “Elephant in the Boardroom: Why Unchecked Consumption is Not an Option in Tomorrow’s Markets,” March 2017

In measuring environmental impacts, have we been shortsighted in assessing what the primary drivers are? A 2016 analysis, published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, tells us that the greatest environmental impacts are embodied in the things we buy. From “Household consumption significant driver of climate, other environmental impacts,” by Nancy Bazilchuk, February 22, 2016:

ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT: The world’s workshop — China — surpassed the United States as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases on Earth in 2007. But if you consider that nearly all of the products that China produces, from iPhones to tee-shirts, are exported to the rest of the world, the picture looks very different.

 

“If you look at China’s per capita consumption-based (environmental) footprint, it is small,” says Diana Ivanova, a PhD candidate at Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Industrial Ecology Programme. “They produce a lot of products but they export them. It’s different if you put the responsibility for those impacts on the consumer, as opposed to the producer.”

 

That’s exactly what Ivanova and her colleagues did when they looked at the environmental impact from a consumer perspective in 43 different countries and 5 rest-of-the-world regions. Their analysis, recently published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, showed that consumers are responsible for more than 60 per cent of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 80 per cent of the world’s water use.

 

“We all like to put the blame on someone else, the government, or businesses,” Ivanova says. “But between 60-80 per cent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption. If we change our consumption habits, this would have a drastic effect on our environmental footprint as well. Learn more here. 

According to the study, about four-fifths of environmental impacts are from secondary impacts, for example, excessive consumption of meat and diary food products, disposable and short-term use household items, and clothes, which require huge amounts of water and energy to produce. Most environmental impacts aren’t from direct behaviors, like the fuel we burn when we drive our cars and heat our homes, as one might imagine. In comparison, the study shows consumers are directly responsible for one-fifth of all carbon impacts, which result from people driving their cars and heating their homes. Like drug use, consumers are the drivers of industry.

Conspicuous consumption thrives on novelty; and novelty lies at the heart of capitalism. The old is continually thrown out in favor of the new; we are a fad-driven society, easily seduced by glitter and bling. Entrepreneurs and marketers relentlessly search for new markets and new products to fill them with. We love new stuff, not only for the object itself, but for its symbolic value, to tell each others stories about how important we are. Consider the conspicuous consumer good “fast fashion,” the mindless overconsumption of which has become the cultural norm in the U.S. “The Apparel Industry’s Environmental Impact in 6 Graphics,” by Deborah Drew and Genevieve Yehounme, illustrates how: “Roughly 20 pieces of clothing per person are manufactured each year. Growth of the multi-trillion-dollar apparel industry has been fed by “fast fashion,” which makes clothing cheaply and quickly with a low price-tag. These visuals illustrate why the apparel industry must embrace a new approach to sustainably meet demand in tomorrow’s markets.”

Consumerism is killing the planet and our souls; shopping consumes ever-increasing amounts of our time and the world’s resources. Created tastes, often imagined as needs, proliferate as Americans quickly buy into the latest fad. Now one can even buy subscriptions to everything from food to fashion and a host of junk stuff. More and more cheap goods, with greater built-in obsolescence are continually produced, with little thought for long-term durability or use value. Manufacturers artificially reduce the lifespan of all sorts of products, especially electronic devices, to push consumers to regularly buy new versions. And on the consumer side, people readily discard electronics at the slightest inconvenience. The environmental impacts of the ever-increasing production and disposal of goods may very well result in humans becoming boiled frogs, not perceiving the danger until it’s too late.


So why do we shop?

Are we looking for love in all the wrong places? The reasons for excessive shopping are both emotional and social. Shopping is used to feed ones vanity, a desire for status, a sense of self-worth, confidence, recognition, and success. Advertisers insinuate themselves by exploiting basic human insecurities and desires for admiration, friendship, love, happiness, identity, and meaning.

We shop to escape, relieve stress, channel anxieties, kill time, avoid boredom, and for excitement. More than half of Americans admit to engaging in “retail therapy.” From a study published in the Journal of Psychology and Marketing, researchers Selin Atalay and Margaret Meloy found that “62% of shoppers had purchased something to cheer themselves up, and another 28% were motivated by celebratory events.” We are rarely truly satisfied; the dreamlike promise of advertising always leaves us hungry for more. The cheap thrill of buying something new quickly dies, and after the binge comes the hangover.

It’s not hard to imagine that there now exists shopaholics anonymous. Over-shopping is on the rise, but unlike other addictions, compulsive buying is condoned by society. President Bush didn’t tell us to go out and drink or take drugs, but he did tell us to go out and shop. Consumption fuels our economy. Research reveals while some super-shoppers spend to boost self-esteem, others are driven by plain-old materialism. “There are some people who are just total rational consumers; they buy what’s on sale, or what they need and nothing else,” said researcher James Roberts of Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business in Texas. “On the other end, there are compulsive shoppers who buy to their own financial ruin and to relationship problems and other kinds of debt; and then there’s the rest of us somewhere in between.” Compulsive buying can be likened to other addictive behaviors that are used to escape life. “When it becomes our natural response to bad feelings or bad events in our life, to go shopping as a kind of retail therapy, it can really become a problem,” said James Roberts.

Shopping online greatly aids our overconsumption, making it easier than ever to buy almost anything anytime online. We are programmed to mindlessly shop by an increasingly sophisticated and varied advertising industry that wants your eyeballs and your money. The average American is exposed to an estimated 3,000 to over 4,000 ads a day. Any media your eyes can see, you’re likely to see an ad. Anyone who uses the Internet is inundated with targeted ads based on ones viewing habits. The ads are specific to our individual desires and tastes, and at the same time they invade our privacy with continuous data collection. Decades ago, the renown communications theorist and educator Marshall Mcluhan said, “Madison Avenue is a very powerful aggression against private consciousness.”

Like mindless drones, advertising has us chasing status cars, designer homes, designer clothes, and the like; it has us working jobs we’d rather not so we can buy stuff we don’t need. People’s lives are trapped in a vicious cycle of working and accumulating stuff at an ever-increasing pace. Many of us are overwhelmed and drowning in our stuff, and have thus spawned the booming industries of storage and clutter management. Frank Lloyd Wright once stated, “Many wealthy people are little more than janitors of their possessions.”

Consumerism thrives by defining oneself based on material goods and discontentment. “The first crack in the shiny surface of capitalism appears with the realization that the system is rooted in anxiety. Adam Smith called it the desire for ‘a life without shame’. Shame magnifies consumer needs. Advertisers know this too well. ‘What does your car (house, holiday, laptop, toilet roll…) say about you?’ they ask, in ever more seductive ways,” said Tim Jackson, in “A society beyond consumerism,” originally published by New Internationalist, September 21, 2017. Excessive consumerism fuels the anxiety of modern life, destroying the planet while keeping us from leading sustainable and satisfying lives. How did we can get lost down the rabbit hole of discontentment, stress, clutter, competition, and an array of sorry outcomes, not the lest of which is continually accelerating environmental degradation?

How did “throw-away,” “disposable” and “planned obsolescence” become part of product design and marketing? It was deliberate. Wars are effective at getting economies moving, and the Second World War pulled America out of the Great Depression. By 1945, the American economy was blazing as victory approached.

 

But how can a war-based economy continue in peacetime? One way is to continue hostilities or their threat. The global costs of armaments and defense still dwarf spending for health care and education. Another way to transform a wartime economy to peacetime is consumption. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, wrote in 1776, “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production.”

 

Seized upon by the Council of Economic Advisers to the president under Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, consumption was promoted as the engine of the economy. Retailing analyst Victor Lebow famously proclaimed in 1955: “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 and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.”

 

Now, we are no longer defined by our societal roles (parents, churchgoers, teachers, doctors, plumbers, etc.) or political status (voters) but as “customers,” “shoppers” or “consumers.” The media remind us daily of how well we’re supporting continued economic growth, using the Dow Jones average, S&P; Index, price of gold and dollar’s value.” –Dr. David Suzuki “Consumer Society No Longer Serves Our Needs,” January 10, 2018


Less is More: Thoughts on Having Enough

In a society that has monetized everything, how much does it take, on average, to live comfortably in the U.S.? In 2010, the average was $75K, according to  Jessica Conflitti in “How Much Money Do You Need To Be Happy?,” July 1, 2016:

This age-old question, how much money do you need to be happy, has every generation wondering check after check, what it would take to feel happy and fulfilled. The problem is that instead of first discovering our most essential elements in a joyful life, and working backwards to find a veritable range, we typically forge ahead on a blindly selected number instead.

 

Additionally, at a certain dollar amount, money doesn’t buy happiness. In fact, a famous Princeton study found that on average, the link between income and emotional well-being past $75k/year stops abruptly, yielding no further increase on happiness levels. So, besides keeping a roof over our head and food on the table, what other factors are important in being happy with the amount in the bank?

Restore your mind and the planet.  It is possible to “live well and green,” that
 is, to live a materially comfortable, non-exploitative and peaceful life, while protecting and restoring
 the environment. Living a green lifestyle doesn’t mean living without the material comforts of life. It does, however, require conscientious decision-making and environmental awareness, limiting excessive consumption, taking action to protect and restore the environment, and creating new cultural norms of “having enough.”

Consumer advocates, economists, policymakers, and environmentalists have developed creative options for meeting people’s needs while dampening the environmental and social costs associated with mass consumption. In addition to helping individuals find the balance between too much and too little consumption, they stress placing more emphasis on publicly provided goods and services, on services in place of goods, on goods with high levels of recycled content, and on genuine choice for consumers. Governments can reshape economic incentives and regulations to ensure that businesses offer affordable options that meet consumers’ needs. They also have a role in curbing consumption excess, primarily by removing incentives to consume—from subsidized energy to promotion of low-density development.” –World Watch Institute

Is de-growth ever a serious consideration? “How can we have serious discussions about the ecological costs and limits to growth or the need to de-grow economies when consumption is seen as the very reason the economy and society exist?” asks Dr. David Suzuki. From “Don’t Indulge. Be Happy,” by Elizabeth W. Dunn and Michael Norton, July 7, 2012:

We usually think of having more money as allowing us to buy more and more of the stuff we like for ourselves, from bigger houses to fancier cars to better wine to more finely pixilated televisions. But these typical spending tendencies — buying more, and buying for ourselves — are ineffective at turning money into happiness. A decade of research has demonstrated that if you insist on spending money on yourself, you should shift from buying stuff (TVs and cars) to experiences (trips and special evenings out). Our own recent research shows that in addition to buying more experiences, you’re better served in many cases by simply buying less — and buying for others.

 

Indulgence is often closely trailed by its chubby sidekick, overindulgence. While the concept of overindulgence is probably all too familiar to anyone who’s ever attended a Thanksgiving dinner, the word “underindulgence” doesn’t exist. (Type it into Dictionary.com, and you’ll be asked, “Did you mean counter intelligence?”) But research shows that underindulgence — indulging a little less than you usually do — holds one key to getting more happiness for your money.

Cultural analyst, futurist, and author, James Wallman, believes he’s found a way of living that will solve the problem of “stuffocation,” which is also the title of his new book. Stuffocation, says Wallman, leads to “environmental degradation, species destruction, loneliness, anxiety, stress, and depression.” From Wallman’s article, “Spend less on stuff, more on experiences,” February 27, 2015:

“I call this solution “experientialism” and the people who live this way “experientialists”: instead of looking for happiness, identity, status and meaning in material things, like materialistic people do, they find them in experiences.

 

Experientialism, I think, is the opportunity of our era. Just as materialism and the consumer revolution transformed standards of living in the 20th century, so I believe experientialism and an “experience revolution” can transform quality of life in the 21st century.

 

If we all – people, politicians, business – embrace this idea, we’ll lead better, happier, more sustainable lives on a less damaged planet. The advances in quality of life that this will bring might sound, today at least, like wishful thinking: less stuff, less stress, less work, more enjoyable work, longer holidays, a shorter working week. Because who decided that five days on, two days off, and four weeks holiday a year should be the peak of human achievement?

 

If that sounds like crazy talk, think how today’s world would have sounded to someone a few generations back. Would someone in 1915 have believed that one of the greatest worries for most people isn’t finding enough food to feed the family, but there being so much food that we have the obesity epidemic? Could she have imagined a map that not only knows where you are but can tell you where to go next? If material, standard-of-living leaps like these were possible in the 20th century, why aren’t experiential, quality-of-life breakthroughs also likely in this century?

Tim Jackson, author and Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, describes  “… why consumerism must eventually fall – and how to replace it,“ in “A society beyond consumerism,” September 15, 2017:

Discontentment is the motivation for our restless desire to spend. Consumer products must promise paradise. But they must systematically deliver much, much less.

 

They must fail us, not occasionally, as psychologists have observed, but continuously. The success of consumer society lies not in meeting our needs but in its spectacular ability to repeatedly disappoint us.

 

Perhaps this seems like a dark conclusion. For me, it is not. From here we can understand why consumerism must eventually fall – and how to replace it. We can build a vision of prosperity which is based on people’s ability to flourish as human beings, rather than their propensity to consume insatiably. We can discover how it might be possible to live better by consuming less: to have more fun with less stuff.

 

From there we can move beyond the economics of relentless growth and begin to build an economy that works, for everyone. We can begin to learn that the economy of tomorrow is not about scarcity and deprivation. It’s a place rich in the satisfaction of human needs. Beyond consumerism lies the society of enough. Beyond relentless dissatisfaction lies the possibility of contentment.

TO LIVE LIGHTLY ON THE EARTH AND REDUCE YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT, CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING:

  • Practice mindfulness: Learn to be still, try meditation, reconnect with family and friends, and with nature.  De-clutter your mind, simplify your life, focus on what’s essential, as important first steps. Redefine what it means to be wealthy. Be grateful for the good things in your life, instead of comparing it to others and succumbing to programmed need and greed that is easily seduced by whatever is shiny and new.
  • Enjoy what you have—the things that are yours alone, and the things that belong to none of us. Both are nice, but the latter are precious. Those things that we cannot manufacture and should never own—water, air, birds, trees—are the foundation of life’s pleasures. Without them, we’re nothing. With us, there may be nothing left. It’s our choice.” –Umbra Fisk, Grist Magazine. Learn more: “Good Stuff Guide.”
  • Explore nature and the arts: Being in nature encourages mindfulness and brings us into the present more easily than other activities. It helps us quiet the constant chatter and distraction of our stress-filled, over-scheduled, over-stuffed lives. A great way to enjoy nature is through gardening, which is the number one recreational activity in the U.S. Explore your creative side through the visual and performing arts; learn to draw or how to play an instrument. Take classes; learn a new language.  Go hiking, visit parks, sit on the beach, visit museums—there’s a whole world to explore!
  • Shop smart: Take your time when considering purchases; think twice or thrice before your shop. Resist impulse buying that feeds emotional needs, which are better met through more meaningful activities or by simply being present and mindful. Indulge less and you’ll enjoy it more, be it consumer goods or food. Our consumption choices should encourage and support good behavior, e.g., sustainably produced goods, organic food, and renewable solar and wind energy.
  • Eat well and green: Eat lower on the food chain, i.e., consume less animal products and eat a plant-based diet, which can significantly lower your environmental footprint while improving your health. High-quality, organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds (which include beans), and whole grains may cost more than non-organic, less nutritious food products; however, pay now or pay later with poor health seems like a no-brainer. Learn more here.
  • Use value: Before making purchases, consider whether you actually need or simply want the item and how much use and/or enjoyment you’ll get from it. It may be worth spending more on a durable, timeless design item, than spending less on several items (which can add up to more than one expensive well-made item) that are glitzy, poorly made, and won’t stand the test of time, be it fashion, home goods, furniture, or cars.
  • Clothes: Before shopping for clothes, go shopping in your closet. How often do we forget what gets buried and we can’t see, and then rebuy the item or something similar? Quality made clothes that may be hard to replace in the current sea of cheap goods, can be given a longer life for a better fit and/or to update the style by making alterations yourself or finding a good seamstress or tailor.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: “This brilliant triad says it all. Reduce: Avoid buying what you don’t need—and when you do get that dishwasher/lawnmower/toilet, spend the money up front for an efficient model. Re-use: Buy used stuff, and wring the last drop of usefulness out of most everything you own. Recycle: Do it, but know that it’s the last and least effective leg of the triad. (Ultimately, recycling simply results in the manufacture of more things.)” –Umbra Fisk, Grist Magazine. Learn more: “Good Stuff Guide.”  
  • Transportation: Live near your place of employment if practical and desirable. Being able to walk or ride a bike to work—or at least take public transportation—will provide more exercise, better health, and significantly less expense than owning a car. Depending on the nature of your work, you may be able to telecommute part of the time. Fly less: One round-trip flight between New York and California generates about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that your car emits over an entire year.
  • Housing: For home purchasers, buck the big-house trend. Take advantage of the benefits of green building. If you’re a homeowner and you don’t need the space you currently have, e.g., the children have moved out, consider downsizing. Tangible benefits can include a smaller mortgage, lower utilities bills, lower property taxes and insurance, among other potential benefits. Intangible benefits include less upkeep and more freedom to do things not tied to house keeping. Notably, in 1950, the average house size was 1,000 square feet or less. According to the Census Bureau, in 2016, the median size of a single-family house was 2,422 square feet. And while the size of houses has increased over the decades, family size has grown smaller.
  • De-clutter: Most of us know we own too much stuff. We feel weighted down by our possessions; we tire of the messiness, the disorder, and not being able to find things. Our drawers don’t close, and our closets and garages are filled from bottom to top. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, we need a paradigm shift. Consider how much lighter and better we feel when we let go of unnecessary clutter. Donating to charity, freecycling, selling via consignments shops and on-line, are great ways to declutter. Zen Habits lists 18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess.” “Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” –Albert Einstein
  • Government and the role of individuals: “Governments could rein in high consumption by removing economic subsidies for everything from gas-guzzling vehicles to suburban homebuilding—which total around $1 trillion globally each year,” according to the World Watch Institute. For example, consider how excessive development is impacting the quality of life in communities nationwide. Vote and campaign for progressive environmental policies. Umbra Fisk, Grist Magazine, tells us “Political engagement enables the spread of environmentally conscious policies. Without public action, thoughtful individuals are swimming upstream.”

Did You Know?

  • “In the U.S. our national happiness peaked sometime in the 1950s.” –Bill McKibben, Deep Economy (2007)
  • “The average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago.”
 –Betsy Taylor and Dave Tilford, 
“Why Consumption Matters” (2000)
  • “If all humans consumed as much food and resources as people in the United States do, the Earth could sustain only about a quarter of the current population.” –World Watch Institute, 2013
  •  “The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of 
the world’s resources and creates 30% of the world’s waste.” –Figures citied in several sources, e.g., Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff; and John L. Seitz, Global Issues: An Introduction (2001)
  • “The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe account 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.” –Worldwatch Institute
  • “On average, Americans today eat almost 600 more calories per day than we did in the 1970s and we waste an amazing 40 percent of our food supply.” –GRACE Communications Foundation (2016)
  • “An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water can go into a single pound of beef; that’s far above the water requirements of vegetables and grains.” –GRACE Communications Foundation (2016)
  • “Take one round-trip flight between New York and California, and you’ve generated about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that your car emits over an entire year. … Over all, the aviation industry accounts for 11 percent of all transportation-related emissions in the United States.” –Tatiana Schlossberg, “Flying Is Bad for the Planet. You Can Help Make It Better,” July 27, 2017
  • “The U.S. has 3.1% of the world’s children, but consumes 40% of the world’s toys.” –University of California Television
  • “A typical [British] child owns 238 toys in total, but parents think they play with just 12 ‘favourites’ on a daily basis making up just five per cent of their toys.” –The Telegraph, October 2010
  • “… a total of 3,680 hours or 153 days is spent searching for [misplaced] stuff, over our lifetimes.” –Daily Mail Reporter, “Lost something already today? Misplaced items cost us ten minutes a day,” March 2012
  • “One out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage—the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades.” –Jon Mooallem, “The Self-Storage Self,” September 2, 2009
  • “For approximately one out of four Americans, the garage is so unorganized it can’t even fit one car, according to an April 2015 homeowner survey from Gladiator® GarageWorks, a leader in garage organization and storage systems.” –Gladiator GarageWorks, 2015
  • “The average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash daily, a whopping 30 percent of it packaging.” –www.ecowatch.org
  • “1.6 billion cell phones [were] manufactured in 2012. Electronics are packed with toxic chemicals—arsenic, lead, and poly-brominated flame retardants.” –https://ifixit.org/ewaste
  • “60% wasted…most of our e-waste ends up in landfills—both at home and in the developing world—where toxic metals leach into the environment.” –https://ifixit.org/ewaste
  • “Since World War II, Americans have been engaged in a spending binge unprecedented in history. We now spend nearly two-thirds of our $11 trillion economy on consumer goods. For example, we spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches ($100 billion) than on higher education ($99 billion). We spend as much on auto maintenance as on religious and welfare activities. Nearly 30 percent of Americans buy Christmas presents for their pets…” –Peter G. Stromberg Ph.D., “Do Americans Consume Too Much?,” July 29, 2012

Food for Thought: Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing 

“The best things in life aren’t things.” –Art Buchwald

“A man was so poor, all he had was money.” –Unknown

“We have a problem with Stuff. We use too much, too much of it is toxic and we don’t share it very well. But that’s not the way things have to be. Together, we can build a society based on better not more, sharing not selfishness, community not division.” –Annie Leonard, Story of Stuff

“Herein lies the essence of our environmental crisis. Persistent trends in key ecological variables indicate that we have not only been living off the interest but also consuming our ecological capital. This means that much of our wealth is an illusion. We have simply drawn down one account (the biosphere) to add to another (material wealth).” –Dr. William Rees

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” –Edward Abbey

“What people don’t understand, they won’t value. And what they don’t value, they won’t protect; what they don’t protect they will lose.” –Charles R. Jordan

“I am not quite sure what the advantage is in having a few more dollars to spend if the air is too dirty to breathe, the water too polluted to drink, the commuters are losing out in the struggle to get in and out of the city, the streets are filthy, and the schools so bad that the young perhaps wisely stay away, and the hoodlums roll citizens for some of the dollars they saved in the tax cut.” –John Kenneth Galbraith

“Racial injustice, war, urban blight, and environmental rape have a common denominator in our exploitative economic system.” –Channing E. Phillips

“Armaments, universal debt and planned obsolescence—those are the three pillars of Western prosperity.” –Aldous Huxley

“Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” –President Abraham Lincoln

“This empire, unlike any other in the history of the world, has been built primarily through economic manipulation, through cheating, through fraud, through seducing people into our way of life, through the economic hit men. I was very much a part of that.” –John Perkins

“[The] men of the technostructure are the new and universal priesthood. Their religion is business success; their test of virtue is growth and profit. Their bible is the computer printout; their communion bench is the committee room.” –John Kenneth Galbraith

“Failure seems to be regarded as the one unpardonable crime, success as the all-redeeming virtue, the acquisition of wealth as the single worthy aim of life. The hair-raising revelations of skullduggery and grand-scale thievery merely incite others to surpass by yet bolder outrages and more corrupt combinations.” –Charles Francis Adams

“So long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings goes but to build up great fortunes, to increase luxury and make sharper the contrast between the House of Have and the House of Want, progress is not real and cannot be permanent.” –Henry George

“The gap in our economy is between what we have and what we think we ought to have—and that is a moral problem, not an economic one.” –Paul Heyne

“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” –Oscar Wilde

“You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.” –Eric Hoffer

“Ours is a world where people don’t know what they want and are willing to go through hell to get it.” –Don Marquis

“You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.” –Vernon Howard

“Oh, for the good old days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money.” –Unknown

“Once again, we come to the holiday season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.” –Unknown

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”
–William Wordsworth

“Anything you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you, and in this materialistic age a great many of us are possessed by our possessions.” –Peace Pilgrim

“For many men, the acquisition of wealth does not end their troubles, it only changes them.” –Seneca

“Mammon, n.: The god of the world’s leading religion.” –Ambrose Bierce

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” –William Bruce Cameron

“Who covets more, is evermore a slave.” –Robert Herrick

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.” –Henry David Thoreau

“Fortunate, indeed, is the man who takes exactly the right measure of himself and holds a just balance between what he can acquire and what he can use.” –Peter Latham

“Guard me against the arrogance of privilege, against the indulgence of feeling that I don’t have enough, and the poverty of spirit that refuses to acknowledge what is daily given me. Keep me truthful in knowing where I spend, where my values actually are.” –Gunilla Norris


Resources For Greening Your Lifestyle

  • A wealth of information on consumption issues can be found of the Story of Stuff website. “The Story of Stuff Project’s journey began with a 20-minute online movie about the way we make, use and throw away all the Stuff in our lives. Five years and 40 million views later, we’re a Community of more than a million changemakers worldwide, working to build a more healthy and just planet. We invite you to watch and share our movies, participate in our study programs and join our campaigns.”