Human civilisation would “collapse” and efforts to tackle global warming will fail unless the world curbs its culture of greed and excessive consumerism, a report has warned.
The world’s population is burning through the planet’s resources at such a reckless rate – about 28 per cent more last year – it will eventually cause environmental havoc, said the Worldwatch Institute, a US think-tank.
In its annual State of the World 2010 report, it warned any gains from government action on climate change could be wiped out by the cult of consumption and greed unless changes in our lifestyle were made.
Consumerism had become a “powerful driver” for increasing demand for resources and consequent production of waste, with governments, including the British, too readily wanting to promoted it as necessary for job creation and economic well-being.
More than £2.8 trillion of stimulus packages had been poured into economies to pull the world out of the global recession, it found, with only a small amount into green measures.
But the think tank warned that without a “wholesale transformation” of cultural patterns the world would not be able to “prevent the collapse of human civilisation”.
The think tank found that over the past decade consumption of goods and services had risen by 28 per cent to $30.5 trillion (£19bn) – with the world digging up the equivalent of 112 Empire State Buildings of material every day.
The average American consumes more than his or her weight in products each day, many US two year-olds can recognise the McDonald’s “Golden Archers” sign, although they cannot read the letter, and an average western family spends more on their pet than by someone trying to live in Bangladesh.
A cultural shift from consumption to valuing sustainable living was needed because government targets and new technology were not enough to rescue humanity from ecological and social threats.
Consumerism it said had “taken root in culture upon culture over the past half-century … (and) become a powerful driver of the inexorable increase in demand for resources and production of waste that marks our age”.
Erik Assadourian, the institute’s project director, said it was “no longer enough to change our light bulbs, we must change our very cultures”.
At current consumption rates, 200 square metres of solar panels a second and 24 wind turbines every hour were needed to be built to satisfy energy levels.
The think tank said it was not just the United States that was guilty of a culture of excess with other developing countries such as Brazil, India and China adopting greed as a success symbol.
China, one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emissions producers, recently overtook the US as the world’s top car market.
“More than 6.8 billion human beings are now demanding ever greater quantities of material resources, decimating the world’s richest ecosystems, and dumping billions of tons of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere each year,” the report said.
This number will only increase as people in the developing world aspire towards a Western-styled consumer lifestyle.
Mr Assadourian added: “Until we recognise that our environmental problems, from climate change to deforestation to species loss, are driven by unsustainable habits, we will not be able to solve the ecological crises that threaten to wash over civilisation.
“We’ve seen some encouraging efforts to combat the world’s climate crisis in the past few years.
“But making policy and technology changes while keeping cultures centred on consumerism and growth can only go so far.”
He said such measures such as banning incandescent light bulbs and steering children away from consumerism through toy libraries would help.