Developing nations pay for Western consumerism

9 September 2010

Professor Manfred Lenzen, recent Eureka Prize finalist and Director of the Integrated Sustainability Analysis Research Group (ISA) based within the University of Sydney's School of Physics, says that many people are not aware of the environmental and social impacts of our consumption.


"When consumers reach for a product from the shelf or in a department store they don't realise the enormous environmental and social impact that the product can have globally," he says.

With funding from a seed grant to help develop quantitative research on this area Professor Lenzen's project "From centres of consumption to environmental hot spots: How international trade facilitates pressure on water and resources" will use supercomputer-aided quantitative modeling of environmentally destructive global supply chains.

"Developing nations are paying a high price for Western consumption with the exploitation of a cheap labour market, environmental pollution, forests being degraded and species threatened. Our consumer habits even support armed conflict."

"Almost everyone has a mobile phone but most consumers don't know that a key component in the manufacture of mobile phones is tantalum, an element that is mined in the Congo, where there is civil war. Revenues derived from the mining of tantalum often end up funding weapons for rebel groups. So our consumption indirectly supports war."

In addition to armed conflict, scarce water resources are now a problem affecting many developing countries. Professor Lenzen hopes to highlight such issues in the scope of research, which will be conducted in partnership with the University of Bonn's Centre for Peace and Development and the Australian Academy of Science.

"At the University of Sydney we have a lot of experience with the quantitative issues of large-scale modeling of global trade outs, and our German partners have excellent expertise in international policy and developing world issues."

Professor Lenzen will travel to work at Bonn with German scientists on the project with his visit then reciprocated by a German counterpart.

It is hoped that the outcome of this partnered research will enable us to trace the global environmental impact of our consumption habits, and in doing so make us more aware of what our money is really affecting.

Contact: Alison Muir

Phone: 02 9036 5194

Email: 340a2737261b782313283330354e132928301e0c3d10792920