Millennium Consumption Goals

By Jeremy Williams

You know the Millennium Development Goals, right? Eight noble and well-meaning global targets to meet by 2015 — end poverty and hunger, deliver universal education, solve gender inequality, etc. They’re looking somewhat unlikely now, a victim of political dithering and a financial crisis. But that doesn’t mean they were a bad idea. A big goal encourages countries to work together and pool their projects and resources. It brings a focus to international gatherings and guides the agenda.

There is, however, a big problem with the Millennium Development Goals: they’re a to-do list for the developing world. It’s the poor countries that have low literacy and malnutrition. The developed countries get to help, but generally speaking the MDGs are not the West’s problems. The unspoken implication is that we’re pretty much getting everything right in the US and Europe, and the MDGs can be interpreted as a programme to encourage everyone else to catch up.

But obviously all is not well in the developed world, or the ‘overdeveloped’ countries, as Margaret Mead called them. Over-developed because our way of life is unsustainable, over-drawn economically, socially and environmentally. So maybe we should have some goals of our own?

That’s the suggestion of Sri Lankan sustainable development professor Mohan Munasinghe. “We now have Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for the poor” he wrote earlier this year. “We should extend that to the rich and make sure they consume more sustainably.”

His suggested Millennium Consumption Goals may sound a little tongue in cheek, but they’re a smart idea and they’ve not gone unnoticed. Erik Assadourian at the WorldWatch Institute picked up the idea and started making suggestions. Munasinghe created a website to collect together links as people started to talk about the goals. In May, MCGs were discussed during the UN Commission on Sustainable Development meetings. A coalition is forming to see if the idea can be taken forward.

What would the Millennium Consumption Goals include? There is no fixed set, but suggestions include halving energy use by 2025, reducing obesity rates, or cutting military spending. Reducing carbon emissions is an obvious goal, and using water more efficiently. Assadourian proposes universal healthcare and halving the work week. I think we should create a stable banking system, and if that sounds a little broad brush and unspecific, remember that there’s a Millennium Development Goal on ‘global partnership’.

I suppose suggesting a post-growth economy by 2030 would be too much to ask just yet, but Millennium Consumption Goals could be a useful milestone. Our current goal, after all, is growth and then a bit more growth. We could at least diversify our ambitions, and if nothing else it’s an opportunity to ask what it is that we value? What is the common good in the 21 stcentury? Once you’ve met everyone’s basic needs within your borders, what do you aim for next?

Originally published at on July 19, 2011.




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Writing by team-members, guest contributors, and Fellows of the Post Growth Institute (PGI).