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Last Updated: Monday, 30 July 2007, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Focus on carbon 'missing the point'
Eamon O'Hara
Eamon O'Hara

The focus on reducing carbon emissions has blinded us to the real problem - unsustainable lifestyles, says Eamon O'Hara. In this week's Green Room, he argues that bigger problems await us unless we shift our efforts.

Sale sign in a shop window (Getty Images)
Focusing on the need to reduce CO2 emissions has reduced the problem to one of carbon dioxide rather than on the unsustainable ways we live
Is it not time to recognise that climate change is yet another symptom of our unsustainable lifestyles, which must now become the focus our efforts?

Yet governments, and those organisations who have now assumed the role of combating climate change, subscribe to the notion that climate change is our central problem and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is the cause of this problem.

Undeniably, climate change is a serious problem but it is only one of a growing list of problems that arise from a fundamental global issue.

For many decades, the symptoms of unsustainable human exploitation of the natural environment have been mounting: species extinction, the loss of biodiversity, air and water pollution, soil erosion, acid rain, destruction of rainforests, ozone depletion - the list goes on.

Common cause

These problems all clearly have a common origin, yet the search for solutions has invariably focused on targeted treatments rather than addressing the root cause.

Success has, at best, been patchy. In general, none of these problems have completely disappeared and many have continued to worsen.

Wind turbine (Image: AP)
Renewable resources might provide a safer alternative to oil and gas and other finite resources, but it will not remove our energy and resource dependency

Global warming - the latest in this list of environmental woes - is a particularly worrying development, not only because it is potentially catastrophic, but because it is going to be incredibly difficult to control.

The solutions currently being put forward, such as those being championed by the European Union, focus almost exclusively on reducing carbon emissions.

However, by focusing on the need to reduce CO2 emissions has reduced the problem to one of carbon dioxide rather than on the unsustainable ways we live our lives.

This oversight has led to the assumption that if we reduce emissions then our problems are solved; hence the focus on carbon sequestration, renewable energies and environmental technologies.

This approach to curing our problems is a bit like relying on methadone to cure an addiction to heroin.

The large-scale transition to renewable resources might provide a safer alternative to oil and gas and other finite resources, but it will not remove our energy and resource dependency, which will continue to expand in line with economic growth.

Before long, we will discover that even renewables have their limits. We are already being warned about the dangers of excessive demand for biofuels, which is reportedly leading to the clearing of rainforests and increasing competition for land between food and energy production.

Commuter walking past a mural of a drought (Getty Images)
The world simply does not have the resources, renewable or otherwise, to sustain Western lifestyles across the globe

Ultimately, our problem is consumption, and the environment is not the only casualty.

The modern Western lifestyle also has an inbuilt dependency on the cheap resources and the low carbon footprint of developing countries, which has compounded global injustice.

Worse still, maintaining our relatively wealthy, comfortable and unsustainable lifestyles is now dependant on maintaining this imbalance.

Seventy-five percent of the world's population - more than 4.5bn people - live on just 15% of the world's resources, while we in the West gorge on the remaining 85%.

The world simply does not have the resources, renewable or otherwise, to sustain Western lifestyles across the globe.

Change of direction

So, what can we do? Obviously, the first thing we need to do is act, and act fast.

Every day we wait, another 30,000 children needlessly die; between 100-150 plant and animal species become extinct; 70,000 hectares of rainforest is destroyed and another 150m tonnes of CO2 is released into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, another $3.0bn (£1.5bn) is spent on arms and weapons of mass destruction.

We urgently need to think about the more fundamental concept of sustainability and how our lifestyles are threatening not only the environment, but developing countries and global peace and stability.

In my view, we need to embrace this as an opportunity and not see it as a responsibility. Living a more sustainable lifestyle does not have to be a burden, as some people fear.

It could be a liberating and rewarding experience to participate in creating a better world. After all, how good do we really have it at the moment?

How many people are tired and weary of modern living? The endless cycle of earning and consumption can be exhausting and does not necessarily bring happiness and fulfillment. Can we do things differently, and better?

If we don't, then we are heading for certain disaster, regardless of whether or not we manage to reduce our emissions.

Eamon O'Hara is a Brussels-based policy adviser for the Irish Regions Office, which represents Irish interests in the European Union

The Green Room is a series of opinion pieces on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Eamon O'Hara? Are we focusing our efforts on the wrong issues? Should we change the way we live our lives? Or will a low carbon economy allow millions of others to have lifestyles similar to those enjoyed in the West?

I agree with many of the points made in the article, but I genuinely feel that it's too late, for two main reasons. Firstly, the planet is massively overpopulated and secondly, globalised capitalism is the root cause of the unsustainable levels of consumption that constitute a "Western" lifestyle. Globalised capitalism is also the model least suited to addressing the problems of overpopulation and unsustainable consumption. But will those with the most to lose, the rich and powerful, allow this model to be changed? Of course they won't. That's why it's too late and our civilisation as we know it is doomed. Sorry, but that's the truth. I reckon it'll start to properly unravel, and unravel quickly, by about 2070.
Steve, Bristol, UK

I found myself totally agreeing with Eamon O'Hara's article. On the one hand there is some relief that environmental concerns are being recognised at last. But on the other hand it infuriates me that so many refuse to change their lifestyles radically enough to make a real difference. To achieve true sustainability we all have to change our mindset and stop being greedy.
Polly, Paignton, UK

The article is correct. Capitalism relies on growth to work, and we cannot sustain growth without depleting the world's resources. We will use up all available resources eventually, then the Western economies, and Western-style economies, will collapse. No more mobile phones, MP3 players, designer bottled water or holidays on the Costas.
Peter Knox, Helensburgh / Scotland

We should do what we have always done: Fully assess and recognise the problem (this has been largely acheived) &; Find and implement solutions to it (this has been started with renewable energy, recycling etc). In other words we need to go forwards not backwards as so many enviromentalists seem to want.
Justin Holme, Guildford, Surrey

About 20 years ago I wrote a short story and submitted it to 2000AD as a possible "Future Shocks" story. It didn't get used, but no matter. The story revolved around a scientist who perfected an airborne sterilisation drug with which he seeded the Earth's atmosphere. After this nobody got pregnant, no more babies were born and he managed to wipe out the entire human race in just over 100 years but without actually killing anybody. Personally I think it'd be fantastic if this came true.
Alec Carmichael, Devizes. Wiltshire.UK

Alex of Rochester said, "Why waste billions of money now on technology thats not very good, when u can just wait a while for it to get better?" Well Alex, how do you think technology improves? By magic perhaps? It takes a long time, a lot of effort and a lot of money to make it happen. If you want a technological solution then it as to start now with what is available. Trust me I know, I design new technology for a living! To the people who say there are too many people in the world, absolutely spot on!
Alan, Nantwich

While I agree that we need to rethink and minimise the impact we have on environment, other populations, plants animals and shared resources you CANNOT turn the clock back and deny people the technology and related lifestyle they already know exists in order to stem the damage. We have to be clever and use our ingenuity to balance expectation with impact.
KE, Surrey

Reduce the Human footprint on the planet! Reduces the requirement for fossil fuels - end of problem!
marc sanders, Fawley

Having been green since I can think and having tried to use my status as a teacher to influence my fellow humans to at least think about the problem of sustainability, I am still worried about the life styles propagated not only by modern fashion in the Western World but also by many religious communities. My most shocking experience (shocking either due to her beliefs or that she is part of my family!) comes from a conversation with an aunt of mine (in theory Christian) living in Western Australia (plagued by lack of water and extreme urban/suburban developments), where she told me that God had given us this world to do with as we wish and that she and her fellow believers will be saved (the rest of us will go to hell) and this planet will be shed off like an old used up skin. Some religious leaders are definitely environmentally concious but others are not and fervently not. I would suggest more PR work for our planet in this area too.
Teresa, Göttingen, Germany!

A study was done by University of Chicago researchers showing that adhering to vegetarian or poultry-based eating style would curb emissions of carbon. Even if meat eaters would simply purchase only locally grown, sustainably raised meat, the carbon consumption (and other resources) would greatly diminish. It is us, after all.
Greg, Chicago, USA

Unfortunate it is to see Eamonn repeating the old chestnuts about dying kids and species becoming extinct and huge amounts of rain-forest disappearing. (Prove these - prove any of these!) It detracted from an interesting take on the biggest problem humans face which is... humans! It's obvious that the planet needs less people s Who wants to help the earth by dying? So, who wants to be first? Come on people! If you care, really care, drop dead! You'll be doing the rest of us a big favour!
Paul McGehan, Mildura, Australia

Look at the Amish people, they are happy and we all could learn from them.
Richard Spurgeon, Roseburg, OR USA

O'Hara's view is welcome. The long term solutions is changing the attitude of individual. From 'me' to 'we'. Thinking and contemplating 'Globally' instead 'Locally'. Searching those viable sustainable lifestyles practised by people in many countries for thousands of years. However 'carbon control' may be important. If we fail to understand these simple facts then a terrible future is awating us -this beautiful planet being converted to a dry mars like planet.
Shandilya, Haridwar/India

The math is simple, yet ignored by so many: (resources/person) x # of persons = total resources used ... Cut your per capita consumption in half, double your population, and you don't change the outcome. Except, twice as many people will starve when things get bad enough. Want to make a real impact, on a deep, feel good about yourself emotional level? Reproduce less.
Jay, Bothell, USA

It goes beyond reducing CO2 emmissions by reducing fuel consumptions by having greener cars, by flying less, by building wind generators etc. That is one part of the equation. But we have forgetten one of Earth's major and significant CO2 reprocessing systems, plants and trees. Photosysnthesis, CO2 conversion into O2 and water etc... it costs us nothing and yet we keep on cutting them down... we can draw considerable resources from plants and trees in the fleid of medicine and natural compoments for the manufacturing industry without having to to draw them same from the use of petroleum derived chimicals. Once the mantra of celebraties now almost a forgotten topic...
Colin Ip, Singapore

Please define precisely what you mean when you say "sustainability". I am at a loss to understand what specific aspects of my life you want to change. Until such time as you offer detailed suggestions of how you want "the West" to live I am forced to dismiss your entire article as mindless drivel.
Walter Moore, Indianapolis U.S.A.

The only solution: We must share equally resources, in form of quota, as it was used always in the hard times (war, postwar years).The quota has to be based on ecological footprint.
Iren Karacsony, Budapest, Hungary

The law of supply and demand is fundamental and balanced. As the demand for resources increases with the human population, the supply will increase until no more increases are possibly. Then demand will exceed supply and the demand will be reduced by decreases in the human population. This will be a very painful process, hence the prolifferation of arms sales. Balance will be achieved.
fred, spokane/usa

Apathy will ensure that it is only some global series of events that will adjust the lifestyles we enjoy, crop failures combined with or caused by droughts or floods, another Katrina or Tidal wave event in a western location. Until then we will eat drink and shop our lives away in the West content that it feels great - and i'll be one of them. The Govt must act, tax things even more, make people realise that food, water and shelter are more valuable than having an SUV instead of an estate car. Without Govt intervention we are doomed eventually - market forces won't help until its too late - vested interests and short termism. So now I've depressed myself I'll crack open a beer and grab a cake from my inefficient (and useless freezer size) American style fridge, mmm mmmm!
Greg, Wiltshire, England

Simply telling people to reduce their carbon footprint isn't enough for the vast majority of the western world's population. Most people have become detached from the world in which we live. Our food comes from the supermarket and leaves via the toilet or the door-step refuse collection. Its not until you visit a landfill site and watch the endless supply of dust-carts emptying their waste, minute after minute that you realise what a throw away society we have become. We need to change out lifestyles but I fear that many people will be buying an energy saving light bulb and think that they've done their bit!
looosy, Maidstone, UK

This is all well and good, but does Mr. O'Hara have any specific recommendations other that giving up our "Western lifestyle?" What exactly that mean? Do we go back to the 1800's? Does he seriously believe most Westerners would agree to give the conveniences of modern life or that the populations of developing countries would agree to forgo them? We need more than hand wringing. We need good, practical workable ideas that the majority can actually live with.
Mark Glicksman, Glenside, PA USA

I just wanted to respond to Kari in Arizona's comment about throw away baby wipes. Kari, you and I should use throw away baby wipes and diapers because we live in states where we rely on limited water supplies that are in danger of drying up. The amount of water and the chemicals we would use to clean and disinfect reusable diapers and wipes would be have a far worse impact on our immediate environment than the disposables. One size fits all rules really don't work. Locally appropriate sustainable solutions are needed.
Lou, San Francisco, California

All credit to Mr O'Hara for publicly voicing the opinion that I and others have had for a long time: that Co2 one of the symptoms and not the cause. Increasing global poulation is a major issue that needs to be dealt with. But the levels of energie consumption that the 15% (and growing) of the current population feels it needs to live is a much more pressing problem. What concerns me most is that current efforts are all directed towards tackling the symptoms rather than the underlyng causes.
Mike Morrell, 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands

The problem is that our entire existence is built around an economy that is designed to produce lahdfill. Next time you buy that shiny gizmo that you convinced yourself you couldn't live without; consider the fact that in two years time you will be throwing it away and buying its replacement.
pez, Lancs/UK

Finally! Mr. O'Hara's comments hit the proverbial nail on the head. We've got to start thinking proactively, not reactively. It is our grossly-consumeristic mindset of More Things Equals More Happiness that is glutting the world. We've got to "return" to simpler, more spiritual values and views and stop chasing after every shiny coin in the street, or we'll be the only birds left, and not for long, either!
Daiv Whaley, Akron, Ohio USA

We only use a fraction of a percent of the energy from the sun that reaches the earth, we're just very bad at converting it into useful forms. There is thus no reason why a population many times larger than today's population shouldn't also have a higher energy consumption per capita than the developed countries enjoy at present, once we have made the necessary technological advances. And if history tells us anything, it tells us that we're very good at technological advances and very bad at voluntarily limiting consumption, so why not play to our strengths rather than our weaknesses?
Mike Scott, London, UK

The main reason the environment is being destroyed is that nobody wants to fix it, least of all Emanon O'Hara. All of the comments I have seen so far are effectively: "We are all doomed, so give up now." All of it far-left rubbish. Stay in the car and let the engineers change the tyre. Simple. We mine 200 Mt/year P2O5 and use it to save the rain forests and feed everyone. The 100 ppm uranium in the phosphate is enough to fuel 30,000 breeder reactors. Heat pumps supply all low-temperature heat loads. Aircraft burn liquid hydrogen. Payloads nearly double. Cars are built from aluminum and burn either liquid hydrogen or ickey hydrazine. If we need more first cores for breeders, we bury depleted uranium in a salt dome and set off an H-bomb in the middle of it. See..we could have done fusion 50 years ago. Batteries in cars just increase the number of children that get squashed at ice cream trucks.
William Ernest Schenewerk, Ph.D., Los Angeles CA

All very good but I don't see any actual proposals here at all. Just more vague mutterings of "sustainability". A wonderful buzz word to be sure and what we could expect from a public policy adviser but what does he intend to DO? Say what you like about government's carbon obsession, at least it is measurable therefore scientific. Vague commitments to sustainability are utterly worthless without the scientific backing of measurable predictions and falsifiability.
Greg Griffin, Manchester UK

We can change our lifestyles. It is already happening around the world with striking results. Please get and read Bill McKibben's, famous environmentalist's book called "Deep Economy". There are many dedicated individuals around the globe that work hard to create a better world. And for those of you who say our lifestyles won't change, ask yourself this question: Why would Eamon O'Hara waste time writing this article to us? If you are smart enough to say that our lifestyles won't change and that we are heading towards catastrophe no matter what, then perhaps you will explain reasons why would somebody waste time writing this article for you and me! And second of all: CHANGE YOUR OWN LIFESTYLE AND ENCOURAGE FAMILY AND FRIENDS TO DO THE SAME!!!! And another thing think of your children and grandchildren. We can change, all it takes is you. Change starts with you!!!! Gandhi said "be change in the world you want to be".
Oleksiy P, Edmonton, Canada

Controlling our population is most emotive and least likly to succeed. Yet if we don't, it will be done for us.And I fear, in a most unpleasant manner.
Hans Meevis, St Maarten

IT is both, yes we need to change our lifestyles so we are not so wastefull. we would rather use throw away baby wipes than soap and water, or a buy a $2000 big screen that will break in two years so we can buy a new one that we can't afford but hey it is bigger than the joneses so my life is fullfilled. In Arizna a place were there is not enough water people are moving in and planting bushes and plants from places that have abundant water and still watering gallons a day that mostly evaporates in the 100 degree heat. western society is a wastefull society, and in America if you try to tell someone say to conserve their water they say I pay for it, I'll do what I want, and not care that there may not be any left to pay for after too long. Then they will have to find residence somewhere else till they deplete thier resources elswhere. when all along they could have just used native plants that need almost no water. It is the way people are and if technology improved and made the change for us then we wouldn't have to change so much but in the end we do need to be less wastefull and maybe do things the hard way like cooking dinner from ingredients and not a cardboard box from the freezer.
Kari, arizona

We consume a certain amount of energy to maintain our "god" like lives of control. No matter where it comes from, we need a defined amount. This amount is constantly growing. Over and above that we are overpopulating the planet. But humans will always be humans. No amount of leadership can stop human nature. Much like the "crabs in the bucket" theory. We will overpopulate the planet and in turn the planet will wipe us out. Then life will start again. I think it is arrogant of humans to believe that we can destroy the planet. We are guests here. If we aren't welcome we will be asked to leave and life will continue without us.
Marcus, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

This article just re-iterates what Lomborg called the Litany. The tragedy is that we cannot get good sanitation, medicine and refrigeration to the poorer populations - that's the real killer. And I don't buy the idea that life's all that bad these days: I'm very pleased that my children are going to school and not having to work up chimneys. All of the issues raised are really economic, not technological and should be addressed by ensuring that the 'externalities' are turned into 'internalities': eg, the polluter pays. It's not practical, or fair, to try to change people's behaviour as envisaged in this article: why should a subsaharan family have to sacrifice some of its children because people in the west are concerned about their own and their compatriots' consumption habits?
Tim, UK

It is not the lifestyle of the West that is the problem but the fact that the rest of the world rightly aspires to have that lifestyle also. As the world runs out of resources those at the margins will lose out since the wealthy will buy up all the resources. That includes the wealthy people in BRIC and other rapidly developing countries as well as the West and Japan. China and India are showing the way and are not going to be left behind. Indeed as they overtake us, it is the people in the UK who will be left cold and hungry as we run out of assets to sell to pay for our lifestyle based on imported food and fuel as well as consumer goods and services. Who then will help us?
Jim, Chichester

I agree with those that say human overpopulation is the problem. If we do not regulate ourselves then population control will be forced upon us one day. We must answer the question "What is the sustainable population of the world?". Those who avoid the question are burying their head in the sand. I believe the much of the answer to this problem is education.
David, Dorset, UK

Mr. O'Hara is correct that climate change and the overarching focus on Carbon is a red herring. Here in the Plains, people are actually plowing native prairie to plant corn for ethanol production, all for the "good of the environment." It's insane. I agree that we don't have a prayer of solving intractable environmental problems with a human population hurtling toward 10 billion, no matter how well intentioned those 10 billion are. But Mr. O'Hara is also correct that we're not just adding people, we're adding people who are insisting on a Western lifestyle, and that's happening in both the East and West. I'd like to be hopeful about where this planet is headed over the next century, but I can't think of any civilization in the past that has given me just cause to have that hope today.
Tim O'Connell, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA

How we live our lives is an important part of the problem, but ultimately, the real issue is too many people. That is the root of the entire problem, and the reason no one wants to deal with it.....economic downturn follows population reduction. Pure and simple. So, the root problem will continue to be ignored, until we populate ourselves into oblivion.
Rick McDaniel, Lewisville, TX USA

I am a fuzzy headed liberal who does know the facts, but I agree with Alex. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." "Physician, heal thyself." The world is overpopulated with selfish, lazy people who will change their behavior only for wrong reasons.
Michael E. Maus, Lakeview, Michigan, USA

I agree with Martin Herbert. I have long held that the world has only three problems - population, population and population. It has also been obvious for many years that the world could not support its whole population living in the same way as we do is the UK let alone as in the USA.
Ian Russell, Dorking, Surrey

Some more fear mongering from so-called experts to make us feel what they are doing is our fault. First, it's CO2 - the stuff we breathe out all the time - now it's an unsustainable lifestyle. Can't you people see that this is just one more strategy to get rid of useless eaters and to herd us into a very limited and imprisoned lifestyle?
Marina Marinara, Europe

We can change the way we lead our lives. Take bringing up children for example, in England it spits of rain and the children at school or home are sent in for a video or to play with their Nitendos. Luckily we live in Germany where children are outside alot, in all weathers (all a matter of correct clothing) and even climbing trees or making their own campfires. Why are we not teaching our children to be happy outdoors in England, do we seriously believe they will be happy just as mini-consumers?
Alice Thornton, Heidelberg, Germany

The best article I've read on this subject for a long time! Finally someone admits that we have to start with ourselves and our own habits. I would add that this doesn't have to be a dreary 'mea culpa' approach; changing one's habits to more sustainable ones can be great fun.
Klaus Huber, Bristol, UK

lifestyles vs population? Surely it's both: our culture/society sees having a child as a 'right' and the Chinese government as oppressive for only allowing one per couple... Meanwhile our most popular leisure activity is shopping... for things we don't really need.
A-consumer, Cambs

I think the gentleman from Rochester should check his own facts before brushing off the research of a Irish Regions Office policy adviser as "hippie nonsense." The idea that we will somehow come up with the answer to our problems when we need to our problems is not just childish, it's blind. Look around you. People all over the world are dying from a lack of food supplies and clean water, the oceans - including many species humans depend on for food - are becoming more polluted every day, and many plant and animal species truly are going extinct every day. It's hardly a matter of tree-hugging; without diverse, viable ecosystems, our species will simply be unable to eat, to survive at all. "We will naturally advance when our situation demands it" - I suppose you do not think our current situation is dire enough? If now is not the time for a "natural advancement" to save us, when will it be? Time is running out to take action, whether you choose to believe it or not.
Julia, Philadelphia, PA, USA

To those comments regarding population growthand overpopulation, did you see the portion of the articl that states we westerners are using 85% of the world's resources and we only make up 25% of the world's population? The problem is not over population, at least not right now. The problem is distribution of resources. We can live the way we do only because there are many others who are living with nearly nothing. I tend to agree whole heartedly with O'Hara. We are definitely missing the point.
Stuart, Deland, Florida, USA

I agree, but it is not the whole picture. If you read Clive Ponting's Green History of the World, you get a real perspective on humanity's growth over a few thousand years and its relentless repetition of mistakes. These pre-date capitalism and marketing. Humankind has always lived beyond his/her means whenever the opportunity has arisen. In many instances, disaster has followed. Five thousand years ago, soil depletion and flooding due to deforestation led to starvation and disaster in China. They are still repeating the same errors. I am not confident that those who typically lead human communities are able to make long-term and rational decisions, while the majority of the rest of us quite naturally want to have our cake and eat it, if it's available.
David Thorpe, Machynlleth, Wales

The west adopting a more sustainable lifestyle will not impact on the number of babies dying or the numbers of weapons made etc. It will however make those resources we have left last longer and in that at least I agree with Mr O'Hara. It does not have to be hard and it does not mean going without; I have a twenty year old hi fi, it is repairable and has been repaired. last year I brought a new DVD player and when it failed it was not repairable and had to be replaced. My wife brought me some new socks last month 6 pairs for one pound, the first pair has already gone in the bin after only three washes. On the other hand I have servicable pairs of socks first purchased 10 years ago, they cost more and it shows. All we need to do is ensure that we buy that which is designed to last and then keep it. we have to steel ourselves against a media and society that encourages continual change and newness. Whether socks, hifi or cars keep them as long as possible and the devil to fashion, buy it once and only buy it again when you can no longer maintain it. The EU could help by forcing manufactures to provide long term guarentees and designing for repair rathwer than replacement.
paul mursell, Swannington, England

Great article, I agree totally with your comments. Changing our life styles is the only long-term solution, and this includes controlling our population. Humans are in danger becoming a "plague" on planet earth with no natural predators. We should heed the warning of history - Easter Islanders used up all their natural resources and this ended in disaster. What is happening now is Easter Island on a global scale. However, we know where we are heading but can't/don't have the will to change. Unfortunatley, the only solution is government forcing us to change, but this won't happen as they will loose power. Therefore the majority needs to buy in to the need to change before change can really happen, and this will probably be too late!
Andrew, Bucks

Sorry, no - yet another example of wooly thinking on the subject of man and the environment. We are constantly told that 'we need these new roads because car usage will double in the x years', or 'x million new homes will be needed', or 'pollution is ruining the natural environment', and now 'global warming is due to excessive consumption'. All of which misses the fundamental point - all of these things have one and only one cause - the excessive number of human beings on the planet. In the UK we are trying to cram 60 million people into a space which might comfortably support 10 million, then we act surprised when our wildlife starts disappearing. The natural environment has only one problem facing it - obscene human overpopulation, and until people start talking about ways to tackle THAT root problem seriously, by changing the relationship of our race with our planet so that everyone starts taking responsibility for it - including, especially, responsibility for limiting our own reproduction, every other action taken is just a cosmetic band aid.
Martin Herbert, Llanidloes, Powys

I completly agree, I'd guess that even if lifestyles change, human over-population could be an even greater issue in the near future. 9.4 billion people in 2050? Also, is there anybody looking into: excessive packaging, and the fact that nothing seems to be built to last any more (expecially electrical goods)?
Will Reeves, Cambridge, Uk

Mankinds' self destructive nature combined with our individual inate sense of self preservation prevents us from ever fully accepting the hippie nonsense spouted in this article. We kill others to improve our own lives. Trying to stop this from happening goes against our inner, subconscious thinking. I say ignore the carbon footprints, ignore the "climate change" liberals who dont know their facts, and let life resume. We will naturally advance when our situation demands it. We will naturally develop better energy sources when we have to. Why waste billions of money now on technology thats not very good, when u can just wait a while for it to get better? Get off your high horse, check your facts, and stop this hippie nonsense before you do any more damage.
Alex, Rochester, Uk

Unfortunately, I agree completely with Mr. O'Hara. The real problem is leadership. In the USA, decisions and actions are based on the next election or the next quarterly financial report. What is the success rate for curing heroine addiction? It is hard to be hopeful.
Mark Guenther, Austin, Texas, USA

The problem doesn't lie with the sustainability of our lifestyles, it lies with the sustainability of our population.
Steve, Birmingham, UK

I agree with every word, but don't see how we can get off the run-away train that is western consumption habits. With the best will in the world, any politician tryign to sell this vision to the electorate won't last long, so we're pretty much doomed to carry on until natural limits force us to become sustainable - and they surely will.
Paul, London

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