When Enough Is Not Enough

Lucid, challenging, and beautifully written, How Much Is Enough? advances a compelling central argument: The fortunate 1.1 billion earthlings in the elite "consumer class" are living beyond the planet's means. The middle and lower classes may envy the consumer class's affluence, and may seek to attain it, but surely the Earth can't support everyone living that lifestyle.

Driving solo to crosstown workplaces, munching McMuffins made with eggs trucked in from the next state, cranking up the air conditioning to beat the heat that seems worse than last year's--actions the world's elite take for granted--are unsustainable. Yet we are heading in a direction assuming, at best, we can. "Over a few short generations," Alan Durning observes, "we have become car drivers, television watchers, mall shoppers...and the words 'consumer' and 'person' have become virtually synonymous."

The environmental costs of our hyperconsumption are staggering. We in the consumer class produce most of the excess carbon dioxide, the principle greenhouse gas. We cause nearly all of the acid rain; we create nearly all of the chemical waste. Our chlorofluorocarbons destroy the ozone layer. The resources required to sustain our automated, throwaway lifestyle and high-fat diet are drawn at great ecological cost from all over the Earth.

Curiously, our runaway consumption does not seem to have made us much happier. There is almost no difference in the levels of reported happiness found in very wealthy and very poor countries. "Because human wants are insatiable," Durning asserts, "the consumer society fails to deliver on its promise of fulfillment through material comforts....Consumerism has hoodwinked us into gorging on material things while we suffer from social, psychological, and spiritual hunger."

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Sojourners Magazine August 1993
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