The Ecological Economics of Consumption

The Ecological Economics of Consumption

Current Issues in Ecological Economics series

Edited by Lucia A. Reisch and Inge Røpke

Research on consumption from an environmental perspective has exploded since the late 1990s. This important new volume cuts across disciplines to present the latest research in the field.

Chapter 2: Questionable assumptions about sustainable consumption

Richard Wilk

Subjects: environment, ecological economics, social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory


Richard Wilk 2.1 INTRODUCTION To date there has been a considerable amount of thought and writing on the topic of sustainable consumption, some of it contentious, but most of it well intentioned and intended to be constructive (for example, Brown and Cameron 2000; Burgess 2003; Jackson and Michaelis 2003; Reisch 2003). The notion of a whole world of people consuming at the rate of the average North American is enough to make anyone who thinks seriously about the future want to cringe. This sword of Damocles hanging over all of our heads, the palpably unsustainable nature of present forms of consumption and production in the affluent parts of the world, gives a sense of urgency to scholarship on the topic. The obvious moral correctness of those who recognize the seriousness of the consumption problem – a position I completely agree with – has both positive and negative consequences. On the plus side, it has led to a lot of interdisciplinary cooperation and intellectual boundary-crossing that does not occur in other research areas. Scholarship on consumption has been remarkably open to many intellectual approaches and methodologies. There is nothing like a crisis looming on the horizon to put disciplinary boundaries and disputes over methodology into proper perspective. There has also been a commendable amount of cooperation on consumption issues between scholars and political and environmental activists, and in Europe at least, with some government agencies. In Germany, for instance, the Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture has built its General...

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