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  • Darshan Pareek

Excess consumption, population major drivers of climate change: Study

A recent study has claimed that climate breakdown is a symptom of ecological "overshoot," driven by the deliberate exploitation of human behaviour through a stream of "conflicting messages."

The research comes against the backdrop of 2023 being reported as the hottest year since record-keeping.

Joseph J Merz of New Zealand's Merz Institute in the study argued that current climate solutions address symptoms rather than the root cause, leading to escalating levels of overshoot levers—consumption, waste, and population.

The authors of the study said that innovations will only be effective if the demand for resources is reduced, highlighting the often underdiscussed material footprint of renewable energy.

Researchers defined "overshoot" as the human consumption of natural resources at rates faster than they can be replenished, and entropic waste production in excess of the Earth's assimilative and processing capacity.

Currently, humanity would require 1.7 Earths to maintain resource consumption at a level the planet can regenerate.

Merz emphasised that overshoot is fundamentally a crisis of human behaviour, shaped by decades of conflicting messages.

A mere quarter of humanity, the wealthy quarter, is responsible for a staggering 74 per cent of excess energy and material use, propelling the human enterprise into overshoot, the researchers claimed in the study, published in the journal Science Progress.

They said it is alarming that the quarter of the global population is living below the $3.65 poverty line and the 47 per cent below the $6.85 poverty line aspire to high-end lifestyles, influenced by constant advertising.

The authors suggested use of tools from marketing, media, and entertainment industries to redefine socially accepted norms could counter overshoot effectively.

Population growth emerges as a significant factor in ecological overshoot, with the middle class projected to grow by another billion, reaching 5 billion by 2030.

Projected population growth, primarily in the developing world, is expected to increase ecological footprints towards those of the Global North, challenging the viability of 'green growth' propositions.


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