Bates 1 Karen Bates Professor Sessolo Writing 100 25 November 2012 The Destructive Effects of Consumerism and What Americans Can Do To Help (USA Today News; Young adults in their 20’s-30’s from all regions of the United States with all levels of education from high school diploma to Ph.D.’s) Throughout the United States, signs of environmental damage and economic struggles are evident. Paper bags are tangled in trees, rivers are riddled with trash and waste, animals die from ingesting plastic, and foreclosure signs mar homes’ lawns. The damage is alarming and only getting worse. It has a direct relation with patterns of consumerism in the United States. Americans are consuming too much and neither the planet nor the economy can sustain the current rate of consumption. The level of consumption in the United States needs to be reduced because it is damaging the environment, worsening the economy, and making Americans miserable. There are simple changes that Americans can make to lessen the consequences of consumerism, such as consuming less and avoiding disposable products. The effects that consumerism has had on the environment are particularly alarming. The changes are coming rapidly and having permanent consequences. Hilary Mayell cites a study in her article, “As Consumerism Spreads, Earth Suffers, Study Says,” that details the consequences that American and global consumerism has on the environment. She writes that consumerism is having a, devastating toll on the Earth's water supplies, natural resources, and ecosystems exacted by a plethora of disposable cameras, plastic garbage bags, and other cheaply made goods Bates 2 with built in product-obsolescence, and cheaply made manufactured goods that lead to a ‘throw away’ mentality. (Mayell 1) Mayell points out that not only have Americans fully embraced disposable goods that are piling high in garbage dumps, the country has also changed the definition of luxury goods. She writes, “Items that at one point in time were considered luxuries—televisions, cell phones, computers, air conditioning—are now viewed as necessities” (Mayell 1). Not only are Americans consuming too many cheap goods, but they are splurging on goods that are detrimental to the environment and drowning themselves further in a sea of debt. The formerly considered luxury items, such as cars, are particularly harmful to the environment. Other formerly luxurious items such as cell phones and computers often contain technology that can be extremely harmful to the environment if they are not disposed of properly. The planet cannot sustain the current rate of consumerism in the United States. The rate of consumerism in America is killing entire animal species. Landfills and litter that flows in rivers and streams are wreaking ecosystems. Animals that are kept and bred on factory farms are no better off. Americans eat a lot of meat, particularly beef and chicken. The copious amounts of meats that are consumed often come from factory farms where the animals are kept in close quarters. Mayell reveals that, “Crowded conditions can lead to the rapid spread of disease among the animals. To prevent this, antibiotics are included in their feed” (Mayell 2). Those antibiotics then end up in our bodies. The rate of consumption of goods and food are not only harming the environment and animals, but our own bodies and health. The environment is not the only victim of the overactive American consumer culture; the economy is also suffering greatly. In the article, “The U.S. Government Should Discourage Excessive Consumption,” Shepherd Bliss writes, “Our economy is paying and will continue to Bates 3 pay the consequences of over-consumption and the over-purchasing of people reaching beyond their resources that characterized the housing market” (Bliss). The consumer culture in America has encouraged Americans to shop till they drop and beyond. Items that were once considered luxury items such as cars and cell phones are now considered necessities and they are purchased by people whether they can afford them or not. The housing market crash of 2007 is often considered a direct product of American over-consumption. Citizens were simply buying more than they could afford because they were encouraged to do so by the consumer culture. Americans are stuck in a vicious cycle. Mayell explains that, “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” (Mayell 2). The circle of consuming then working to pay off debts and to consume more is making Americans unhappy. The materialistic items, which we all enjoy, are not a substitute for time spent with friends and family. Just doing the simple activities that bring us joy. The never-ending cycle of working and buying does not budget time for such things. Colin Beavan took that philosophy to an extreme and set off on a project to live with his family in New York City making as little environmental impact as possible. They even flipped the switch on their breaker and went without any electricity. Through their experiment, they discovered that they were much happier and healthier. They stayed outside on summer nights to enjoy the sights and sounds of a summer evening. Beavan and his wife were typically in bed by 10:00 at night since there was not much point in staying up too late as there was no TV and they would have to rely on beeswax candles for light. They got much more sleep and were much healthier than when they had electricity and would stay up late watching tv. By creating as little negative impact as he could, Beavan detached Bates 4 himself and his family from the mainstream consumer culture of America. He returned to the simple pleasures of life and became a much happier and healthier individual. The current environmental and economic situation that America is in is quite gloomy. However, simple changes can be made to better the nation. Citizens just need to become responsible consumers. Being a responsible consumer means purchasing only necessary items, and opting for green products when available. It also means only consuming what you can afford. Consuming only the essential goods and purchasing them second hand when possible would be the greatest help to the environment. Many people cry out for “green products” and environmentally friendly alternatives. While those options are better than their chemical laden peers, the best thing to do would be to simply buy less. The article, “Sensible Consumerism for Environmental Sustainability” states that using green products, “might not ade-quately [sic] curtail destruction of forests and biodiversity” (Koh, and Lee 3-6). The authors of the article suggest consuming less rather than using green alternatives. The artist and activist Chris Jordan advocates for Americans to examine their habits and be aware of their consumption. He believes that we “engage in [consumerism] unconsciously, on a collective level” (Jordan). If every American examined their habits and began to consume just a little bit less and recycle more, huge changes with positive impacts could be made. If we all opted for more quality, durable goods instead of disposable items, enormous positive changes in the environment could be seen. Then perhaps the consumer culture would not be as popular and Americans would no longer feel the need to buy big homes and expensive goods that they cannot afford. Little conscious changes will make a profoundly positive change on the environment, economy, and people’s happiness. Some people argue that consumerism is not harming the environment, economy, or people’s happiness. They make the point that the level of consumerism forces companies to be Bates 5 competitive in developing the best product that is attractive to consumers. Recently, that means that more and more companies are developing “green” products. However, simply using environmentally products is not enough of a change. The goods still create waste. The best solution is to consume less. Another argument is that purchasing products stimulates the economy so Americans should be consuming even more. This theory only works though if Americans are purchasing things that they can afford. When Americans overspend, as many have been recently, the economy is damaged, rather than stimulated; events such as the housing market crash occur. A third argument is that the freedom to purchase whatever material items you would like is happiness. Although, to have the ability to purchase those desired items requires a lot of work. Then citizens are thrust into the cycle of working to buy things that you want and then working more to buy more. Consumer satisfaction quickly dissipates and the consumer often craves the next bigger and better item. Sometimes consumers become depressed when they cannot afford the products that they desire. That does not seem like a happy way to go through life. The rate of consumption in the United States is dangerous. It is harming the environment, the economy, and people’s happiness. However, little changes can be made to improve all of three of those. The situation is dire, but it is not hopeless. If every American scrutinized their habits and consumed less, positive changes could be set in motion and the detrimental effects of consumerism could be lessened. Bates 6 Works Cited Beavan, Colin. No Impact Man. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2009. Print. Bliss, Shepherd. “The U.S. Government Should Discourage Excessive Consumption.” Debt 2009. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 25 Sep. 2012 Jordan, Chris. "Turning Powerful Stats Into Art." Speech. TED Talk. 23 Oct. 2012. TED. June 2008. Web. <http://www.ted.com/talks/chris_jordan_pictures_some_shocking_stats.html>. Koh, Lian Pin, and Tien Ming Lee. "Biological Conservation." Biological Conservation. (2012): 3-6. Print. Mayell, Hillary. "As Consumerism Spreads, Earth Suffers, Study Says." National Geographic. 12 2004: n. page. Web. 18 Nov. 2012.