Cover image for Consuming desires : consumption, culture, and the pursuit of happiness
Consuming desires : consumption, culture, and the pursuit of happiness
Rosenblatt, Roger.
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Island Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
viii, 230 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
"A Shearwater book"--Verso t.p.
Introduction / Roger Rosenblatt -- One world of consumers / William Greider -- What's wrong with consumer society? : competitive spending and the "new consumerism" / Juliet Schor -- Consuming for love / Edward N. Luttwak -- False connections / Alex Kotlowitz -- Oh, Isaac, oh, Bernard, oh, Mohan / Bharati Mukherjee -- Consuming nature / Bill McKibben -- A news consumer's Bill of Rights / Suzanne Braun Levine -- When we devoured books / André Schiffrin -- Movies and the selling of desire / Molly Haskell -- The ecology of giving and consuming / David W. Orr -- It all begins with housework / Jane Smiley -- Equipoise / Martin E. Marty -- Can't get that extinction crisis out of my mind / Stephanie Mills.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library HC110.C6 C586 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Those who don't yet have an American standard of living usually want it, yet it would take three whole Earths to provide this for everyone alive today. This text brings together a group of writers to explore and resolve the paradox, including Jane Smiley (author of A Thousand Acres), Bill McKibben (author of The End of Nature) and Juliet Schor (author of The Overspent American). They investigate the roots of consumer culture and its meanings for us.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This collection of essays explores the adage "you are what you consume." In the introduction, Rosenblatt posits the idea that people accumulate and consume in response to what's missing in their lives, often to fill a spiritual void. Yet, while they blithely consume, they contaminate the environment, threaten the world ecology, and encourage other, lesser developed nations to join them. Subsequent essays in the collection expand on Rosenblatt's theme. Alex Kotlowitz examines the consumer synergy between inner-city and suburban youth. Urban youth long for the status symbols of middle-class stability, adding their own flare, which suburban youth pick up in rebellion against that stability. Andre Schiffrin laments a time when our acquisitions included more and better-quality books. Molly Haskell looks at how the movies have fed our ravenous consumer appetites. Bill McKibben, Martin E. Marty, and Stephanie Mills examine the impact of unbridled consumerism on the ecosystem. This is a thoughtful exploration of what we buy and why. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Individualism and desire, declares essayist and author Rosenblatt in his introduction to this collection of new essays by an array of distinguished writers, "are what make us great and... small." Most of these pieces address the contradictions inherent in our need to consume, our concepts of individuality and our position in the global economy. Rolling Stone correspondent William Greider hopes for a radical reconception of capitalism, in which the environmental cost of waste is factored in. Juliet Schor, author of The Overspent American, notes that consumerism is fueled as individuals use television programs, rather than neighbors, as points of reference. Journalist Alex Kotlowitz traces the tenuous link between fashion in the ghetto and the suburb. Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben acknowledges the irony in his desire to "consume nature" free of alteration by pesticides. New Press publisher Andre Schiffrin points out that the corporate pursuit of profit has stymied the substantial nonfiction of a generation past. Novelist Jane Smiley argues that consumerism rescued the American housewife, but can hardly be a global solution. While one solution here seems PollyannaishÄSuzanne Braun Levine's hope for an alliance between news consumers and news gatherersÄRosenblatt acknowledges that easy reform is difficult. Rather, he suggests that "a search of the self" might provoke us to seek balms from human connection rather than consumer goods. He may be right, but for many Americans, self-knowledge, like any consumer product, is best consumed in small, well-packaged doses. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Award-winning journalist Rosenblatt (Coming Apart: A Memoir of the Harvard Wars of 1969) brings together 13 well-known writers with varied perspectives on consumption in contemporary culture. Thoughtful essays by William Greider, Alex Kotlowitz, Jane Smiley, Martin Marty, and Stephanie Mills address journalism, publishing, film, ethnic relations, work and leisure, and ecology as these disparate areas influence and are influenced by consumption. If Consuming Desires is a richly woven tapestry, Goff and Fleisher's effort is a simple line drawing. Goff (economics, Western Kentucky Univ.) and Fleisher (economics, Metro State Univ.) argue that the widely reported wage stagnation among working Americans since 1970 is a politically motivated analysis. Their counteranalysis presents data on how much people spend and own as well as what kinds of products are available. They do not address rising consumer debt and bankruptcy or the contrast between the earnings of core and contingent workers, however. They conclude that Americans are discontented because unprecedented affluence has deleterious consequences for work effort, family cohesion, crime and punishment, and political decision making. Both titles are superior to James B. Twitchell's Lead Us into Temptation (LJ 6/1/99); a useful balance to Goff and Fleisher's economic argument is John E. Schwarz's Illusions of Opportunity (LJ 10/1/97).ÄPaula Dempsey, DePaul Univ. Lib., Chicago (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One One World of Consumers William Greider Modern life has played a monstrous joke on the innocent American traveler who heads off to remote places in search of the exotic. When we tour the world these days, there is still the surprise and delight of glimpsing the strange ways of the "other." But we also can no longer avoid an awkward confrontation with ourselves or, rather, with the artifacts of our own civilization.     Ten thousand villages in China may lack streetlights, but they now glow at night with the soft light of television screens emanating from open doorways and windows. I went to one of those villages in Shaanxi Province to tour a military-run factory, that manufactures advanced parts for commercial aircraft. The deep strangeness of the place made a mess of my inherited cultural presumptions.     The Hongyuan Aviation Forging & Casting Industry Company had a few modern machine tools imported from Germany and Japan, but its foundry barn looked crude and soiled in comparison with ours. A line of young machinists in blue smocks stood at their lathes in the factory gloom, looking like characters in a sepia photograph from the early industrial life of America--Detroit, 1920, or maybe Chicago, 1890.     The managers led me to the display room to view the various components--gear wheels, rings, rods, axles--that the company fashions for Chinese aircraft or exports as parts for steam turbines and other machinery around the world. The place of honor was reserved for five titanium-alloy struts that Hongyuan manufactures for the Boeing Company. Spread out on a blue velvet drape, these super-strength objects will support jet engines on Boeing's 747.     Okay, I thought, this is weird. The next time I'm flying on a 747, I will think of this poor but prospering village in China, where some of the people still live in caves dug into the valley wall and where the foundry's own testing labs are still hidden underground (Mao Tse-tung's quaint attempt to protect China's heavy industry from U.S. or Soviet nuclear attack).     The next morning, I walked through the market at the center of the village, where peasant farmers were lined up along high brick walls, squatting back on their heels behind mounds of carrots, greens, cauliflowers, scallions, and cabbages. One of the peddlers, a young man in a blue sweater, jabbered at passing housewives through a small battery-powered loudspeaker. The milky white powder he was selling was lotus flour. As I watched, he weighed out portions of flour on his handheld scale and poured them into clear plastic bags. He knotted each bag with the same deft twist of the wrist that I've seen the checkers use at my supermarket back home.     Globalization means, among other things, that there is really no place for us to hide from freighted connections with our own daily lifestyle. The profusion of "stuff" seems to be everywhere, including stuff that used to be exclusively for the well-to-do of the world. When I visited China and points beyond, I was traveling with a professional purpose, working on a book about the global industrial revolution and its economic and social implications. But the tourist in me was naturally drawn to the sheer wonder of artifacts of everyday American life creeping around the globe, showing up in the most unlikely backwaters.     At each moment of encounter, I experienced contradictory reactions--the reflexive delight of recognition followed by a rush of foreboding. These responses are probably commonplace now for most tourists. What did you see in Malaysia? I saw teenagers with Walkman portable stereos and stacks of cheap CDs along the streets. I bought fake Rolex watches at the Chinese market. I saw Burger King restaurants offering Islamic dressing, and I drank root beer and heard rap music with lyrics in the local language, Bahasa Indonesia.     Some of the connections, of course, just seem loopy, in the very ways some self-important Americans have become ridiculous without realizing it. At a second-rate restaurant in Jakarta, I was dining alone and watching four Korean businessmen, perhaps factory managers or salesmen, at the next table. Each had a cell phone on the table, and while the men ate and conversed, each made occasional phone calls. Business is business, everywhere in the world.     I also glimpsed hints of tragedy, of a dreadful reckoning that is coming. In Bangkok, the golden temples tire surrounded now by frantic commerce. The gentle and beautiful are forced to retreat before an onslaught of the quick and modern as the past is gradually obliterated by the new. The city's traffic jams are the worst in Asia, people will tell you with a mixture of frustration and pride. Bangkok's ancient canals are silted up, the water table is falling, and salinity is rising in the Chao Phraya River. In the countryside, it is probably worse. Monsoon rainfalls are weaker now, everyone agrees, because of the industrialized, agricultural development. Mangrove swamps along the coast are drained to grow shrimp for the sushi bars of Tokyo.     In a working-class neighborhood of Bangkok that I visited to interview textile workers, I saw an especially poignant tableau outside the union's offices. At the corner of a vacant lot, the neighbors had erected a modest shrine--a miniaturized Buddhist temple set atop a pole--where passersby would say prayers and leave humble offerings. Around the base of the shrine, the ground was clotted with bits of plastic. Thousands of blue-and-pink plastic bags, the tissue-thin shopping sacks that are ubiquitous in Asia, blew randomly across the empty lot, accumulating evidence of a higher civilization.     Thailand is catching up. The National Petrochemical Company in 1994 announced in its annual report that Thais now consume forty-four pounds of plastic per capita each year. This is a big improvement, the company said, but the country still lags behind more advanced neighbors such as Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. The Taiwanese consume more plastic per capita than Americans do.     On learning the larger story of industrialization in developing countries, the brutal inequities and social upheavals, the process of natural degradation that accompanies the creation of wealth, any sentient being yearns to cry out: "Wait! Stop! Don't you realize what you are destroying?" This is a natural response, perhaps, but it is also, I think, quite arrogant--especially if one comes from America, the world capital of mass consumption.     After all, these folks merely aspire to emulate what they interpret as the American style--the American system of prosperity--with some local elaborations thrown into the product mix. Why would people choose to turn away from what so plainly succeeds?     In Kuala Lumpur, I talked with a Muslim intellectual, Merrill Wynn Davies, a woman who was born and raised in Wales and university educated in Great Britain. Knowing the social realities back home, Merrill is contemptuous of Anglo-Saxon presumptions of law and justice. She is similarly impatient with Western environmentalists who lecture poor countries on the evils of industrialization. She brushed aside my questions with this remark: "What these people want is what the West already has. And why shouldn't they? It is a very nice life, isn't it?"     Everywhere I traveled, from Asia to eastern Europe, I kept hearing her point repeated in various expressions of desire. Of course, the aspiring poor are bound to mimic those who are well off. Why shouldn't they? This simple truth, I have come to believe, now lies at the heart of the environmental question, like it or not.     If the world is to save itself from ecological disaster, the redemption cannot begin among the poor, however satisfying that idea might be for the missionaries. Only the wealthy few--that is, nations such as ours--have the power and the wherewithal to rescue us all from the impending consequences of mass consumption on a global scale. If we decline to do so, we will not be saved. At the Kyoto conference on climate change, in December 1997, the initial American position, egged on by the usual industrial interests, was that it would be unjust to impose target goals for reducing hydrocarbon pollution only on the advanced economies, since the emissions trend lines in developing countries are rising rapidly. But the U.S. gambit couldn't prevail on the world stage, and it didn't. More likely, the industry strategists were setting up a talking point for later use in American politics when seeking to sway public opinion and lobbying Congress to block any implementing legislation needed to achieve the goals.     A Brazilian diplomat at the Kyoto conference expressed the reaction of countries still trying to catch up with the wealthy: "They invite you in only for coffee after the dinner. Then they ask you to share the check, even though you didn't get to eat."     I am not arguing for irresponsibility among the striving poor of the world or global inattention to their wasteful practices. I am simply observing that the world will remain caught in a profound political stalemate on the environmental question until we Americans learn to put aside empty self-righteousness and accept the full burden of our historical position. As we already know, this is extremely difficult to do. It cuts against the popular sense of American triumphalism that is constantly promoted by the governing classes in politics as well as in business and finance. It makes us the center of the problem rather than virtuous spectators who are alarmed by what's happening.     In perverse ways, the global system may also help advance the process of self-knowledge because it allows us to see ourselves in stark relief. The action in the developing countries is like a loop of old film that continuously plays back our own history for us, making the distant facts of our past discomfitingly real. Nothing awful that is now happening in newly industrializing countries (even the practice of involuntary servitude) did not happen first, long ago, in the United States.     In early 1998, when the forests of Borneo were burning, sending sooty clouds across Southeast Asia, I was reminded of a mountain place in Vermont I have come to love and of the actual history of that verdant state. First, the indigenous people were driven out, robbed of their land, sometimes even killed. Then the giant white pines--the sequoias of New England--were swiftly harvested to provide ship masts until these great trees were virtually gone. Then old-growth forests were felled or burned to make mountainside pasture for sheep and cattle, followed by predictable, terrible flooding and erosion. When the New England wool industry collapsed a few decades later, people moved westward and, in different ways, repeated the process. They drained prairie wetlands to grow grain; they transformed the desert into a garden of cotton and artichokes.     The point is that it worked for us (albeit with a lot of breakage and suffering along the way). From the early stage of primitive capitalism, Americans accumulated the capital and incomes to build the predicate for higher development later on--a general prosperity based on industrialization and mass consumption. Serious people in the governing elite of developing countries know our true economic history, probably better than most Americans do, and they draw instruction from it. The environmental ethic, some of them conclude, is a veil of hypocrisy that conceals yet another version of old-fashioned neocolonialism.     They do have a point, but hypocrisy is not the important issue. The issue is industrial capitalism and its pathologies--its penchant for repeating, generation after generation across centuries, the same forms of abuse and exploitation previously thought to be extinguished and prohibited. As production and marketing are expanded to open up new territory, the shameful practices are revived on the frontiers of growth, and nobody stops them--the "dark Satanic mills" that William Blake decried, the easy returns derived from careless despoliation.     It took two centuries or more for Americans to develop the political power to abolish the most shameful human abuses. It took even longer for us to understand and then resist the industrial degradation of the natural world. Yet here we are with both again before us.     The poor nations struggling to be more like us (or at least less poor) cannot get at the systemic problem of capitalism any more than they can turn off the rising appetite for consumption. The latter drives the former, and indeed, the poor nations' burgeoning market demand (at least until financial crisis collapsed their growth rates) attracts our producers, too, eager to ride the same wave. This wheel keeps turning. Who really has the power to stop it? Aside from Ruskinian skeptics who wish for the pure and uncluttered life, who really wants to stop it? Think about this the next time you're on a 747.     I saw a living metaphor for the global dilemma on the streets of Beijing. The traffic flow at dusk along the Boulevard of Eternal Peace was an arresting spectacle--both graceful and disturbing--because China is on the edge of entering the automobile age that America embraced nearly a century ago. It's not quite there yet, but automobile ownership is increasing rapidly, and all the world's leading car makers have contested for a share of the market.     Beijing's traffic jams occur at boulevard intersections, where the cars and the bicycles meet, attempting to turn or to cross one another's paths. The swarms of bicyclists, gliding along the bike lanes like silent flocks of birds, are suddenly face to face with columns of cars and small trucks. Bumper to bumper, nobody yields; neither party backs off. The confrontation becomes a hopeless tangle of mismatched vehicles trying to inch past one another.     One may root for the bicycles, but it seems obvious that they are going to lose to the cars eventually, just as horses and pedestrians lost out generations ago in American cities. One may argue that China is mad to make this choice, that it should be patiently building railroads and urban mass transit systems instead. But Chinese planners understand that a strategy of patience is not the way to quickly acquire a world-class automobile industry that exports vehicles to the global market.     China has chosen cars, and so have the Chinese people who can afford them, for approximately the same reasons Americans love the automobile. These machines deliver real value to the human experience: speed and comfort, saved time and effort, the individuality of choice, and status.     The nightmare, of course, is the prospect of a China whose 1.2 billion citizens will someday be prosperous enough to consume automobiles at the same rate as do people in advanced countries. At present, China has 680 people per private automobile; the United States has 1.7 people per car. Could the world survive such progress? If not, who must give up their cars, the Chinese or the Americans? The answer seems obvious to the rest of the world.     Meanwhile, in America, the new consumer passion is owning an urban truck or a sport utility vehicle that conveys the get-out-of-my-way menace of a military vehicle. On which end of the global system does the madness lie?     The globalization of production has exposed the central fallacy that always lurked in the standard idea of industrial progress: one could believe in the notion that unending industrial expansion might eventually liberate everyone in the world from poverty only so long as there was no possibility that it would actually happen. Now that the world has been given a concrete glimpse of what that expansion would entail, the impossibility of expanding mass consumption becomes obvious. The finite limits of the earth collide with the human appetite for "stuff," and the impact leaves everyone gasping--people, plants, animals, the earth itself.     Yet the marketplace marches on. One response to the specter, an attitude that I suspect is widely felt if not always expressed, is a kind of high-minded environmental protectionism: shut it down. That is, stop the industrialization process before it kills us all. But I don't see that as a humane option or a very plausible one, for reasons of equity and politics.     From my observations, even people who are being shamefully abused by the emerging global system yearn for what it seems to promise them--the prospect of a wage income, an escape from perennial scarcity. Many indigenous peoples, certainly, are ensnared against their will (much as America's native people were swept aside by U.S. development). They need our help, for sure, but that is not the whole of the story.     It is a delusion, I think, for Americans to believe that the poorest people in the poorest countries do not really want industrial interference in their ancient state of muddy poverty. The great migrations that are under way around the world--the millions of people who leave hearth and home in a desperate search for work and wages--testify to the worldwide longing for a better life.     Despite their vast differences in culture and history I believe that people everywhere, rich and poor alike, want the same elemental things in life: personal dignity and well-being, with some measure of control over their own destinies. In this, they are naturally drawn to the possibilities offered by electricity or motorized vehicles or indoor plumbing. To acknowledge the universal human yearning for material improvement does not excuse the patterns of destruction present in the global system or any of the cruelties it deals out to innocent peoples. On the contrary, the acceptance of our universality makes the random cruelties seem even more cruel, the destruction even more ominous.     Americans cannot escape responsibility for the global dilemma by blaming it on the underdeveloped sensibilities of citizens in the poorer countries or on the rapaciousness of some multinational corporations. We are their consumers, after all. Those new factories that generate new wealth in developing countries do so mainly by shipping shoes and shirts and toys, consumer electronics, semiconductor chips, steel, chemicals, even major components for cars and airplanes, to the wealthiest consumers of all.     For instance, the financial crisis that began in Thailand and spread across Southeast Asia is not really Asian but global. U.S. multinationals, banks, and financiers were full participants in constructing the bubble of overinvestment that collapsed, as were the Japanese and Europeans. In the same manner, it is no longer sufficient to identify the negative effects of development as Indonesian or Thai or even Chinese.     America exported its prosperity system, and the dynamics of its own history, as the model for others. It preached a doctrine of how to get "unpoor," aided and invested in the new players who followed the script, and occasionally punished some for their deviations. One does not need to tour those distant places to see that the global crisis of consumption is really America's, first and foremost. It is our model that's working for others, and it is not likely to change in fundamental ways until we show them how. The brilliant possibility of "one world" commerce that connects producers and consumers, workers and investors, across vast distances is the emerging recognition that there will be no place to hide. We will work out the terms for survival together or probably not at all.     The essential corollary is not so well understood, at least among Americans: economic inequality is, I think, fundamentally an environmental issue. I do not mean that everyone must become as rich in material goods as typical Americans or that rain forests should be paved over to make way for shopping malls. I mean, simply, that rising incomes and consumption, the process of industrialization itself, are necessary elements of any grand solution. This is true, obviously, among those peoples who are still confronted with perpetual scarcity, but it is also true within the wealthiest countries.     My point is about political reality more than morality. Any environmental action that simply pushes the costs down to lower rungs of the income ladder, whether the pain is imposed on impoverished nations or on working-class Americans, invites stalemate and the class-ridden political conflicts that are so easy for business interests to exploit. In the wealthiest countries, for instance, "green taxes" may produce that debilitating effect if the sponsors offer no offsetting relief for consumers at the low end of the food chain.     In poor countries, if development continues on more equitable terms, it should lead eventually to the leveling off of population growth rates, just as has occurred in the countries with advanced economies. To put it crudely, the surest way to promote middle-class behavior and public values is to ensure that people are able to achieve middle-class incomes. The manias of consumption that seem embedded in American life--more new toys for status, not comfort--may not necessarily appeal to other populations once they have established basic well-being and stable prosperity.     Even if that happy day should arrive, the larger dilemma must still be solved. The way out is not a secret. It involves nothing less than industrial transformation, both in production and consumption, a redefining of traditional ideas of economic growth in qualitative terms that eliminate rather than generate waste. As we know, technological processes already exist that could achieve much of this transformation, but most of them are only marginally applied.     What stands in the way more than the political power of the status quo interests are people's inherited attitudes--the existing expectations of consumers that are rewarded and reinforced in the marketplace. This is a formidable barrier, to be sure, but changeable. Because I still believe in democratic possibilities, I believe that as the public culture is altered, the industrial system can be made to follow.     People need a lot of help in learning how to think and behave differently. The work of reordering conventional thought has been under way for many years, and despite awesome resistance from entrenched interests, the struggle does actually make forward progress. The Kyoto conference on climate change, inadequate as the results may have been, was evidence of changing politics on a global scale. The next big breakthrough must be in changing economics.     One pioneering contribution in this regard is the work of Herman E. Daly, especially a book he wrote with theologist John B. Cobb Jr., For the Common Good . I am among the many who have been educated by Daly's patient deconstruction (and demolition) of the scientific pretensions surrounding market economics. He is that rare economist wise and brave enough to stare own his own profession and describe the peculiar omissions and contradictions embedded in the economic model. In the standard model of production and consumption, the natural world does not exist and yet is presumed to be infinite. In real life, of course, the natural world is a finite storehouse of materials and a sink for all that is discarded and damaged.     Daly's insights into the true meaning of efficiency will change every calculation of profit and loss, progress and decline. Although most economists still resist his ideas they are the basis for a promising movement to redefine growth in qualitative rather than quantitative terms. This new framework can define a new economics in which growth once again becomes synonymous with genuine progress.     During my travels, another recurring delight was encountering people who are on the same page with Daly, even though they may speak a different language or approach the dilemma from other starting points. One of them was a Japanese industrial engineer named Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, who has worked on developing "social robots" to do jobs that are dirty or dangerous. When I met Yoshikawa, he was president of the University of Tokyo, the pinnacle of Japan's educational system. Instead of discussing robotics, he launched into a spirited explication of how the world can save itself.     "It is time for a new kind of revolution--a kind of humanized process of change that offers the only solution for our problems," Yoshikawa began, What exactly did he mean? He meant, literally, reinventing the industrial system, its processes and products, to complete the missing half. He envisions "a plus factory and a minus factory, a normal factory and an inverse factory"--a system that closes the input-output loop and protects nature even as it multiplies industrial employment.     "The process should be harmonized development ... to improve the quality of life and also to develop this new kind of industry," Yoshikawa explained. "If we do this, if we develop this new dimension, we shall be free. We will invent a new industrial system and also solve our deepest social problems."     I came away exhilarated by Yoshikawa's confident optimism but also sobered by the difficulties of realizing his panoramic vision. In a sense, he was offering an engineer's version of Herman Daly's economics. The logic of both leads to radical change. But one cannot proceed very far down that road without, once again, bumping into the question of equity and economic inequality. The central goal, after all, is to unite the true costs of production with the market price of consumption. But how do people pay the price of higher quality if they are very poor or if their real incomes have declined while the minority enjoyed fabulous prosperity? Nor can society expect to coax or bludgeon private enterprise into accepting the full-cost pricing of goods if doing so would simply bring an active economy to a lurching halt.     Every environmentalist agrees that the cost-price principle is the goal, but I don't sense that much energy has been devoted to solving the underlying problems of income and inequality. That, too, requires radical change--a new social understanding that like the global system itself, we are all in this together now and one will not be saved unless all of us are.     In theory, these problems ought to be solvable if human attention and public spending are focused seriously on them. I can dimly imagine reforming the tax code and altering national priorities to create a system of negative and positive incentives in the marketplace or subsidy programs to develop the new production processes and new products that fulfill the visions of both Daly and Yoshikawa. Once the nation accepts that eliminating waste from everything is the central imperative, a multitude of targets pops up before us.     These are hard choices but not technologically implausible. Can we envision a universal car, available almost everywhere, that neither pollutes nor is discarded after a few years of use? Of course. The prototypes already exist. The question is whether ordinary folks will be able to afford them if they are produced. The government role is about making a market for the new (just as government made a market for armaments), but it is also about providing the financial aid many families need to purchase the same high-quality and durable goods that the upper classes insist on having.     In the end, these are political questions, not economic barriers, and there is no need to despair. If human ingenuity can invent the predicate for our destruction, then surely smart, good people can invent our way out of the dilemma. Copyright (c) 1999 Island Press. All rights reserved.

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