Americans and Western Europeans have had a lock on unsustainable over- consumption for decades. But now developing countries are catching up rapidly, to the disadvantage of the environment, health, and happiness.
Approximately 1.7 billion people worldwide now belong to the consumer class – the group of people characterized by diets of highly processed food, desire for bigger houses, more and bigger cars, higher levels of debt, and lifestyles devoted to the accumulation of non-essential goods.
Nearly half of global consumers reside in developing countries, including 240 million in China and 120 million in India – markets with the most potential for expansion.
Rising consumption has helped meet basic needs and create jobs but as we enter a new century, this unprecedented consumer appetite is undermining the natural systems we all depend on, and making it even harder for the World‘s poor to meet their basic needs.
Most of the environmental issues we see today can be linked to consumption.
Globalization is a driving factor in making goods and services previously out of reach in developing countries much more available. Items that at one point in time were considered luxuries – televisions, cell phones, computers, air conditioning – are now viewed as necessities.
For years, the streets of China’s cities were characterized by a virtual sea of people on bicycles. By 2000, 5 million cars moved people and goods; the number is expected to reach 24 million by the end of next year.
The increase in prosperity is not making Humans happier or healthier. Income and happiness tend to track well until about $13,000 of annual income per person.
After that, additional income appears to produce only modest increments in self-reported happiness. Increased consumerism evidently comes at a steep price.
People are incurring debt and working longer hours to pay for the high-consumption lifestyle, consequently spending less time with family, friends, and community organizations.