Our Consumption Is Killing Us

By Julia Ordaz

Have you ever heard of an ecological footprint? It’s the measurement of human activity that determines how many earths we would need to support our lifestyle. It takes into account the land and water we require, the goods we are consuming, and the wastes generated. The average ecological footprint of U.S. citizens is 8.1 global hectares, which means that 8 earths would be needed to support a lifestyle of a world full of American citizens. 

We require multiple earths because we are burning through this one at a rate that is both alarming and distressing. 

What makes our footprint so high? Our abuse of wealth. 

Large scale productions and factory usage hit a huge growth during the Industrial Revolution, and we haven’t looked back since. Nowadays, companies are more inclined to keep their greenhouse gas emissions less viewable in order to maintain an image of “sustainability,” but although production and transportation methods are changing, they haven’t changed enough yet to prevent environmental destruction. 

But our own material needs seem to be the true problem. According to Politifact, “companies are responsible for around 12% of the direct emissions; the other 88% comes from the emissions released from consumption of products.” 

Our insatiable appetites for cheaper products, faster services, and larger quantities seems to be growing with no end in sight. In 2021, fast fashion platform Shein brought in around $16 billion in revenue. Shein’s focus is on creating trendy products as quickly as possible. But the urgentness to stay leading the trend wave leaves us with several problems. Firstly, microtrends only stay in popularity for around 3-5 years while macro-trends seem to stick around for around 5-10. Next, to keep the clothes at a low price, Shein uses synthetic fabrics like polyester. 

Clothes bought from Shein have a lifespan of just a few short years in order to match the cycle of trends, and once the textiles reach the end of their lifespan they are discarded, thrown into landfills. But polyester takes 500+ years to decompose. One click, one purchase, fills up our landfills with one more piece of clothing that will take centuries to break down. 

The allure of cheap products is not the only detriment to the environment. Wealth is a direct link to the amount of carbon emissions produced. In 2020 the UN Environmental Programme found that the lavish lifestyle lived by the world’s top 1% emits more than double the amount of greenhouse gasses that the poorest 50% does. 

I think it’s safe to attribute their emissions to things that only wealth can buy- things that most of us don’t have like private planes or boats, or houses filled with technology’s most recent products. Electricity is generated using fossil fuels, and the wealthy are responsible for a consistent use of a tremendous amount of energy. 

But it’s our usage of non renewable energy that puts most households on the environmentally unfriendly list. Unfortunately for many, the renewable options are out of a respectable price range. 

Despite the focus on energy and clothes, there are a great many other factors of our consumerism that are pushing the world further and further into a point of no return, such as eating meat. The raising of livestock requires land, and these farms destroy a portion of the environment to create this space. Annually, one cow will release about 220 pounds of methane. The emissions continue when the meat has to be transported from farm to your table. On average, Americans eat meat more than 3 times the global average. 

Global warming will bring extreme weather conditions, severe storms, and widespread flooding that will result in the loss of life on a massive scale. It’s our greed and ignorance that’s driving the earth’s dramatic change, and it’s our greed and ignorance that will prevent us from doing our best to slow or reverse the effects of global warming. 

“Before I was six years old, my grandparents and my mother had taught me that if all the green things that grow were taken from the earth, there could be no life. If all the four-legged creatures were taken from the earth, there could be no life. If all our relatives who crawl and swim and live within the earth were taken away, there could be no life. But if all the human beings were taken away, life on earth would flourish. That is how insignificant we are.” -Russel Means, Oglala Lakota Nation (November 10, 1939 – October 22, 2012)

I’m not worried about the planet. It always finds a way to regrow, no matter how devastatingly it’s hit. We are the ones walking towards our own demise. 

Ecological Footprint Calculator

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