A few weeks ago, I took one of those on-line "sustainability quizzes". If you've never taken one, it's a series of questions which asks you about your lifestyle and then tells you how many planets it'd take to sustain your life if everyone lived at your level. The idea behind such quizzes is to encourage people to live lower on the hog in order to improve the environment.
This is the second such quiz I have taken and it always turns out that it'd take between 2-3 earths to sustain my lifestyle. Both times, this shocked me because I do not live high on the aforementioned hog. In fact, this year, I was considering my wardrobe and pushing myself to tough out the mild winter with no heavy sweater, no coat, and only 3 long-sleeved shirts. I didn't want to buy new stuff if I could get by with layering what I still have because I didn't want to waste money or resources if it wasn't absolutely necessary.
To be honest, hearing that it'd take 2.8 planets to sustain my lifestyle made me angry. I live in a very small place which uses little energy to heat, cool, and light. In fact, I daresay that few people in developed cultures live in less square foot per person in the household than my husband and I do. I don't shop as recreation, I conserve water and energy, I cook most of my own food from basic ingredients, and I recycle everything possible. I can't compost, but the city does that for Tokyo residents anyway.
After taking the second quiz, I wondered what it is that I'd have to do to require only one planet for my relatively modest and unwasteful lifestyle. Is my coffee, dairy, and chicken consumption really that destructive such that it requires 1.8 more planets than this one to support? I discussed this with the CH and he said that the problem isn't that we are wasteful, but it's rather a matter of math. If everyone on this planet lived as we did, it wouldn't be sustainable. In other words, past a certain point, it's about the number of people, not the position one lives on the hog. If the population keeps ballooning, pretty soon the only way that we'll be able to meet our needs with only one planet will be if we all live in dirt huts, eat rice and beans, and share the same book with our entire community. The resources are finite (or shrinking), but the population just keeps growing so everyone's sliver of the pie keeps getting narrower and narrower. We all have to use less and less as the division keeps whittling down each person's share to an ever smaller amount.
Several months ago, I was reading a blog where a woman wrote a piece about "breeders". She was essentially asking if it was irresponsible for people to have a lot of kids in this day and age and she got a lot of comments from mothers who, of course, said they felt that it was not a concern. One of them said that she had six kids and felt that, if she didn't have a lot of kids who would put a strain on resources and therefore more resources would be available for the rest of the planet, everyone else just would consume more. This sort of attitude seems based in naivete, or willful ignorance, of the seriousness of the problems at hand.
It's pretty clear that it's reached the point where everyone is facing a serious degradation in lifestyle if the entire population does not begin contracting soon. It's not a matter of lowering lifestyles or living with less, but a matter of everyone (and I mean every single person) adopting a standard of living that many would find unacceptable and/or some people dying because there's not enough to go around and they drew the short end of the stick resources-wise. By U.S. standards, much of my current lifestyle is already unacceptable - no car, hanging laundry out to dry, no central air, limited water use, very small living space - and it'd require 2.8 planets for everyone to live at my relatively modest level.
The situation seems pretty hopeless to me because the solution clearly is going to be for no couple to have more than 2 kids for the foreseeable future, and that's not a factor I personally can do anything about. No matter how much I freeze because I question the absolute necessity of new clothes or how much time I spend showering by turning the water off and on to conserve resources or how many winters I shiver through or summers I sweat through, it's not going to be enough. About the greatest thing I can and have done for the planet is to remain childless.
So, I'm buying a sweater and some new clothes. I'm done actively suffering for the planet and debating every purchase as if I were personally responsible for every tree that is cut down and every strip mine that is dug. Though I'm still going to do the best I can not to be wasteful, I see no point in putting myself through any real hardship for a problem to which I'm powerless to control the main contributor.