Updated: Nov 19, 2020
Wikipedia defines overconsumption as “a situation where resource use has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem”. A prolonged pattern of overconsumption leads to environmental degradation and the eventual loss of resource bases.
I started further research on the net in an attempt to find out the cause of it. A simple and yet realistic answer was provided to me upon extensive search and research, viz. It exists when one is using more than what one has. The resources are limited, scarce, and when we used them beyond our ecosystem capacity, we are doing overconsumption.
Resources are distributed so inequitably, and used so wastefully, that it is virtually impossible to know how many people the planet can sustain. “We have also learned that it’s absurd to attribute any problem to human numbers alone. Americans, for example, comprise about 5 percent of the world’s population but produce over 17 percent of climate-changing carbon emission.”
Overpopulation is a threat to our planet, but overconsumption, which is a new phenomenon, is depleting us of our scarce resources too. In a research paper, Hungarian scientists tried to figure out what are the relations between the two. They further discussed the major indicators used by scientists to evaluate, such as world population, Total Ecological Footprint (TEF), ecological footprint per capita, Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, world GDP, total biocapacity, per capita biocapacity, and footprint balance. In their analysis, they showed somewhere that the overconsumption is surpassing the population growth. If we stop over-consuming we may have a chance to sustain the planet even if the population gets to 9 billion, in there and my opinion too. It seems to be good news, but it doesn’t mean we should forget about overpopulation and don’t consider it a genuine threat.
The fair question to ask is “why in the world we over-consume”?
The answer lies mostly within our evolution. As in the pre-agricultural societies and communities, the food was scarce so we consumed more and thus we got used to it even when food became abundant. Women in all cultures prefer men with more resources, like a higher social status, so it may be regarded as another reason. Acquiring enough resources is not the end of it. Status is a comparative mark (dependent on one’s immediate peers) and relates to competition. Research by J.F. Helliwell shows that happiness levels peak at an income level of $10,000 per year in the US, after which happiness is determined by one’s relative affluence.
Today, advertising and marketing professionals exploit this drive, as well as many other traits of human nature, to keep the consumption train going. This may in part explain the continued wealth disparities between individuals.
Our evolutionary trait goes along within different groups, like us versus them, so any practical idea for one group, nation, and the country is at odds with others. People don’t want to listen to environmentalist when comes to their economics. With new global problems like poverty, climate change, and biodiversity loss, we are now being asked to be global citizens, and care about those we have never met, and areas we will never visit. This runs counter to our evolutionary past. Another explanation may be that we are slaves to our biological traits, and not exactly to our biologist believes, this is the case regarding behavior.
We have to educate our children about the environment and climate change through different mediums. The fine examples are movies, kids’ shows, etc. Regulatory laws for the emission of greenhouse gases, and naming and shaming (like China is doing to her cities if pollutant levels are higher), richer nation putting money aside for developing countries to curb climate change in their countries, closing and regulating those industries which are affecting the food chain as well contributing to climate change. Cultural evolution is quicker and can be more powerful than our ingrained instincts. Our modern environment has changed from locally centered to global, and biologically we have not caught up. Our ideas have to make up the difference.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene RochbergHalton (1981) described status consumption as a “form of power that consists of respect, consideration, and envy from others that represents the souls of a culture.” Modern evidence of status consumption trends is also widely available in current literature. The average square footage of a North American home has increased by 50% in the last thirty years (Deacon, 2002), and the modern prom has become a host for conspicuous consumption with an average cost of over $1,000 per couple spent on limousines, hotel suites, formal wear, etc. (Farrell, 2004). Conspicuous consumption has also been investigated internationally. In terms of the Korean population, research has shown that adolescents still have a significant tendency toward conspicuous consumption, with the strongest variable being materialism (Kim, 1998) Finally, according to The Economist, while Chinese consumers are still more price-conscious than Japanese consumers, conspicuous consumption has increased significantly in China over the last few years (2004).
It is really difficult to evaluate that when a commodity of regular usage began to emerge as a status symbol. Many economists have done a variety of studies and try to evaluate the statistical evaluation. The assessment is not very simple, as an ingenious means of transport, like a car, bike, etc. have started to enter society as a status symbol. In one study done by Chao and Schor (1998) concluded a significant negative relationship between the price and intrinsic quality with social visibility and the likelihood of purchasing expensive brands varies positively with social visibility.
This hypothesis is further studied by Trevor K. Scheetz, which settled that results are quite inconclusive while testing that price correlation and status vary negatively; but they found encouraging results. It seems that price and quality either have inconclusive or statistically minimal effects on market share, while status seems to have a positive, statistically significant effect on the market.
The “status” is a complex term for every individual, societies, nation, and countries, that’s why in the above study author concluded that the correlation between price and negativity regarding the social invisibility was not easy to obtain just through a simple questionnaire regarding specific commodities in question.
Overconsumption for each society is different, like In sub-Saharan African countries, the killing of a lion while coming out of age for a man, is considered vital to getting his status in the community. While that young boy is killing an endangered and precious animal, fulfilling his obligation and status quo in his society and oblivion to the fact that lions are becoming rare and fewer with every kill like that. In the Philippines, girls don’t find a suitable job if not fair skin, and hence they are over-consuming beauty products, which is not at all healthy for them.
In India and many other countries, if one can’t have boys, the status in society declines. In those countries, if a man has a higher status, he gets a beautiful wife i.e. fair and lovely. As one might have noticed that these countries are relatively not “faired skin” but still fairness is considered as a status symbol.
It is my personnel opinion that overconsumption of resources is related to different taboos and practices by different nations and communities.
According to a scientific study, the Himalayas are gradually having lesser snow and in turn, the rivers are drying up. The constant and rapid growth of population in these regions, deforestation, clamming lands for human rehabilitation, poor infrastructure, poor or no government policies, and very primitive way of living in most of these countries are unlikely to save them from the drought going to come in a very near future or maybe they have already started facing it in different regions of these countries.
I came across that rich nations are going to allocate $10 billion for developing countries to curb climate change. On Earth day, among those developing countries, some have planted as many trees as possible for the first time. I wonder if this is too late for us now or maybe in time! The teens and kids of today are already struggling to have minimal nutritional status, I wonder how come their minds can even see climate change; despite how imminent the threat is. Their evaluations will most of the times, be judgmental, biased, and inconclusive. It is not because they are less intelligent but because they are not healthy enough mentally as well as physically to look into the matter deeply. Studies are constantly showing that “child neglect” of any kind impact the kids adversely when they are making a critical decision and do poorly while dealing with their stresses of lives.
Do we have one more century to sustain like that? Very soon one of the most vital resources, like water, is becoming scarce. During COVid-19 Lockdowns, the Amazon trees In Brazil are cut brutally, because of easing off of the environmental restriction by the recent government in Brazil. Should we call ourselves a wise global citizen of this planet? We must start doing something about it instead of proving who is right and who is wrong, which race is superior and which is inferior. We have already done this with the gender, in which women have to choose between her sexuality or reproduction, intelligence or beauty, status quo or open mindedness etc. Remember, in this race, we are the losers!
It reminded me of a movie directed by Stephen Spielberg “A.I –artificial intelligence”. The ending was quite moving when aliens landed on our planet and they find only a robot with artificial intelligence. They tried their best to revive human beings through leftover DNA but failed.
We are intelligent enough to colonize this Earth but very unlucky not to understand the symbiosis and harmony among different species. In today’s world, just like in the US, Dr. Stephen Anthony Fauci didn’t object to the policy of his boss at the right time, fearing the worse outcome of getting fired, the same goes for every one of us, our timing is not right, we all are just obliged to keep our bosses happy. We are intelligent enough to manipulate and exploit the situation, but behave like very naive and novice when it comes to figuring out the depth of the situation to find harmony. We all are in constant denial of overconsumption of the Earth resources. Don’t blame coronavirus, we are the actual virus; we are multiplying immensely, out of control as well as consuming all the resources we can lay our hands on.
Many activists are actively working and addressing these issues through different means, like Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, and Jane Goodall, etc. These are the inspirational personalities, if they can do that, we all can. Take out your biases and ignorance, and just for once think about others, in which your self is also included! Good luck to all of us in these uncertain times. We all have one chance against all odds and that is our kindness, humanity, and love for nature. Give that chance to other species too!