Friday, March 14, 2008

It's a Function of Consumption

Hi Everyone,

So it’s clearly been a while since we’ve had a post here at Sustainable Sakonnet. Time has been an extremely precious commodity for me these past weeks. As I mentioned before, I started my Executive MBA at Northeastern in January and I haven’t looked back since. Fantastic (but intense!) program if ever you were considering pursuing that.

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is macroeconomics. Now before you yawn and click off the site, just hold tight. It has given me a whole new perspective on how this thing called the American Economy works – its underpinnings, its interconnectedness (with just about everything), and most importantly, how totally out of balance we as Americans are with our consumption.

Anyone who has ever taken Macro 101 knows that consumption is one of the four components of GDP (gross domestic product), the measure by which we gauge how "healthy" our economy is. Consider some numbers from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis:

• U.S. GDP at the end of 2007 was $14T (that’s trillion dollars)
• Overall Personal Income was up 6.1% in 2007; Disposable Personal Income (Personal income minus personal taxes) came in at $46.6B in January 2008
• BUT… Personal Savings (Disposable Personal Income minus Personal Outlays) was a negative $6.2B in January 2008.

So what does all this mean? What does it have to do with the sustainability? Everything.

We are spending more than what we make. This means we’re consuming more (TVs, cars, food, iPods, clothes, etc.) than what we should. I don’t demonstrate to know why (that’s a whole other discussion) or mean to say that people are bad for doing so, but it does beg the question of where all of this is going in the long run.

The more stuff we buy, use, throw away, buy again, and so on, means the more resources we’re using up in the process. Let’s remember that these are finite resources we’re talking about here. Then tack on the downstream environmental damage such as pollution, toxins in our soil and water, and mountains of trash, or social damages such as disconnected families, depression, a loss of community, and you begin to see the bigger picture here.

It all screams out the need for simplicity. A more simple, toned down, connected way of living. Now, I’m not saying we abandon everything and head out on some homesteading craze, but it is within our power to make simple, smaller changes. Changes whose cumulative affect can garner a positive impact.

There is a great website called The Story of Stuff. There you can watch a fantastic video that helps put it all into perspective. I encourage you to take and look and share it with others.

I'm going to make a renewed effort to post more often in the midst of school. There's so much to talk about and as always, I welcome your feedback and discussion!

Here’s to slowing down just a tad…

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