Consumption Factor

Posted on January 3, 2008. Filed under: Frugal Living | Tags: , , , |

Photo by spcummings

coffee1.jpgThursday is the day I usually talk about frugal living, and I woke up this morning thinking through possible topics to discuss. For the past few weeks I have been trying to present reasons why I think frugal living has several benefits, and each week I come across something which says it better than I can. Last week, it was a video. This week, it was a very interesting and compelling op-ed piece in today’s NY Times by Jared Diamond, who is a Professor of Geography at UCLA, titled “What’s Your Consumption Factor? 

In this piece, Diamond talks about the level of consumption of Americans compared with other people in the world, and states that the “average rates at which people consume resources like oil and metals, and produce wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia than they are in the developing world.” He points out there are several consequences of this disparity. I don’t agree with his conclusion that terrorism–which he says stems from others’ frustration from not being able to catch up to our level of consumption–is one such consequence (I think that is a naive and uninformed analysis about the root causes of terrorism). However, he does make a good point in stating that as the people of the developing world emulate and try to catch up to our level of consumption (think China and India), the world will quickly get to the point where there is simply not enough resource (like natural materials, land, water, oil, and food) to go around, and too much waste (greenhouse gases, landfill materials) to get rid of. 

Basically, something will have to change. Others will consume more, we will have to consume less, and there will be a need for some oversight to allow for sustainable extraction of resources (imagine sustainable fishing, farming, forests, energy). I think the importance of frugal living is not just about saving money, but is about using and consuming LESS. It’s about having less of an environmental impact, making do with less, and learning how to still have a good standard of living by enjoying and using the things we have MORE. It’s a way of thinking I want to teach to my children.

The best example I can think of to pull this all together is a basic cup of coffee. If you are addicted coffee and need a cup every morning, the frugal approach would be to buy a bag of beans and make it at home for yourself. The nonfrugal approach would be to go to your local Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, or other coffee place and buy a cup of coffee. Not only does this cost more, but each and every day you will make a contribution to your local lanfdill of your paper cup, the plastic top, the cardboard sleeve, the stirrer, paper from the sugar packs, and a couple of napkins. Now multiply that garbage by 1.3 billion Chinese people and you quickly get to why frugal living is as much about the environment as it is about saving money.



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    Musings on how a disorganized woman with a full time job, three kids and a real need to relax is trying to make life simple.

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