Here’s a funny thing about human nature. When it comes to the most essential questions – medical matters especially – we love and trust scientists. In fact we routinely put our lives in their hands.

Why then are we so reluctant to take scientists seriously when it comes to climate change? A good example is a recent UN report. The unglamorously named Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) employed more than 450 scientists and diplomats to produce their ground-breaking study. Its findings are the stuff of bad dreams.

Globally, human society is in existential peril from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems, according to years of painstaking research by the world’s leading scientists. From vast coral reefs perishing to rainforests bulldozed into landscapes reminiscent of post-bomb Hiroshima, nature is being destroyed at a rate tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10m years. The total biomass of wild mammals, for example, has fallen by 82 per cent. Natural ecosystems have lost about half their extent and a million species are at risk of extinction – all primarily due to human activity.

Take insects, crucial for plant pollination and as a source of food for numerous species. Conservative estimates suggest at least one in 10 are threatened with extinction and world populations have crashed. Nor are we humans unaffected. The report concludes pollinator loss has put up to $577bn (£440bn) of crop output at risk.

No less than 75 per cent of global land has been turned over to agriculture, buried under concrete, drowned by dam reservoirs or otherwise altered. Roughly 66 per cent of the marine environment has been affected by fish farms, shipping routes, undersea mines and other projects. We have nowhere left to expand.

As Robert Watson, the chair of the IBPES concluded: “The health of the ecosystems on which we and other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. We have lost time. We must act now.”

The warnings are apocalyptic. Yet I suspect the majority of decent, responsible folk will still find it easier to ignore the reality of mankind’s destructive habits.

We are, after all, evolved from intelligent apes and our early ancestors thrived upon a ruthless, human-centric attitude to nature, summed up by the ancient Greek philosopher, Protagoras: “Man is the measure of all things”. Only over the last few years, it feels, have we learned the very opposite is true. Worse, rapid changes to such deep set assumptions usually only happen in war situations.

Personally, I believe we are in a terrible war situation. The enemy is our own unsustainable culture and way of life. It is abundantly clear mass consumerism is putting our whole species at risk. Still we seem to be addicted to endless cycles of shopping and chucking away, buying and disposing, frittering resources for the sake of short-term gratification, even while aware we are killing the world upon which we depend. The mantra“reduce, reuse and recycle” is all too often an empty slogan.

Can we change? That relies on us all. But if there is one thing the climate emergency has exposed, it is that we can no longer prioritise the profits of business at the expense of the common good. Consumerism relies on a graph of GDP and consumption going always up: but as the IPBES study makes clear, the graph of species and resources being consumed by human greed mirrors the statistics for economic growth.

Collectively, we need to face the fact that Nature is the measure of all things, not human beings. Above all, to save the planet we need to simply buy and own less 'stuff', especially in the hyper-prosperous West. Ironically, I suspect we would discover owning far less adds up to possessing far more when it comes to happiness. Consumerism is inherently based on encouraging dissatisfaction with your lot in life and encouraging competition between people. The alternative, a way of living in harmony with nature we have yet to properly conceive, might yet set us all free.