How is the success of society measured in the west? Predominantly by how much stuff we consume. We are told to spend money to help revitalise the economy. But it's this consumption that is destroying the planet. The crazy thing is, it's not even making society happy.
At a community meeting last night, I got a sobering insight into how difficult it can be to change individuals' environmental behaviour.
The Conservative 2020 Group of MPs has produced a 2014 report called 'Sweating our assets'. Their 2020 Productivity and Efficiency Commission argues that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is an inefficient measure of a nation's productivity. They want to replace it with resource productivity as a measure of the country's success i.e. use a metric based on how efficiently we use resources and minimise waste.
The World Health Organisation predicts depression will be the second greatest cause of ill health globally by 2020. A study by Essex University on behalf of the mental health charity, Mind, showed that tension, depression and self esteem all improved when subjects went for an outdoor walk, rather than an indoor one.
An area 35 times larger than the UK may have to be converted to grow crops by 2050 unless we change consumption and farming practices. The increasing demand for meat rich diets, biofuels and fibres will put pressure on wild land to be 'grabbed' for agricultural production, with a consequent impact on biodiversity and soil quality.
The true environmental costs of our industrial way of life are not incorporated in the price we pay for our lifestyle. What is that cost? The depletion of environmental resources we rely on to support that lifestyle, and the degradation of those parts of the environment we use to dispose of our waste ('sinks'). This was recognised in a famous 1968 essay by the biologist Garrett Hardin called The Tragedy of the Commons: "Property held in common by many people will be destroyed or at least overused until it deteriorates".
There is one very important non-renewable resource we are depleting which is very rarely alluded to: water. This recognition of the problem is slowly changing; the last James Bond film had as its villain someone trying to control this most precious resource. Critics of the film scoffed that it seemed a strange manifestation of megalomania compared with previous Bond villains, but this displays a lack of appreciation of the impacts of water supply.