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Not Enough Earth To Go Around

Not Enough Earth To Go AroundThe world's natural resources cannot continue to support the lifestyles of millions of people who live like Americans, says a Tufts expert.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.19.02] Representing less than five percent of the world's population, Americans consume 30 percent of its resources and produce 25 percent of its greenhouse gasses and waste. The impact of the "American Dream" -- and the excesses it champions - is felt globally, according to a Tufts expert, who says at this rate, it will only be a matter of time before there isn't enough Earth to go around.

"The looming problem for Americans, and for the planet, is that the American Dream has become the antithesis of sustainability," Tufts' Julian Agyeman wrote in an op-ed for MSNBC. "We live in built-out, sprawled-out, socio-economically and ethnically divided, energy-and transit-inefficient communities."

The American Dream, Agyeman says, has been defined by consumption. The evidence can be found everywhere.

"We have an enormous national debt, and equally sizeable personal debts," he wrote. "We walk less, we weigh more. We drive ever-thirstier vehicles, and shop, work and watch more TV, while conversing with family, friends and neighbors less."

American industry is burning through natural resources at an ever-increasing rate, while producing more waste than it knows that to do with, says the Tufts professor in urban and environmental policy and planning.

And the message of excess is spreading.

"The American Dream is no longer confined to these shores," Agyeman wrote in his opinion piece. "Globalization and free trade, together with an unaccountable World Trade Organization, have internationalized the Dream."

Billions of people around the world - in places like China, India and elsewhere - have watched America's use of the world's resources grow, and are poised to adopt a similar approach.

The results, Agyeman wrote, could be disastrous.

"Put simply, our planet does not have the resources for 6 billion people living like Americans," the Tufts expert wrote in his MSNBC op-ed. "Research shows that to sustain consumption and waste production at this level would require the resources of at least two more planets."

Agyeman says there is a more plausible solution.

The U.S., he wrote, must take a leadership role in the pursuit of global sustainability and find ways to balance its needs with available resources.

"It isn't rocket science; it's plain common sense," he wrote. "It's not about no growth, but a different kind of growth. It's about using more of our unlimited mental resources and less of our limited national resources. It's about not using up our natural capital such as wilderness areas, forests, a fish stock or aquifer, but living off the harvest and other ecological services they provide."

The U.S. most begin the process quickly.

At the end of August, world leaders will hold a summit on global sustainability, where they will discuss their progress over the last decade and their visions for the future.

Simply attending isn't enough, Agyeman wrote.

"To effect real, global change, the U.S. must go further," he wrote. "It must demonstrate that it is redefining the American Dream."


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