Living life as a steady stater is all about making choices that meet our needs without compromising the needs of future generations. Steady staters are known for their conservation, thrift, and (at least in conscientious cases) ethics. Some might think that being a steady stater means leading a life of sacrifice and unfulfilled wants, but nothing could be farther from the truth. One’s happiness or satisfaction with life is not related to the quantity of material possessions owned, given access to basic needs and a modicum of conveniences. Throughout the world, researchers and citizens are coming to understand and appreciate this fact. It is altogether clear that people don’t need to consume resources wantonly to lead lives of fulfillment – in fact, one of the keys to a life of fulfillment is focusing attention elsewhere (e.g., social connections and relationships). This is a key idea in understanding the difference between economic development and (un)economic growth, as well as a critical piece of the sustainability puzzle.
Achieving economic sustainability is really not so complicated. It boils down to a combination of population and per capita consumption that falls within ecological limits. Sustainability requires that we work politically toward population policy reform and that we conserve in our everyday lives as consumers. Regarding population policy reform, CASSE advocates the desired macro-level control (i.e., global population at or below ecological carrying capacity) with the least sacrifice of micro-level freedom.
Regarding individual conservation of resources, the time is now to discard the label of “consumers” stuck on us by Madison Avenue and Wall Street and get back to being “citizens.” We are so much more than what we buy. Consumption and especially over-consumption have very little to with the principles upon which civil society is founded. CASSE endorses the programs of the Center for a New American Dream, which has outstanding ideas for the conscious consumer.
Leading by example and living life as a steady stater is a great individual achievement. But ultimately, sustainability will require more than responsible consumption by the average citizen. It will require social action, too. It will require us to say “No!” to the greedy, reckless, conspicuous consumers who pay no heed to our grandchildren’s prospects, much as we say “No!” to litterbugs, drunken drivers, and smokers in public places. Rather than emulating the conspicuous consumer, as many Americans do, we will need to recognize conspicuous consumption as reckless today, dangerous tomorrow, and something akin to criminal in the long run.