Do you consider yourself to be a consumer? Well, if you live in Europe or North America, you almost certainly are. While the developed world constitutes only a small portion of the world’s population, it uses up most of its resources. This is slowly changing, however, as the developing world undergoes a population explosion. These are 25 Disturbing Facts About Human Consumption You Need To Know.
Today there are more than 1.7 billion members of the "consumer class." Half of them are now from the developing world. The consumerist 20th century lifestyle of Europe and North America has gone global in the 21st century.
In 2000, the amount spent by private households around the world topped $20 trillion. This is four times higher than 1960.
As incomes rise, people are gaining more access to consumer items. In 2002, three quarters of humanity lived in houses with at least one TV set.
Part of the increase in consumption can be explained by population growth. The UN estimates a 41% increase by 2050 to almost 9 billion people. Most of this will happen in developing countries.
The US is one of the few developed countries that is expected to grow quite rapidly. By 2050, it will account for most of the population growth in the developed world, adding up to 100 million more people. This means that even if the average American ate 20% less meat in 2050, total meat consumption would still be 5 million tons greater.
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A growing portion of the consumer class lives in the developing world. China and India are now home to 20% of the people in this category. Their combined total is 352 million people, which is more than all of Western Europe. (It's worth noting, however, that the average European still consumes a lot more...even though the gap is closing.)
Developing countries have the most potential to expand the global consumer class. Right now, the consumer class only makes up 16% of their combined population. In Europe, about 89% of the population belongs to the consumer class.
The 12% of people living in Europe and North America account for 60% of consumer spending while the 60% that live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa only count for a little over 3%.
This disparity in consumption is slowly disappearing, but in order for the vast majority of the world's population to live dignified lives, they will have to increase their level of consumption quite a bit more. Experts have noted that disparities in wealth are a leading cause of wars, defense spending, peace keeping missions, and border security.
If the world's social and environmental problems were solved and economic disparities were evened out, countries wouldn't have to spend so much on self-preservation. They could instead invest in creating a greater quality of life for their citizens.
As of now, more than 2.8 billion people get by on less than 2 USD per day. 1 billion of those people don't even have access to clean drinking water.
According to the UN, over 800 million people are still undernourished.
In spite of the accelerating growth in the developing world, the industrial nations still account for most of the world's consumption. Furthermore, experts have noted that if the appetites of even the wealthiest nations can't be satisfied, there seems to be little hope for putting the breaks on consumption before it destroys the planet.
Although the US only accounts for 5% of the world's population, it burns nearly 25% of the world's fossil fuels.
If the levels of consumption enjoyed in Europe and North America were replicated for even half of the 9 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, the impact on air quality, water supplies, and even human health would be dangerous.
Currently the Earth has about 1.9 hectares of biologically productive land per person, but the average human is already using 2.3 hectares.
On one end of the spectrum, the average American consumes 9.7 hectares. On the other end, the average Mozambican uses .47 hectares.
But why would advanced nations want to curb their consumption? That sounds unfair, especially if developing nations are progressively increasing theirs. Well, one of the most compelling reasons is that after a certain point, additional consumption decreases human health and quality of life.
Although consumption is still increasing in the developed world, health figures aren't keeping up. In fact, life expectancy in the US dropped for the first time in 2016 after 22 years, largely due to heart disease.
Undoubtedly, increasing consumption leads to a trade off of financial debt, time, and stress spent working to support high levels of consumption. Aggressive pursuit of high consumption also leads to a decline in health indicators such as obesity, stress, and heart disease. It also increases crime and social instability.
65% of US adults are overweight or obese which leads to nearly 300,000 lives being lost every year as well as hundreds of billions of dollars in health care costs.
In 2002, over 60% of US credit card holders carried a monthly balance. The average was 12,000 USD with an interest rate of 16%. That equates to nearly 2,000 USD in annual finance charges, more than the per capita income of 40 countries.
While the 20th century increased quality of life by increasing consumption, the developed world has exhausted the marginal benefit of additional consumption. The 21st century will have to focus on explicitly increasing quality of life in other ways, notably by curbing consumption.
Economists, policy makers, and governments are now beginning to stress the use of publicly provided goods and services like health care and transport.
Even in the US there has been a shift. While previous generations focused on achieving high levels of consumption and living in low density suburbs, millennials are beginning to redefine the American Dream by moving back to urban cores, prioritizing public goods, and achieving sustainability across the board.
Photos: Featured Image: shutterstock, 25-1. pixabay (public domain)