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Apr 252011

One additional MCG to consider: Reducing military expenditures by 75% by 2025

Many of you may recall the essay I wrote a few months back describing Professor Mohan Munasinghe’s idea of establishing a set of Millennium Consumption Goals to help global consumers to reduce their total consumption. I immediately connected with the idea and even proposed some goals. I wanted to update you all on how that effort has evolved and share a newly revised list, thanks to all the great comments and ideas that you all posted in comments or additional reflections on this initiative.

First, the update: Dr. Munasinghe has moved forward amazingly quickly with this idea since the news article came out in late January describing his idea. Take a look at the Millennium Consumption Goals website, which he put together. And this article goes into more details as well. More so, Munasinghe is helping to bring together a small international coalition that is interested in putting the MCGs on the United Nation’s agenda, including the Center for a New American Dream.

In fact, on May 6th, I will be joining Dr. Munasinghe, Uchita de Zoysa of the Centre for Environment and Development, and several others at the UN to discuss the MCGs at an event there, as part of the Commission on Sustainable Development 2011 meetings. Discussing this idea at the UN is of course very exciting as it’ll draw more attention to the root cause of most of our environmental woes—consumerism—so I’m very glad to participate.

While the goals aren’t set, and Munasinghe is being very strategic in keeping this as an open frame, I can’t help but think through these goals (it’s fun!) especially after receiving such great suggestions from readers. So, with your comments as a guide, I fleshed out my own take on the MCGs, and added a few targets that add nuance to the broader goals (following the style of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I’m sure there will be much evolution in the final product, and as with the MDGs, many more targets to support the broader goals, but for now, take a look and see what you think—the three new ones are first and then I add a bit more to the original five. And of course, further suggestions are welcome!

1. Halve total energy used by 2025.

a. Halve the fossil fuels used by 2020

b. Halve household energy used by 2020

Energy is an essential realm of consumption to tackle. And this goal is especially ripe for sub-targets. With humanity already using 1.5 planets worth of ecological capacity and 2 billion more people on the way, we have to reduce total energy used—at least if we expect to provide a basic amount of energy necessary for a decent life to everyone. But most urgently, we have to curb fossil fuel use—hence the first target of halving fossil fuel use by 2020. The best way to reach that target is probably through a straightforward carbon tax, which will help get the prices right, but of course politicians (most of whom are heavily influenced by fossil fuel companies) don’t think that’s a very straightforward idea at all.

Another good target would be halving household energy use by half by 2020. This is a low-hanging fruit and could help us shut down some of the most polluting power plants earlier, which would buy us a bit more time for the harder energy reductions. (Thanks to Matthew McDermott, Jack Davis, Christos, and Jon Miller for your comments on this topic!)

2. Cut military spending by 75 percent by 2025.

For this goal, I moved away from the “halving” style of the MDGs, as military expenditures are a major impediment to sustainability—a significant waste of materials that could be used to build wind turbines, research dollars that could be used to design advanced solar and transportation technologies, and nuclear fuel that could be diverted from weapons to continue to power working nuclear reactors as we shift to safer forms of energy. Imagine if 75 percent of the annual $1.5 trillion spent on the world’s militaries was repurposed to help achieve true global security (including resilience to a changing climate and growing population). Thanks to Kim Gyr and John D for their suggestions.

3. Replace GDP with a genuine progress indicator or well-being index by 2015.

This is a no-brainer and could be implemented quickly. We have to move away from the myth of perpetual growth, and a new indicator will be necessary for measuring progress. An indicator that confuses growth with progress is a major impediment to sustainability. And as there has already been decades of development of alternative indicators, I suggest this goal should be implemented by 2015—not much time but definitely do-able. Thanks to Mary Greene and eccemarco for their comments.

4. Halve obesity and overweight rates by 2020.

I’ve updated this one to include the many farming reforms that readers suggested. As farming and food go hand and hand (or would it be hand and mouth?) I incorporate them into this goal.

a. Produce half of food organically by 2020.

b. Reduce consumption of animal products by 50 percent by 2020.

c. Increase local resilience of food supply, producing more crops locally when appropriate.

I don’t include a numeric goal for this last one as local is not always the best choice, depending on geography. But when appropriate, local food production—for local consumption—should be encouraged. And one specific sub-target of this would be converting the useless crop of lawns to food and native (edible) plants. Converting America’s lawns, for example, would produce a cornucopia of new food supplies. (Thanks to Anders Strandberg, CH, Jenefer, Giorgio, Cingolani, Matthew McDermott, Lindy McGuinness, konne, Jolyn, and Anna Barker.)

Below, for context are the earlier four, rounding out the total at 8 MCGs.

5. Halve the work week from the current 40+ hour per week to 20 hours per week.

6. Better distribute wealth by raising taxes on the wealthiest members of society.

7. Double the rate of use of non-motorized transport (bikes, walking, etc.).

a. Increase density of suburban housing by 50 percent by 2020.

That target was inspired by Ashwani Vasishth (Though I made it a bit stricter). This increase in density would be easy to do, by shifting laws to make it legal to rent out extra rooms or split large single-family homes into multiple units, convert garages into in-law apartments or an additional home, and so on. That would make suburbs significantly denser.

8. Guarantee access to health care for all.

Thanks for all your comments, and additional comments are of course welcome, both here and at And if you’re in New York May 6th, please join the MCG event. (For reference it’s CSD Side-event 19, and is from 1.15 to 2.45pm).

Cross posted from the Center for a New American Dream

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  4 Responses to “Millennium Consumption Goals—an Update”

  1. [...] forward—and thanks to all the great comments we received, they’re getting more nuanced too! Go to Source « Bringing Sustainability [...]

  2. For folks on twitter, #MCGoals could work well as a hashtag to follow news about this.

  3. Fantastic! Another goal could be to reduce meat consumption by 75% by 2020. With the amount of alternative food options available this is feasible and would have huge benefits in terms of reducing the energy, water and land required for food production (lowering grain prices), reduce methane emissions (reducing global warming) and reducing animal cruelty along the way…

  4. I would add to “cut of military spending”, that the military research would go to research on renewable energy instead.
    Guarantee access to education and lifelong learning to all, is a must for prosperity and wellbeing.

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