We have only one Earth.
All products we consume come either directly or indirectly from this "lonely" earth. It can be termed lonely as no other planet except for the Earth provides any resource to humans.
We consume the Earth's resources and transform it to manufacture usable products. Whatever we do, we use the Earth's resources.
Every new person added to the blue planet's population is a new consumer. The more we consume or as the number of consumers increases, more resources are exploited.
How many consumers can the earth afford with its resources?
As the number of consumers is increasing, is there any scope for the Earth to produce more resources?
The answer is known to all of us and it is worrying environmentalists about sustainable development.
Sustainable development can be defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations and keeping balance among economic growth, environment and social well-being.
There is a debate on both consumption and sustainable development. What should be our limit to using non-renewable resources for sustainability?
Given that the world population is increasing every day, the natural resources will eventually come to end even if the amount of per capita use is very little. Is this argument to turn us into hyper-consumers?
We have to buy essentials and other compulsory commodities like schoolbook, uniform, mode of communication such as car, a cell phone, a medium of entertainment such as television, home theatre and so on.
Undoubtedly it has a good impact on the economy.
As consumption rises, demand also increases which eventually expands production and employment.
The present free market system created an opportunity of consumerism and people avail it to boost economic growth and countries happily breathe a sigh of relief for their retained growth.
We are also happy that the world's economy is growing. But how good is excess and unnecessary consumption? Should there not be any limit to consumption?
After World War II, in 1950s consumers were treated as a patriotic citizen as their spending helped the economy grow 37% in the US.
But the other side of the mirror showed that the then American population which was only 6% of the world, consumed only one-third of the world's goods.
A survey of construction data in the US stated that the medium size of a house was 1500 sq ft in the country from 1960 to 1980.
By 2007, it increased to 2200 sq ft per apartment. But the family size interestingly declined by that time. A big house means more stuff, big furniture, more maintenance giving rise to hyper-consumerism.
This consumption-led economy has impact detrimental to this Earth.
We use 2700 litres of water to make a piece of shirt, 44.4kgs of natural resources to produce a smartphone, one ton of natural resources to produce a computer. The more goods produced, the more resources are exploited.
Some studies have shown, if we continue to consume in the current pace, we would need 8.5 planets to absorb the carbon monoxide, 6 planets for steel, 3.5 planets for cement, and 3.5 planets for wood in the year 2050.
Since the world is advancing in technology, it can improve the efficiency of using the resource, i.e., the same output can be derived by using fewer resources than the current usage.
But we do not know how efficient it will be.
Currently, we are using 50% more natural resources compared to that of 30 years ago. On the other hand, it takes 150 years to increase the per capita GDP by 17 fold in the USA.
Is it not enough to say that satisfying future demand is not possible without limiting consumption?
Whatever we consume or purchase, we only do to meet up our necessities.
We, often buy things because our friends have it. We often buy to show off our wealth, economic supremacy, for fun, pleasure and habit.
We think more things will make us happy. But we never think that we consume more than necessary only to deprive my neighbour of his fair share of resources.
It is established that higher income or consumption cannot necessarily ensure happiness as shown in the world happiness index. Non-material wealth such as family relations, friendships, good neighbours is the most important components of happiness.
The habit of higher consumption only maximises material wealth ignoring the non-material one and cultural values. Consumption-driven grown-up economies even could not eliminate poverty.
Poverty is everywhere -- even in the rich economies. The over-consumption by a particular society must deprive the poor class of their share of natural resources. For example, the 20% rich population uses 80% of world energy and 75% of world wood.
The increase in the share of natural resources for the poor and future use can only be increased by reducing today's overconsumption. Habit or behaviour is hard to change.
Let lessons from Covid-19 help fight over-consumption. A pandemic causes individuals to change their habits of shaking hands, maintain social distancing, hand washing and keeping hands safe from the face.
This happens throughout the world at a time when world leaders advice citizen to follow the health protocols. Using this experience, individual's mindless or unnecessary consumption can be reduced by the state's motivational activities.
But it is difficult in the present growth model. We must search for a sustainable growth model where individual actions will follow global thinking for the happiness of the whole world community discouraging overconsumption.
Covid pandemic should be the turning point for a sustainable growth model for a new world.
The author is JDS Scholar & a civil servant.