Consuming the earth

9th November 2011

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  • Business & Industry ,
  • Ecodesign ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • Natural resources



After the world's population hits seven billion, Paul Suff calls on governments to take action to improve the sustainability of global consumption patterns

There are now more than seven billion humans on this planet and the UN forecasts the number will reach 9.3 billion by 2050. Can the world’s ecosystems and resources support so many? Not if existing consumption patterns continue.

Humans are currently consuming resources and polluting the planet at a level 40% higher than the earth can renew or absorb. And although the fastest-growing populations are in China, India and other developing countries, it is people in the developed world, where population growth is near zero, who consume the majority of the earth’s resources and create the most pollution.

The average daily water consumption of someone living in the Indian city of Mumbai is 90 litres – on a per capita basis. The equivalent figure for someone in New York is 607 litres. According to the One Planet Living initiative, if all seven billion of us consumed as much as the average North American we would need five planets.

Obviously, current consumption patterns are unsustainable. Pressure on resources will increase exponentially as living standards in China and other fast-developing countries rise, bringing with it higher levels of consumption.

We already know that China is building the equivalent of two power stations every week, and its carbon footprint is soaring – up 9% last year, while the US saw a 1.4% rise in its CO2 emissions.

The economic recession will have seen consumption plummet in many countries, so at the moment we are using far fewer resources than before the financial crash of 2008. An economic upturn is likely to signal a return to pre-recession, unsustainable consumption levels unless action is taken to create a new model.

Recovery from the worst economic downturn since the 1930s provides an opportunity to create an economy that is less wasteful and makes more efficient use of resources.

Policy tools that properly reflect the true value of our natural resources, and measures to raise awareness among consumers about the environmental consequences of their consumption choices, are the only way to ensure the planet can continue to support its burgeoning population.

Do you agree? Why not start a discussion in the IEMA LinkedIn Group and have your say?


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