Sustainable Consumption: a Global Perspective

Posted: 1 September 2000

Author: Manus van Brakel, Bertram Zagema
Friends of the Earth, Netherlands, $10.00

Rich, industrialised countries will probably have to reduce their use of natural resources by a factor of between five and ten times, if the whole world is to achieve a sustainable balance between population, consumption and the environment.

That, at least, is the opinion of the authors of this excellent paperback booklet.

Of course, they acknowledge that neither consumers nor politicians are likely to be willingly to accept drastic reductions in their comfortable way of life. But if they do not reduce their share of natural resource use, how can the rapidly growing populations of the Southern countries be expected to accept limits on their own opportunities for development?

That is the dilemma to be faced in this new century. Or to put it succinctly: How can we achieve global equity in the use of environmental space?

What is needed, says this book, is a sustainable consumption policy, which maintains prosperity in the rich countries while reducing the use of natural resources to the level within the environmental space. Southern countries can then move towards a similar level of natural resource use. A simultaneous population policy will assist in ensuring that the amount of environmental space per capita, and in turn prosperity, are not put under pressure.

How consumption can, in fact, be de-linked from natural resource use in both rich and poor countries by increasing efficiency, reducing dependency on transport, by carbon taxes, tradeable user rights and sustainable land use is the subject of the rest of this challenging study.

The issues, complex as they are, are clearly set out and explained in an illustrated text which many will find helpful in trying to face up to the inevitable future.

Reviewer: John Rowley