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website: www.worldwatch.org

state of the world 2004
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company: World Watch Institute
country: USA
product: State of the World
distribution: worldwide

who: founded by Lester Brown in 1974, the Worldwatch Institute offers a unique blend of interdisciplinary research, global focus, and accessible writing that has made it a leading source of information on the interactions among key environmental, social, and economic trends. Their work revolves around the transition to an environmentally sustainable and socially just society - and how to achieve it.

what: State of the World, Worldwatch's flagship annual, remains the most authoritative ‘go-to’ resource for those who understand the importance of nurturing a safe, sane, and healthy global environment through both policy and action.

2004 edition: “Special Focus: The Consumer Society”. On the Worldwatch Institute’s 30th anniversary, this special edition of State of the World examines how we consume, why we consume, and what impact our consumption choices have on the planet and our fellow human beings. From factory-farmed chicken to old-growth lumber to gas-guzzling cars, many of the things we buy support destructive industries. But businesses, governments and concerned citizens can harness this same purchasing power to build markets for less-hazardous products, including fair-traded foods, green power and fuel-cell vehicles. With chapters on food, water, energy, the politics of consumption and redefining the good life, Worldwatch’s award-winning research team asks whether a less-consumptive society is possible - and then argues that it is essential.

how to buy it: the book in PDF format is on sale and downloadable at www.worldwatch.org/pubs/sow/2004

more consumers… private consumption expenditures - the amount spent on goods and services at the household level - have increased fourfold since 1960, topping more than $20 trillion in 2000. The 12 percent of the world's population living in North America and Western Europe account for 60 percent of this consumption, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa account for only 3.2 percent. In recent decades consumption among the world's wealthy elite, and increasingly among the middle class, has gone beyond satiating needs or fulfilling dreams to become an end in its own right. At the same time, consumption is rising rapidly in the developing world as globalisation has introduced millions of people to consumer goods while providing the technology and capital to produce and disseminate them.

…less quality of life: higher levels of obesity and personal debt, chronic time shortages and a degraded environment are all signs that excessive consumption is diminishing the quality of life for many people. The challenge now is to mobilise governments, businesses and citizens to shift their focus away from the unrestrained accumulation of goods and toward finding ways to ensure a better life for all.

This rise in consumption in the U.S., other rich nations and many developing ones is more than the planet can bear, reports State of the World 2004. Forests, wetlands and other natural habitats are shrinking to make way for people and their homes, farms, malls and factories.

Despite the existence of alternative sources, more than 90 percent of paper still comes from trees - eating up about one fifth of the total wood harvest worldwide. An estimated 75 percent of global fish stocks are now fished at or beyond their sustainable limit. And even though technology allows for greater fuel efficiency than ever before, cars and other forms of transportation account for nearly 30 percent of world energy use and 95 percent of global oil consumption.

take action: at the same time, however, growing dissatisfaction with current consumption trends has led consumer advocates, economists, policymakers and environmentalists to develop creative options for meeting people's needs while dampening the environmental and social costs of mass consumption.

State of the World 2004 points to a range of opportunities that are already available to governments, businesses and consumers to curb and redirect consumption:

  • ecological tax reform: by shifting taxes so that manufacturers have to pay for the harm they do to the environment, and by introducing production standards and other regulatory tools, governments can help minimise negative impacts on natural resources.

  • take-back laws: now being adopted by a growing number of governments around the world, these laws require companies to "take back" products at the end of their useful lives, and typically ban the landfilling and incineration of products.

  • durability: industries can take shared responsibility for their ecological impacts by finding ways to reduce the amount of raw material needed to create products and by making goods more durable and easier to repair and upgrade.

  • personal responsibility: changes in consumption practices will also require millions of individual decisions that start at the grassroots level—about everything from our use of energy and water to our consumption of food.
positive alert: “It would be foolish to underestimate the challenge of checking the consumption juggernaut”, concludes Christopher Flavin, President of the Worldwatch Institute and a regular co-author of the annual. “But as the costs of unbridled appetites grow, the need for innovative responses becomes clearer. In the long run, meeting basic human needs, improving human health, and supporting a natural world that can sustain us will require that we control consumption, rather than allow consumption to control us.”


Worldwatch Institute
P.O. Box 188
Williamsport, PA 17703-9913
ph 888.544.2303
or 570.320.2076
fax 570.320.2079

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