I’m confused. These days I hear two conflicting messages. Environmentalists say “consume less” to save our planet, while governments say “consume more” to save our jobs.

Sometime in January, I met a BBC documentary filmmaker who has partnered with Sir David Attenborough on raising awareness on climate change. I asked him about these conflicting messages. I suggested an alternative in “consume right”. I found his response quite weak and vague – something about Obama committing to research on renewable energy and UK planning laws being very strict. The inconvenient truth seems to be, that other than “consume more”, governments, economists and environmentalists have thought of no other solution to the present global economic crisis.

Instead – what if we were to “consume right”? That is, buy what you need rather than what you want. In other words do I need dozens of pairs of shoes or do I want dozens of pairs of shoes? Consume right – is something the West consistently fails to do. I remember when visiting the UK, restaurants would serve jam for breakfast, in pretty little jars, brand new and sealed. I presume any leftover jam and the bottles were emptied into a dustbin, to be later collected and disposed off in a landfill somewhere faraway. I can only guess at the reasons for what I thought was appalling waste and excess.

I find that western environmentalists prefer to soft peddle rather than confront their audiences on the hard truths of western consumerism. The trend in recent times has been to lecture India and China for their poor record on environment issues. For example, some years ago, I watched a BBC documentary film on the rising number of domestic air travelers in India. What the statistics failed to mention was that this was the same number as in the UK, which is a fraction of India in terms of population and geographical area. And yet, I must also acknowledge that post-economic reforms, the Indian middle class abandoned its tradition of thrift and embraced conspicuous consumption with a vengeance.