The world faces environmental havoc unless people shift from a culture where success is measured by the accumulation of goods to one where people are admired for living sustainably, experts warned in a report published Tuesday.
"It's no longer enough to change our light bulbs; we must change our very cultures," said Erik Assadourian, project director of the State of the World 2010, released by independent research organization The Worldwatch Institute.
The culture of consumerism "has taken root in culture upon culture over the past half-century ... (and) become a powerful driver of the inexorable increase in demand for resources and production of waste that marks our age," says the report.
But consumer cultures are unsustainable and are driving the planet towards a "great collision between a finite planet and the seemingly infinite demands of human society," the report warns.
"More than 6.8 billion human beings are now 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 each year," it says.
The numbers will continue to rise, as people in developing nations aspire towards the same consumer lifestyles as their peers in the West, the report says, calling for a "wholesale transformation of dominant cultural patterns" to "prevent the collapse of human civilization."
"This transformation would reject consumerism - the cultural orientation that leads people to find meaning, contentment and acceptance through what they consume - as taboo, and establish in its place a new cultural framework centered on sustainability," the report says.
In more human terms, the shift would mean that "machismo is not about the size of your car, but the fact that you don't have one at all," said Assadourian.
To achieve the shift, everyone from religious leaders, governments, educators, to everyday citizens will have to play a role, the report said.
"The good news is, this is not only possible, but already happening: from incorporating 'earth rights' into the constitution of Ecuador, to schools integrating ecologic awareness," Assadourian said.