A Society of Overconsumption

Plastic toys are just one category from which we purchase in abundance in the U.S.

Plastic toys are just one category from which we purchase in abundance in the U.S.

When it comes to our ecological impact on the earth, there are three major factors involved: the population (which we talked about a couple of weeks ago), how much each person is consuming, and how efficiently each unit of consumption is produced.

Let’s focus on the second factor, how much each person is consuming, particularly in this nation. Although the U.S. has a lower birth rate than many other countries, we consume much, much more than most of the rest of the world. Compared with someone from China, an American consumes about 53 times more goods and services. Each of us uses as much energy as 370 Ethiopians. While collectively there are fewer Americans than people of other nationalities, each one of us has a huge impact on the world.

For example, Americans use:

– 2.5 gallons of oil a day
– 100 gallons of water a day
– 200 pounds of meat a year
– 500 plastic bags a year

We’re not alone — other industrialized countries use plenty of resources, too. Since 1950, the world’s people have consumed more goods and services than the combined total of all humans who ever walked the planet before us, according to The Sierra Club.

At our current rate of consumption, at some point, there won’t be enough left to consume. The earth’s resources are finite, and no matter how much technology advances, it can only find more creative ways to produce things, but it cannot recover resources once they’re destroyed.

Even with this knowledge, we continue to make poor environmental choices. Take the Tar Sands Keystone XL Pipeline (which Dolphin Blue is producing a documentary on). We’re piping oil mined in Canada and then transporting this oil in a major pipeline that will destroy huge areas of habitat for several thousand miles through Canada and the U.S., to a port near Houston. From there, the oil will be shipped to China and used in the manufacturing of cheap, throwaway goods that will come back stateside for sale — where they’ll quickly be disposed of. It’s inefficient, irresponsible, and environmentally destructive, not to mention unnecessary.

Borrow instead of buy whenever you can.

Borrow instead of buy whenever you can.

How can we change? We’re entrenched in a culture that values material goods, so it isn’t easy to adjust these patterns of consuming. They won’t go away overnight, but here are some small steps you can take as a start:

>> Fight against the urge to “keep up with the Joneses” and have all the latest gadgets and gizmos. Make splurging on something an occasional thing and not an everyday occurrence.

>> When you do need to buy something, look for the most eco-responsible options, including items that are made in the USA. Also, ask yourself if it’s something you could borrow instead.

>> If you’re working on a big project like sprucing up your home, don’t just rush out and buy new things. For example, in remodeling his house, Dolphin Blue founder Tom Kemper is reusing materials taken out of the existing structure; using recovered lumber and wooden floors from teardowns; installing a metal roof to facilitate rainwater collection; installing photovoltaic panels to produce and satisfy his household’s energy needs; buying old tubs, sinks, and doors; and refurbishing the old windows.

>> If there are public transportation options where you live, use them. Bikes and feet are great, too, for shorter distances.

>> Some people shop as a pick-me-up; the rush of buying something new can turn around a bad day. If this applies to you, replace that urge to buy with another behavior — going for a run in the park, giving yourself an hour to read, taking a nap, etc.

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