TED Conversations

Jeffrey Allen

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It's time that we commit – legally – to limiting our consumption.

In the year 2000, leaders of practically every country came together to agree on the Millennium Development Goals–a set of 8 targets in health, education, gender equity and environmental sustainability–that, if achieved, would drastically improve life for billions of the world's poorest people. Essentially, the agreement was that richer countries would put up the necessary funds, and poorer countries would do all kinds of things o make sure the funds are put to good use.

In the years since, however, it's become increasingly clear that another key factor keeping the poor poor is the extremely high consumption rates in wealthier countries. Some 85% of consumption is done by 20% of the world's people. Plus, this massive use of resources–particularly fossil fuels needed to produce the energy that drives consumption–is causing the global climate to change. Poorer areas–like most of Africa and inner-city areas in the wealthier countries–will be the least able to cope.

A leading global physicist and economist, Professor Mohan Munasinghe, has called for countries to make a new agreement–a set of Millennium *Consumption* Goals–that would commit wealthier countries to make critical changes in the ways they live in order to allow poorer countries to develop their economies and use their fair share of the world's resources. (See: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=54211) So...

• Is it time for the world's wealthiest citizens to commit to reducing their consumption levels?
• If so, what specific commitments should they make? (see http://blogs.worldwatch.org/transformingcultures/mcgs/ for some ideas)
• Can citizens do enough on their own to right the balance of consumption, or do we need to convince national governments to act to make changes on the scale necessary to achieve our goals?
• And what penalties should be imposed if countries fail to live up to their commitments–or is just setting the goals good enough?

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