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Big emitters: how growth in consumption drives climate change

David Satterthwaite

Briefing, 4 pages

It seems obvious that the more people there are on the planet, the more the pressure on planetary resources and the larger the emissions of greenhouse gases. So it also seems obvious that population growth must be a major driver of global warming. But it is just as obvious that very poor households contribute very little to greenhouse gas emissions. So if most of the world’s population growth is among very poor households, population growth is not the culprit. The greatest human driver of global warming is the number of consumers on the planet and their consumption level. Individuals and households contribute to global warming by consuming goods and services that cause greenhouse gas emissions – for instance, by owning a refrigerator or a car. Through this they are responsible for all the fossil fuels that go into making, distributing, advertising, selling, using and disposing of it.

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