Overconsumption

Overconsumption is a widely used term in science, media, and among concerned consumers. It is a situation where resource use has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem. It is definitely an important issue that we all should take seriously. A prolonged pattern of overconsumption leads to environmental degradation and the eventual loss of resource bases. This is a problem because we live on a planet with finite natural resources.  However, in addition to overpopulation, an equal, if not greater, a threat to the environment is the overconsumption of finite natural resources. For example, the overconsumption of energy, water, and raw materials worsens climate change and increases air pollution.

Overconsumption exists when resources are consumed at an unsustainable level as measured by the ecosystem’s capacity. Generally, the discussion of overconsumption parallels that of human overpopulation; that is the more people, the more consumption of raw materials takes place to sustain their lives. However, humanity’s overall impact on the planet is affected by many factors besides the raw number of people. Some of the most critical natural resources that we rely on include freshwater, forests, topsoil, biodiversity, marine fish stocks, and clean air. Their lifestyle and the pollution they generate are equally important. Furthermore, the negative externalities of this overconsumption are polluting rivers and oceans, contributing to climate change, and making people sick. Currently, the inhabitants of the developed nations of the world consume resources at a rate almost 32 times greater than those of the developing world, who make up the majority of the human population (7.4 billion people). Freshwater reserves, fish stocks, and forests are shrinking, many species are under threat of extinction and fertile land is being destroyed.

Currently, we are consuming far more resources than is sustainable, with perilous consequences for the environment. However, the developing world is a growing market for consumption. These nations are quickly gaining more purchasing power and it is expected that the Global South, which includes cities in Asia, America, and Africa, will account for 56% of consumption growth by 2030. This means that consumption rates will plateau for the developed nations and shift more into these developing countries. It is time that we recognize overconsumption as one of the more serious threats facing our environment and begin thinking about ways to address the problem. There are a number of lifestyle and cultural changes that we can promote to reduce consumption.

Addressing the issue of overconsumption will not be easy, but it is critical if we want to leave a habitable planet for future generations. The theory of overpopulation reflects issues of carrying capacity without taking into account per capita consumption, by which developing nations are evaluated to consume more than their land can support. Consumption is defined as the use of a resource. Our consumptive habits are dependant on globalized resource use. The United Nations estimate that the world population will reach 9.8 billion in the year 2050 and 11.2 in 2100. This growth will be highly concentrated in developing nations which also poses issues with inequality of consumption. The nations that will come into consumer dominance must abstain from abusing certain forms of consumption, especially energy consumption of CO2. Green parties and the ecology movement often argue that consumption per person, or ecological footprint, is typically lower in poorer than in richer nations.