Our current consumption habits are fueling a global environmental crisis. The reason is simple: we simply cannot run an exploitative and linear consumption system indefinitely on a finite planet.
Have you ever wondered where all the stuff we buy comes from, and where it goes when we throw it away? Consumption is just one part of a long process that starts when we extract resources from the Earth and ends when we have to figure out what to do with the products we discard.
Longtime GAIA member Annie Leonard has created a fact-filled online
video about the unsustainability of our production and consumption
patterns. WatchThe Story of Stuffand read below to learn more about this pressing issue.
In our globalized economy, raw materials are continually being extracted, processed in factories, shipped around the world, and burned or buried in communities at an ever-increasing rate. During this process, we are using up the earth's resources while undermining ecosystem stability and increasing poverty among those who are not part of the global economy's "buying" class.
The problem is at a crisis point. In the United States, for example, each person now makes an average of 4.5 pounds of garbage a day - and this is just the tip of the iceberg. For every pound of waste we create, 70 pounds were made during the process of extraction, production, and distribution that it took to get those products to us in the first place. The problem is especially acute in the U.S., where 5% of the world's population consumes 30% of the world's resources and creates 30% of the world's waste. If everyone on the planet consumed at U.S. rates, we would need 3 to 5 planets to support our consumption!
But not everyone consumes at U.S. rates. There is a vast inequality in the levels of consumption around the world, and millions of people do not have access to what they need to survive. Not only are many people consuming too much, but some people lack access to basic necessities. This is clearly unjust and unsustainable.
In many places, the increase in consumption is related to the loss of local culture and invasion of new cultural patterns promoted by private investors and governments, and widely advertised by mass media. These patterns promote private property as a key value of "modern" and "developed" societies, and destroy traditional cultures that are based on other types of values - and often produce a lot less waste.
The good news is that these consumption patterns can be changed, starting immediately. If some of us simply decrease the amount we consume, we can create a ripple effect throughout the entire system. We ensure that fewer natural resources need to be used, less energy is needed, and we entirely eliminate the problem of what to do with all of that stuff once it's thrown "away."
Encouraging industries to use reused or recycled materials to make their goods will also help. By cutting down on the use of virgin materials in the production process, we can dramatically reduce the amount of industrial waste that is created.
Reducing the amount of stuff we use is the first critical step. We also need to make sure that products are designed to be less toxic, longer-lasting, and easy to recycle. Working for clean production and zero waste are two key ways to achieve this. While advocating for these solutions, however, it is critical to remember that we also need to be helping communities gain access to the basic necessities they need to survive and thrive.