We live in a consumer nation. “Stuff” seems to be our generation’s newest mantra, with each person in the U.S. producing an estimated 4.5 pounds of garbage per day. That is twice the amount that was produced 30 years ago. We are bombarded by hundreds to thousands of advertisements per day ($435 billion is spent on advertising worldwide annually,) which is blatantly intended to influence people to continue consuming more and more things. From food to clothing, to cosmetics and automobiles, we just can’t seem to get enough material items to satisfy our ego desires.
The impact of this societal obsession is vast, affecting the people and the planet at a disturbing rate. In the past ten years alone, one third of the world’s natural resources have been used up. This fact should raise the hair on anyone’s neck. In addition to the environmental impact, mass consumption is affecting our health as thousands of synthetic chemicals and materials are being deposited in most of our food, clothes and cosmetics which can be linked to the influx of health problems the population is currently facing.
The problem doesn’t seem to be getting better either – last Spring more than 400 workers were killed and thousands were seriously injured in the collapse of a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Dhaka is one of the poorest cities in the world, which is why many of the top international retailers situate their manufacturing headquarters there. The workers are paid practically nothing to work in unsafe and inhumane work conditions. Joe Fresh, a Canadian company, was one of the retailers employing a large portion of the injured factory workers. Some of the other top sweatshop offenders in North America today include Forever 21, The Gap, Levi Strauss, Nike, and Guess, all which contribute to Canada’s annual $450 billion dollar retail industry. That’s a lot of “stuff” being bought. Yet even after devastating events such as the Dhaka factory collapse we continue to feed and buy into a system that is not only enslaving the majority in a debt paradigm, but it is also killing people and destroying our planet subsequently.
By the same token, the meat industry is among the largest carbon foot-print industries currently existing. The United Nations reported that “the livestock sector is one of the two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, including climate change, air and water pollution, land degradation and biodiversity loss. The report estimates that livestock accounts for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, significantly more than transportation. Furthermore, we are losing hundreds of thousands of acres of rainforest to make room for cattle grazing land. Factory-farmed animals also generate about 500 million tons of manure a year, a figure that jumped 60 percent between 1990 and 2008 and has polluted 34,000 miles of rivers and 216,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs throughout the country”(1.)
It is an alarming fact that the richest 20% in the world account for 86% of total private consumption of material goods; the poorest 20% account for only 1.3% (5.) Something is dreadfully wrong with this picture. It is evident that the mass production and consumption of material goods is leading our planet towards an unsustainable future.
These statistics can be overwhelming to consider on such a mass scale, but it is important for everyone to be aware of the personal and environmental impact we as a society are making on the planet. However, it is also important to remember that initial change starts with one person. The first step we must take to inspire change involves becoming educated about the effects of mass consumerism. Spreading awareness to family and friends can go a very long way. Most people just don’t know the facts about what is happening in our world, and it is as easy as sparking up a conversation around the dinner table or at a coffee shop that could create a ripple effect of change in your own circle. Secondly, it is crucial to evaluate your personal choices in regards to your consumption of material goods. Simple actions like buying bulk, using a water bottle, and recycling have a profound green footprint over the course of a year. Finally, switching to a balanced vegetarian diet will benefit both your personal heath and the environment.
Perhaps the most important action we can take, however, is to look inside ourselves. Ancient wisdom will tell anyone that a life of material consumption will never lead to fulfillment. The only true peace and enlightenment comes from within, the understanding that we are part of the infinite and transcendent creator love. The moment we stop buying into the corporate systems and start embracing our true essence, the sooner we move towards our evolutionary destiny as a collective.
4) http://www.facingthefuture.org/IssuesSolutions/ConsumptionEcologicalFootprint/ConsumptionFastFacts/ tabid/176/Default.aspx#.UhbKnxssmSp