How Much Is Enough? The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth

Author: Alan Thein Durning
ISBN: 0-393-30891-0
200 pages
July 1992

The wildfire advance of the consumer lifestyle around the globe marks the most rapid and fundamental change in day-to-day existence the human species has ever experienced. Over a few short generations, we in the affluent fifth of humanity have become car drivers, television watchers, mall shoppers, and throwaway buyers.

The tragic irony is that while the consumer society has been stunningly effective in harming the environment, it has failed to provide us with a sense of fulfillment. Consumerism has hoodwinked us into gorging on material things because we suffer from social, psychological, and spiritual hungers. Yet the opposite extreme, "poverty," may be even worse for the human spirit and devastates the environment too, as hungry peasants put forests to the torch and steep slopes to the plow.

If the Earth suffers when people have either too little or too much, the questions arise: How much is enough? What level of consumption can the planet support? When do more things cease to add appreciably to human life? These are the issues that Alan Thein Durning tackles in his eloquent and thought-provoking How Much Is Enough? The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth. 

Ultimately, Durning argues, the linked fates of humanity and the natural realm depend on us, the consumers. We can curtail our use of ecologically destructive things and cultivate the deeper, non-material sources of fulfillment that bring happiness: family and social relationships, meaningful work, and leisure. Or we can abrogate our responsibilities and allow our lifestyle to destroy the Earth.

How Much Is Enough? was a co-winner for best book in the 1992 Harry Chapin Media Awards sponsored by the World Hunger Year.