Sunday, 6 January 2013


Consumerism is a critical subject that has attracted a lot of debate since mid-20th century.  A number of scholars have sought to dissect the issue to enable them relate the attitudes of global consumers towards the subject. However, the debate and studies on consumerism has been biased as it fails to incorporate the developments in developing economies i.e. those in the Middle East and Africa. Developing economies are experiencing a rapid growth of consumerism and any research undertaken needs to ensure that it incorporates materials from the aforementioned continents.  21st century has witnessed a rapid change in the consumption pattern of consumers. Human beings have moved away from the consumption of basic commodities to consume other wants i.e. those intended to make living better. These human wants are often luxury items that seek to enhance efficiency and create classes in the society. In the past decade for example, individuals only acquired resources that were basic needs i.e. food shelter and clothing.  The new habit of increasing the intake of commodities beyond the basic need portion has both the positives and the negatives.  On the positive side, increased consumption of commodities is health to both individual and a country economy. In individual level, it makes live a little enjoyable by making it easier and efficient to live. To the general economy, it increases the revenues generated to the state i.e. the gross domestic product (Khalis, 2010). However, despite the aforementioned advantages, consumerism has quite a number of catastrophic effects to humanity.  This essay seeks to examine the causes and effects of consumerism to the environment. In addition, it looks to evaluate how governments and other responsible bodies are doing to protect the environment.
The term consumerism has no distinct definition. According to Orel (2011), consumerism is a movement that advocates and defends the rights of buyers to avert undue exploitation by sellers. The scholar further asserts that consumer powers need to be protected to ensure that the marketing antics of sellers and other marketers do not expose buyers to undue consumption.  Buyers are often influenced by advertisements to increase their intake levels. To meet the ever rising demand of commodities, sellers and other producers will fully exploit the available resources in the economy. This move poses acute problems to the environment.
Urban and regional planners assert that a high consuming economy requires land of up to six hectares to meet the consumption and intake levels of a person. However, that is not feasible given the ever growing population. This therefore implies that an extra intake or an increase in consumption comes with an additional cost. Rigid human culture is largely attributed to the increased levels of human consumption. As nations seek to outdo themselves economically by encouraging consumption, environment is largely sacrificed. For example, most citizens are owning oil or gas powered machines. These machines emit greenhouse cases i.e. carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases often cause irreversible damage to the climate (Baiocchi, Minx, & Hubacek, 2010).
Consumerism is a lifestyle changing phenomena and its effects to global climate are acute. For example, greenhouse emission otherwise known as lifestyle emissions are released directly  to the environment from domestic heating or using or indirectly through the supply chain where goods and services consumed are produced (Baiocchi, Minx, & Hubacek, 2010).
The cardinal principle behind consumerism is the need to make daily living bearable and desirable. To meet this principle, consumers tend to search for avenues where they are able to harness fully the advantages of increased consumption.  To increase this satisfaction, beings tend to migrate to locations where the products can be accessed with much ease, here, urban areas is often their best bet. Massive exodus of people from the rural areas to urban areas is in the rise. Urban centers are often well endowed with infrastructures and other amenities that may not be found in rural setups. In addition, with the increased levels of consumptions, individuals are looking for locations where they can increase their income levels and towns come in handy. Migration congests towns and cities. Rapid migration of persons and subsequent urbanization in developing economies has caused quite a number of environmental problems i.e. the pollution of water and air (Orel, 2011).
The urge to consume resources beyond required levels affect the environment in a number of ways. First, Cities and towns are the first casualties as increased levels of migrants pollute water. Most of these cities lack adequate sewerage systems that can stand the requirements of rapidly increasing populations. The inadequacy of these basic requirements often results from bad planning, corruption or insufficient funds. Despite the primary objective of immigrants, such environs expose them to health problems. Secondly, concentration of individuals in a given location pollutes the air. Air is polluted because of the increased levels of human activity that emits greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Some of these human activities include heating, powering of supply chain machines using oil or using coal. Once these particles are emitted to the air, they not only degrade the environment but are also a health hazard. According to Orel (2011), in most third world economies, gases emitted by supply chain machines are responsible for the 1.6 million deaths who succumb to respiratory illnesses. Hence, consumers who reside in urban areas are a vulnerable lot as they are exposed to these gases on a daily basis. Lastly another environmental problem that is largely associated with consumerism is noise pollution. The increased demand levels for goods and services encourage the sprouting of firms. In addition, consumers who are out to improve their living standards purchase cars. In the past decade, developing economies have been experiencing increased levels of automobiles due to increased levels of investment. Therefore, these manufacturing machines together with increased number of vehicles are responsible for noise pollution. From the aforementioned, it is apparent that governments in developing economies are unable to formulate sound policies to ensure clean environment.
Climate change has reached tipping point and is now a global issue. However, individual states have taken upon themselves to see that they contain its teething effects. For example, the United Kingdom (UK) government has incorporated the environment issues in its policy agenda. According to UK policy makers, technology employed in production together with consumer lifestyles need to be readjusted to ensure greenhouse gases i.e. carbon dioxide are kept at low levels.  According to Baiocchi, Minx and Hubacek (2010), consumerism is responsible for up to 75 percent of consumer greenhouse gas emissions in the United Kingdom. It is therefore apparent that consumer choices are catastrophic to the environment. However, this is a blessing in disguise to the policy makers. This is because the pollutants of the environment have been narrowed down and it is evident that consumerism is a huge contributor. Therefore, the policy makers in the United Kingdom need to advance sound ways that will bring down the high figures to low levels.
In conclusion, it is evident from the above discussion that the effects of consumerism on the environment are huge. We see that consumer lifestyles are responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases to the environment. Considering that these emissions are related to consumer choices, governments need to formulate policies that will curb further emissions in the future. For example, they need to monitor the marketing strategies employed by competing firms to make sure that most consumers are not induced into purchasing what they can do without.  On the other hand, governments need to advocate for corruption free society and increase funds directed towards the construction of sewerage systems in large towns and cities. The aforementioned will help minimize the levels of water pollution and reduce deaths related to the same.  Another aspect evident in the discussion above is that demographic factors are responsible for environmental degradation in the 21st century. Therefore it can as well be said that greenhouse gas emissions tend to increase with income. This implies that rich households pollute the environment more that the poor ones.  This is crucial information to policy makers who are out to ensure environmental pollution is contained. Governments need to utilize the aforementioned information by working closely with high income households to bring down carbon emission. This will go a long way in ensuring that precious resources are preserved and environment is clean for humans.  Finally, individual nations need to take responsibility of their environment. Given that each nation is able to contain its emissions to the environment, the world will be able to reduce drastically the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Baiocchi, G., Minx, J., & Hubacek, K. (2010). The impact of social factors and consumer behavior on carbon dioxide emissions in the United Kingdom. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 14(1), 50-72.
Khalis, H. (2010). Urban enviromental problems in cities of the Kurdistan region in iraq. London: Taylor & Francis.
Orel, F. (2011). Business students' attitudes towards consumerism, marketing practices and governemnt regulations: A comparative study of poland and Turkey. International journal of Business and social science, 2(19), 1-12.


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