We are in the midst of an unprecedented consumer revolution. In less than half a century personal spending on goods and services has increased more than fourfold, and now stands at over $20 trillion a year. Some of this rise was due to population growth, but most of it comes from rising prosperity among the wealthier people of the earth.

We must consume to survive. And the two fifths of the world's people who have to live on less than $2 a day desperately need to consume more. But over much of the world consumption has become an end in itself, and sometimes reaches bewildering levels: in the United States, for example, there are now more cars than there are licensed drivers. Overconsumption in the world as a whole is increasingly overwhelming the planet's life support systems. Research by UNEP and WWF shows that it had exceeded the earth's ecological capacity by the early 1980s and has gone on increasing since. It is only sustained by drawing down reserves, such as depleting groundwater stored for millennia. Clearly this cannot go on.

The crisis is not just down to the world's most developed nations. UNEP research has identified a global 'consumer class' of some 1.7 billion people, more than a quarter of the world's population, almost half of them in developing countries. Here consumption has gone well beyond meeting needs and is driven by a search for social status, pleasure and gratification. Yet all the evidence shows that once people break out of poverty, rising consumption does not increase happiness; in fact levels of overwork and stress grow along with the ever mounting waste and garbage.

We - the editors and readers of this magazine - are overwhelmingly members of this consumer class. Yet, while being part of the problem, we also aspire to be part of the solution. It is not a question of suddenly giving up all consumer goods. Rather it is a matter of looking carefully at how we spend our money, and searching for happiness through our quality of life, rather than the quantity of our possessions. It means reusing goods, recycling materials, reducing waste, and repairing broken possessions rather than throwing them away and replacing them. It means consumers challenging producers to produce more sustainably. And it means putting the needs of the poor before the greeds of the comfortable. This issue of Tunza gives some clues on how this new sustainable consumer revolution can begin.

We want to hear from you - your views, your news and your ideas.
E-mail us at tunza@ourplanet
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