photo by evadedave (Flickr CC)

How about a spot of good news for once?

According to environment writer and UK Green Party Candidate Chris Goodall, people in the UK probably consume fewer resources and produce less waste than at any time since records began. This means Britons are progressively using less food, fuel, goods, etc. – in short: less ‘stuff’.

The amount of stuff consumed in the UK per person, per year, began to be tallied in 1970 and consumption peaked in 2001 before it started declining. Blame 9/11, blame subsequent recessions, blame the revived Green movement, increased energy efficiency, better technology, recycling, low-flow showerheads, vegetarians, the Internet… whatever. It’s a bit of good news.

Even our intake of food is falling. Although obesity is on the rise, the total number of calories consumed by Brits has been on a downward slope for around half a century, driven by the fact that, compared with previous generations, we do less exercise now and live in warmer homes. Perhaps more remarkably, our intake of meat – the food most regularly highlighted as an environmental concern – seems to have been falling since 2003.


So a nation of lazy fat people who play video games all day and eat junk food has its plus side.

But let’s not pat ourselves too vigorously on our fat, sweaty backs. Consumption rates in the developed world are still unsustainable across the board. Remember the Story of Stuff?

Goodall’s analysis also suggests that economic growth does not necessarily mean that consumption goes up, though it may mean consumption is simply more global than local. What does that say for the ‘Green economy”?

Well, you don’t have to be an economist to know that economic theories all sound good on paper. That is they would if paper had a sound. Anyway, Green growth, or economic growth that consumes fewer resources, surely has its positive aspects. But clearly so does living more simply and distributing wealth and resources more evenly without constantly obsessing about capital.

Read more on this story in the Guardian and also check out the raw data on the UK’s consumption rates, with graphs and explanations, here.