Tag Archives: world population

6. Population and consumption

I had a big win yesterday as I managed to find two of the three books I wanted in the library:

  • Confronting Consumption, Thomas Princen, Michael Maniates & Ken Conca [Eds]
  • The New Economics of Sustainable Consumption: Seeds of Change, Gill Seyfang

I was looking for, but did not find, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring which is the seminal work on environment and human impact on it written in 1962. It’s probably something I should buy anyways.

My head is in a bit of a spin, and comically, only after three weeks of doing this course I feel like I can and should try to change the world. I have NEVER felt like this before.

The lecture yesterday covered two main areas of concern: population and consumption. As a species we have been thinking about limits and population since the late 1700s and it seems from then until now, we still seem to apportion the ‘blame’ for ‘overpopulation’ on the unwashed masses—in the 18th century the church firmly blamed the unbelievers and today we do the same with ‘the Third World’ or developing nations. How crass.

As of this week, world population sits at around 7 billion souls. The projections for population growth are on a J-curve, are exponential so we will, as a planet, continue to grow and grow at an alarming rate. But what is the carrying capacity of the planet? There are many studies into this with a wide variation in opinion, but most scholars have agreed on a range of of 8–16 billion. But of those, let’s say we top out at 8 billion souls (and that is conservative), at what level can this population be sustained? The simple answer is that we cannot all be a Gina Rinehart 😦

I completed the Footprint Calculator exercise (see: http://footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/calculators/) and to sustain my lifestyle, it would take 2.1 Earths. This is a shock, as I have what I consider to be a smallish footprint—I work from home so I don’t use the car a lot (in fact going to uni to participate in this course is my biggest journey creating a bit of personal cognitive dissonance), we grow a lot of our own food, we keep chickens for eggs and recycling, have a substantial solar panel array (we feed into the grid), 4,000 litre capacity rainwater tanks for the soil garden, and a small but viable aquaponics system). Indeed it IS a smallish footprint, as most Western consumers would need 5–7 Earths to sustain their consumptive lifestyle.

So peeps…what the hell are we going to do about this?

It’s a tricky subject as we are so entrenched in this, our consumer society. I am a big consumer, and in the past, was an even bigger consumer. My reading this week is of the above books and probably other things I will inevitably find on the Net. So much of who we believe we are is invested in the possessions we have—and most of this is driven by corporations wanting to derive a profit through sales via the very persuasive advertising and marketing industries.

My interest in human behaviour—what motivates and drives us, and something which I could have spent more time on in my undergrad Psych degree, is being reignited in me.

As a closing note, two contrasting costs presented in the lecture:

  • cost for establishing clean water and sanitation for everyone on the planet = $9billion
    vs the money spent on ice-cream in Europe in one year = $11billion
  • cost for basic education for the whole planet $6billion
    vs the money spent on cosmetics in the US in one year $8billion

Oh, and in Australia, we spend more on our pets in one year (excluding purchase and vet bills—so focussing on food and toys and such) than we do on foreign aid.