New Study Says Technological Advances Alone Cannot Save The Environment
New Study Says Technological Advances Alone Cannot Save The Environment

Every year the environmental research group Worldwatch Institute in Washington releases a study called "State of the World."  This year, the study focuses on the need to change the global culture from consumption to sustainability.

Many economies around the world have become more environmentally friendly. But most continue to focus on consumption, a new study says. And those values will have to change to avoid more environmental damage. 

Chris Flavin, president of the environmental research group Worldwatch Institute in Washington, said "The world has made enormous progress in changing policies, in investing in new technologies, in general raising awareness about environmental problems. But we think that the big piece that is missing is the kind of transformation in human culture, away from consumerism towards a culture of sustainability."

The US is the number one consumer in the world, says Erik Assadourian, the study's project director.  "America itself is consuming one third of the world's resources on its own," he said.

Change must come through media, education, business, and government, he says. Many changes are already taking place. "During the year, when Michelle Obama was promoting the gardens, garden stores were selling out of seeds."

And Hollywood movies, like Avatar, are making a case for the environment. 

Flavin says businesses have also had a positive impact. One is the mega-chain Wal-Mart. "On one hand, Wal-Mart's whole business model is based on consumption. On the other hand Wal-Mart has gone through a tremendous effort over the last couple of years to integrate environmental sustainability into not only its own practices but to force this into the supply chain."  

He says Walmart is seeking suppliers that follow green practices. 

But not everyone agrees that consumption must be reduced. Patrick Michael from the conservative Cato Institute doesn't address environmental issues around consumption. He says environmentalists have been repeating the same tragic predictions for decades. "That the population is so high that there will be a major population crash, that we will run out of food unless we change our ways, this just turns out not to be truth."

But religious leaders, like Pope Benedict, have been reminding the faithful that consumption is not the way to find meaning. Assadourian insists that money doesn't buy happiness.

"If we keep defining our happiness through how much we consume it's going to lead to tragic end," says Mr. Assadourian.

Although Patrick Michael from the Cato Institute says religious leaders and movies have only a short lived influence, World Watch disagrees.

Aside from Avatar, Assadourian  points to "Wall-e," one of the most popular animations in movie history. "In the backdrop there was extreme consumerism.  The world was literally destroyed by a corporation called "buy in large" and the only people that were left in the world were these few incredibly obese individuals floating in space."

On the other side, commercials are driving consumers, starting with small children.

Assadourian says one percent of the global economic product is spent on ads and commercials.   

He says the global economy must change to a sustainable system now - before social issues and ecological degradation become overwhelming.