Growing consumerism and consumption a much bigger problem than growing population

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

All the focus on population growth rates in the developing world and its impact on the environment could be rather misplaced. When it comes to environmental impact it is really rising rates of natural resource consumption, for which developed nations remain largely to blame, which is the bigger issue. There may be one developing nation that is the exception and that is China. But then again China's demand for natural resources is due the demand for more and more consumer goods and some of India's resource consumption is down to the same cause.

Women having fewer children, even without education or escaping poverty

In a growing number of places the sometimes-called 'population bomb' is beginning to defuse itself, it would seem.

Family-planning experts used to say that women only started having fewer children when they got educated or escaped poverty – like us, in the developed world. This goes as much for Bangladesh as for India as for Brazil, a hotbed of Catholicism. The most women have two just children, and nothing the priests say can stop millions of them getting sterilized. The local joke is that they prefer being sterilized to other methods of contraception because you only have to confess once. It may not be a joke.

Women are beginning to have smaller families because, for the first time in history, probably, they can. We have largely eradicated the diseases that used to mean most children died well before growing up, many well before their fifth birthday. Mothers do no longer need to have five or six children to ensure the next generation, therefore they do no longer have as many.

On the other hand, it would appear, misguided Christian groups of the born-again brigade advocate for women to have many children and many following such teachings go forth and have ten and more children.

Poor people are not the problem, but consumption by wealthy is

It is consumption, especially in the developed world, that is the real issue. The permanent hunt and desire for more, more and more still, aided and abetted even by our governments who urge us to spend in order to keep the economy going and growing.

It is possible that with half the world already at below-replacement birthrates, and with those rates still falling fast, that the world's population could probably be shrinking within a generation.

This is good news for the environment, for sure. However, let's not celebrate too fast.

For yet another myth, put out by the population doom-mongers, is the one that says that it is all those extra people that are wrecking the planet. That may no longer be the case.

Rising consumption, on the other hand, is today by a far bigger threat to the environment than any rising head count, and most of this extra consumption is still happening in rich countries that have long since given up growing their populations.

Virtually all of the remaining population growth is in the poor world, and the poor half of the planet is responsible for only 7 percent of carbon emissions. Therefore how dare rich-world greens blame the poor world for the planet's perils? Some greens need to take a long, hard look at themselves.

We have now even begun replacing – and more of that can be found in another article of mine – consumerism and consumption per se with green consumerism and green consumption, which I have coined as “greensumption”.

For people the world over, but also and especially in the developed world, to have fewer children is the greenest choice any of us can make. Stop at two, must be the watchword, for us and for others that have good enough health provisions to allow children to survive the once fatal illnesses and diseases that would affect them in childhood.

More People = Less Each Person Can Have

Recent studies by the Worldwatch Institute show how much consumption could be sustainably supported at different population levels. Roughly: At US consumption levels, it is about a billion and a half people; at current population levels everyone can have about what the average person has in Thailand; at projections for 2050 by the UN, it's more like lower middle class in India. This shows that population and consumption are intimately linked.

We must get away from the more, more, more mindset that is fueled not just by advertising and other suggestions but by our governments telling us that unless we help spending our way out of the downturn we are worse than terrorists. Well, so be it. I guess I am a terrorist then.

© 2010