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We are in the 1% of consumption.  Our arrogance in consuming the Earth's resources without regard to the effects of that consumption on the rest of humanity is breathtaking.  Just as in the banking sector where the bankers sense of entitlement and lack of moral constraints resulted in the ruination of millions.  The greed apparent in our individual materialism and over-consumption has created climate change which is the most serious survival issue our planet and the species who depend on it for life  have ever faced.

The Royal Society has published today a landmark report(pdf) 21-months in the making - that it says is the "first substantive offering" in its 350-year history on the topic of the "impacts of human population and consumption on the planet".

The Earth faces a century of disasters, the report warns unless rich countries cut consumption and global population stabilizes.

But the sheer number of people on earth is not as important as their inequality and how much they consume, said Jules Pretty, one of the working group of 22 who produced the report. "In material terms it will be necessary for most developed countries to abstain from certain sorts of consumption, such as CO2. You do not need to be consuming so much to have a long and healthy life. We cannot conceive of a world that is going to be as unequal as it is now. We must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than a $1.25 a day out of absolute poverty. It's critical to slow population growth in those countries which cannot keep up with services."
The Royal Society has produced this video in which its working group chair, Nobel Prize winner Sir John Sulston explains why it has published the report.
Sir John Sulston "It's the inequality, the injustice"
  In the short term it is of the utmost urgency to reduce consumption and emissions that are already causing damage, for example greenhouse gases, deforestation, and land use change amongst others. Furthermore, unless the goal is a world in which extreme inequality persists, it is necessary to make space for those in poverty, especially the 1.3 billion people living in absolute poverty, to achieve an adequate standard of living.
In our quest for even more and more material goods, unsustainable food habits and comforts we have trampled on the human rights of the greater number on our planet.  We have treated the rest of humanity as non entities whose value is only in contributing to our comfort.  We have elevated ourselves in value above other species.
Climate change represents an enormous threat to a whole host of human rights: the right to food, the right to water and sanitation, the right to development. There is therefore huge scope for human rights courts and non-judicial human rights bodies to treat climate change as the immediate threat to human rights that it is. Such bodies could therefore take government policy to task when it is too short-sighted, too unambitious, or too narrowly focused on its own constituents at the expense of those elsewhere. Fossil fuel mining, deforestation, the disturbance of carbon sinks, and the degradation of the oceans are developments that can be blocked on human rights grounds.
Mahatma Gandhi   “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed”

Originally posted to DK GreenRoots on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 07:30 AM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks, Meatless Advocates Meetup, and EcoJustice.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Royal Society has (4+ / 0-)

    a block of climate deniers that make some of ours look like petulant children. (Okay, so they often look like petulant children, anyway, but the RS anti-climate change people have some sway at the Royal Society, where the US ones do not influence the NAS very much.)

    There is a lot of manufactured controversy in the Royal Society. I am happy to see this report. I hope I'm still happy after I read it.

    Thanks bb.

    Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.
    -Kurt Vonnegut

    by rb137 on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 07:39:37 AM PDT

  •  without having read the report (6+ / 0-)

    I do agree with the premise that the developed world needs to work on itself and over-consumption just as much as population growth issues need to be addressed by some developing countries.

    I acquire less, try to be more careful than I used to be,  but still have a ways to go.   Individuals can make a difference, no one forces us to have the maximum square foot living quarters, with attendant use of electricity to heat and cool, upkeep costs, etc. we can afford, we should lower our living space carbon footprint as much as practical.   Same with our transportation and food.

    The population growth here adds more to consumption even though it is relatively small compared to growth rates in many places.  Balance for population growth, balance for what that population consumes.

    If is somewhat amazing that people will point the finger at Brazil, India, or even China while ignoring the massive consumption of resources by persons living in the US.

  •  Consumption is the key. (6+ / 0-)

    But I also am uncomfortable with the inability of many on the left to attack the problem of population.

    It is true that some of the critics of population growth are driven by ugly motives derive from malthusian, social darwinist, xenophobic, or downright racist thought.  And they conveniently leave out the issue of consumption.

    But despite that, it is naive to think that the planet can support 9 billion of us for any length of time with a decent standard of living.  

    Both consumption and population need to be addressed, but I hope that the population issue can largely sort itself out if all countries could go through the demographic transition that sustainable development could bring.

    •  excellent comment, emptythreatsfarm! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      John Crapper, Hopeful Skeptic

      I liked the way this study brought population and consumption together, i think we will see more of that in the future.

      Macca's Meatless Monday

      by VL Baker on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 08:47:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  beach babe - big challenges (5+ / 0-)

        People in the US don't want to lower their standard of living. While some are downsizing the size of their homes, driving smaller cars, taking more public transportation, and using less energy to heat and cool their homes, I wonder how much of that is from economic necessity and how much is a desire to lower consumption and a smaller carbon footprints? I think the vast majority of Americans continue to believe what George H. W. Bush said something to the effect that our standard of living isn't negotiable. He knew it was a political death wish to be a national politician advocating a lower standard of living.

        A similar challenge is present in China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies. As affluence grows a larger middle class what do they want? They want the same things as Americans larger homes, washers, dryers, air conditioning, and personal automobiles.

        "let's talk about that"

        by VClib on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 09:42:20 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  What is happening in other countries is scary. (5+ / 0-)

          I lived in Thailand for 15 years and traveled extensively in Asia.  The amount of consumptive change was astounding:  Hanoi:  when I was there everybody was on bicycles:  Now everyone is on mopeds and aspiring for more.  Bejing:  When I was there there was a dedicated freeway for bikes adjacent to the roadways.  Now I've heard it is being dismantled to make room for wider roads.   When I first arrived in Thailand there was not any McDonald's, Burger Kings, Pizza Huts, Baskin & Robbins etc.  Now you find them everywhere.  

          If we really want to straighten out all this crap we need to really think about shit!

          by John Crapper on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 10:01:29 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I don't see how we solve these problems (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          without seriously looking at over-consumption and waste.  I think one of the problems is our fascination with having brand new stuff - the latest and the greatest, with little concern for making and purchasing products that last, and minimal concern for maintaining what we own and wearing things out.  

    •  Population is more or less fixing itself. Maybe (2+ / 0-)

      not as quickly as a lot of people would like but it's happening. Consumption is really not. While people rarely want to have 20 kids, many people want to consume as much as they can.

  •  I look back in time to a long-standing (4+ / 0-)

    expert in the areas of population and consumption:

    Cairo, 5 -13 September 1994
    Weighing Relative Burdens on the Planet
    by Paul Ehrlich

    Concern about population problems among citizens of rich countries generally focuses on rapid population growth in most poor nations. But the impact of humanity on Earth's life support systems is not just determined by the number of people alive on the planet. It also depends on how those people behave. When this is considered, an entirely different picture emerges: the main population problem is in wealthy countries. There are, in fact, too many rich people.

    The amount of resources each person consumes, and the damage done by the technologies used to supply them, need to be taken as much into account as the size of the population. In theory, the three factors should be multiplied together to obtain an accurate measurement of the impact on the planet. Unhappily, governments do not keep statistics that allow the consumption and technology factors to be readily measured—so scientists substitute per capita energy consumption to give a measure of the effect each person has on the environment.


    In traditional societies—more or less in balance with their environments—that damage may be self-repairing. Wood used for fires or structures re-grows soaking up the carbon dioxide produced when it was burned. Water extracted from streams is replaced by rainfall. Soils in fields are regenerated with the help of crop residues and animal manures. Wastes are broken down and reconverted into nutrients by the decomposer organisms of natural ecosystems.

    At the other end of the spectrum, paving over fields and forests with concrete and asphalt, mining the coal and iron necessary for steel production with all its associated land degradation, and building and operating automobiles, trains and aeroplanes that spew pollutants into the atmosphere, are all energy-intensive processes. So are drilling for and transporting oil and gas, producing plastics, manufacturing chemicals (from DDT and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers to chlorofluorocarbons and laundry detergents) and building power plants and dams. Industrialized agriculture uses enormous amounts of energy—for ploughing, planting, fertilizing and controlling weeds and insect pests and for harvesting, processing, shipping, packing, storing and selling foods. So does industrialized forestry for timber and paper production.


    Incidents such as Chernobyl and oil spills are among the environmental prices paid for mobilizing commercial energy—and soil erosion, desertification, acid rain, global warming, destruction of the ozone layer and the toxification of the entire planet are among the costs of using it.

    In all, humanity's high-energy activities amount to a large-scale attack on the integrity of Earth's ecosystems and the critical services they provide. These include control of the mix of gases in the atmosphere (and thus of the climate); running of the hydrologic cycle which brings us dependable flows of fresh water; generation and maintenance of fertile soils; disposal of wastes; recycling of the nutrients essential to agriculture and forestry; control of the vast majority of potential crop pests; pollination of many crops; provision of food from the sea; and maintenance of a vast genetic library from which humanity has already withdrawn the very basis of civilization in the form of crops and domestic animals.


    The average rich-nation citizen used 7.4 kilowatts (kW) of energy in 1990—a continuous flow of energy equivalent to that powering 74 100-watt light bulbs. The average citizen of a poor nation, by contrast, used only 1 kW. There were 1.2 billion people in the rich nations, so their total environmental impact, as measured by energy use, was 1.2 billion x 7.4 kW, or 8.9 terawatts (TW)—8.9 trillion watts. Some 4.1 billion people lived in poor nations in 1990, hence their total impact (at 1 kW a head) was 4.1 TW.

    The relatively small population of rich people therefore accounts for roughly two-thirds of global environmental destruction, as measured by energy use. From this perspective, the most important population problem is overpopulation in the industrialized nations.

    The United States poses the most serious threat of all to human life support systems. It has a gigantic population, the third largest on Earth, more than a quarter of a billion people. Americans are superconsumers, and use inefficient technologies to feed their appetites. Each, on average, uses 11 kW of energy, twice as much as the average Japanese, more than three times as much as the average Spaniard, and over 100 times as much as an average Bangladeshi. Clearly, achieving an average family size of 1.5 children in the United States (which would still be larger than the 1.3 child average in Spain) would benefit the world much more than a similar success in Bangladesh.

    If we really want to straighten out all this crap we need to really think about shit!

    by John Crapper on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 08:54:04 AM PDT

  •  Excellent diary and comments! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Paraphrasing Sir John in the video:

    GDP does not consider "costings" of natural capital.
    We must insist upon the use of alternate metrics of societal progress in policy-making. Examples include:

    Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare

    Genuine Progress Indicator

    We live in a closed system - there is no "free-lunch." Traditional measures of economic output and consumption neglect to consider this fact.

    The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question. For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question. -- P. Drucker

    by The Angry Architect on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 01:46:47 PM PDT

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