Poverty vs. Plenty: How to Help All Consume Enough

Although to this point we have been primarily concerned with reducing consumption for those of us who currently consume far more than we need, it’s vital to remember that there are vastly more people in the world who occupy the other end of the spectrum. I’m talking about people living in poverty. Underlying all this talk about reducing consumption is the issue of fairness: is it really alright for us to consume so much when so many have so little? And besides cutting back, how can we help others to reach a level of sufficiency, where they can enjoy a good life?  

Tip # 147: Map Global Consumer Patterns

Going back to last week’s discussion of Ecological Footprints, I felt simultaneously better and worse when I looked at a handful of national averages. Americans on average consume 5 planets, so comparatively, I’m doing pretty well. In fact, I’m more like a German who uses up 3.2 planets’ worth of resources. Brazil’s average is 1.8 planets. As a developing country, Brazilians consume less – people living in poverty just don’t have the means to consume like a Northern elite. A quick look at per capita income shows that. In Brazil, the nominal mean per capita income is $10,224; in the US, it’s $31,786, or three times as much.

Those numbers don’t even reveal the income gap within the country. In a developing country like Brazil, that gap will be large, meaning that a small percentage of the population receives the lion’s share of the wealth, and by extension, is responsible for the lion’s share of the consumption.

Whether we’re comparing America’s and Brazil’s ecological footprints or the ability to consume within the country, it’s clear that while some of us may over consume, too many of us are not able to consume a sufficient amount to meet basic needs and experience material wellbeing.

Tip # 148: Fight Poverty Worldwide

Given the inequality in global consumption patterns, it’s not enough for those who are more well off to simply consume less. We have to get actively involved with redistributing wealth. What can you do to lift up people in poverty?

Tip # 149: End Child Poverty Everywhere

For me, the saddest manifestation of poverty is in children – they don’t have power to change their material reality. Especially distressing is child poverty in rich countries like the US. So back programs to lift up all kids.

Tip # 150: Support Livelihood Development

In previous posts, I’ve talked up the benefits of direct cash transfers for alleviating poverty. However, financial aid should be accompanied with support for livelihood development. You know the saying, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” True, most of us are not in a position to “teach a man to fish,” literally (or a woman or trans person, for that matter). But how could we do it figuratively? That’s something to think about. 

Next Week…

We’re starting a new month with a new goal: sustainability. You might wonder why we’re talking about sustainability for material wellbeing rather than environmental wellbeing (which comes later in the year). Well…you’ll just have to wait till next week to find out! See you then!


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