Handbook of Ecological Economics
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Handbook of Ecological Economics

Edited by Joan Martínez-Alier and Roldan Muradian

This Handbook provides an overview of major current debates, trends and perspectives in ecological economics. It covers a wide range of issues, such as the foundations of ecological economics, deliberative methods, the de-growth movement, ecological macroeconomics, social metabolism, environmental governance, consumer studies, knowledge systems and new experimental approaches. Written by leading authors in their respective areas of specialisation, the contributions systematize the “state of the art” in the selected topics, and draw insights about new knowledge frontiers.
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Chapter 15: Consumers, the environment and the new global middle classes

Alejandro Guarín and Imme Scholz


Consumption is at the same time inescapable and elusive. We consume to exist – is life anything but a sophisticated arrangement of molecules drawing matter and energy from its surroundings? And yet there is nothing simple about consuming, as anyone who has gone out to buy a pair of shoes knows. Consumption is the engine of the earth’s social-ecological metabolism. Deliberately or unintentionally, we draw on nature’s vast pool of resources to satisfy every single one of our material needs – and many of our spiritual ones too. Our society’s appetite for things of all sorts, from bananas to mobile phones, has resulted in the exploitation of natural resources at a speed and on a scale unprecedented in human history. Some of today’s major environmental problems such as climate change, overfishing and large-scale biodiversity loss are a direct consequence of our consumerist lifestyle. The issue of consumption seems all the more urgent in light of the rise of the so-called new global middle classes, which is just another way to describe the sharp decline of poverty across the world in recent years. In Asia alone about a billion people crossed the poverty line in the last 20 years, and another billion are likely to do so by 2030 (Asian Development Bank, 2010). This means that, in a relatively short time, hundreds of millions of people now earn enough money that they can worry about things other than simply surviving.

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