Human beings are consumers. We are designed to be consumers, and in this process, we also affect everything else around us. Our physical existence is dictated by the sustenance we get from our surroundings. Nature can only do so much to provide our needs for us, and there is much we need to do to satisfy our needs. Additionally, our basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing are not the only things that account for what we need.
In time, people began to consume no only the basic necessities but also other essential and non-essential items. So out of these, people began to consume durable goods such as beds and televisions, and services such as repairs and dining. Moreover, consumption is also defined based on the need it must satisfy such as communication, education, and entertainment. So, what we see now is that consumption is related to its country’s economy. Therefore, it is important to identify the existing problems about this and determine whether it possible to have a sustainable economy with low levels of consumption.
To figure out how what the existing problems are, it is necessary to define three terms that coincide into this context: consumption, sustainability and economic growth. Basically, people’s consumption can be defined as any goods or services that people buy. This illustrates that as part of our daily living, we either buy goods or services to fulfill a need that we have in that moment.
But then to be able to meet that need, there must be income which would be used to buy either the said goods and services. It is safe to say that what we buy is what we can afford. To say that people who have more money are able to buy more items or ones with better quality is acceptable, and that those who have less to buy do so with what they can afford still accounts for the consumption of a people as each one is part of another.
Sustainability on the other hand, is a “balancing act” (What Is Sustainability?, n.d.). This means that for consumption to be considered sustainable, there must be a balance between the needs and that the ability to provide these needs can be met. It is no surprise that a big problem in many countries is the fact that sustainability is outweighed by the consumption of its people. Statistically speaking, scenarios like ” Less than 3 per cent of the world’s water is fresh (drinkable), of which 2.5 per cent is frozen in the Antarctica, Arctic and glaciers” (Sustainable Consumption and Production,n.d), which means that there is very little water for humans to freely consume, and also echoes the imbalance between the sustainability and the consumption. Another example, could implicate also a chain reaction for sustainability and consumption. Such is seen in the fact that “The food sector accounts for around 30 per cent of the world’s total energy consumption and accounts for around 22 per cent of total Greenhouse Gas emissions” (Sustainable Consumption and Production,n.d). What can be seen in this statement is that as a result of the consumption, a reaction to the consumption affected the elements that provided the goods and the negative effect caused by the generation of goods for consumption.
Now that the scenario of what consumption is and its relationship with sustainability, we link the idea of economic growth to these two concepts. Economic growth is defined as “an increase in the capacity of an economy to produce goods and services, compared from one period of time to another”( Economic Growth, n.d). What this statement expresses then is that there is an effect to the economic growth and development when a dramatic imbalance between the consumption and sustainability if each of the two does not meet at one point.
The issue I would like to present in this essay is that of high consumption. The United Nations itself primarily found that “Each year, an estimated one third of all food produced – equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes worth around $1 trillion – ends up rotting in the bins of consumers and retailers, or spoiling due to poor transportation and harvesting practices” (Sustainable Consumption and Production, n.d.) There are two ideas presented in this statement. First, consumption in the said figure and statement shows high levels of consumption and at the same time wastage. Secondly, it can also be seen that there is a possibility of sustaining the consumption of the people, except that that need is literally thrown out into the bin as it reiterates the idea that people have the notion of receiving a suffiient supply from their need. Evidently, we see one effect to high levels of consumption. People tend to buy too much of what they don’t need but end up wasting them. In economic terms, this is useless consumption.
For an economy with high of consumption, there is an implication. First, is that the GDP (gross domestic product) is an indicator of the economic status and will have an impact on the consumption. First an increase in the GDP will cause a change in the consumption as it also increases consumption. For instance, the increase in income would mean an increase in consumption as well. In the same way, if there would be an increase of income and will be followed by a rise in consumption. But when an autonomous increase in consumption is coupled with income that is at a steady phase, this would evidently mean less savings, as more is spent for other things. Additionally, if there is an increase in the need for goods coming from other countries, this would mean more imports for the country and in effect cause imports to rise.
What this means is that when there are high levels of consumption, there is an increased chance for new investment, which ultimately means the possibility of producing positive movement of profits for the country. Secondly, high levels of consumption can raise future demands for the products and services. In the same manner, increased consumption can also mean increased local consumption, and that consumption might decrease exports, because what will happen is that many would start catering and preferring to sell products in the local market.
The question now shifts on to the idea of whether there is a possibility of sustaining an economy with low levels of consumption. It is safe to say that low levels of consumption can also affect the economy in many ways. The major effects to the high levels of consumptions is seen to be both positive and negative, but in terms of low levels of consumption, it imposes when a reversal of the consumption hits a country, it would mean that local products must be processed and sent for export so that no resource is wasted. This perspective will then reflect that there can be a positive output for low levels of consumption. Since the country has enough supplies to meet the demand, focusing on exporting goods would spell an increase in profit for the country. So that the chance of productively sustaining the economy is possible in this sense. But then it also implies that low levels of consumption would mean deflation of goods, a surplus in labor, and unemployment, thus also leading to excessive debts.
In a nutshell, we can equate a sustainable economy to the country’s ability to balance its consumption. The idea of sustainability in terms of using resources readily available in ones own country is a promising concept but should be balanced out by supplying other countries with available resources so that it is not wasted. Living more sustainably does not only mean using available resources but being able to allocate resources meaningfully.
“Economic Growth.” Investopedia. N.p., 2014. www.investopedia.com/terms/e/economicgrowth.asp. Accessed 04 October, 2016.
“Sustainable Consumption and Production.” UN News Center. UN, n.d. www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-consumption-production/ . Accessed 04 Oct. 2016.
“What Is Sustainability? The Definition of Sustainability”.Sustainability Degrees., n.d. www.sustainabilitydegrees.com/what-is-sustainability/. Accessed 04 October 2016.