The Politics of Sustainable Consumption

Authored by: Emma Hinton

Routledge International Handbook of Sustainable Development

Print publication date:  March  2015
Online publication date:  March  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415838429
eBook ISBN: 9780203785300
Adobe ISBN: 9781135040727


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Despite decades of political support for sustainable consumption, contemporary consumption remains unsustainable. A combination of increasing consumer demand and rising global populations drives global consumption and production patterns that exceed the Earth’s carrying capacity, leading to a situation known as ‘global ecological overshoot’ (Bond 2005; Global Footprint Network 2013). This unsustainable trend is not solely due to the rapid economic development and growing populations of newly industrialised countries, such as China and India: developed countries share responsibility. Taking the UK as an example, household expenditure doubled between 1968 and 2000 while the proportion of this concerning the satisfaction of basic needs (such as clothing, food and housing) declined to approximately a third; over this period, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity of this consumption increased by over a third (Jackson and Papathanasopoulou 2008). Although GHG emissions from production in the UK are decreasing as a result of increasingly efficient domestic production and the shift to a service-based economy, the rising emissions associated with UK consumption are driven by the increasing consumption of imported products, especially from non-OECD countries (Baiocchi and Minx 2010; Barrett et al. 2013). There are also problems of equity: while some people live in poverty and fail to meet their basic needs, others are able to consume profligately, yet the negative environmental consequences of consumption tend to fall disproportionately on those that consume the least.

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