Consumerism exists to sustain a widely adopted economic model built on the imperative of constant economic growth. A new study identifies consumerism in the wealthiest countries as the foremost cause of climate change, biodiversity loss and ecological collapse. Alternative economic systems are there and need to be embraced by public and political discourses.
A new study1 published in Nature Communications, led by Dr Thomas Wiedemann of the University of New South Wales, Australia, stresses that the issue of overconsumption especially in the wealthiest countries lays at the roots of the current environmental crisis, more so than population growth.
The study highlights that “it is clear that prevailing capitalist, growth-driven economic systems have not only increased affluence since World War II, but have led to enormous increases in inequality, financial instability, resource consumption and environmental pressures on vital earth support systems”. “The strongest pillar of the necessary transformation is to avoid or to reduce consumption until the remaining consumption level falls within planetary boundaries, while fulfilling human needs”.
It thus follows that tackling the environmental crisis would require a direct downscaling of economic production and consumption in the wealthiest countries. The study points out that “the world’s top 10% of income earners are responsible for between 25 and 43% of environmental impact. In contrast, the world’s bottom 10% income earners exert only around 3–5% of environmental impact”. The affluent lifestyles of the world’s wealthiest societies not only determine and drive global environmental and social impacts, but also disproportionally impact on the poor, who are most heavily affected by environmental catastrophes and in the worst positions to cope with them.
“Since the level of consumption determines total impacts, affluence needs to be addressed by reducing consumption, not just greening it”, reads the study. Envisioning future economies based on sustainable or green growth may be nothing but illusory, as the decoupling of economic growth from environmental impacts has never been achieved before. We need a shift away from prioritising economic growth in order to come out of the current crises triumphant […]