Before evaluating consumerism and its fatal consequences to the environment, it is important to mention the profit-oriented capitalist system. As buying and selling goods and services is the driving force behind consumer culture, the system requires highly workaholic labourers, technocrats, and a plethora of obsessive customers for their success. Obviously, this comes with huge costs like rising income disparity and poverty, poor mental health, and an unsustainable planet.
Consumerism is the usage of goods and services in an excessive manner, stimulated by changing trends, technologies, and as a status symbol. It’s a habit of buying things that are not the basic necessities for living. A close observation of statistics of consumerism shows that a shocking amount of 60-80% of GHG emissions is caused by household consumption alone. The research on the rise of a “consumer class” indicates that 1.7 billion people are swallowed up by consumer culture and more detailed data shows that about 240 million people in China and 120 million people in India are categorized as consumer class.
This overwhelming increase in expenditure by exploiting the natural system is detrimental not only to the environment but also to the poor people by worsening the disparity based on wealth, pushing the poor further into poverty and misery. The reason behind giving more stress on poverty or income disparity is that provisions for basic income could bring a considerable change in the purchasing pattern, thereby more people would be able to move towards sustainable consumption.
The tremendous increase in production and consumption after the industrial revolution leads to a drastic increase in the use of energy by exasperating the limited resources of ecology. The core issue with human beings is that we tend to maximize profit by prioritizing the economy and denying it’s adverse consequences on the environment. The economy is boosted by high profit through the increase in consumption which is possible by growth in production. For production, the industries over-extract and exploit the natural resources like wood, water, ore, fossil fuels without considering the certainty of resource depletion. In the long run, these actions will have negative outcomes that result in more severe environmental issues than the earth currently suffering from, this includes intense heat, drought, flood, water depletion, and other natural and man-made disasters.
Fast Fashion And Food Industry
The fashion industry and the fast-food industry are major players in polluting our planet, these industries have high production and consumption. The fashion industry requires mass production to stay relevant in the ever-changing market and inexpensive clothing and other fashion products have sociological and environmental hazards. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world and they create about 10% of total carbon emissions through the over usage of fossil fuels.
There are other high environmental costs to pay for cheap clothing due to the use of non-degradable prudent materials like polyester and the huge amount of clothes that are wasted every year. On the other hand, the processed food industry with mass production of meats causes immeasurable negative effects on the environment. According to the United Nations report, farming creates 15% of GHG emissions and already produces one and a half times more food than we actually needed, leading to mass food wastage, consequently erosion of energy and resources.
Almost 40% of the cultivable land in the world is now used for animal farming, this mishandling of lands and overconsumption of meat has considerable health issues and is the major threat to the limited natural resources, especially water.
In the UK alone millions of tons of food go wasted every year, needless to say about the over-usage plastic by the food industry. So, the fashion and fast food industries have a significant role in climate change by burning fossil fuels, deforestation, or land clearing for farming and through our use and throw culture. More or less, we all contribute to this process by being part of the consumer culture and we are supposed to be more careful about the things we purchase because our preferences have substantial outcomes.
Agriculture and transportation are other major goods and services industries that are highly expended and are major contributors to Green-House Gas and Carbon Dioxide emissions. The agriculture industry is generating a total of 13-18% of GHG emissions and the transportation industry is generating about 24% of global CO2 emissions. Not to mention the construction and technology enterprises which contribute a rising share to the total pollution across the globe.
The over-usage of plastic and used electronic manufactures dumped in the oceans and sent to the poor countries from the rich, throw away culture, growing population, misuse of cultivable lands, deforestation, and extraction of natural resources are all directly connected to unsustainable consumerism.
Like the saying, better late than never, there are still a lot of decisions and actions we can take to reverse climate change and overconsumption. The industries should use renewable energy sources and manufacture sustainable products and also become effective in reducing the number of products going to the garbage.
As individuals, we can take up veganism or cut short meat intake, and use sustainable products like reusable shopping bags, taking public transport and eating locally produced organic foods and putting a full stop to throw away culture and through campaigns and awareness. Ultimately, by acknowledging the fact that each and every choice we make will have an impact on the environment.