Higher Incomes Lead To More Consumption and That’s Bad For Mother Earth

Although developed countries only make up about a third of the world, they consume much more of the world’s natural resources. That includes water. A child from the developed world consumes 30 to 50 times more water as one from the developing world, according to a report by the Royal Society, UK’s 350-year-old national academy of science.

An estimated 884 million people in 2008 didn’t have access to safe drinking water, and 2.6 billion didn’t have access to basic sanitation. By 2025, it is estimated that more than one million people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be under stress conditions.

When it comes to meat, people in developed countries consume much more than people in developing countries. The report points out that when countries become more affluent, they eat more meat. The median per capita daily meat supply in low-income countries remained steady from 1961 to 2007, but increased in high-income countries from five to eight times more than low-income countries. However, in China and Brazil, meat consumption increased greatly over the last 40 years.

Developed countries produce more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The report points out the per capita carbon emissions are up to 50 times higher in developed countries than developing countries. The sad truth is that the more developed a country is, the more its population consumes, and that consumption results in higher GHG emissions. This is not sustainable. As the report states, “in the richest parts of the world per capita material consumption is far above the level that can be sustained for everyone in a population of 7 billion or more.”

That brings me to another point that the report makes: “Higher income usually leads to higher consumption.” In a world of finite resources, where the population of two-thirds of the world (developing countries) is expected to continue to show much more growth than in developed countries, that is scary. The high consumption in developed countries coupled with the sheer size of the population of two-thirds of the world will continue to put a stress on the earth’s natural resources and ecosystems.

The report includes a list of recommendations, which include the following:

  1. The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty
  2. The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilize and then reduce material consumption levels

In other words, developed countries must lead the way when it comes to living more with less.

Related reading:

Human Consumption Will Trigger Global Collapse By 2030

Earth Limitations: How Peak Oil Threatens Economic Growth

Biodiversity Loss Threatens Global Economy

Photo: Flickr user, Jim Linwood


Shel G.
Shel G5 years ago

Thanks to those other posters who point out the link between overconsumption and family size. Bringing yet another human being into this overcrowded planet is the biggest cause of overconsumption. I respect people's choices to have kids, but would hope that the concept of "zero population growth" becomes mainstream and accepted: in simplest terms, ZPG is the idea that you and your partner only have two kids in total (that is, one kid per parent) so that you are each only "replacing" yourselves, rather than increasing the population.

Robert C.
Robert Cruder5 years ago

People forget that when one has a child, one becomes responsible for the future consumption by that child and its children and their children in perpetuity.

Remembering that much of our individual consumption is not done directly but is done indirectly by the society on our behalf such as for infrastructure, one could drive not just a Hummer but a Sherman tank every day and be responsible for less total consumption than what results from having one child.

A child from the developing world consumes far less than a child from the developed world but is likely to have several times as many children.

A child from the developed world can by choice significantly reduce his direct consumption. There is little room for a child from the developing world to further reduce direct consumption.

So which one on the average contributes more to the future total footprint?

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright5 years ago

Ya think so??????????

Humans are the greediest of the greedy. The more we make, the more we want, the more we want the more we have to make and consume to get there.

When we had less we were actually happier and now that we can have more I find the whole concept to be absurd. We don't even need most of the $h!t we've accumulated over the years and it certainly doesn't make us happier.

I definitely have changed my tune to less is more...................and I can't wait to go through all our crap and get rid of most of it {donating it}. It actually depresses me to see just how much crap we have that we don't need, don't use, don't want anymore.

Michael F.

Greed the cause of consumptions to the degree where earths' future is at risk. At this present state of affairs population growth needs to be controlled.
A resource based world is needed to stem the tide so all can enjoy a better life when man genuinely get rid of poverty so poorer countries can develop their resources for their own use. With all the wars that are causing money to be wasted on weapons of mass destruction adding to the problem earth will always be at risk.
Until we as a people stop trying to impress each other with what we have and what we can have then earth will be safe then again nature has a way of rebelling against us. Re storms, earthquakes etc so we can check ourselves.

John Mansky
John Mansky5 years ago

Thank you for the article...

Adam S.
Adam S5 years ago

Wow. Maybe the government should ration everything so we don't hurt ourselves because government is so good at protecting us from ourselves.

Troy G.
Troy Grant5 years ago

Too many people lead to more consumption

Ian Fletcher
Ian Fletcher5 years ago

Sure! We don't need it dad, but let's buy a Hummer anyway come on!
India has a population 4 times bigger than the US, yet its territory is much smaller, even so it maintains many of its dense jungle ecosystems intact. Now though, adverse effects are creeping into India as it's getting richer. Local governments want to reduce protected parks for tigers because of the growing population. Very sad.

Michael C.
Michael C5 years ago

Phil A, How correct you are. I have witnessed families with two new vehicles, a boat, a motorhome, jet skis', the kids all have their own cars and all of it resides in front of a broken down mobile home and they are living at or below the poverty line.

Further, I know many families who cannot park their many cars in the garage. Why because it is full of S**t or possessions that have come to possess them.

At the end of the day, it is all about ZEROS, some people have 6 zero's behind their "wealth." others like President Mitt Romney has as many as 11 zeros behind their wealth.

China is growing, India grows on Chinas coat tails and the rest of the countries of this world are beginning to gobble up every asset as fast as they can get their hands on it.

The true problem lies in our growing population. Since Oct. 31, 2011, 44,000,000 people have joined us on this wild ride through the galaxy and around the sun. My suggestion..Hold On!

Michael C.
Michael C5 years ago

Monika S, I beseech, no more usage of the term...Global Warming, it confuses the sheeple. Such a term was appropriate in the days to which Dr. Stephen H. Schneider introduced to the world, his book, Global Warming. At the time, we were all babes in the woods, appears that we are all babies...lost in the woods.

My suggestion to all of you is this...Global Climate Change (GCC), this term goes to speak to the wide variety of climate complaints and observations. Or as I often say, one mans warming is another man's drought or flooding.

This year we have already seen two named storms before the formal introduction of the 2012 Hurricane Season. The tornado belt witnessed just a few years ago, over 100 tornados in a two day period.

In the words of one observer, The science textbooks had to be rewritten in 2004. They used to say, "It's impossible to have hurricanes in the South Atlantic." But that year, for the first time ever, a hurricane hit Brazil. In March of 2004, Hurricane Catarina appeared off Brazil, totally unheard of or what will we say in another ten years...perhaps it will become our future days.

I would be remiss if I did not take liberal license and utilize an old saying,

"When a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world it can cause a hurricane in another part of the world." Author Unknown