The Price of Excess

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A definition of excess might be stated as ‘more than or above what is necessary’.  Therefore, anything that is above and beyond what is truly necessary to keep a person alive might be considered living beyond ones required needs.  How many of us are guilty of living beyond our required needs?  What percentage of the earth’s population would have to raise their hand?  I don’t know the exact percentage but I know that it is over half and we are all beginning to pay the price.  The innocent, along with the guilty.

The burden of guilt lies with all citizens who enjoy a ‘western lifestyle’ (a short hand phrase that depicts a life of relative ease and affluence).  All aspects of the western lifestyle are characterized by “more than or above what is necessary.” This includes our choices in recreation, clothing and the consumption of goods.

Man has 3 basic needs to sustain him: food, clothing and shelter.  All the rest (the wants) add to the comfort and enjoyment of life, i.e. education, religion, and the arts.   I think at one time the needs and wants may have been in balance but in all western societies the wants far outstretch the needs.

I am made slightly nauseous by the excess I see on a daily basis.  Huge gas guzzling SUV’s with one person in them.  Houses, the size of castles, that provide shelter for, on the average, one to four persons and sit empty most of the day.  And every where you look, food, food and more food.   The constant message is to eat and unfortunately the encouragement is to eat a diet that, in the long run, is almost guaranteed to make you sick and will most likely kill you.

Obesity is epidemic in western societies and has taxed the health care systems almost to the breaking point.  Everyone you talk to either has, or knows of some one who has cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, emphysema, or some other malady brought on by our ‘western’ diet.

A few years ago I visited the island of Zanzibar.  I was struck by the simplicity of the life style.  The people seemed to have little compared to what we in the west take for granted and yet seemed far happier for it.  I found myself reflecting upon how freeing it would be to live in shorts and flip flops and to reside in a small thatched-roofed hut.

One day we were out walking with our guide in a Mangrove swamp.  As we strolled along the boardwalk looking at the birds and various monkey species, we happened upon a coconut that had fallen from the overhead palm fronds.  With glee our guide snatched it up and stated that it would do for his lunch and would save him the cost of having to purchase it from the market. How wonderful to get such enjoyment out of the simple find of a coconut.

The evidence of our excess and the toll it is taking on the earth is everywhere.  The amount of arable land buried under concrete.  The expansion of all the worlds deserts.  The melting of the polar ice caps.  The daily extinction of yet another animal species. The holes in the ozone layer.  The destruction of the seas by the oil spills, the vast islands of garbage and over fishing.

I will be the first to admit I am no less guilty of leaving a larger carbon foot print than I need and am entitled to.  The carbon footprint refers to “the estimated emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHGs associated with a particular activity (e.g. a plane trip), use of your car, your family’s overall lifestyle, or use of a particular product or service.”

More and more people are becoming aware of the need to change their lifestyle in order to be kinder to the earth.  Increasingly there is the knowledge that we have dug ourselves into a huge hole and we are not sure of the way out or if even if there is a way out.

Does the answer lie with the earth itself?  Are we going to go the way of the dinosaurs only after a much shorter reign?  If we do not manage to make some changes and make them soon I feel that we will get our answer sooner rather than later.

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15 комментариев на «The Price of Excess»

  1. Dima22 говорит:

    Hi, Sheila!

    Really nice post but I would disagree with some of mentioned points. First of all you should be well educated person to make such considerations and judgments . As a result you can evaluate progress, compare different life styles and estimate your excess. And thus you can take your own decision and be responsible for it. It is all about freedom of choice.

    I would bet that guy from Zanzibar doesn’t have possibilities to choose. His life is not ‘freeing’ but rather boring and ‘optionless’.

    Also I don’t think you are guilty for being educated and it is not waste of CO2. It is your choice and now you can protect environment and reduce CO2 in different ways like promoting lifestyle, creating new technologies, etc. As a result earth became better place to live.

    I would definitely agree that ‘huge gas guzzling SUV’s with one person in them’ is something outstanding. But from the other hand it is real freedom to afford what you want even if it is excess… And most probably guy in the car is not educated well and thus hasn’t a chance to use his part of CO2 allocated for education. Or he is a boss of the company that needs access to the mountains \ country side to research CO2 pollution?

    How we could evaluate what is real excess — that is a question!?

    Thanks for your kind post and sharing you thoughts. You have really interesting way of thoughts.

    Kind Regards,

  2. Serg говорит:

    I should say that «huge gas guzzling SUV’s with one person in them…. Houses, the size of castles …» and junk food consuming is more a north american lifestyle than a ‘western lifestyle’. 🙂

    And it’s nice to see that north americans are starting to understand (a «few» years later than the europeans) the negative impact of all that «stuff» on them and on the environment.

  3. Regina_BC говорит:

    But from the other hand it is real freedom to afford what you want even if it is excess
    Unfortunately, another problem for the driver of that truck is that he bought «an excess» not because he has plenty of money but rather because «its’ cool and showy» to have it. In most cases those owners pay more than they actually can afford.

  4. Regina_BC говорит:

    Conserning dinosaurs.. yes, they vanished but crocodiles survived. Human life is too short to be sure that there have never been the same global warmings in the history of nature for which now we blame exclusively ourselves. And therefore I am not sure at all that for the Earth it is not an absolutely natural process.

  5. Eduard говорит:

    Hi Sheila,
    First of all, thank you for your interesting point. Meanwhile, I don’t agree with some of your statement.
    About «Houses, the size of castles»….just try to live in the small, one bedroom apartment, where toilet and shower are united or where is only one small window for whole room. After that you will eager to want for living not in the castle perhaps but definitely to live in a large, comfortable house 🙂
    Further, I would have to say that we should have a freedom for choosing our style of life but at the same time, human being ought to think about next generation by resrict of itself consumption

  6. Regina_BC говорит:

    Excuse me, but Sheila was not talking about Soviet n-1 room apartments (where n — is a number of family members). I see what she is talking about. She is talking , again, about the houses which were bought for «show» . I myself know a person who lives with her husband in a house suitable for five. They are struggling with thier budget but could not understand that you cannot have everything and you have to adjust your wishes with your reality if you want to live a balanced life.

  7. Herkunft говорит:

    Yes. Unfortunately, the lifestyle of most human beings (including mine) is much like that of parasites on this planet. «Nothing green…» Remember a quote of a character from Avatar movie? 🙂

  8. Regina_BC говорит:

    Remember a quote of a character from Avatar movie?
    No, I do not remember.
    I have not watched it yet. :)))))))))

  9. Igor Smollett говорит:

    It smells of the socialism or communism. All deprive and divide and everybody are equal. We had eating this dish. I don’t want to anymore. No communism in Canada!

  10. Regina_BC говорит:

    It smells of the socialism or communism. All deprive and divide and everybody are equal
    Where did you get it?!!!??? Nobody said anything like THAT. Nobody !!!

  11. Стас говорит:

    Yep, after a quite traumatic experience of renting out a two-room (not bedroom) apartment for 5 people — because rent is expensive — and other hardships of living in Soviet and post-Soviet states, where the life was really as simple as it could be — when almost everyone had to grow his own potatoes on a remote field to feel secure and able to survive the winter — I don’t think I’m willing to downsize at this point.

    The show, castle-like homes are not a bad idea, just let authorities tax them through the roof, as well as tax the excess consumption of resources.

    There’s a huge room to improve collection of information about resource consumption, and Canadian government has always been very cautious about letting corporation to consume resources — compared to its neighbor powers of course. So, why not spend a few billions of dollars on improving usage of natural resources, including taxation for resource spending, get economy boosted and lead the world’s effort in ecological awareness from technical and managerial perspective. Such investment in both ecology and technology will most certainly pay off.

  12. Стас говорит:


    Avatar quote is great, and ironically only Western powers have well-developed democracies that are able to withstand corporations and protect the environment (especially state-sponsored private enterprises making huge profits on exploitation of national resources for the party leaders and narrow privileged circle). China and post-Soviet Russia have no option to protect their environment, so they’re doomed countries (well, Russia has too much remote regions where ecological systems can be easily destroyed).

    Hopefully, Brazil will succeed in adopting the western political democracy though.

    I think that there can easily be almost no green spot in Eastern hemisphere, except for Europe and some remote regions in Siberia soon. So, environmentalists may need to unite already and protect what they can really protect — that is, ecosystems in both Americas and Australia/NZ.

  13. Yury M. говорит:

    Sheila, thank you for the interesting topic and you point of view. I may be wrong, but I assume that one of the root of all our problems is mix of human’s greed and fear.

    Because of our nature, many people think only after they did. They need more and more, because there are lots of fascinating and superb doodads around us… they call us «buy, buy, buy… earn more, spend much more you earn, no savings, life is short…» — all that is just fuel our greed. And fear — fear of not being fashionable, modern, old-minded…fear of losing all our doodads is constantly expanding our greed… and again, from the word «go»…

    Doodads are more in life than relationship, people, health, enviroment, our families, education, charity… I know it is known that we all need the comfort, save and interesting life, but… what’s the price?

  14. Alex Sh говорит:

    How many of us are guilty of living beyond our required needs? What percentage of the earth’s population would have to raise their hand?

    Here are some approx. percentages:



  15. Ampacity Diagram говорит:

    I might disagree. I love «amercian-canadian» lifestyle. It’s a choice of freedom and independence. If you can afford things in your life — why not to have them! We live once — let’s enjoy our accomplishments. You work hard — you play hard. Do we all want a big house? Yes! Do we all want to have high grad and 120k a year? Yes! Do we all want to have big SUV for our family to enjoy and travel?? Yes and Yes!

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