To live means to consume, and consume we do. 24 hours a day, we consume air for breathing, water to drink and food to eat. In addition to these basic essentials, we consume an ever increasing amount of goods and services - cars, houses, appliances, computers, furniture, books, travel, and entertainment. The list of things and services we have come to depend upon on is endless. The American market system depends on our continued and increased consumption, so it does its best to make us want more, desire more, buy more, upgrade more, pollute more and waste more.
However, there is a price to pay for this uncontrolled consumption. Perhaps, we do not yet realize that everything we consume comes from the natural world - it is extracted, mined, farmed, grown, fished, cut down - and the resources on this planet are limited. As we continue to consume at an ever increasing rate for the illusion of a "comfortable" life, the planet suffers from this over-extraction of resources - forests, fish, soil, minerals, water... resulting in degraded and collapsing ecosystems, habitats, and species. In addition, increased consumption creates increased pollution and waste and the very essentials for life - air, land, and water get more and more polluted and toxic.
Perhaps, we also do not realize that if we take up the lion’s share of the planet's resources, then others have less to live on. Currently, 80% of the world's resources are used by a minority of the world's population (17%). There is a flow of precious resources from the global South to the North. These resources are exploited and used for producing goods and services for the minority of the world's population instead of being used to provide the basic necessities of food, water, health, sanitation etc. for the rest of the world's population. Moreover, in order to fulfill the consumption "wants" of the rich minority, precious resources are often directed towards frivolous or luxury items further depriving the poor of the world.
The following table, from WorldWatch Institute, compares the expenditure on luxury items with the funding needed to meet basic needs.
Table 1-6: Annual Expenditure On Luxury Items Compared With Funding Needed To Meet Selected Basic Needs
||Social or Economic Goal
||Additional Annual Investment Needed to Achieve Goal
||Reproductive health care for all women
|Pet food in Europe and United States
||Elimination of hunger and malnutrition
||Clean drinking water for all
|Ice cream in Europe
||Immunizing every child