Over-Consumption and GHGs

Meat Society: Number 16 in a series exploring issues related to curbing demand for animal products, an important climate change solution for individuals and nations alike, especially in Western states where meat and diary consumption dwarfs other regions.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157 http://amzn.to/2yn7XrC

The stuff humans consume, like food, gadgets, toys and accessories, is responsible for up to 60 percent of global greenhouse gases (GHGs), and around 50 to 80 percent of total land, material, and water use. Between 60 to 80 percent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption.(476)

However, human shoe sizes are not identical, and it is the same with ecological footprints. Consumerism is much higher in developed countries than in poor countries. Those with the highest rates of consumerism have up to 5.5 times the environmental impact as the world average. The US have the highest per capita emissions with 18.6 tonnes CO2e. Luxembourg had 18.5 tonnes, and Australia came in third with 17.7 tonnes. The world average, for comparison, was 3.4 tonnes, and China had just 1.8 tonnes.

Lifestyle and consumption impacts are highly unequal within and between countries. For example, the carbon footprints of citizens in G20 developing countries like Brazil and India are far lower than those of their counterparts in the rich OECD nations like Germany and the UK. On top of that, there are significant differences in the consumption effects caused by rich and poor citizens in developed countries like the USA.

Overall, the world's rich are largely responsible for causing climate chaos. Moreover, climate warming is inextricably linked to economic inequality. A natural disaster crisis driven by climate-altering gases generated by the ‘haves,’ is affecting the ‘have-nots’ the hardest. 

Fifty percent of the world’s carbon outflows are produced by the world’s richest 10 percent, while the poorest half, 3.5 billion people, are responsible for a mere 10 percent of CO2 emission. Further exaggerated, the wealthiest one (1) percent of the world’s population emit 30 times the pollution of the poorest 50 percent, and 175 times the volume of carbon of those living in the bottom 10 percent.(477) 

The average GHG footprint of a person in the poorest half of the global population is just 1.57 tCO2. This amount is 11 times less than the average footprint of someone in the richest 10 percent of the world. The average emissions of someone in the poorest 10 percent of the global population is 60 times less that of someone in the richest 10 percent of the world.

The vast majority of the world’s wealthiest 10 percent are high emitters who live in developed 37 OECD countries, although this is slowly changing. In South Africa, the richest 10 percent of citizens already have average lifestyle consumption footprints ten times higher than the poorest half of the population. In Brazil, it is eight times as high. Still, around a third of the world’s richest 10 percent are from the US.

The per capita GHG footprints from the wealthiest 10 percent of Indian citizens are one-quarter of the poorest 50 percent of those from the US. The poorest 50 percent of Indians have a carbon footprint that is one-twentieth of the poorest 50 percent in the US. And, the poorest half of Indians, around 600m people, has a total emissions footprint about the same as the richest 10 percent of citizens in Japan, around 12m people.

While the total climate-altering gases produced in China divided on a per capita basis have now surpassed those of the European Union, the per capita lifestyle consumption footprint of the wealthiest 10 percent of Chinese citizens are considerably lower than the richest of their OECD counterparts. This is because a large share of China’s emissions is from the production of goods consumed in developed countries. The poorest half of the Chinese population, over 600m people, have a total GHG footprint that is one-third that of the wealthiest 10 percent of US citizens, around 30m people.

The richest citizens in the Global North and Global South can and should cut their GHG footprints through lifestyle modifications. Still and all, they cannot solve the climate crisis alone. Effectual solutions require reduced footprints from the vast majority of citizens in the Global North, who are distinctly part of the over-consumption problem.

One author, Oppenlander, argues, “Our civilization displays a curious instinct when confronted with a problem related to overconsumption - we simply find a way to produce more of what it is we are consuming, instead of limiting or stopping that consumption.”(478) This is certainly true for food animals, due to the combined efforts of governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and transnational corporations (TFCs).

For decades, the consumption of goods and services has risen steadily in industrial nations, by virtually any measure: (i) amount of household expenditures, (ii) number of consumers, or (iii) by extraction of raw materials. And, consumption is growing rapidly in many developing countries as well.

An emerging body of research is examining environmentally significant consumption, a broad term used to encompass consumption practices that have particularly serious environmental consequences. Stern notes that “(consumption) is not solely a social or economic activity but a human-environment transaction. Its causes are largely economic and social, at least in advanced societies, but its effects are biophysical.”(479)

Consumption is the result of social, economic, technological, political, and psychological forces. Global, private consumption expenditures - the total spent on goods and services at the household level - topped $20 trillion in 2000, a four-fold spread over 1960 (in 1995 dollars).(480)

There are in excess of 1.7 billion members of 'the consumer class' and nearly half of them are in the developing world. An over-consumption lifestyle and culture that became common in Europe, North America, Japan, and a few other pockets of the world in the 20th century, is going global in the 21st century.

Around 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe are responsible for 60 percent of private consumption spending. In comparison, the 33 percent of the global population living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent of private consumption.

US consumers are leaders in over-consumption. With less than 5 percent of the global population, Americans use about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources - 25 percent of the coal, 26 percent of the oil, and 27 percent of the world’s natural gas. On top of that, the UNEP calculated that 33 percent of the average US household's carbon footprint in 2010 was due to emissions caused abroad from the production of goods imported into the US market.

As of 2003, the US had a larger number of private cars than licensed drivers, and gas-guzzling sport utility trucks were among the best-selling vehicles. New houses in the US were 38 percent bigger in 2002 than in 1975, despite having fewer people per household on average.

China and India make up 20 percent of the global consumer class, with a combined population of 362 million. Notably, this Asian middle class is bigger than all of Western Europe. All the same, the average Chinese or Indian member consumes substantially less than the average European.

China and India’s large consumer class constitutes only 16 percent of the region’s population, whereas, in Europe the figure is 89 percent. This suggests that there is considerable room for growth in the developing world, and a vast opportunity to reduce over-consumption in Europe and the Global North.

Chapter 13: OVER-CONSUMPTION CLASS, pages 127-8

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