Everyone knows that we only have one planet (unless you’re counting on moving to Mars soon) and limited resources, yet humans use the planet and its resources as if they are infinite. Developed countries like the United States (U.S.) and China use so many resources at such a high rate that we would need more than one planet to sustain the consumption and the waste that follows. Developing countries are looking to follow suit as they gain more resources and higher GDPs, but we cannot let overconsumption be a goal that people seek to reach. There are even holidays made up to make people buy even more stuff; there’s Single’s Day in China and Black Friday in the U.S., not to mention that every major holiday has been turned into a way to get people to buy more stuff.
This overconsumption may seem to make people happy, but it really doesn’t in the long run. Not only this, but it is destroying our environment. Too often, governments and corporations only see the environment as a piece of the economy while it is actually the basis of everything we need to live as a planet. So how can we fix these problems? There may not be one solution, but it is important to know what is happening and work toward something better for people and planet.
An ecological footprint measures the impact people (a person or community) have on the natural environment. Basically, the more land needed to sustain your use of resources and production of waste, the larger your ecological footprint is. We can compare this with biocapacity, which essentially is the amount of resources the environment can produce. When an ecological footprint is larger than what the biocapacity can handle, we have an issue of overconsumption. This creates problems with resource shortages, pollution, climate change, and more.
Currently, the planet as a collective community has a much larger ecological footprint than what our biocapacity can handle. Our capitalist world that based progress largely on consumption, and have access to a lot of resources, tend to have increasing footprints and therefore would need more space and resources to sustain itself at that rate in the future. According to the Global Footprint Network, if everyone on Earth consumed resources at the same rate as the U.S., we would need almost 5 planets worth of resources. For now if everyone consumed the same way as China, we would need only over 2 planets and that’s only going to be worse as more and more people are reaching for westernize lifestyles and “comfort”. Overconsumption as a culture is destroying our planet.
There are entire holidays created based around overconsumption. Once we consume enough resources to meet our needs we should stop, but we don’t. Why is this? It is because most of us literally buy into a culture that says that consumption means happiness and success, which leads us to overconsume in a search of that happiness and success.
Singles’ Day in China is an unofficial holiday created for single people to go out and treat themselves and friends to gifts and things they would not usually buy. On November 11 of every year since the ‘90s, retailers have hosted huge sales as a way to get people to buy lots of things in the name of treating themselves. This day in 2018, Alibaba generated total sales of over $30 billion, a new record. Black Friday in the U.S. is another example of a made-up consumption-based holiday. The Friday after Thanksgiving marks a day of craziness and frenzy every year as people rush to stores to grab things they do not need because it’s marked down at such a significant rate. Black Friday sales totaled almost $8 billion in 2017. These holidays are not made for our benefit, but for the benefit of the companies which host it. So why do we buy in? I promise, buying that giant flat screen television because it’s 40% off will not increase your happiness for long, but it will contribute to the destruction of the planet.
How You Can Make Change
Change in the way we as a planet consume largely comes down to policy and societal shifts, but we can make change on the personal level. We can reduce our ecological footprints by changing our consumption patterns, developing different habits, and trying to change our ‘overconsumption equals happiness’ mindset.
Here are a few things you can start with to shrink your ecological footprint:
1. Thrift what you need, and only buy what you cannot thrift. Thrift stores sell things that would normally just get put in the garbage and sent to a landfill, so buying those perfectly good things helps reduce your footprint.
2. Do not buy into overconsumption “holidays.” Most of the stuff you would buy on Singles’ Day or Black Friday, you really can live without. It’s okay to buy something like this once in a while, but not at this high rate. Also, think about buying from small, or local, stores instead of huge corporations that create a larger footprint.
3. Try to appreciate what you already have. Part of the reason we feel the need to buy more and more things is because we feel like we are missing something. If you have everything you need to live and be content, try to appreciate that. Sometimes all it takes is volunteering at a homeless shelter, or helping people out who don’t have everything they need.
Overconsumption is a cultural cycle that we have been pulled into by entities who do not really care about our wellbeing, and it is ruining our lives and the lives of future generations in the process. We do not have more than 1 planet to waste and we do not have much time to stop what we are doing to the one we have. You can roughly measure your ecological footprint by using Global Footprint Network’s calculator (www.footprintcalculator.org) and start changing the way your consume today so that we have a planet to live on tomorrow.
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