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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  January 2005

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE January 2005

Subject:

Article from Australia on consumerism and effects on environment--Grab, grab, grab may cost us dear

From:

Wren Osborn <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 3 Jan 2005 07:24:12 -0800

Content-Type:

multipart/alternative

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (100 lines) , text/enriched (126 lines)

 From truthout--http://www.truthout.org/environment.shtml

Original--http://www.theage.com.au/news/Opinion/Grab-grab-grab-may- 
cost-us-dear/2004/12/30/1104344923242.html?oneclick=true

Grab, grab, grab may cost us dear
December 31, 2004

Consumerism may not make us happy. Quite the opposite, in fact, writes  
Marcus Godinho.

There have been two news events in Melbourne in the past week - one  
small and curious, the other slightly disturbing - that hint at a  
larger issue at play in our community.

One event saw a crowd of hungry bargain-hunters stagger and trip as  
Myer opened its doors for the Boxing Day sales, averting what could  
have been a stampede. The other saw volunteers inundating city  
charities at Christmas to offer a helping hand.

Neither event is particularly history-changing, but both reflect a  
tension between, on the one hand, luxury fever, the all-consuming force  
of consumption, and, in parallel, a niggling sense that this  
consumption is not only meaningless but unsustainable - both personally  
and socially.

Australians love to consume and we do it with abandon, as demonstrated  
by Myer's sale. The unprecedented affluence the large part of our  
community enjoys is reflected in our preoccupation with house prices,  
interest rates, iPods, debt, renovations, fame and tax cuts.

The figures speak clearly of our consuming passions. Total monthly  
retail sales are nearing $17 billion, compared with $12 billion four  
years ago. Household debt is reaching $700 billion, a massive increase  
compared with the $180 billion of a decade ago.

What is more difficult to quantify and comprehend is the toll this cult  
of consumption is taking on our lives, both personal and communal. Like  
those Christmas charity volunteers, we are menaced by a sense that  
while we are most certainly richer, we do not necessarily have richer  
lives.

A growing number of researchers are putting a lack of happiness down to  
consumerism. Survey after survey demonstrates that the desire for  
material goods, which has increased hand in hand with average income,  
is a happiness suppressant, with diseases of affluence ranging from  
obesity to depression.

A Newspoll survey in 2003 showed that 62 per cent of Australians  
believed they could not afford to buy everything they really needed,  
despite being richer than ever. Ironically, when asked whether  
Australian society today was too materialistic, with too much emphasis  
on money and not enough on the things that really matter, 83 per cent  
agreed.

Aside from the personal consequences of consumption, there is also a  
massive communal toll. The State of the World 2004 report found we are  
using up goods and services at such a fast rate there will be serious  
consequences for the wellbeing of the human race and the planet. The  
World Wildlife Fund's latest global report shows humans consume 20 per  
cent more natural resources than the Earth can produce.

Local research, too, shows we are running up an ecological debt that we  
won't be able to pay off unless the Government restores the balance  
between our consumption of natural resources and the earth's ability to  
renew them. From the dying Murray River to our increasing rubbish  
levels, from Victoria's contribution to global warming to our growing  
appetite for cars, it is clear our levels of consumption are  
unsustainable.

What is becoming clear is that infinite economic growth is at odds with  
personal and social growth. Markets, of course, have contributed to  
making our lives more comfortable and secure, but taken to  
unsustainable levels they can erode fundamental values, clashing with  
personal and communal wellbeing.

Australian researcher Richard Eckersley argues that we should choose to  
redirect economic activity into creating a fairer, cleaner and safer  
world, thinking of health, not wealth, quality not quantity, as the  
bottom line of progress and the measurement for our way of life. And  
Clive Hamilton, director of the Australia Institute, questions whether  
the whole growth project has failed: has the pursuit of riches required  
the sacrifice of those things that do contribute to more contented and  
fulfilled lives, such as the depth of our relationships and the quality  
of our natural environment?

These are issues worthy of contemplation as we pack away our Christmas  
booty for another year, as we settle into a new year and its  
accompanying resolutions, as we fight our way through silly season  
sales and as some of us contemplate the needs of others.

Marcus Godinho is the executive director of Environment Victoria.
[log in to unmask]

Copyright  2005. The Age Company Ltd.




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