2:  Book Reviews

1: The New Consumers - The Influence of  Affluence on the Environment

Norman Myers and Jennifer Kent Island Press - - 2004 199pp including Appendices, Notes and Index, hardback, $24.00. Contact: [email protected].

The world community is in the grip of  a long-term global consumer boom of  an unprecedented size. This impressively well researched and well presented book focuses on the rapidly  growing number of people (over 1  billion in 2000) in 20 countries (17  "developing" and 3 in "transition"  from communism) who are now  enjoying consumer lifestyles typical of  "developed" countries.

The first chapter discusses "Who Are  the New Consumers?"

Academics may argue about the  definitions. But the crucial point is  convincingly made. An unstoppable  worldwide explosion of consumption -  already exceeding the carrying capacity  of the earth - is well under way, and  still has far to go before the appetite  for it is satisfied.

The next three chapters on "Cars:  Driving Us Backwards", "Meat:

Juicy Steaks and Hidden Costs", and  "Further Resource Linkages:

Household Electricity, Eco-Footprints,  and Human Numbers", bring out the  many links between the various ways  we are already damaging the world's  ecological infrastructures.

Although they do not explicitly say so,  these chapters suggest that  "environmentalists" may have been  unwise to overemphasise any one  particular aspect of unsustainable  development, such as the threat of  impending resource shortages in the  1970s or of climate change since the  1990s.

It has helped to obscure the fact that  the current path of "progress" is  taking us towards a wide range of  interconnected catastrophic outcomes,  and has encouraged champions of the  status quo to muddy the waters by  challenging the scientific validity of  each supposedly key problem in  isolation.

Chapters on two specific countries  follow, China and India - China with  seven of the world's most polluted  cities, India with the other three. The  China chapter is an eye-opener. China  is far and away the biggest player in  the whole new consumer arena - the  fastest growing consumer society with  the fastest growing car market in the  world, and already the world's number  one meat-eating country.

Like the United States, it "could all  but single-handedly precipitate global  warming, plus a host of other hazards  for all humankind". Already a giant in  the global community, it will soon  become a dominant giant. The  question is what sort of giant it will  be, economically, environmentally,  politically. "There could hardly be a  more significant factor in our futures".

A possible future for India is as "one  of the main victims of global warming". Also the gap between rich and  poor there is very marked. In contrast  to its growing number of new consumers, India has well over one-third  of the world's poorest people; three  quarters of the population are a long  way from achieving any measure of  affluence. However, in the knowledge  economy of the future, India may turn  out to be better placed than most to  "become a giant indeed, and an  unusually benign one at that".

In summarising the "Big Picture" of  the twenty new consumer countries,  Chapter VII more briefly considers  the future of Saudi Arabia, South  Africa, Brazil, Mexico, and Russia. It  discusses the impact that the five  "new consumer super-powers" -  China, India, Brazil, Mexico and  Russia - could have on the world  economy and environment by 2010.  They might possibly be redrawing the  economic map of the world by then,  as "pace-setters into a new and  different future". Short sections on  "Globalisation", "HIV/AIDS and  Other Diseases" and "The Have-nots"  conclude the chapter.

In their powerful, fact-filled analysis in  these first seven chapters, the authors  make it inescapably clear that the  outcome of this worldwide explosion  of consumption could well be catastrophic global breakdown on a scale  few of us have yet imagined. The  response needed to avoid this out- come is obviously more urgent and  more powerful than almost anyone  now contemplates.

The last two chapters, "Sustainable  Consumption: Where Do We Find  It?" and "Sustainable Consumption:  How to Get from Here to There",  attempt to leave us with some sense  of optimism.

Personally, I found these weaker than  the earlier chapters.

They summarise the well-known ways  in which personal lifestyle changes and  the wide adoption of eco-technologies  could provide higher quality of life  with lower levels of material consumption.

But they do not deal with the need for  sustained, systematic restructuring of  the dominating institutional barriers of  governments and the money system  which now positively discourage these  personal and corporate changes,  globally, nationally and locally.

This is the more noticeable because  the book contains occasional mentions  of taxes and subsidies, and because  one of the authors' previous books was about the need  for a worldwide campaign to reduce  perverse subsidies.

Perhaps they will tackle the need for  that restructuring in their next book.  Meanwhile, I hope that this one will  be widely read.

2:The Little Earth Book

4th Edition, James Bruges Alastair Sawday Publishing - - 2004 192 mini-pages containing 66 short chapters and References, Notes and Index, paperback, £6.99.

"The earth is now desperately vulnerable; so are we. This collection of  original stimulating mini-essays is  about what is going wrong with our  planet, and about the greatest challenge of our century; how to save the  earth for all of us".

The new edition of this much ac- claimed little book contains new  chapters on:

Climate Change - alarming new  findings on the dangers facing the  world, and the action required. ######Understanding Islam - why it is at  odds with corporate capitalism.

Civilised Values - why does the USA,  committed to democracy and freedom  at home, so readily intervene else- where?

Ending Tyranny - the American  Founders fled tyranny. The tyranny of  the US corporations is now under  legal assault.

Nanotechnology - manipulating atoms:  is success for science good for society?

Ranging less deeply but more widely  than "The New Consumers", it makes  an excellent foil to it.


"In the film Fahrenheit 9/11 President  Bush is seen addressing a banquet of  his white-tied supporters. With a huge  grin, his tiny eyes glinting, he says:  'You are the haves. (Pause) And the  have even mores. (Laughter) Some  people call you the elite. I call you my  base.' I wonder if any one of those  men felt the slightest twinge of  discomfort.

And I wonder if any of those rich  men paid personally for that banquet.  Part of their culture of entitlement  enables them to shift the cost of most  of their eating, drinking, entertainment  and even holidays elsewhere. It is  called business expenses; and it would  certainly include attending a fund- raiser for the President."

Margaret Legum’s article “Culture of  Whose Entitlement?” – SANE views,  Vol 4, issue 9 (3 September 2004),  conveys a vivid reminder that the rich  and powerful assume they are entitled  to huge "free lunches" from today's  economic system, while they preach  Milton Friedman's TANSTAAFL  doctrine - "There Ain't No Such  Thing As A Free Lunch" - to the  billions of less privileged people  around the world.

Many of the articles on the South  Africa New Economics (SANE)  website by Margaret and others are  relevant for us who are outside South  Africa.

James Robertson, 29th September 2004

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