What we consume makes a difference

Every person uses up a certain amount of the Earth's resources. These resources are limited – and it is possible that they will run out.

Because people living in wealthy countries have a higher standard of living than those in poor nations, they tend to consume more resources. An “ecological footprint” formula has been devised by the Victorian Government's Environmental Protection Authority, to calculate an individual’s environmental impact.

Studies using this calculation show that if everyone in the world consumed resources at the same rate as people in the richest countries, humans would need at least three planet Earths to support them. 

In mid 2005, the world’s population was 6.45 billion. In the next 50 years, it is expected to grow to 9 billion. This is not good news for our environment. It will be especially hard for poor people who already lack the resources they need to survive. 

Climate change is happening because of the rapid consumption of resources by both developed and developing countries. However, here in Australia and other rich nations we rarely have to deal with the impacts that our consumption is having on the environment. But these are being felt in the world’s poorest communities.

  • Developed nations like Australia contribute significantly to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Heavy use of motor vehicles and the burning of fossil fuels in power plants and industrial processes are mainly to blame.
  • Pesticides and industrial waste that get into the waterways are killing off oceanic fish stocks. This is especially affecting people in poor countries who rely on fishing to survive. 
  • Pollution from car exhaust fumes and the burning of fossil fuels has contributed to the depletion of the ozone layer. Emissions of some of these substances have now been reduced, but recovery takes time. 
  • Deforestation, particularly on slopes, means more rainwater pours into rivers, causing floods further downstream – often in vulnerable communities who live on low-lying land. Communities that rely on fertile flood plains for their annual crop go hungry if the rain doesn’t come, or if too much comes. 
  • Every tree felled counts. In poorer countries, where trees are cut down to expand farm land or provide fuel for cooking or heating, soil erosion is often the result. Crops don’t grow as well in depleted soil, water is not as well absorbed and heavy rains and floods can become more frequent and more damaging.

All of these factors are making the environment worse for the world’s most vulnerable people - those living in poverty. When their environment worsens, their struggle becomes all the harder.

LEFT: Deforestation is having a major impact on the environment in countries like Ethiopia. RIGHT: This banana plantation was partially washed away in flash floods attributed to deforestation.