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The end of consumerism: Our way of life is 'not viable'

New report says we must embrace a basic future to survive

Ditch the dog; throw away (sorry, recycle) those takeaway menus; bin bottled water; get rid of that gas-guzzling car and forget flying to far-flung places. These are just some of the sacrifices we in the West will need to make if we are to survive climate change.

The stark warning comes from the renowned Worldwatch Institute, a Washington-based organisation regarded as the world's pre-eminent environmental think tank.

Its State of the World 2010 report published this week outlines a blueprint for changing our entire way of life. "Preventing the collapse of human civilisation requires nothing less than a wholesale transformation of dominant cultural patterns. This transformation would reject consumerism... and establish in its place a new cultural framework centred on sustainability," states the report.

"Habits that are firmly set – from where people live to what they eat – will all need to be altered and in many cases simplified or minimised... From Earth's perspective, the American or even the European way of life is simply not viable."

Nobel prize winner and microfinance expert Muhammad Yunus, writing in the foreword, describes the report as calling for "one of the greatest cultural shifts imaginable: from cultures of consumerism to cultures of sustainability".

Almost seven billion people are demanding ever greater quantities of material resources, decimating the world's richest ecosystems, and dumping billions of tons of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

And any actions taken by governments, or scientific advances to deal with climate change, are doomed to failure unless individuals get back to a basic way of life, concludes the report – which recommends things like borrowing books and toys from libraries instead of buying them, choosing public transport over the car, and growing food in community gardens. In addition, all products should be designed to last a lifetime and be completely recyclable.

A seismic shift in thinking is needed, according to senior researcher Erik Assadourian, project director of the report: "Making policy and technology changes while keeping cultures centred on consumerism and growth can only go so far. To thrive long into the future, human societies must shift their cultures so sustainability becomes the norm."

But the report's findings were attacked last night by Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. "Let's face it, by 2050, the combined population of China and India alone will have grown to three billion. By then, most Chinese and Indians will have adopted an urban lifestyle. This... makes demands for radical curbs in consumerism and CO2 emissions utterly unrealistic."

People need to be persuaded of the benefits of tackling climate change, rather than be presented with a "defeatist and doomsday scenario", according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). "Questions around consumption are not so much about the rate of it, but the fact that the full environmental impacts are not yet fully reflected inwhat is consumed... until environmental impacts are fully factored in, we need behaviours and/or production methods to change," said a DECC spokes-man.