The Necessity to Reduce Avoidable Consumption in the Developed World - Mike Ko, Kayla Reiser, Sanchita Sanganeria, Yash Shiroya (Group 2)
In this blog post we will be discussing both necessary and unnecessary consumption patterns in the developed and developing worlds. The term “consumption” constitutes multiple things - from the foods we eat to the goods and services we use. As the developed world has shown, an increase in consumption means economic growth; however, is economic growth always a good thing? The production of “stuff” does not go without consequence, specifically for the environment. There’s a difference between life’s necessities and the goods we simply want. In the end, there needs to be a shift in consumption to avoid the production of unnecessary “stuff”, particularly in the developed world.
According to Alex Kirby, in an article titled “Human Consumption of Earth's Natural Resources Has Tripled in 40 Years”  from EcoWatch, a rapidly growing middle class has caused rising consumption, and thus rising extraction of materials from the earth. The richest countries use ten times more resources than the poorest countries. However, the use of these resources affect the poorest countries as much, if not more, than the countries consuming the most. The figure below (left) from the article “Reasons for Increase in Demand for Energy” from BBC depicts the distribution of consumption around the world.
Consumption has been on the rise since nations began to industrialize, and what’s even worse is that energy consumption is not expected to decrease, as shown in the figure above (right) from US Energy Information Administration . The developed world has already gone through their period of industrialization, and so the increase we saw in the last forty years is not going to be from the industrialized nations in the future. Rather, the developing world is expected to account for about 70% of the increased energy demand, especially from China and India. Read “Reasons for Increase in Demand for Energy”  from BBC to learn more about how as nations develop, energy demands increase.
It makes sense that as the population grows, there are more people demanding goods and services, and thus consuming. Why, though, do developed nations have to consume so much? According to Annie Leonard in her video “The Story of Stuff” , the developed world, particularly the US, consumes as much as it does strictly because of capitalism. In our society, developed means having a stable economy. This is measured through GDP, which increases as a nation produces more. Thus, a nation’s identity is based on its level of consumerism.
If energy consumption is expected to shift towards the developing nations with faster growing populations, why does the capitalist-based economy of the developed world matter all that much? One reason is the fact that the developing world will only mimic what industrialized nations have done in the past. As nations develop, eventually more of the world will become consumerists, just like the people of the US. This is particularly alarming because as the article, “How many Earths do we need?”  from BBC states, if everyone in the world consumed as much as Americans, it would take four earths to sustain that lifestyle.
With all this being said, our problem of overconsumption is not an easy fix. To enable the continued survival of our species, some things that are consumed are simply unavoidable. Major examples include food, water, clothing, and shelter. Without food and water we cannot survive. We need clothing to survive extreme weather conditions that take place in the different parts of the world. Without shelter, we’re not protected from the sun, climate, or even predators. While the above mentioned are extremely necessary for human survival, there are also other things like basic education, health and nutrition, and reproductive health for women that require unavoidable consumption. To enable proper facilities for sanitation and health, basic infrastructure and availability of medical equipments are required. Since ideally every individual should be allowed to have these basic needs, it can be seen that these goods and services are linearly related to population size. In other words, every individual requires their own share of food, shelter, clothing, medical services, etc. Thus, as population grows, the demand for basic necessities will increase as well as the resources to fulfill these needs. For example, with increasing population, more and more lands are being used for agriculture, but at the same time, more infrastructures need to be built on these lands. Population growth cannot take place without more use of natural resources; and the more the population, the more the waste that is being generated. The graph below from the article “Peak Phosphorus”  shows another example of population growth being directly correlated with oil production.
Anything that is consumed apart from the necessities can be termed as a luxury. Production of these luxury items requires the use of natural resources which are becoming more scarce with the passage of time. As a result, these goods and services have an economic, social, and environmental impact. It has been seen that the wealthiest 20% account for 86% of private consumption in the World. Most of the energy consumption comes from the developed countries like the US and UK. People in these countries spend an enormous amount of money on things like alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. In addition, there is almost equally the number of cars in the US as the number of people, contributing greatly to the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. People also have an unreasonable amount of clothes, shoes, and accessories; unwilling to wear something more than once. Increasing popularity of social media has made everyone desire electronics such as smartphones and laptops which are disposed of without being recycled. While shelter is important, having huge houses with an unneeded number of rooms and lavish decor is unnecessary and adds to wasteful consumption. As said before, the development of a nation is directly related to its level of consumption, particularly of unnecessary consumables. The list of examples like these is never ending, and growth of both developed and developing countries is coupled with increasing wasteful consumption that needs to be stopped.
The impacts of avoidable consumption are plenty and at many times may not be directly visible to us. When there is an overconsumption of resources in a certain ecosystem, it implies that the rate of consumption has crossed the sustainable rate at which the environment may be able to replenish it, thus leading to the chain of events: overconsumption, depletion, degradation and finally collapse of the entire ecosystem.
According to the article “American Consumerism and the Global Environment ” by Mt. Holyoke university, our consumption generates a vicious cycle in which we depend on forests and coal for fuel, and other forest-produced products such as wood for furniture, paper, etc. Once we over consume these commodities, it leads to heavy deforestation, which can cause accelerated erosion of the topsoil making the surrounding land barren and less efficient to replenish our overused resources. This is a problem because as the population rises, more land is necessary for homes and the production of agriculture.
In addition, it is a widely known fact that ultimately the strain created by our rising demands affects the strain we put on our energy sources, ie. the need for more fuel to power production and more exploration to serve these demands. Reading this  article by the “Tribal Energy and Environmental Information Clearinghouse”, explains how over exploration of fossil fuels has a heavy hidden impact on our environment’s flora and fauna. The byproducts, such as drilling fluids, mercury traces, and excess copper and cadmium are dumped into the surrounding sea water, thus disrupting the marine ecosystem around the world. Refer to the image below (left) from PBS. Having a similar effect is the waste from unnecessary consumables that we dump in our oceans, refer to the image below (right) from Green Living. Hence, the overconsumption of these resources is causing both direct and hidden harm to our surrounding ecosystem and affects our overall global environmental condition.
Everyone is responsible for environmental impacts, but, as said before, the developed nations draw more resources than the developing. This inequality not only creates different environmental problems but also makes it harder to build a sustainable future. A main point is that the growing population has increased the demand of the goods. This is clearly a problem because of the amount of resources and waste generated from the production and consumption of these goods. Using these unsustainable resources pollutes and destroys our marine life, land, and environment. Read the book “One with Nineveh: Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future”  to understand future impacts if more unnecessary and avoidable consumption continues in the future.
In the end, the best way to combat the global consumption problem is to reduce the amount of unnecessary goods consumed in the developing world. This trend then needs to serve as an example for the soon-to-be developed nations in the future.
 climate_news_network. “Human Consumption of Earth's Natural Resources Has Tripled in 40 Years.” EcoWatch, EcoWatch, 29 July 2016, www.ecowatch.com/humans-consumption-of-earths-natural-resources-tripled-in-40-years-1943126747.html.
[2 ]“U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis.” EIA projects 28% increase in world energy use by 2040 - Today in Energy - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=32912.
 “Higher Geography - Reasons for increase in demand for energy - Revision 1.” BBC Bitesize, BBC, www.bbc.co.uk/education/guides/zpmmmp3/revision/1.
 “The Story of Stuff.” The Story of Stuff Project, 23 May 2017, storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/.
 McDonald, Charlotte. “How many Earths do we need?” BBC News, BBC, 16 June 2015, www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33133712.\
 “Peak phosphorus.” Resilience, 12 Aug. 2007, www.resilience.org/stories/2007-08-13/peak-phosphorus/.
Efffects of Consumption on Global Environment, www.mtholyoke.edu/~kelle20m/classweb/wp/page5.html.
 Oil and Gas Drilling/Development Impacts, teeic.indianaffairs.gov/er/oilgas/impact/drilldev/index.htm.
 Ehrlich, P., & Ehrlich, Anne H. (2004). One with Nineveh : Politics, consumption, and the human future. Washington, D. C.: Island Press : Shearwater Books.