The Consumption Explosion

Overconsumption, not overpopulation, is the real threat to the environment. Even the recession has had little impact on our burgeoning ecological debt.

September 25, 2009 // Written by:

Andrew Simms,Victoria Johnson,Joe Smith,Susanna Mitchell

The Consumption Explosion: the third UK Interdependence Report argues that a recently revived focus on global population as an environmental issue is a critical distraction from tackling overconsumption in wealthy countries. It makes the case by looking at the dynamics of population growth and current patterns of human migration. It contends that the only effective and socially acceptable path to influence population dynamics is through eradicating poverty and reducing inequality, and that, given environmental realities, this is hard-wired to ending rich-world overconsumption. For example, one person in the United States will, by 4am in the morning of 2 January, already have been responsible for the equivalent in climate change causing carbon emissions that a Tanzanian would take a whole year to generate. A UK citizen would reach the same point by 7pm on 4 January.

With the world as a whole going ever earlier into ecological debt, the report looks at the scale of UK and other wealthy nation’s consumption, and the impact this has on setting economic role models for the rest of the world. The Consumption Explosion says that the most pressing need is to take a radically different view on the nature and quality of ‘rich-world’ consumption, in almost every area of life. Average levels of consumption, per person, in poorer countries have changed little over many decades. In rich countries, however, we are each consuming vastly more, yet with little or nothing to show for it in terms of greater life satisfaction.

The report describes the vicious circle created by the current economic system. We are faced on one hand by overconsumption, climate change and resource scarcity, and on the other by destabilising inequalities between and within countries which in turn put pressure on population growth in some of the poorest nations and increases the risk of economic, political or environmental human displacement.

Key findings in The Consumption Explosion include that:


International Development, Energy & Climate Change

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