Living "too well" is robbing us of the future


We all want to live well. Why not? Wanting to do it is a human thing, after all. There is only one problem: conspicuous consumption, which is often mistaken for living well, is unsustainable for the environment.

Don't take our word for it. There is research to prove it.

According to an article published in the journal Nature Sustainability, Planet Earth simply does not have enough resources to allow the more than 7 billion people of the world to live comfortably. After looking at more than 150 countries, the international team of study authors found that not a single one of these countries is committed to true sustainability. Meaning: All of these countries exploit much more of their available resources than what is good for the planet.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the situation in Europe, where millions of citizens waste too much water, too much food and too many natural resources. On the other hand, there are similar patterns of waste across much of the planet.

"We found that no country meets the basic needs of its citizens at a globally sustainable level of resource use," the researchers write. “Almost everything we do, from dining to surfing the web, uses resources in some way, but the connections between resource use and human well-being are not always visible to us,” adds the lead author of the article, Dr. Daniel O'Neill, from the University of Leeds Sustainability Research Institute in the UK.

While the planet's resources are adequate to meet the basic needs of people around the world, the quest for millions and millions of people to live beyond the means of the Earth is placing great emphasis on those resources. Worse still: rich nations are using the world's resources at such rates that developing countries have little left for them.

"Although wealthy nations like the US and the UK meet the basic needs of their citizens, they do so at a level of resource use that goes far beyond what is globally sustainable," says one of researchers. "In contrast, countries that use resources at a sustainable level, like Sri Lanka, do not meet the basic needs of their people."

What is needed is drastic changes in conspicuous consumer lifestyles. "Radical changes are needed if all people are to live well within the limits of the planet," says Julia Steinberger, another scientist at the University of Leeds who was involved in the project. "This includes going beyond the pursuit of economic growth in rich nations, moving rapidly from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and significantly reducing inequality."

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