Overconsumption is what happens when an ecosystem can no longer sustain the use of its resources. It stripes the earth of natural resources, such as forests, fish, soil, minerals and water, which collapses ecosystems, ruins habitats and endangers the survival of countless species that contribute to an intricate, vibrant circle of life. as forests, fish, soil, minerals and water, which collapses ecosystems, ruins habitats and endangers the survival of countless species that contribute to an intricate, vibrant circle of life.
In general, there has been a discussion for the reason of overconsumption paralleling with the overpopulation of people. Overconsumption is not just affected by the raw number of people. In fact, population growth has been more “in control” than it has been for the past 50 years. The global rate of population growth has been declining from just over 2% per year in 1970 to 1.05% in 2020.
So the greater factor for overconsumption is our lifestyle, including our overall affluence and use of resources, and especially the pollution it generates.
In 2019, a warning on the climate crisis signed by 11,000 scientists from over 150 nations said economic growth is the driving force behind the “excessive extraction of materials and overexploitation of ecosystems” and that this “must be quickly curtailed to maintain long-term sustainability of the biosphere.” Also in 2019, the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published by the United Nations‘ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which found that up to one million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction from human activity, asserted that
“A key element of more sustainable future policies is the evolution of global financial and economic systems to build a global sustainable economy, steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth”.
While the population rate has decreased, resource consumption hasn’t. For instance, if we look at the use of fossil fuels from 1970 onwards, it has not decreased, hence it is not comparable with the population.
Fossil fuel consumption has increased significantly over the past half-century, and roughly doubled since 1980 Also, the division of fossil fuel use shows that it is not equally divided. In 2019 an average American used almost twice as much oil than someone in Japan, and almost 350 times as much as a person living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Further, currently the richest one percent of the world’s population is responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity.
But this behaviour of consuming, also so-called ‘overconsumption’ has worsened the climate, our environment and our capacity for natural resources.
But why do we consume so much?
In agricultural societies, the reality of people was to work hard but consume little.
This has changed tremendously with the rise of global affluence and the Industrial Revolution. This increased the money people received – the disposable income- and so they could consume much more than just the essentials like food and shelter.
This disposable income led to more social mobility. People were using their money for leisure activities, better homes and luxurious lifestyles, also in the desire to show off their status. The rise of the middle class was happening and so the need to work harder and earn money to get where everyone else seemed to be. At this time the slow but steady economic growth went hand in hand with the modern era of cheap global shopping and runaway consumption.
This was a great situation for businesses, using modern communication technologies to create a desire for more goods and services.
Today, we still see this on the internet, with users being exposed to luxurious lifestyles of celebrities or influences. It is also very simple nowadays, through online shopping, to buy clothes of an admired influencer in just a few clicks. Nearly 40% of Twitter users say they’ve purchased as a direct result of a Tweet from an influencer.
Effect on health
A report from the Lancet commission says the same. The experts write: “Until now, undernutrition and obesity have been seen as polar opposites of either too few or too many calories,” “In reality, they are both driven by the same unhealthy, inequitable food systems, underpinned by the same political economy that is single-focused on economic growth, and ignores the negative health and equity outcomes. Climate change has the same story of profits and power,”. Obesity was a medical problem for people who over consumed food and worked too little already in ancient Rome, and its impact slowly grew through history. As to 2012, mortality from obesity was 3 times larger than from hunger, reaching 2.8 million people per year by 2017.
Overuse of artificial energy, for example, in cars, hurts health and the planet. Promoting active living and reducing sedentary lifestyle, for example, by cycling, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and improve health.
What is the impact of overconsumption and what can we do?
Unfortunately, our over consumerism has caused great suffocation to our planet and people. The fashion industry, especially fast fashion, is a great example of the negative impact of over consumerism. The rise of polyester garments not only rises global warming, but sheds microfibers that adds to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans. Additionally, billions of clothes end up in landfills.
The zero-waste movement is one great source of inspiration to create a less consuming lifestyle. It can help when wanting to become more conscious about one’s amount of waste processed by consuming, not only focusing on reducing plastic waste but also food waste and from goods. In general, a great way to start consuming more consciously, for instance when buying new clothes, is to always check whether you need new clothes, if they can also be bought second- hand or if you already own something similar. Above that, you can always question your buying choice by applying the Buying Hierarchy of needs illustration by Sarah Lazarovic.
We have only one Earth. Today, the 7.8 billion people on it are using more of its resources than it can provide. Every new person is a new consumer, adding to that demand. Some of us take far more than others and there are many steps we must take to make our consumption sustainable – adding fewer new consumers everywhere is one of them.