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Independent Professional: Experienced educator and management consultant for engineering educational institutions, researcher, trainer, technical consultant on sustainable technologies, related to cement manufacturing and characterisation, using industrial and agricultural wastes in cement and concrete, durability of concrete and fuel cell power.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Consumerism is unsustainable

Andy Coghlan, in New Scientist, 07 August 2009, reports. Many of us think that there's nothing we can do personally about global warming or that the human race is over-running the planet like a plague. However according to leading ecologists, few of us realise that the main cause of the current environmental crisis is human nature.

More specifically, all we're doing is what all other creatures have ever done to survive, expanding into whatever territory is available and using up whatever resources are available, just like a bacterial culture growing in a Petri dish till all the nutrients are used up. What happens then, of course, is that the bugs then die in a sea of their own waste.

Like the accelerated growth of a cancer, the human population has quadrupled in the past 100 years and at this rate will reach a size in 2025 that leads to global collapse and catastrophe.

But there is worse. Not only are we simply doing what all creatures do, we do it better. In recent times we are doing it even faster because of changes in society that encourage and celebrate conspicuous and excessive consumption.

According to the biologists, natural tendency of living creatures is to fill up all available habitat and use up all available resources. That underlies the Darwinian evolution and species that do it best are the ones that survive, but humans do it better than any other species.

Although we think of ourselves as civilised, subconsciously we are driven by three basic animal instincts of survival, domination and expansion. These instincts find expression in the idea that inexorable economic growth will redress all the world's existing inequalities.

However we fail to recognise that the physical resources to fuel this growth are finite. We are driven by growing and expanding, so we will use up all the oil, we will use up all the coal and we will keep going till we fill the Petri dish and pollute ourselves out of existence.

The economists and the governments of the day decided to revive economic activity by creating a culture in which people were encouraged to accumulate and show off material wealth, to the point where it defined their status in society and their self-image.

The economist Victor Lebow said in 1955: "Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate". We define ourselves by what we consume. We have turned consumption into a necessity and how we define ourselves. The result is a world in which rampant consumption in rich countries is rapidly outstripping the resources in the world needed to satisfy demand.

Globally, we have already overshot the limit, consuming 30 per cent more material than is sustainable from the world's resources. At present, 85 countries exceed their domestic "bio-capacities", compensating for their lack of local materials by depleting stocks elsewhere, in countries that have 'surplus' because they're not consuming as much. The world can only supply 2.1 global average hectares per person. Some developed societies already consume four times what the earth can sustainably supply. therefore steps must be taken to free up the 'ecological space' for justifiable growth in the developing world.

There is hope, however slim, both from the top down and the bottom up. The hope from above is that governments will finally realise that never-ending economic growth is incompatible with the finite material resources Earth has to offer and begin to manage those resources more fairly and equitably through some kind of world government. Without global management, destruction will continue, producing food and energy "crunches" that make the credit crunch look like a tea party.

We need to learn to live within the means of nature. That means sharing and redistribution of wealth and for that we need leadership at the highest level to understand that the competitive instinct and the drive for power and more resources is mutually destructive, so governments must act in our collective interest.

We need a counter-advertising campaign to make conspicuous consumption or consumerism shameful.

Making our lifestyle sustainable:

We live in an imperfect world. Poverty, disease, lack of education, environmental destruction – the problems are all too obvious. Many people don't have clean water, let alone enough food and the unsustainable lifestyle of the wealthy few is storing up catastrophic climate change.

Can we do anything about it? Yes we can !!. Technology is a double-edged sword, but science and reason have made our lives immeasurably better overall – and only through science and reason can we hope to make a real difference in the future. Read more .. ..


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