Jan 262011

I read yesterday that “a Sri Lankan scientist is calling for the drafting of “Millennium Consumption Goals” to [help] rich countries to curb their climate-damaging consumption habits, in the same way the poor have Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to get them out of poverty.” A fantastic idea—but what would these MCGs include?

For those unfamiliar with the Millennium Development Goals these are a set of 8 goals for “underdeveloped” societies to halve poverty, lack of access to clean water, illiteracy, and other key indicators of underdevelopment by 2015. So, naturally we should have a set of parallel goals in overdeveloped countries. As the scientist, Mohan Munasinghe, noted, consumption is at the heart of overdeveloped countries’ environmental burden so tackling this issue head-on is key. And I’d argue not just for Earth but for citizens of overdeveloped countries as well.

So, what targets should these MCGs set forth? Unfortunately the article doesn’t mention anything more but I’m going to start the list and encourage you all to add additional ideas.

Let’s start with an easy one:

  1. Halve obesity and overweight rates by 2020 (we’re starting the MCGs later than the MDGs). This will reduce mortality, morbidity, and economic costs, as well as reduce ecological pressures driven by overconsumption of food.
  2. The future of motorized transportation? (Courtesy of Squirmelia via Flickr)

    Halve the work week from the current 40+ hour per week to 20 hours per week. This will better distribute jobs, wealth, promote healthier living, and reduce economic activity, which is essential in our ecologically taxed world. For a good paper on this topic, read New Economic Foundation’s excellent report 21 Hours.

  3. Better distribute wealth by raising taxes on the wealthiest members of society. That one will get me in trouble with the American Tea Party but let’s dust off the idea of Noblesse Oblige: to those given much, much is expected in return. The days of extreme wealth spent on luxurious living must draw to a close. The Earth can’t handle it any longer.
  4. Double the rate of use of non-motorized transport (bikes, walking, etc.). Increasing these forms of transport will improve health, reduce fossil fuel and material use, and make for safer cities.
  5. Guarantee access to health care for all. Yes, another minefield in the USA, but standard procedure in most industrial countries so that’ll be an easy goal for most countries to achieve.

Ok, I’ll stop there. Please help me add 3 more to the list to get it to 8 and then we can see about getting this submitted to the United Nations. After all, if those in overdeveloped countries can set goals for those in developing countries, the UN should show the same concern to those living poorly in industrial countries.

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  34 Responses to “It’s Time for Millennium Consumption Goals”

  1. Create new measures for progress. Progress is currently narrowly defined as GDP. While other measures are emerging these are not taken seriously on a political level. We need to move away from GDP and move towards a broader and qualitatively different understanding of progress that is not solely defined in economic terms. The IMF, world bank and other such institutions need to recognise this. The new economic foundations Value what matters programme is a good starting point for these kind of ideas. See

  2. […] Goals (MDGs) to get them out of poverty.” A fantastic idea—but what would these MCGs include? Go to Source « Nourishing the Planet TV: Arlington Academy of […]

  3. Here is what I would suggest:

    1) Significantly reduce the consumption of animal products and ban industrial livestock farming. As meat eating is a major contributor to climate change, we should focus on our eating habits. I don’t know to what extent we would have to reduce our consumption, but I vote for a 90-percent-reduction in meat and 70 percent in eggs and dairy products. Consequently, when meat eating becomes less frequent, it wouldn’t matter if prices went up, so we could abolish industrial livestock farming at the same time.

    2) Include the external costs in the price of products. Whatever we buy, may it be food, clothes, furniture or whatever, should have its real price, meaning that all costs for its production, use and disposal are included. For example, this could be the costs for environmental pollution caused by pesticides or disposal of plastic packaging. Paying “real” prices will automatically reduce consumption.

    3) Focus on changing the society. Taking responsibility for one’s lifestyle should be considered normal and people who wear second hand clothes and live as vegetarians or vegans shouldn’t be looked at as freaks. We have to re-consider what makes us happy and therefore matters most (closely related to what Mary Greene wrote).

  4. Erik,

    Great topic. I would add two.

    Increase tax incentives to donate to charity. As we give more to charity, less will be lost within political battles.

    Maintain high discount rates for monetary policy. Since cheap credit fuels consumption, high interest rates will limit debt’s negative effects.

    Keep up the good work,

  5. Great idea…. hope you like mine too: that every person, business, school, university and other organisation (etc!)should simply start reducing CO2 every year by 10% 10:10. Already over 110,000 people and families are taking part as well as thousands of schools and businesses have all registered with the 10:10 campaign. 10:10ers are encouraged to eat better, save money on gas and electric bills, get fitter through more cycling/walking and public transport and meet new people through freecycle and carsharing (etc). We don’t have to wait for a change in the law or the world leaders to make a deal. We can start now. And what is also very humbling yet very great is that people from 186 countries have signed up to 10:10 and there are actually active hubs in Argentina, Ghana, Bangladesh and China!

  6. 1. Halve the meat consumption
    2. Halve the number of coal fired power plants
    3. Double the amount of recycled, reused and reduced articles

  7. In the pursuit of conciousness shifting: I would suggest that for those of us who came to learn it(most of us), personal enquiry and discovery come before responsibility becomes a natural way of being.
    There are many great writings and teachings and practices available that have been around a long time that can help to show us the benefits and the way to return to our natural self.I would like this process to be more widely available. Whilst it remains fringe the evolution of our conciousness remains at the fringe.

  8. I’m not sure what your rationale for #5 (Health Care Access) is, but it probably relates to reducing disease and the consumption therein. But modern health care, with its focus on treatment, does not reduce disease in general. It has done well at reducing infectious disease, but treatment has done nothing to reduce chronic disease (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, etc.). In fact chronic disease has increased dramatically over the last century. You could combine #5 with #1 (Halve Obesity) by encouraging the overdeveloped countries to return to more traditional food and food-production techniques. It is the modern western diet that is responsible for the surge in chronic disease. And the modern western diet has been created and has spread worldwide thanks to the subsidies that our overdeveloped governments have given to food production and transportation.

    I believe that all five of your Millennium Development Goals could be replaced by one single goal: Eliminate ALL government subsidies. One effect would be to make wholesome, time-proven, local food produced by small farms and processors less expensive relative to the heavily subsidized big crops of corn, soy, wheat, seed oils, and factory animal products. This shift to industrial food has been brought to us in the overdeveloped countries and to them in the underdeveloped countries by our subsidies of agribusiness, oil, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and shipping.

    Our subsidy of the financial sector has made low interest rates and abundant, cheap credit the greatest gift to big business in history. What subsidies to the food sector have done to our health, subsidies to the financial sector have done for economic development, and thus to our progeny. Economic development is the bottom-line source of our over-consumption. And yet the greatest measure of the success of our society and of our government is economic development and its offspring, per capita money. We have been taught this lesson for several generations. Very few people in the overdeveloped countries question the value of economic development.

    Stop subsidies and most, but not all, modern problems will heal.

  9. How about “increase the recycling of metals to 75 % of annual production by 2020” for one of the extra three MCGs

  10. Include simple goals which can be achievable at individual level, such as:
    1. I will reduce consumption of meat to half.
    2. I will not buy new cloths/shoes until my old cloths/shoes have worn out.
    3. I will not use ornaments or cosmetics.
    4. I will use stairs instead of elevator.
    5. I will not buy new car/other gadget if my old car/gadget is functioning.
    6. I will not accept or give gifts to the economically well off friends/relatives, but will restrict giving it to the children and poor/needy people.
    7. I will teach to my children the habits of preventing wasteful use of papers, toys, cloths, etc.
    8. I will remind myself everyday, that consumerism has no end, let me not get addicted to consumerism, let me consume optimally for comfortable life, my goal of life is beyond those means of consumerism.
    9. Whatever I save from my simplicity of life, will be donated for the needy people.

  11. Turn municipal unused lots into community gardens so that people who live nearby, especially those who live in apartments, can produce their own food. this can lead to more sustainable city living.

  12. Halve animal products consumption
    Promote individual and community production of food to achieve a 30 to 50 % of consumption of home produced food

  13. I would suggest the following goals for a transition to a more sustainable development.
    1. Reduce waste production every year by 2%.
    When I say waste production I also include the part that can be recycled. In my opinion the waste prevention is a very important action in changing our modern culture as people will eventually buy and consume less, reuse more and compost more. Buying less means careful consumer choices, reusing more will require products that last longer and composting is linked with local production and healthier food. Waste prevention will alleviate the pressure on our natural resources and result to a more responsible consumer.
    2. Halve energy consumption that comes from fossil fuels by 2030. The amount of energy that will be reduced may be substituted by renewable energy (easy part) or simply result as a reduction of our energy demand (difficult part). Although I am a strong supporter of renewable energy I propose that it should be combined with reducing energy consumption. It is clear that the increase in world energy demand can’t be covered only by renewable energy. We should cut every unnecessary waste of energy and change to more energy efficient citizens.
    3. Increase the environmental projects at school. I suggest that there is a need to hatch a new generation environmentally aware that will ultimately change our society. It is difficult to change the consumer mentality of the older generations but easier to do so in young students.

    These goals can be proposed for the developed countries. I am afraid I cant set any reduction for the developing countries, as I consider it would be immoral to cut down what is essential for their survival.

  14. 1. Pass a Carbon Tax, and Repeal the Income Tax
    2. Increase the density in suburban development by 30 percent, and increase the density in urban areas by 15%.
    3. Double our investment in mass transit and public transportation.

  15. Although my suggestion has overlap with #4 of the original list, I would suggest developing a required individual and family packaged carbon allocation for leisure trips outside the US. Those exceeding the allocations would have a tax penalty. The carbon allocations would weight carbon allocations for long-haul travel, taking into account discounts for greener transportation. Americans need to see the link between travel/tourism and associated carbon emissions while waiting for future energy price increases to again limit leisure travel

  16. Whatever happened to Zero Population Growth? No matter all these other noble proposals, the number and rate of increase of humans on the planet is the root of unsustainability. Mother Nature is going to deal with it if we don’t, and it won’t be pleasant.

  17. 1. Reduce packaging by 50% by 2020
    2. Reduce meat consumption to the levels enjoyed in say, India, throughout the west.
    3. Increase grey water use by 100% by 2020

  18. I have two comments.
    1.We need to be careful about using the terms wealth and income interchangibly. Many families in the not-so-high income bracket may have tremendous wealth; and vice versa. And our tax code focusses more on taxing income than wealth.

    2.I am passionately in favor of more progressive taxation in the US, and investing that money in public goods, such as universal access to good healthcare, good education, job training, and so on. However, I have yet to see a solid analysis that would show that transferring some of the wealth from the top to the middle income group will result in less total consumption of material goods and energy. Does a family earning 10 million per year consume more than 100 families earning 100,000 per year each? It seems counterintutitive to me.

    On the other hand, raising the income of a family from 50,000 to 100,000 (at 40 hr worksweek) at the expense of the very high earners, and offereng that family affordable health care and good public education, may create room for reducing its workweek as well as its income by, say, 20 percent. That may or may not result in a net reduction of consumption

    These are questions that can be researched and analyzed. Before we go too far with the goals you propose, Eric (and which I support), we need to make sure that they are technically defensible as the means for reducting consumption of energy and materials in rich coutries. Otherwise, we may undermine our position.


  19. Nice article. My favorite two

    1) Redefine wealth. Take into account all of what we call today “environmental externalities” and put them in the balance sheet of the GDP;
    2) Link all the short and long-term investments of banks to solid, science-based indicators of social and ecological sustainability, and link the profitability of the money lent by banks to such scientific indicators of sustainability. So that the more we invest in long-term ecological sustainability, the more profitable a stock of capital becomes. Today is exactly the opposite. If we can get that right, it might be a high leverage point for considerable change.

  20. A shorter working week has lots of benefits, and some of these are mentioned in the New Economics article. One major benefit that is not cited, is that less working hours mean individuals have more time to direct at voluntary missions. Time is a critical factor in enabling people to be part of transition efforts. Without such time, people are stuck in the industrial treadmill. With it, they become agents of change.

  21. I think this is both a great step forward and a very important one.
    We all have to change something.
    But to give the ability to change something and to create the wish in everyone we firstly need some way of better informing people about what they consume, what impacts their consumption has, and how they can (easily!) change something through change some of their consumption habits.
    We cannot act like we knew what is good for everyone and we cannot persuade people by becoming arrogant because of it.
    But I think, every human being has this wonderful part of it that is called “conscience” and if everyone remembers that he or she has such a thing we can apply to it.
    We can address it by showing the influence we all have through only our consumption and therefore the need to change it to make the world a better place.
    It is so easy!
    And it would be far easier if we all had better access to information about companies, their products, how they are manufactured and so on…
    The first step to reach all those goals would be to make a huge step to a better information system!

  22. important goals to make other things possible would be for me (and they have a chronological order)

    1. become a “knowing consumer, that means: inform yourself about what you buy and what influence it has.
    (to break this down to some easy step one could say that it is enough to inform yourself every week about one of the products you buy regularly.)

    2. become a conscient consumer, that means: after knowing what the products you buy stand for and what impact they have,… decide, if you still want to buy them or if you maybe have to reduce the consumption of them or even find an alternative.

    3. become an ethical consumer, that means find a way to make the world a better place through making very responsible decisions on what you buy.

  23. Carbon dioxide tax, I agree with Ashwani Vasishth. Such a tax is the most effective way to control carbon dioxide emissions. If it costs more to emit than to develop alternatives, we will develop alternatives.

  24. 1. Halving (or banning completely) the commercials in public spaces, so that not everytime you are somewhere you get indoctrinated by consumerism.

    2. Halving the space for industrial agriculture which leaches out the soil and use it for permaculture.

    3. Internalize the external costs of every product.

    4. Stop using plastics by 2020.

  25. All and any measures we adopt to fix this system are not enough to bring about real change. We must replace our old-fashioned money-based economy with a resource-based economy. We must declare all the Earth’s resources a common heritage for humankind. We must start devicing solutions to our needs in a more technical -rather than political- manner. Our problems are not political -hunger, destruction of the environment, scarcity- but technical. Most of these problems will rapidly dissapear when we change our approach to them. We must use the scientific method for problem solving. We must bring about the most advanced technology currently in our hands and the most efficient, environmental-friendly means of production to fulfill our global needs, but -first and foremost- we must start thinking out of the box and jump into a new way of thinking, that is not constrained by individualistic ideals.

    Money has become the most corrupt means of incentive for human actions ever devised and is now obsolete. If all the money on Earth dissapeared tomorrow, nothing else would change. All the resources, technology, ideas, work force, and needs would still exist. And we could still manage to thrive as long as we adopt a better framework, a resource-based approach, a scientific-method approach. Let’s move forward and solve all these problems once and for all.

    We can apply some of the goals discussed here now, but the main goal will be better served in a better way if we also adopt a longer term goal: to replace our current money-based economy with a resource-based economy.



  26. […] At this point the author invites us to come up with three more goals to match the eight MDG’s.  If you are interested in reading the original article and comments click here. […]

  27. good article we just have to make sure it would translate into a set of goals that assist action and implementation. i think it is a brilliant idea and have blogged about it with a link to this post!

  28. Thanks Ulrike! Feel free to add a goal–I hope to summarize some of the comments and add to the original goals later this week…

  29. The problem with a focus on consumption is that most of it is overdetermined by systems of allocation over which consumers have almost no control whether these are market mediated or publicly mediated systems. Even one wants to downshift or whatever, any individual’s behavior is marginal in its systemic effects, nor do the systems respond to systemic change; they merely respond by offering different allocations, e.g., more organic food or more fairly traded goods. But both of these, for example, have grotesque carbon footprints, the former because of increased diesel based tillage and the latter because of transport miles for instance. Further, another problem is this concern with consumption fetishizes the individual consumer as an agent of change, precisely reproducing the foundational unit of conventional economic thought. Consumption cant be changed through consumption, but by systemic changes in the whole chain of values that connect persons, resources, and their lifeways.

  30. – Half the meat consumption in developed countries by 2020
    – Double the second hand market for material goods (clothes, furniture, interior etc) by 2020
    – Double the amount of food produced without chemicals by 2020

  31. What a fantastic idea, we need Millennium Consumption Goals! The MDGs are based on an underlying idea that so-called developing countries have yet to reach a level of development achieved by industrial countries, as if that were an ideal and ultimate development stage. While poverty is a real issue, we can and must do better than that.
    I have not put my thoughts into a “goal” format but would want to see the following, building on some ideas already presented here:
    1. A resource-based economy that recognized biophysical limits, and an economy that serves people (a social and solidarity-based economy)
    2. A long-term approach to sustainability by building this vision of society into our classroom curricula at every level
    3. An end to the idea that environmental problems can be resolved solely by individual efforts (boycotts and buycotts). We need institutional change, and for that we need to see ourselves as consumer-citizens, and not only consumers
    I look forward to following this exciting initiative.

  32. […] access to health care for all. (Quelle: Erik Assadourian vom […]

  33. Many thanks for bringing Professor Munasinghe’s plea to our attention. I think that it is one that we must heed, and I also think that it is a very potent way to help in drawing attention to the critically urgent need to address the causes of global warming. I have given some initial thought to formulating MCG’s and, while I of course support your suggested five goals, I would expand some and drop a couple (as not critically related to stemming global warming, e.g. “provide universal health care”). So, there seem to me to be three core goals: 1) reduce burning of fossil fuels by x percent in y years (say, for instance, 80% in 25 years), 2) reduce consumption of meat in the USA by x percent in y years (let’s say 80/25 again), and 3) reduce consumption of precious resources on military hardware and adventures by… well, you get the picture. Those seem to me to be the Big Three for us in the USA. I would add a fourth, though I think that it is of a lesser order of importance for the issue of global warming, namely reducing the agricultural use of GMO’s, as they stand to gravely damage native plant populations worldwide, botanical reserves that will be crucial to mitigating global warming.

    Thanks again for bringing this to our attention!

  34. I read about your initiativ in a german newspaper. It is a wonderful idea.

    – Create commercial free spaces in cities, trains, buses

    – Arrange a “meat free day” per week (like fish on friday. No meat on Thursday in canteens or cafeterias)

    – Provide alternativ leasure activities in the cities. Change the face of big shopping streets by planting little gardens or by promoting non-material goods

    – Use facebook to organise a mind-change

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