We are used to hearing in private and public spheres various stories about our consumer tendencies, in fact the media and the scientific field speak of us as a consumer society. But do we know what consumerism is? What’s wrong with consumerism? How does consumerism affect the environment?
What is consumerism and its causes
The human being has certain needs that must be satisfied and that are translated into the consumption of goods and services provided by nature. The responsible consumption of resources constitutes the basis of our survival and also that of the rest of the biocenosis or living beings.
In this sense, consumption is not bad and could even be viewed as the set of relationships that exist and occur in an ecosystem between living beings and their environment. However, when this provision of food, energy or goods becomes excessive, we are facing an irresponsible consumption of resources and we speak of consumerism. This, then, would be the definition of consumerism .
The consumer model arises as a strategy to overcome the economy during the crisis caused by the First World War and is based on a pattern of mass production-consumption and wastefulness. Developed during the twentieth century, consumerism has been driven by: capitalism, globalization , the association of consumption with success and the satisfaction of desires, rather than needs, and advertising as a social system of aspirations.
Consequently there are many problems of consumerism in today’s society . Later we will address the relationship between consumption and its effects on the environment.
According to the frequency of purchase and the motivation of the individual, 4 types of consumerism are distinguished :
- Habitual consumerism.
- Occasional consumerism.
- Consumerism by experimentation.
- Compulsive consumerism
These are some examples of consumerism depending on the type we are talking about:
- To begin with, as examples of habitual consumerism we find the food and drink that we buy every day.
- On another plane, we engage in occasional consumerism when we make a purchase that is unusual in our daily routine. For example, we buy plane tickets, train tickets, to go on vacation.
- At the same time, we consume to experience new products that come onto the market: virtual reality video games or the latest model of electric vehicle.
- Finally, compulsive consumerism habits are heavily influenced by advertising . For example, we can see an advertisement about a garment that generates the need to buy it. The purchase of addictive products (tobacco, alcoholic beverages) also stands out .
Consequences of consumerism on the environment
The relationship between consumerism and the environment is currently destructive. Techniques such as fracking to obtain fossil fuels; blasting for mining and obtaining jewelry; the mechanization of agriculture and the use of chemicals to increase productivity; and the use of harmful fishing gear and the industrialization of the sector to maximize the volume of fish caught are examples of activities that negatively impact the environment.
The consequences of consumerism are numerous:
- First of all, it is worth highlighting the degradation, destruction and fragmentation of the territory .
- This accompanies the loss of biodiversity and an increase in the rate of extinction of animal and plant species .
- The worsening of the quality of natural resources (soil, water, air pollution), but also of those that make up the basis of our diet.
- Finally, it is worth mentioning the transformation of ecosystems, increasingly anthropized.
It is also important to bear in mind that consumerism generates discrimination and social biases that enhance economic polarization and, therefore, poverty that, as numerous studies point out, also contributes to the deterioration of the environment.
Consumerism is contrary to sustainable development , therefore, to combat it it is important to meet the sustainable development goals (SDG) and restructure human activities based on them. For example, in line with the first SDG “End of poverty”, as a solution to consumerism appears the redistribution of wealth and consumption.
At the individual level, what can we do to avoid consumerism or irresponsible consumption ?
- On the one hand, apply the rule of the 3Rs of ecology with which we can implement the reduction of products we consume, their reuse and recycling. An example is the purchase of second-hand objects, which is gaining special relevance in the market.
- Buy products that are strictly necessary, avoiding, for example , food waste .
- Bet on local commerce, for those products that have an ecological or zero emissions certificate, such as highly energy efficient appliances.
However, the most important thing is to become aware of what our true needs are , without focusing individual satisfaction and happiness on owning things, and how our actions affect the environment and health.