The modern society of consumerism and rampant ‘development’ is destroying our world. The biggest problem with consumerism is the fact that people do not realize that there is a problem. We are already consuming resources at an alarming rate and quicker than our planet is able to replenish.
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 four planet earths would be needed to sustain us. 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 Emirates.
There are a number of negative effects caused by the contemporary consumerist society.
How does consumerism affect the quality of life on our planet?
Effects of consumerism on society: Global inequality
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 percent of the world resources were consumed by the wealthiest ten percent of the population. Conversely, the poorest ten percent accounted for just 0.5 percent of resource utilization .
Building on this, we could 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 nutrition .
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 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 world .
Effects of consumerism on individuals: Obesity
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 should come as no surprise, since 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 $2,500 more for obese people than for people of a healthy weight .
Effects of consumerism on the environment: Pollution and resource depletion
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 change .
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 world .
What can we do?
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.