U-M professor confronts America's over-consumption

December 19, 2002

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---As consumerism reaches its annual peak, a University of Michigan professor is speaking out, not just about American's overindulgence in shopping sprees during the holidays but also about our over-consumption of global resources in general.

"Consumption is the forbidden topic in the mainstream political debate," said Prof. Thomas Princen of the School of Natural Resources and Environment. "The presumption---which is never questioned---is that you can never have too much of it. The only exception is obesity and drug abuse---logical extensions of over-consumption."

Princen, along with co-editors Michael Maniates of Allegheny College and Ken Conca of the University of Maryland, has put together a compelling series of articles on consumption and various ways to confront it in a book titled "Confronting Consumption." Following are a few topics that Princen would be available to address.

--History of consumerism and our consumption-driven economy. "The whole idea of a consumption-driven economy is only about a hundred years old," Princen said. "For much of U.S. history, until roughly the end of the 19th century, under-production was the big problem. Then we suddenly had plenty of production capacity. To become an industrial power, the problem then became, how do we stimulate purchase of all the output? If people were thrifty and frugal, as they had been for generations, there wouldn't be enough demand to drive the production that would make the country great."

--What is the impact of consumerism on planetary resources? "It's easy to disparage binge shopping and driving SUVs. It's harder---and more important---to uncover how everyday consumption decisions drive resource depletion, and why it is so difficult to make responsible consumer decisions in today's globalized economy, Princen said."

--Why won't anyone talk about consumption? "Over-consumption is on the table at a grass-roots level. People are deeply concerned about their own and our country's 'overeating' problem when it comes to natural resources," Princen said. "Whenever I raise the topic it immediately resonates with all kinds of audiences. But then there's a disconnect---the same person you're talking to at the party tonight may go out and drive a hundred miles for pleasure or demand that ample parking be available at his or her workplace."
Contact Princen at 734-647-9227 or via email at tprincen@umich.edu. Email is preferred over the holidays. More information about the School of Natural Resources and Environment is available at www.snre.umich.edu.

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