New Internationalist

The Facts

June 1986

new internationalist
issue 160 - June 1986

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Time for change
Life-styles - what we eat, the work we do, how we travel and spend our free time - matter. They affect the quality of the air we breathe, our chances of good health and what happens to the other people and animals with whom we share this planet. The following facts illustrate some of the problems associated with conventional life-styles - and some of the alternatives.

Time for change

The quality of life

  • 3 out of 4 Norwegians believe that the standard of living in Norway is too high. They would prefer a quieter, simpler life and only basic necessities, rather than higher incomes and the stresses that these involve.

  • More than 80% of those questioned thought that further economic growth would mean more materialism, more unnececessary goods, more stress and more danger to health at work, more pollution and a more inhuman environment.

  • 92% of Americans questioned in a Harris poll didn't want new clothes every year and 73% were willing to use old clothes until they wore out.

  • About 15 million North Americans believe in 'voluntary simplicity'. If the movement towards adopting frugal life-styles continues to grow at its present rate, 92 million people will be involved by the year 2000.

The problems

Comparing wages paid in differnet countries doesn't tell us how much people can afford. However, once we look at what people can buy with their wages, the injustices of pay differences becomes clear.

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  • 12 minutes' work in the US will buy a frugal meal.
  • It takes 2 hours 7 minutes' work in India to buy a similar meal.
  • 1 hour's work in Sri Lanka buys 1 quarter kilo of rice.
  • 4 hours' work in Recife (Brazil) buys half a kilo of manioc flour.

People in the industrialized parts of the world often find work stressful, alienating and damaging to their health.

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  • A study in the US found that 91% of patients with heart disease had a history of experiencing great stress at work. Their disease was caused by this strain.

  • Shift-workers suffer from 40% more nervous disorders, 36% more stomach ulcers and 81% more stress-related illnesses than day workers.

Housewives' and factory workers' experience of work11
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The solutions 

Co-operatives allow people greater control over their work by allowing them to have a say in how much gets done, when and for whom. The control of the work process rests in the hands of those intimately involved with it.

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  • A co-op is a business owned and controlled by its workforce. Decisions are taken on the basis of one person, one vote.

  • There was 156.6% increase in the number of co-operatives in London between 1983 and 1985.

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The next meal - and where it comes from

Contrary to what many people believe, the poor world feeds the rich world: food imports by the rich world exceed exports.

Food trade as percentage of world total. 20
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Meat consumption is increasing in rich and poor countries alike.
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But, despite the world-wide increase in meat-eating, 30% more Britons are eating less meat, or none at all, compared to this time last year.22 One in 19 of the UK population are avoiding meat in their diets.23

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The costs of keeping on the move
  • In a year, over 52,000 people in the US died from traffic accidents, more than 11,000 died in Japan, over 6,500 were killed in Thailand and over 4,000 in the UK.

  • 70% of all pollutants in urban areas come from vehicle exhausts.

  • 12% of lung-cancer deaths can be ascribed to air pollution.

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After fare subsides were increased in London between 1982 and 1984:

  • Subway usage increased by 44%

  • Bus usage went up by 13%

  • Peak-time car commuting went down by 12%18

As a result of encouraging cycling in the Netherlands,
people now use their bicycles for

  • 26% of all journeys to work

  • 29% of all shopping trips

  • 17% of all social trips

1 Dammann, E. The Future In OurHands, 1979.
2 Ibid.
3 Trainer, F.E. Abendon Affluence, Zed Books 1985.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Education Supplement: Habitat (Aust.) 1975.
8 Hartmann, B and Boyce, J. Needless Hunger, Inst. for Food and Development Policy, 1979.
9 Bosquet M. Capitalism and Crisis in Everyday Lit., Harvester Press 1977.
10 Kinnersly, P The Hazards at Work How to Fight Them, Pluto Press 1973.
11 Oakley, A Housewife PelIcan 1974.
12 Taylor, A Workers Co- operatives, 1983 and Co-op Advisory Group Survey, 1983. NB Turnover projectiore assume average growth rate of 10%
13 Greater London Enterprise Board, A Strategy for Co-operation 1988.
14 WHO Statistics Annual, 1983
15 McCormick, J. The User's Guide to the Environment Kogan Page 1985.
16 Friend of the Earth, UK
17 Jane's Urban Transport Systems 1955.
18 Friends of the Earth, UK
19 Ibid.
20 UNCTAD, Handbook of International Trade and Development Statistics, 1979.
21 Food and Agriculture Organization.
22 Galup Poll comissioned by the 'Realeat Company', 1985.
23 Ibid.
24 Ibid.

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This feature was published in the June 1986 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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