‘development’ is destroying our world. The biggest problem with consumerism: the fact that people don’t realise that there is a problem. We are already consuming resources at an alarming rate, and quicker than our planet is able to replenish them. If we focus on Western countries where the culture is the most developed, the problem is even greater. It has been estimated that, if everyone on earth consumed the same amount as the average US citizen, then four planet earths would be needed to sustain us¹. The story gets worse with even wealthier countries, with an estimated 5.4 planet earths needed to sustain us if we all lived at the same standard as the United Arab Emirates¹.
There are a number of negative effects caused by the contemporary consumeristic society, including:
The huge rise in resource consumption in wealthier countries has led to an ever widening gap between the rich and the poor. As the age old saying goes, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”. Using the latest data, in 2005 59% of the world resources were consumed by the wealthiest 10% of the population. Conversely, the poorest 10% accounted for just 0.5% of utilisation².
Building on this, we can look at the trends in spending, and where this money could be better used. It has been estimated that just US$6 billion would provide basic education worldwide. Another $22 billion would give every person on the planet access to clean water, basic health services, and sufficient nutrition². Now if we look at some areas of spending, we can see that our society has serious problems. It is estimated that every year, Europeans spend $11 billion on ice cream – yes ice cream! This is nearly enough to bring an education to every child on the planet, twice. Building on this figure, around $50 billion is spent on cigarettes in Europe alone, and around $400 billion is spent on narcotic drugs around the world². If we could reduce our consumption levels by just a fraction of what they are now, then we could dramatically change the lives of poverty stricken people around the world.
Research shows a close link between the rise of the modern culture of consumerism and the worrying rates of obesity we are seeing around the world. However, this comes as no surprise, as consumerism implies exactly that – using as much as we can, rather than as much as we need.
This causes a domino effect of problems on society. Over-consuming leads to obesity, which in turn leads to further cultural and social problems. For example, medical services are stretched further and further as the worldwide obesity rates rise. In the USA, per capita medical expenses are said to be around $2500 more for obese people than for people of a healthy weight³.
As well as obvious social and economic problems, consumerism is destroying our environment. As the demand for goods increases, the need to produce these goods also increases. This leads to more pollutant emissions, increased land-use and deforestation, and accelerated climate change⁴.
We are experiencing devastating effects on the planets water supplies, as more and more water stores are used up or diverted as a part of intensive farming procedures. Waste disposal is becoming a problem worldwide, and our oceans are slowly but surely becoming a giant waste disposal pit. It is estimated that over half of the plastic produced every year is single use – this means that it is used once, and then either thrown into landfill or finds its way into the environment. According to scientists, up to 12 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year, forming giant floating garbage patches all over the world⁵.
It is obvious that we need to reduce consumerism and change our current lifestyles, otherwise the planet we know will cease to exist. We are currently consuming resources at an unsustainable rate, which is causing mass environmental destruction and social problems across the world. Make a change today by reducing materialistic possessions, increasing recycling, and raising awareness in your community.