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by Juliet B. Schor HarperPerennial, $13
Overconsumption is the mother of all of our environmental problems.
- KALLE LASN, EDITOR, ADBUSTERS MAGAZINE
For many years now, the nation has been torn by a painful debate over its values - family values, traditional American civil-liberty values, religious values, social welfare values. But, looking at the question from another angle, it's hard to escape the notion that what Americans really value is stuff.
Since 1987, we've had more shopping malls than high schools. We average six hours a week shopping and only forty minutes playing with our children. Our rate of saving is 2 percent - only a quarter of what it was in the 1950s, when we earned less than half as much in real dollars. In each of the past three years, more U.S. citizens have declared personal bankruptcy than have graduated from college. All this acquisition isn't making us happier; the number of Americans calling themselves "very happy" peaked in 1957. And it's not making the earth any happier either. Since 1950, Americans alone have used more resources than everyone who ever lived on the earth before then. Our annual output of trash would fill a convoy of garbage trucks long enough to reach halfway to the moon.
During the year Vivia Boe and I spent doing research for the 1997 PBS documentary Affluenza, we came to see America's consuming passion as akin to a viral epidemic sweeping through our society, presenting itself in a host of symptoms ranging from swollen expectations and shopping fever to fractured families and resource exhaustion. Many of our interviewees agreed with our diagnosis, and some of them thought the patient might eventually recover. Kalle Lash, whose organization, Adbusters, sponsors an annual …