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Creative, but feasible steps towards sustainable prosperity

Jing Zhao Apr 4, 2012

Believe it or not, with our current levels of consumption, the earth can only sustain about 5 billion people. If everyone consumes like Americans do, we can only sustain about 1.4 billion people.

What’s the current world population? 7 billion!

So here are some creative, but feasible steps that can lead us to sustainable prosperity. The Worldwatch Institute provides us with some good ideas.

First and foremost, it’s time to shed our consumer culture. We are trapped in a system that stimulates more and more consumption, and we are going to have to walk away from certain cultural norms, like having a meat-centric diet, driving, etc.

Second, redistributing tax burdens and serving the public with new tax revenue. We can use the tax revenue from the wealthiest people to fund public goods. We can build infrastructure and promote programs like bike-sharing to encourage people to use public transportation more. And we can build more libraries — encouraging people to borrow, rather than buy, books.

Third, working only 21 hours per week! I bet everyone would support it. Only our culture says that a 40-hour work week is normal. For some countries, like the U.K., the average work week is 21 hours if you actually add up all the employed individuals, the unemployed, the over-employed and the under-employed. If we work less, we will have more time to relax, which reduces our overall consumption while maintaining a high quality of life.

Fourth, developing a more scientific price system. If we take water prices as an example, we can see there is room for improvement. For water use, it doesn’t matter how much you actually use. If you use a little, you pay the same amount per unit as if you use a whole lot. What if we were offered a certain amount of water at a low rate — and when the amount goes up — the rate rises very steeply to three or four times the basic unit cost? Thus, people would be encouraged to use less water. And as time goes by, conservation becomes a habit.

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