Consumerism is a curse on the environment. Discuss.

Author: Chirin Soh
School: Raffles Institution
Year Written: 2019
Grade: N.A.

Cities are being submerged by rising sea levels. Thousands of sea turtles and millions of seabirds are washing up ashore due to pollutants in the ocean. The loss of habitat is leading to the extinction of thousands of species. Such are the headlines about the environment that frequently plague our society today. They can be attributed to the rise of consumerism as firms and countries seek to maximise their profits and achieve economic growth. It has led to mass destruction of natural habitats and soaring carbon emission levels so as to gain resources to meet consumption needs. Consumerism has become a curse to our environment as the rising sea levels and erratic climate poses a threat to the sustainability of Mother Earth. Despite these negative impacts, efforts are being done to mitigate the harm to the environment and consumerism can become a blessing instead of a curse.

Consumerism can be said to be a curse on the environment because it has led to the prioritisation of economic growth over environmental concerns. Countries that want to achieve economic growth often have to do so at the expense of environmental concerns. This is due to the fact that natural resources such as timber, petrol and gas need to be used to manufacture various goods for sale. It is estimated that Uranium will be completely exhausted by 2030, petrol by 2072 and rare metal by 2087. China is an example of a country that has achieved incredible economic growth in the past decade. However, it is now left with air pollution crisis and contributes nearly 17% of the world’s carbon emissions because these environmental concerns were overlooked previously. Consumerism has further driven up consumption levels, increasing the urge for firms to produce more and at a lower cost to make profits. Developing countries such as Indonesia have palm oil firms that employ the low cost slash and burn method to clear the land for their plantations. It is evident that these firms are only preoccupied with their personal interests of making money. On a larger scale, America has pulled out of the Paris Agreement because it conflicts with their economic agenda. This shows the contrasting nature between consumerism and the environment. Therefore, consumerism has caused negative impacts on the environment.

Consumerism has also led to the ubiquitous usage of disposable items which are said to be a curse on the environment. The most common disposable item is plastic bags and it is being handed out at shops freely in many parts of the world. It is only in recent years that greater awareness has been made on its impact on the environment. Plastic is non-biodegradable and increasing plastic waste has led to landfills being very quickly used up. Improper disposal of plastic is also a big problem. Nearly 8 million tonnes of plastic are being dumped into the sea every year. This is equivalent to tipping of one garbage trunk into the sea every minute. Marine life often mistake plastic bags for food and choke on them. There have been many incidents of whales and turtles dying due to ingestion of toxic plastic waste. Consumerism has increased the need for convenience, resulting in this plastic crisis that causes harm and is a curse to the environment.

However, increasing awareness on environmental issues and advocacy on environmental concerns is mitigating the harm on the environment, making consumerism less of a curse. More individuals are joining NGOs with the aim of environmental conservation. Through social media or other platforms, more individuals are taking action against companies that employ unsustainable methods of production. The online no straw campaign has taken off. It has influenced many people to stop using disposable straws and opt for metal straws or drink directly from the cup. Firms are also being pushed by the public’s voices to do their part for the environment. In the food and beverage industry, KFC has stopped providing plastic straws in all its 27 outlets across Singapore. Starbucks is also trying this out in several of its stores. The fashion industry is also moving towards environmental sustainability with emerging startups such as Refash and fast fashion brands engaging in practices good for the environment such as trading in of old clothes or making garments using recycled materials. Luxury fashion brand Burberry has also announced that it will stop the use of real fur tnad stop burning its unsold luxury goods. The greater awareness on the threats to our environment has pushed individuals and firms to take more action towards environmental sustainability. Hence, consumerism need not be a curse on the environment.

Furthermore, governments are realising the urgency of the problem and are creating policies to ensure that consumerism can coexist with environmental sustainability. Energy demand is increasing in this new age and many developed countries such as Germany and Japan are trying out different technology to get clean, renewable energy. Singapore has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 and has also stopped imports from palm oil firms that use methods harmful to the environment. France has also banned the sale of all disposable cutlery to reduce plastic waste. Similarly, many countries are enforcing the rule that plastic bags have to be of a certain quality or are mandating that stores charge customers for plastic bags.

Consumerism can actually become a blessing to the environment instead of a curse as the demand for eco-friendly goods and services can improve the environment. Ecotourism experienced a huge boost in recent years. Its revenue has successfully reduced poverty levels in Costa Rica and protected parts of Thailand. Seeing the success of ecotourism, more countries may prioritise the conservation of these nature trails or areas. Habitats will not be lost and this can help in the conservation of the environment. It is also estimated that billions will be made in revenue through the development of green technology and sustainability. This can further serve as an incentive to firms and countries to take steps towards conserving the environment.

To conclude, many of the harmful effects on the environment can be said to be driven by consumerism. Consumerism is likely here to stay for a long time and it is up to the society to dictate whether it becomes a curse on the environment. Often a compromise has to be made between economic growth and environmental conservation but that is not always the case. A balance can be struck and steps are being undertaken to mitigate the effects of consumerism and turn it around to benefit the environment. More has to be done and greater cooperation from all firms and countries is needed to ensure consumerism is not a curse on the environment.

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