Our planet is buckling under the weight of the demands we are making on it. The world’s population is set to increase to nine billion by 2050 and global consumption levels are already five times what they were just 50 years ago.
This overconsumption is leading directly to climate change and species extinctions. We are losing some of the world’s richest forests; we are degrading soil and sources of fresh water faster than ever before.
While we in the West we live as if we had three planet Earths or more, two billion people live on less than two dollars a day. While the average British person uses about 150 litres of pure water each day, over a billion people have no access to clean water at all. Yet the consequences of our overconsumption already fall most heavily on the poorest countries. The impacts on human societies across the world will continue to worsen unless we make some rapid changes. Sir Nicholas Stern, a former World Bank chief economist, argued in his 2006 Review on the Economics of Climate Change that “business as usual” could cause economic impacts greater in scale than the two world wars and the Great Depression put together.
The choices we make today will shape our opportunities far into the future. The cities, power stations and homes we build today could lock human society into wasteful use of energy and other resources beyond our lifetimes. Or they could begin to propel us and future generations towards a new way of more balanced living.