Welcome to the World of Waste and Imbalance

The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed, said Mahatma Gandhi in 1947. Gandhi’s prescient words came on the cusp of a great acceleration in human consumption and production that now results in “Earth overshoot day.”

We are borrowing from our future and we are altering Earth’s natural cycles to the extent that there is a mountain of evidence we have entered a new geological epoch — the Anthropocene.

This world we have created is a world of waste and imbalance, where 800 million go hungry each night, but more than two billion suffer obesity; and while scarcity and shortages plague some places, waste is prevalent: 30 percent of electricity produced, 40 percent of food produced and 50 percent of transportation capacity is wasted. Every dollar of GDP produced produces more than a dollar in unaccounted pollution, waste, health risks and loss of nature.

At the heart of the problem is the cycle of consumption and production. Goal 12 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which will be agreed to at a UN summit in New York later this month, attempts to tackle this head on, but the wording is so vague in places that all nations will be able to demonstrate some progress without converting to a truly sustainable model.

On the one hand, consumers are not receiving a price signal that their choices are driving ecological collapse. Recent research led by Beatrice Crona at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, for example, shows that when fish stocks collapse in a region, fishermen move further afield to source the same fish and fish prices remain more or less stable. It’s only when the entire fish stock on a very large scale is on the verge of collapse that consumers start to feel the pinch.

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