Prabhupada, Life Member House Lecture, Hyderabad, April 14, 1975: “So our Krishna consciousness movement is trying to save people from the hog civilization or dog civilization to human civilization. Human civilization means plain living and advancing in spiritual consciousness, not to increase unnecessarily artificial way of life.”
The World Watch Institute: State of the World 2010
“If we continue to think of ourselves mostly as consumers, it’s going to be very hard to bring our environmental troubles under control. But it’s also going to be very hard to live the rounded and joyful lives that could be ours. This is a subversive volume in all the best ways!”
—Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy and The End of Nature
“This year’s State of the World report is a cultural mindbomb exploding with devastating force. I hope it wakes a few people up.”
—Kalle Lasn, Editor of Adbusters magazine
In 2006, people around the world spent $30.5 trillion on goods and services (in 2008 dollars). These expenditures included basic necessities like food and shelter, but as discretionary incomes rose, people spent more on consumer goods—from richer foods and larger homes to televisions, cars, computers, and air travel. In 2008 alone, people around the world purchased
68 million vehicles, 85 million refrigerators, 297 million computers, and 1.2 billion mobile (cell) phones.
Consumption has grown dramatically over the past five decades, up 28 percent from the $23.9 trillion spent in 1996 and up sixfold
from the $4.9 trillion spent in 1960 (in 2008 dollars). Some of this increase comes from the growth in population, but human numbers only grew by a factor of 2.2 between 1960 and 2006. Thus consumption expenditures per person still almost tripled. As consumption has risen, more fossil fuels, minerals, and metals have been mined from the earth, more trees have been cut down, and more land has been plowed to grow food (often to feed livestock as people at higher income levels started to eat more meat).
Between 1950 and 2005, for example, metals production grew sixfold, oil consumption eightfold, and natural gas consumption 14-fold. In total, 60 billion tons of resources are now extracted annually—about 50 percent more than just 30 years ago. Today, the average European uses 43 kilograms of resources daily, and the average American uses 88 kilograms.
All in all, the world extracts the equivalent of 112 Empire State Buildings from the earth every single day.
The exploitation of these resources to maintain ever higher levels of consumption has put increasing pressure on Earth’s systems and in the process has dramatically disrupted the ecological systems on which humanity and countless other species depend.
The Ecological Footprint Indicator, which compares humanity’s ecological impact with the amount of productive land and sea area available to supply key ecosystem services, shows that humanity now uses the resources and services of 1.3 Earths. (See Figure 1.) In other words, people are using about a third
more of Earth’s capacity than is available, undermining the resilience of the very ecosystems on which humanity depends.5
In 2005 theMillennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), a comprehensive review of scientific research that involved 1,360 experts from 95 countries, reinforced these findings. It found that some 60 percent of ecosystem services— climate regulation, the provision of fresh water, waste treatment, food from fisheries, and many other services—were being degraded or used unsustainably. The findings were so unsettling that the MA Board warned that “human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.”
The shifts in one particular ecosystem service—climate regulation—are especially disturbing.
After remaining at stable levels for the past 1,000 years at about 280 parts per million, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) are now at 385 parts per million, driven by a growing human population consuming ever more fossil fuels, eating more meat, and converting more land to agriculture and urban areas. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that climate change due to human activities is causing major disruptions in Earth’s systems. If greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed, disastrous changes will occur in the next century.
A May 2009 study that used the Integrated Global Systems Model of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that unless significant action is taken soon, median temperature increases would be 5.1 degrees Celsius by 2100, more than twice as much as the model had projected in 2003. A September 2009 study reinforced that finding, stating that business as usual would lead to a 4.5 degree Celsius increase by 2100, and that even if all countries stuck to their most ambitious proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures would still go up by 3.5 degrees Celsius. In other words, policy alone will not be enough. A dramatic shift in the very design of human societies will be essential. These projected levels of temperature change mean the odds would be great that ocean levels would increase by two or more meters due to the partial melting of Greenland or Western Antarctica ice sheets, which in turn would cause massive coastal flooding and potentially submerge entire island nations.The one sixth of the world who depend on glacier or snowmelt-fed rivers for water would face extreme water scarcity. Vast swaths of the Amazon forest would become savanna, coral reefs would die, and many of the world’s most vulnerable fisheries would collapse. All of this would translate into major political and social disruptions—with environmental refugees projected to reach up to 1 billion by 2050. And climate change is just one of the many symptoms of excessive consumption levels.
Air pollution, the average loss of 7 million hectares of forests per year, soil erosion, the annual production of over 100 million tons of hazardous waste, abusive labor practices driven by the desire to produce more and cheaper consumer goods, obesity, increasing time stress—the list could go on and on. All these problems are often treated separately, even as many of their roots trace back to current consumption patterns. In addition to being excessive overall, modern consumption levels are highly skewed, leading to disproportionate responsibility for modern environmental ills among the rich.
Full report 2010, PDF, 500 KB