World is consuming resources at an alarming rate, far quicker than our planet can replenish

August 20, 2018 2:32 AM

Consumerism is an economic theory; it says that a progressively greater level of consumption is beneficial to consumers. Since the 1800s and the Industrial Revolution, the world has been consuming at a higher rate than ever.

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Consumerism is an economic theory; it says that a progressively greater level of consumption is beneficial to consumers. Since the 1800s and the Industrial Revolution, the world has been consuming at a higher rate than ever. Yes, consumerism is good for the economy, in light of the fact that it creates more economic action. More demand for goods and services creates more activities to satisfy the demand, which gives rise to more manufacturing, more innovation, more research and more development. If there was no consumer, there would be no need for a market. The reason a trade exists is everyone has needs, wants and demands. In economics, consumerism may refer to economic policies that emphasise consumption.

Consumerism is a socio-economic model, in which people buy and acquire goods and services, including luxury goods such as car, house, white goods, jewellery, etc. The thought whether consumerism is good or bad is critical: it is good for the economy, but it is bad because it leads to the devastation of natural resources. Another problem of consumerism is that it gives rise to greediness and materialism. Financial mechanisms have encouraged consumerism. The advent of credit cards allowed people to spend money that they did not have; debit cards gave people quick access to more money than they were currently carrying and often the option of overdraft, as well.

Because there are consumers who are ready to buy products that are pricey and even extravagant, we see a spurt of new products and services that keep entering the market. They are advanced than their predecessors, and often far ahead of customer expectations. We are consuming these products at an ever-increasing rate and the markets never give us a moment where they do not have something new to offer on the line. A big group of consumers are not just consuming to fulfil their basic needs, but are enjoying a condition where they are spending hugely to fulfil their endless needs and wants. People are ever on the rise to impress the world with material possessions. Social scientist Thorstein Veblen coined the phrase “conspicuous consumption” to describe the lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying immense wealth.

Consumerism is often misinterpreted with capitalism, but the latter is an economic system, while the former is a persistent cultural mindset. A model combining the two is sometimes referred to as consumer capitalism, a system in which consumers demand goods and this increases sales. The model relies on stimulating consumer desire for goods far in excess of satisfying needs, at times to hoard the goods. The stimulation is created by advertising to promote daily and luxury items. Every day, each one of us is bombarded with around 1,600 commercial messages. We see advertisements in the newspapers, on the television, in the local buses, trains, on our mobile phones, we listen to advertisements on the radio … needless to say, this bombarding is beyond control.

The phenomenon of consumerism has raised the bar of tough and unrestrained competition, which is cut-throat; competing in an unfair way, without considering any harm caused to others. It is an ugly competition, leading to illegitimate and unlawful means. We are experiencing endless money laundering like never before.

The most critical wave against consumerism is that it has started degrading the mother earth, and natural resources; common effects include decreased water quality, increased pollution, rising greenhouse gas emissions, depletion of natural resources and contribution to global climate change. Some of these are the direct result of human activities, whereas others are secondary effects that are part of a series of actions and reactions. The steep rise in global population has always been an issue, and as consumerism leads to campaigns, research and advertisement that emphasise on increasing consumption, the fear of scarcity of resources that is already there for future generations increases.

It has been observed that stronger nations are in a bid to acquire greater amount of resources by controlling the weaker ones. This is the cause to international tension and wars. 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 tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year, forming giant floating garbage patches all over.
There has long been a connection observed between materialism, a lack of empathy and engagement with others, and unhappiness. But research conducted over the past few years seems to show causation. As people become more materialistic, their well-being in terms of good relationships, interdependence, sense of purpose and peace of mind diminishes. As they become less materialistic, it rises. We are becoming materialistic because we have started giving less importance to emotions and feelings and are trying to create a bigger room for material things. The less we care about emotions, the more materialistic behaviour dominates our mind.

Rampant development is destroying our world. The biggest problem with all of us is that we are not realising that there is a problem. We are already consuming resources at an alarming rate, and quicker than our planet is able to replenish them. The huge rise in resource consumption in wealthier countries has led to an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. Mindless consumption turns into excessive consumption; the truth is we have we have very limited real needs.

Vidya Hattangadi
Management thinker and blogger

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