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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Commentary: Holiday Overconsumption

Air Date: Week of

According to the United Nations, the richest one-fifth of the world's populace uses almost 90% of the planet's resources. And much of that consumption occurs now, during the December holiday season. That got commentator Suzanne Elston of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium thinking.


CURWOOD: Coming up: with growing restrictions on forests in the United States, a major timber company looks south to Chile for a source of wood chips. But first, a look at global spending habits. According to the United Nations, the richest one fifth of the world's populace uses almost 90% of the planet's resources, and much of that consumption occurs now during the December holiday season. That got commentator Suzanne Elston thinking.

ELSTON: It's that time of the year again. Like most kids, mine are making their lists and checking them twice, while I'm wondering where we're going to put all the stuff they expect to get from Santa. My daughter's the worst. She wants Barbies and plenty of them. I don't like denying her things, but when does it get to the point where she has enough? She already has a dozen or so Barbies in various states of undress lying on her bedroom floor. She doesn't need another one.

I was picking up her room the other day when I noticed the stamp on the back of one of her naked Barbies. It was made in Malaysia. I began to wonder how many of the workers that make these dolls will actually be able to afford to buy them for their own children. When you look at the statistics, you realize that it's highly unlikely that the gifts they give each other are anything like ours. Malaysia is a developing nation. Its gross domestic product is only about a third of ours.

The UN tells us that we and the developed world consume 86% of goods, while only representing 20% of the world's population. That leaves about 14% for the rest of the 4 and a half billion people on the planet. That's hardly fair.

But it wasn't always this unbalanced. When my mother was growing up, she'd get the same thing in her Christmas stocking every year: an orange, an apple, a handful of candies, a bright shiny penny, and one very small new toy. And yet she never felt deprived. In fact, she says the kids back then seemed to enjoy Christmas a lot more, because they weren't overwhelmed with the stuff they got. They simply had enough.

Years ago when my son was only 4 and he hadn't yet discovered the Christmas toy catalogue, he told me that he didn't want anything for Christmas. He said he already had more toys than he could play with. He asked if Santa could kindly take his toys to children that didn't have anything. He had the right idea. He had enough.

CURWOOD: Suzanne Elston writes from the north shore of Lake Ontario. She comes to us from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium. I'm Steve Curwood. It's Living on Earth.



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