YHD Blogs – Consumerism

This article is part of our “Youth Head Delegate Blog Series” — written by our YHDs! 

By Matthew K. 

Consumerism is the ideology that a person’s happiness is based on the quantity of goods and services obtained. On a day to day basis, we are all consumers. Whether we consume out of necessity or on the basis of indulgence, consumerism is a part of living in a capitalist society. However, through an analysis of this generation’s consumerism, it is clear that our habits and mass consumption is leading us towards a climate catastrophe. Therefore, in order to avoid the total destruction of our environment, we as a society need to become more conscious and considerate consumers.

In order to become conscious and considerate consumers, there are several methods that can be applied. The first, and arguably most important method is understanding how our consumerism affects the planet. This understanding will help consumers make more sustainably conscious choices as we actively work to rethink our purchases and put possible indirect outcomes into consideration. If we are to understand consumerism’s total effects on the planet, we must first look to the history of consumerism. According to the history of the human race, consumerism’s existence began in the 1600s. As a sign of early capitalistic ventures, Europeans craved more land– the Americas, Australia, Asia– to boost the production of their goods and services to stimulate their economy. While this evidently helped solidify the European empires, it had detrimental effects on the natural environments and Indigenous people of previously uncolonized land. This set the stage for the destruction that Western capitalism would cause in the centuries to come. Following the Industrial Revolution in 1760, the increase of capitalist ideals resulted in factories and mines that created countless amounts of product. Subsequently a middle class was developed as people could afford higher quality houses, education, and goods. Although this created huge advancements in the modernization of society, the Industrial Revolution substantially impacted the environment, and led to the depletion of natural resources. The factories and mines increased air and water pollution, as well as the use of fossil fuels. Today, as countries continue to industrialise and the impact of social media grows, our nature to consume has only heightened; thereby the environmental impacts have only become increasingly worse. According to research, an average American sees 6,000 to 10,000 ads a day from several different sources, such as phones, computers, and posters (Carr, 2020). With these advertisements, citizens are bombarded with product launches, sales, foods etc. These stimulations cause false senses of need for certain items through mob mentality and peer pressure. With several social media influencers showing a certain lifestyle, this had magnified the need to “consume” more. For example, the company Fashion Nova pays influencers to wear their product to encourage consumers to mimic their lifestyles. By using apps like Instagram, it has become easier for consumers to make instant purchases through in-app links. 

However, this increase in the speed and ease of purchasing has begun to override its negative effects. With an increase in Capitalism and Modernization, consequences are inevitable. As humans demand more products, the required goods produced are also enlarged.  Humankind uses 120% more resources than the Earth can produce. These resources include: water, oil, coal, forests and iron. According to the World Economic Forum, fast fashion brands such as Fashion Nova “make up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams” (McFall-Johnsen, 2020). Moreover, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year (McFall-Johnsen, 2020). The industry’s impact on our environment exemplifies one of the many dire consequences of our generation’s consumerism. 

According to John Cairns, a professor in the department of biological sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, there are three possible outcomes of our mass consumerism. “The Dismal Theory” and the “Utterly theory” are outcomes in which humankind is incapable of thriving. However the third option, “the moderately cheerful form of the Dismal Theorem”, expresses that humankind will articulate a solution to control consumption and population, allowing mankind to continue to prosper (Cairns ,2006). In order to adopt the third theorem, humanity must take the necessary steps to flourish. Controlling our consumption can be done through simple tasks such as supporting local businesses, looking for sustainable options and reducing household waste. Moreover, there is a movement towards living more consciously and considerately; with internet access, many people are able to learn about consumerism and how to live more sustainably. However, as humanity takes these steps to lessen our materialism, the responsibility must also be put on the government’s shoulders as they have enough influential power to enact change. Regulations must be put into place in order to protect consumers and the environment. 

As a historical analysis of consumerism demonstrates, it is apparent that modernization has become synonymous with consumerism. However, we know that with this ideology, comes dire consequences that will affect the earth’s livelihood in the near to distant future. If we continue on this path, we will inevitably face a global collapse and climate catastrophe. Yet, if we become more conscious and considerate consumers, there is hope of a brighter outcome, one which can lead to a more sustainable future when it comes to consumerism.