The pace of China's economic growth poses a dire threat for the planet unless Beijing and other industrial countries change their outdated model of production and consumption, an environmental activist warned.
"Our global civilization today is on an economic path that is environmentally unsustainable, a path that is leading us toward economic decline and eventual collapse," said Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute.
As China surpasses the US in the consumption of most basic resources, economists must grasp the need to restructure the "old economy," Brown said during a presentation on his new book, Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble.
China already consumes almost twice as much meat as the US (61 million tonnes compared to 35 million tonnes), and more than twice as much steel (234 million tonnes compared to 94 million tonnes), Brown said, citing figures compiled by his institute.
If the Chinese continue to pursue the "American dream," its 1.45 billion inhabitants are projected to consume the equivalent of two-thirds of the world's grain harvest and double the world's current paper production by the year 2031, according to Brown.
"There go the world's forests," he said.
The Western economic model -- built on fossil fuels, cars and disposable products -- cannot function in such a populous country as China, nor in India, where the population will surpass China's in 2031, Brown said.
At a time of globalization and intense competition to produce more at ever lower prices, the contemporary economic model is doomed, he said.
"Environmental scientists have been saying for some time that the global economy is being slowly undermined by environmental trends of human origin, including shrinking forests, expanding deserts, falling water tables, eroding soils, collapsing fisheries, rising temperatures, melting ice, rising seas and increasingly destructive storms," Brown said.
With the onset of climate change, Brown said that "we may be approaching the point of no return."
To avert disaster, the world must embrace renewable energy, move to eradicate poverty, stabilize population and restore natural systems, according to Brown's prescription.
There were encouraging signs that China was prepared to adjust its policies amid increasing concern over air and water pollution, he said.
"There is growing recognition in China that they have to make some changes ... though it has not yet publicly taken the form of saying the Western economic model is not going to work for us," Brown said.