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Consumerism plays a huge role in climate change

Consumerism plays a huge role in climate change

By on 24 Feb 2016commentsShare

It’s easy to hate on consumption. It turns otherwise intelligent people into manipulable drones, leads to rampant privacy violations, helps people like Jeff Bezos and Sam Walton get disgustingly rich and powerful, encourages advertisers to shove garbage like this in our faces, and culminates every year in a tradition so degrading and horrific that it forces us to question whether we all really did die after Y2K and this is actually hell.

But here’s one more thing: A new study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that the stuff we consume — from food to knick-knacks — is responsible for up to 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and between 50 and 80 percent of total land, material, and water use. So, you know, get that Amazon trigger finger ready, because you’re gonna want to do some comfort shopping after this.

“We all like to put the blame on someone else, the government, or businesses. … But between 60-80 percent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption. If we change our consumption habits, this would have a drastic effect on our environmental footprint as well,” Diana Ivanova, a PhD candidate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and lead author on the study, said in a press release.


According to the study, about four-fifths of the environmental impact of consumerism comes not from direct behaviors like driving cars or taking long showers, but rather from sources further down our products’ supply chains. The amount of water that goes into a hamburger or frozen pizza, for example, proved much more significant than showering and dish washing habits. This is great news, of course, because everyone knows how easy it is to track products from the obscure mines that they sprang from to the local Bed Bath & Beyond (not).

To figure this all out, Ivanova and her colleagues used economic data from most of the world and looked at different product sectors, including supply chain information.

They found that consumerism was much higher in rich countries than in poor countries (surprise!) and that those with the highest rates of consumerism had up to 5.5 times the environmental impact as the world average. The U.S., they reported, had the highest per capita emissions with 18.6 tonnes CO2 equivalent (“CO2 equivalent” is a metric that rolls multiple types greenhouse gas emissions into one). Luxembourg had 18.5 tonnes, and Australia came in third with 17.7 tonnes. The world average, for comparison, was 3.4 tonnes, and China had just 1.8 tonnes.

So if you’re like me and occasionally use the individual-action-doesn’t-matter rationale to, say, buy cheap home furnishings from Target, then it’s time to face the music: Consumerism is killing the planet (and our souls).

So skip the mall this weekend, and go buy a bus pass instead. Then, if you really want to challenge yourself, see how long you can go without buying something off of Amazon. If you need some motivation, try turning it into a competition with your friends: Whoever caves first has to go work for Amazon.



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Another week, another oil tanker hijacking

Another week, another oil tanker hijacking

Last week, we explained why piracy has shifted from Africa’s east coast to its west. In short: higher security near Somalia combined with a new strategy near Nigeria. In at least one hijacking, pirates sought a tanker’s cargo of oil instead of ransoms for crew members.

Or, rather, in at least two hijackings. From the AP:

A French-owned oil tanker missing off Ivory Coast with 17 sailors on board likely has been hijacked, an official with an international piracy watchdog said Monday, in what may be the latest attack by criminal gangs targeting the ships to steal their valuable cargo. Meanwhile, a sailor died in a similar attack Monday near Nigeria’s largest city.

Details remained scarce Monday about the fate of the ship, flagged in Luxembourg. The ship had been reported missing Sunday and officials believe it fell victim to the same pirates operating throughout the Gulf of Guinea, said Noel Choong, a spokesman for the International Maritime Bureau in Malaysia.


Pirates surrender to a U.S. Navy vessel near Somalia in 2011.

This is on top of two near misses.

The presumed attack Sunday comes amid a series of escalating attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, which follows the continent’s southward curve from Liberia to Gabon. On Monday, pirates attacked another oil tanker anchored off Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, shooting one of the crew members, Choong said. The sailor died while in transit to a local hospital, the maritime bureau later said, though offering no other details.

A security detail from the Nigerian navy shot back at the attackers, driving them away, the bureau said. Commodore Kabir Aliyu, a spokesman for Nigeria’s navy, declined to immediately comment about the attack.

In another attack Thursday off Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta, pirates on several small boats assaulted another tanker. In a sign of how violent the attacks have grown, the pirates fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the tanker during the onslaught, which missed the ship, the maritime bureau said. The crew suffered no injuries in the attack and their ship escaped, though it sustained damage from the gunfire, the bureau said.

As we’ve mentioned before, some of the region’s oil is headed for America’s East Coast. When pirates plagued the coast of Somalia, corporations hired security teams and the U.S. Navy got involved. It would be very surprising if similar measures weren’t under discussion at Shell and Chevron at this very minute.


French tanker likely hijacked off Ivory Coast, Associated Press

Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.

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