How is overconsumption linked to the wellbeing of our planet and ourselves?
Our global society is facing a pretty big problem. In fact, it’s potentially the most catastrophic problem that humankind has ever faced. That problem (you guessed it, climate change) has been caused in large part by the deeply entrenched consumerist culture we have found ourselves in. Consumerism is woven into the fabric of our society, and is integral to the maintenance of our economic system. The thing is, capitalism only works if we (consumers) buy things. And the more the better, because more consumption equals more economic growth. After all, GDP is currently how we measure a country's "success".
Here’s some disturbing facts for you. If everyone on earth lived like the average European, we would need 2.3 earths to support us. Even worse if we lived like the average American, when we would need 4.6 earths to support us. As the middle class rises across the world, particularly in places like India and China, so will consumerism. That may be good news for our economy, but it’s not good news for our planet.
Why is consumerism bad?
Have you ever stopped to think about where our new stuff comes from? Or where it ends up once you are finished with it? The above video - "The Story of Stuff" - answers these questions, and provides a great introduction to why consumerism is not so good for our planet.
If we want to tackle climate change head on, we need to examine the way we live our lives, and how this impacts our planet and co-inhabitants. We also need to examine whether taking part in this consumerist culture is actually good for our mental wellbeing. Modern society tells us that in order to be happier and more successful, we must have more stuff. However, researchers have found a connection between an excessively materialistic outlook and increased levels of anxiety and depression.
On my journey to more conscious living, I have discovered the benefits of consuming less. For me, it was learning about the negative impacts of the fast fashion industry which triggered my lifestyle change, as I was driven by the desire to reduce my carbon footprint. For others, it might be simply to save money or an attempt to reduce anxiety which leads them to examine their spending habits.
Here are the some of the benefits you can experience by buying less and buying better:
You’ll spend less
Well, this one’s obvious. Reducing your consumption in general will save you money and allow you to focus on saving for other things, like experiences or holidays, which are more likely to provide long-term satisfaction than one-off impulse purchases.
You’ll feel more content
Consuming begets consumption. Likewise, minimalism begets minimalism. By reducing your consumption, you’ll become less concerned with comparing yourself with others, which is often a source of unhappiness. In addition, buying more often leads to dissatisfaction, as the ‘thrill’ of the purchase wears off. Once you cut down on the amount you buy, you will no longer strive for more and will become more content with and grateful for what you have.
You’ll reduce your carbon footprint
The western world’s rate of consumption is not sustainable, and we are already living beyond our planet's means to meet the demands of consumers. It takes a huge amount of energy and natural resources (such as wood, metals, water and fossil fuels) and the creation of factories whose operation creates toxic by-products (usually strategically placed in the developing world) to produce the goods we consume. Once we are finished with these goods and products, they usually end up in landfill as waste. The less we consume, the less damage we will do to the environment. Reducing your consumption is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and take a political stance by rejecting our consumerist culture.
You’ll experience a mind shift
Rejecting consumerism and the marketing that goes with it really makes you aware of how much we are encouraged to consume. Every day, each of us is bombarded with around 1,600 commercial messages. The more you notice it the more obvious it becomes. Taking a step back from this and becoming an observer, rather than a participant, is eye-opening. It allows you to experience an overall mind shift and focus your energy on other things which give you more satisfaction. For some, this new mindset and decrease in distraction will allow them to discover a new passion or even come up with a business idea.
Consumerism is a powerful cultural force, which is wreaking havoc on our planet, our climate and our well-being. Many environmentalists overlook consumerism as a key environmental problem, probably because tackling it would require a massive cultural shift. But small changes lead to bigger changes and there is a growing movement of those who are embracing minimalism and rejecting consumerism.
There are many more benefits associated with consuming less and everyone’s journey is different. Not only does reducing your level of consumption and refocusing your attention and time towards things that really matter result in an increase your overall wellbeing, it also results in a more sustainable lifestyle. Good news for the planet and our future generations.
Want to explore this topic more? Watch the following documentaries (available on Netflix):