Consumption and the Environment

Commerce and society's consuming lifestyles the big natural spoiler.

Consumption: damage, destruction, exhaustion, loss, ruin, waste.
Interesting, synonyms for today's popular social occupation of consuming.

When we read about environmental deterioration and the protective remedies required, the solutions most talked about understate the most important fact. Sure we need to protect our resources, buy energy efficient products, reduce waste and pollution and there are hundreds of ways to do so. These requirements which we have finally begun working on more seriously are increasingly well discussed.

But lifestyles of consumerism have given so many of us in the richer countries that feeling of 'prosperity' without due consideration of the overall effects. Marketing has been the engine, with business and shareholder profits the purpose. Half the world has been unnecessarily over consuming, leading us down the path to destroying our planet.

It's what has made the economic system work so well financially, for so long. The system has not done so well with improving social values, family life and world poverty.

Consumption excesses.
There are currently many ideas and initiatives to slow the environmental damage but that will not be enough. A dramatic social change will be required to make the largest impact in halting and reversing this downward spiral. A change to simpler, valued lifestyles of consuming less, which so many have left behind, is looming. By choice or by result.

Through decades of steady corporate enticements, the consuming 'haves' of the world are consuming just too much, and looking forward to acquiring yet more. More gadgets, cars, homes, autos, clothes; and bigger and better each time.

Where is 'enough' in this picture?

The status quo social structure depends on maintaining this commerce-consume routine. It is solidly established and moving onward. Advertising is the tool - the go between connecting business and citizen. We should be very concerned about how we have been programmed and how our lives have been affected.

As world trade expands and the poorer nations seek a better and more humane existence some false concerns may arise. It's not simply a result of too many people on the planet.

Consumption dwarfs population as main environmental threat.
It’s the great taboo, I hear many environmentalists say. Population growth is the driving force behind our wrecking of the planet, but we are afraid to discuss it.

It sounds like a no-brainer. More people must inevitably be bad for the environment, taking more resources and causing more pollution, driving the planet ever farther beyond its carrying capacity. But hold on. This is a terribly convenient argument - “over-consumers” in rich countries can blame “over-breeders” in distant lands for the state of the planet. But what are the facts?

The world’s population quadrupled to six billion people during the 20th century. It is still rising and may reach 9 billion by 2050. Yet for at least the past century, rising per-capita incomes have outstripped the rising head count several times over. And while incomes don’t translate precisely into increased resource use and pollution, the correlation is distressingly strong.

Moreover, most of the extra consumption has been in rich countries that have long since given up adding substantial numbers to their population.

By almost any measure, a small proportion of the world’s people take the majority of the world’s resources and produce the majority of its pollution. Take carbon dioxide emissions - a measure of our impact on climate but also a surrogate for fossil fuel consumption. Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environment Institute, calculates that the world’s richest half-billion people - that’s about 7 per cent of the global population - are responsible for 50 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the poorest 50 per cent are responsible for just 7 per cent of emissions.
. . .
comparisons between nations are firm enough to be useful.

They show that sustaining the lifestyle of the average American takes 9.5 hectares, while Australians and Canadians require 7.8 and 7.1 hectares respectively; Britons, 5.3 hectares; Germans, 4.2; and the Japanese, 4.9. The world average is 2.7 hectares. China is still below that figure at 2.1, while India and most of Africa (where the majority of future world population growth will take place) are at or below 1.0.

The United States always gets singled out. But for good reason: It is the world’s largest consumer. Americans take the greatest share of most of the world’s major commodities: corn, coffee, copper, lead, zinc, aluminum, rubber, oil seeds, oil, and natural gas. For many others, Americans are the largest per-capita consumers. In “super-size-me” land, Americans gobble up more than 120kg of meat a year per person, compared to just 6kg in India, for instance.
Read this Online Opinion article by Fred Pearce.

The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. It exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.

From the other side of the globe from here: India Environmental Portal
A very interesting site by the Centre for Science and Environment. It has a wide variety of environment articles and resources on pollution, forests, industry, water, climate, energy and more.

Related consuming articles on this blog
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