Sufficiency and efficiency... putting need above greed


Written by: Ashok Khosla

What hope is there for this planet if the countries of the global South start to consume resources as the global North does today? Or if the vast numbers of poor in our world demand the same things the rich few already have? They are not only entitled to do so under any concept of fairness and justice, but are also being encouraged to by the forces of the global market. What will be the demographic, economic and environmental impact in the longer term if poverty and marginalisation in the economy of our world further delays the stabilisation of its population?

The goals of creating a better world for all clearly cannot be reached with today's urban-industrial lifestyles or with existing material-financial aspirations. Nor with the disparities that we have created within and between countries. Sustainable development implies not only efficient and ecologically sound management of resources, but also the need to establish social equity and political empowerment.

Among the perennial questions of northern consumption patterns and southern population growth, the central issues are, of course, sufficiency and efficiency. How much is enough, and how little do we have to use to get it? This means that development goals also require us to reorient the way we produce the goods and services that we consume. The sustainability equation inexorably brings together sufficiency of consumption and efficiency of production. And this means that those who are concerned with the future will necessarily have to work more closely with those who live for the here and now.

The central aims of our lives have to be physical and material wellbeing accompanied by intellectual and spiritual fulfilment. The central goals of our social and political systems have to be to empower us to achieve these aims. The central objectives of our production systems have to be not only the generation of goods and services, but equally the creation of jobs and the efficient use of natural resources. For the poorer half of the world’s people, this translates into satisfaction of basic needs, income (and purchasing power), and maintaining the productivity of the resource base. We now need to relearn and show how all these factors can be operationally linked together to get a better strategy for sustainable development.

Today's industrial methods are no good. They involve too much capital. They waste too many resources. They cause too much pollution. And they disrupt too many life support systems -- the material flows generated today by mankind are estimated to be already comparable to geological flows. Large-scale industry causes large-scale disruption, both ecologically and socially.

We need new technologies and also a new science of economics. We need to create work places - jobs - at one hundredth the cost of the ones we are creating today in our globalized economy. And we need to increase the productivity of material resource use by at least 10 times what it is today. Sustainable industrialisation will unquestionably have to be more decentralised, efficient and responsive than it is today. And it must be based on a better understanding of resource pricing, environmental accounting, scales of production, financing systems and the many other factors that are in need of fundamental change.

Today the environmental movement is at the forefront of the fight to redesign our consumption patterns and production systems. But that is not enough. It is those who are sensitive to the impacts of our lifestyles on our humanity who must ultimately take the lead. The job of ANH is to bring such insights – from traditional, indigenous wisdom to modern, science-base humanism – into the equation.