Monday, February 22, 2010

environmental ills? it's consumerism stupid!

Scientific American | Two typical German shepherds kept as pets in Europe or the U.S. consume more in a year than the average person living in Bangladesh, according to research by sustainability experts Brenda and Robert Vale of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. So are the world's environmental ills really a result of the burgeoning number of humans on the planet—predicted to reach at least nine billion people by 2050? Or is it more due to the fact that although the human population has doubled in the past 50 years, we have increased our use of resources fourfold?

After all, the roughly 40,000 attendees of the recent climate conference in Copenhagen produced more greenhouse gas emissions in just two weeks than 600,000 Ethiopians produce in a year. In fact, the world's richest 500 million people produce 50 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions compared to the 6 percent produced by the world's poorest 3 billion—Americans alone use up 88 kilograms of stuff (such as food and water but also plastics, metals and other things) per day, or roughly one me, day in and day out.

As simply put by the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005: "Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet's ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted."

And consumerism isn't even delivering on its own promise—a better life. "Not only is consumer culture causing unprecedented environmental havoc, it is in many cases not delivering the well-being for human beings it is supposed to," argued Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute during a press conference last week to release its new State of the World report, "Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability." "The kinds of changes in policy discussed at Copenhagen are also critical and, in fact, will go hand in hand with a cultural shift [from consumerism to sustainability.]" Fist tap Arnach.