The Ecological Economics of Consumption
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The Ecological Economics of Consumption

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.
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Chapter 11: Community, reflexivity and sustainable consumption

Laurie Michaelis


209 Clearly we ‘need’ something if we will die without it. Our survival depends on meeting certain needs, such as basic nutrition, warmth and healthcare. Max-Neef (1991) points out the distinction between needs (for example, for nutrition) and satisfiers (for example, bread). We often choose ‘false satisfiers’ and in any case, meeting our needs does not necessarily make us satisfied. Maslow (1954) suggested that this is partly because we have many different types of needs, and when we satisfy one, another takes its place. He suggested that in addition to basic physiological requirements, we have ‘needs’ for belongingness, esteem and self-actualisation. Perhaps we can agree on some basic and universal human needs (Doyal and Gough 1991) but appropriate satisfiers depend on the social context. We can understand some needs in terms of the capabilities required to function satisfactorily in society and hence to flourish (Sen 1993). Satisfiers may include appropriate clothing, mobility, education and much else. Nussbaum interprets capabilities as freedoms, and hence as rights (Nussbaum 1998). In the welfare state, which promises both justice and security, the presumption is that people’s needs should be met. To be in need is to suffer. To neglect others’ needs is to be heartless and immoral. But in casual use, the word ‘need’ is now used for anything that we lack or desire. Hence it has lost some of its earlier moral force. Yet it retains a currency in justifying the actions of businesses, which must produce more...

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