Book Review - The New Consumers

What impact will the emerging consumerism of developing nations have on the environment? Charles Newman reads The New Consumers in order to find out.

The New Consumers: The Influence of Affluence on the Environment
Author/Editor: Norman Myers, Jennifer Kent
Pub: Island Press
ISBN-10: 1559639970
ISBN-13: 978-1559639972
Price: $24

Populist thinking about sustainability tends to focus on the impact of consumers in developed countries. Our affluent lifestyles command much more of the world's resources than our neighbours in developing countries, but that's a process that's been changing.

Myers and Kent have drawn together a wealth of easy-to-understand economic and environmental data to illustrate the dramatic impact of these emerging economies. Increasingly more people in countries like China and India drive cars, watch TV and eat meat every day. These are the 'new consumers' and, just like their Western counterparts, their ecological footprint has begun to exceed the earth's capacity. Worse still, the authors note he pernicious nature of consumerism and its encouragement to compete with our peers for material status.

Inevitably, something's got to give and if it's not the health of  the planet, then it has to be our consumption. Myers and Kent note how markets for environmentally conscious products have already developed, as well as the potential for eco-friendly technological solutions and productivity gains. However, they believe the most important change has to be the mindset of consumer, in particular recognising that materialism is not linked with happiness. This double play, identifying an aspirational definiteion for the new consumers (in all countries) will inevitably provoke debate, but given the authors' initial definition of new consumers, it's a debate we urgently need.

Charles Newman