Paper 4 (The Destructive Effects of Consumerism

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.
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.