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Climate and Consumption Crisis, How did we get here?

It takes the earth over a year and a half to regenerate the resources we use and absorb the waste we produce each year.

This is mostly down to:
Higher levels of consumption and production – We have consumed more resources in the last 50 years than the whole of humanity before us. That’s right… We use more water, burn more fossil fuels and demand more food than ever before. And levels keep growing.

More people on the planet – means more demand for the planet’s resources. The earth’s population has grown exponentially. This means the 20th century saw the biggest increase in the world’s population in human history.

“But isn’t the population in my country decreasing?” I hear you say.

That may be the case but it’s not quite as simple as that. Patterns of consumption are very high in some parts of the world, and very low in others – often countries with higher population growth. The basic needs of huge numbers of people are not being met. Research suggests that some of the countries with the fastest population growth also had the slowest increases in carbon emissions. However, in these low income countries, despite a small carbon footprint per person population has been more than tripled in the last 100 years. The reverse was also true—for example the population of North America grew only 4% between 1980 and 2005, while its carbon emissions grew by 14%. In general terms richer countries, even though they have lower population growth, tend to have higher ecological footprints – they have higher levels of industrial activity to meet consumption demands. In fact, in 

“So how can we achieve economic growth for everyone if this is likely to lead to more resource demand? Surely this is unsustainable?” I hear you say 

And again, it’s not quite that simple (is it ever?). As countries grow in wealth, they tend to improve technology to make more efficient ways of producing, or outsource production to other countries, leading to a reduction in growth of ecological footprint. Yay! 

However, they are outsourcing to countries that are industrialising at a rapid rate due to internal consumption demands as well as production demands from those richer countries. This is where we need to watch out and keep a check on our demand for resources globally. We live in a world where no actions are isolated. Richer countries can rely on resource and/or waste-intensive imports being produced in poorer countries and enjoy the products without having to deal with the immediate impacts of the factories or pollution that went into creating them. But we know that global increases carbon emissions result in environmental effects that affect us all. 

In short

  • Population growth tends to decrease with increased access to economic opportunity, healthcare and education – the kind of things the SDGs try to achieve. A decrease in population will help to balance out those weighing scales above. 
  • Reducing consumption and demand for resources, especially from the most resource guzzling parts of the globe, will also balance out those scales.  

Empowering women and girls is consistent with the SDGs and not only leads to greater equality but, according to World Bank statistics, stabilises growth population. If every second family has on average one child less, there will be one billion fewer of us in the world than the 9.7 billion that the UN expects by 2050 – and four billion fewer by the end of the century. Reducing family size at this rate has long term benefits that include halving our impact on the planet by 2100. 

The carbon Footprint makes up 60% of humanity’s Ecological Footprint. Reducing the carbon component of humanity’s Ecological Footprint by 50% would get us from consuming the resources of 1.7 Earths down to 1.2 Earths. 

Both goals are reachable.

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