Simple Living

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established in 1988 by the United Nations Environmental Programme, is now the world's foremost body providing leadership on climate change. Since 1990, the panel has published three assessment reports, all considered as among the most authoritative sources for the latest climate-changing findings, widely used to encourage international consensus and to guide global policy actions. Recently, the panel published its fourth assessment report.

This latest report mentions adjustments in individual lifestyles as a significant mitigating factor: "Changes in lifestyles and consumption patterns that emphasize resource conservation can contribute to developing a low-carbon economy that is both equitable and sustainable." An official of Greenpeace, Shailendra Yashwant, offered this report summary: "It's a strong message sent to the citizens of the United States and Europe to reassess their personal carbon footprint and help the rest of the world to achieve a common goal."

According to the World Wildlife Fund, an average U.S. citizen requires 10 hectares of the planet (approximately 2.5 acres) to support his/her lifestyle, while an average European needs over 5 hectares (1.2 acres). By contrast, an average person in Africa draws on about 1 hectare (1/4 acre) of the earth's resources to live.

A recent issue of TIME magazine dramatically illustrated this in a series of photos connected with a health report on appetite and diet. Each photo presented a family portrait together with their food consumption for one week. A Japanese family sits amid an array of packaged noodles, some fresh vegetables and a ginger root, some meat cuts and a bottle of soy sauce; their weekly total food expenditure is $317.25. A second photo shows a U.S. family surrounded by pizza deliveries, potato chips and bacon packages, some fresh fruit and vegetables; their weekly food cost is $341.98. A third photo shows a Sudanese family sitting before their refugee camp tent with several sacks of unmilled sorghum, a tiny meat portion, fish and two eggs, a small serving of nuts and some vegetables; the entire week's outlay costs $1.23.

A low-carbon economy for addressing the issues of climate change isn't just about policies of government and industry. It's also about personal choice and lifestyle. This has been labeled the "non-technical option." With 5% of the world's population, the United States uses at least 40% of the world's resources. Simpler living is a moral imperative.

The Catholic spiritual tradition has consistently told us that lifestyle changes to reduce our resource consumption do not lead to deprivation. "Simple living," says Native American retreat leader and Franciscan Sr. Jose Hobday, "is about freedom : a freedom to choose open and generous living rather than a secure and sheltered way... Simple living is about moving through life rather lightly, delighting in the plain and the subtle."

The Simple Living Network offers tools, examples and contacts for conscious, simple, healthy and restorative living at

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