Here’s a little phrase that’s tucked away on page 394 of The Human Planet, which I reviewed last week. The authors are drawing their conclusions and asking if, now that we know we are influencing the whole planet, we humans can ‘become wise’ and manage it well. To do that, they argue that we will have to deal with inequalities of environmental impact.
The countries that industrialised first have centuries of extra carbon emissions to their names, making them far more responsible for climate change. They also have far higher ecological footprints, and use far more resources.
“If the world’s population consumed resources at the same rate as those in the UK, US, France, Australia or Japan, we face environmental catastrophe. This scenario of high global consumption is not possible for fossil fuels because of the resulting carbon emissions, but it is also the case for the consumption of plastic, metals, meat, fish, timber and many other resources.”
If a consumer lifestyle cannot be universalised, as I argue myself, then we have a limited number of options. Either poorer countries must somehow be prevented from developing, or wealthier countries need to reduce their consumption to make ecological space. Here’s Lewis and Maslin:
“This calculation is emphatically not intended as an argument to deny consumption to the billions that need it. The question for now is what will be the outcome of billions of people trying to match the resource use of the richest? We call this the Anthropocene conundrum: how to equalise resource consumption across the world within sustainable environmental limits. The outcome of the Anthropocene conundrum is either environmental breakdown or globally coordinated action towards global equality.”
Exactly. It would be a good name for a blog, the Anthropocene conundrum.