7 September 2023
DO WE REALLY NEED ALL THIS STUFF?
How does overconsumption impact wild animals? Youth Engagement Officer Enya Perry encourages teachers to download our new Great Debate resources for free.
Do we know the true cost of all we buy? With the global human population now numbering over eight billion and still growing, even if we only ‘consume’ at our current rate, demand on the world’s resources will continue to grow as well. Have you stopped to think about the true the cost of the things we buy and the impact our consumer culture is having on other species around us?
It is first important to raise a term you may not have come across before, ‘speciesism’. This is defined as discrimination based on species, and the assumption of human superiority – our belief that other animal species are inferior. In this context it is the assumption that our needs and our desires are more important than those of other species. But, we will circle back to this later.
So, what is ‘consumption’? One definition is the act of using up resources – the purchase of goods and services for use by households or individuals, perhaps for one of these reasons:
- Satisfaction of basic needs and wants
- To highlight our social importance
- To boost our wellbeing and happiness
- To make us seem more attractive or to show affection
- To show our identity to others and provide a sense of belonging
Consumerism can be an economic and societal way of viewing the economy, where increasing the consumption of goods and services is always a desirable goal, and a person’s well-being and happiness can depend fundamentally on obtaining consumer goods and material possessions.
There are some benefits to consumerism:
- Creating jobs through the production, distribution and sale of goods and services
- Fuelling economic growth on a local or national level
- Providing pleasure for the individual making the purchase
- Keeping prices competitive whilst providing consumers with choice, as companies encourage us to buy their products over those of their competitors
- Driving the development of technology to improve our lives (and ultimately sell more products).
However, and it is a big however, our consumer habits are at the heart of the planet’s environmental crisis. Whether contributing to climate change through factory emissions and transportation, or impacting biodiversity through extraction of raw materials, pollution, habitat destruction and waste materials, our need to own the latest electronic device or follow the latest fashion trend has led many countries to consume natural resources at a rate that far exceeds the planet’s capacity to renew them.
“Whether contributing to climate change through factory emissions and transportation, or impacting biodiversity through extraction of raw materials, pollution, habitat destruction and waste materials, our need to own the latest electronic device or follow the latest fashion trend has led many countries to consume natural resources at a rate that far exceeds the planet’s capacity to renew them.”
In fact, if we all ‘consumed’ at the rate of the average consumer in the United States, we would require five full planet Earths to satisfy the global need for resources every year. Now consider the resources required by other animal species, such as space. Even if we are using one full planet’s worth of resources for ourselves, what is left for wildlife? Is this not speciesism in action?
A few shocking facts:
- In total, up to 85% of textiles go into landfill each year. That’s enough to fill the Sydney Harbour annually
- Recycling rates for electronics globally are low
- Even in the EU, which leads the world in e-waste recycling, just 35% of e-waste is officially reported as properly collected and recycled
- 60-90% of the world’s electronic waste, worth nearly £15.13 billion ($19 billion), is illegally traded or dumped each year, often in poorer countries.
- As e-waste breaks down, it can release dangerous toxins, such as lead, mercury, and cadmium into the soil and water, accumulating in the bodies of wildlife, leading to health problems and even death
- Viscose and other cellulose based fibres are created from pulped trees – destroying habitats
- Fabric dyes pollute water bodies, with devastating effects on aquatic life and drinking water supplies to local communities
- Garment workers don’t often receive a living wage, can work up to 18 hours a day, and often in unsafe conditions.
Born Free’s Great Debate
This year, through Born Free’s fifth Great Debate topic, overconsumption, primary and secondary students across the UK will have the opportunity to delve deeper into this issue and consider whether we can carry on as we are, or whether we need to drastically change our ways in order to protect wildlife and our shared planet.
In order to ensure a fair and sustainable future, we must understand our role as consumers, and better understand the pressures and cultures that drive us to continue to buy more and more.
But, what can we do about this?
Teachers can download the Great Debate resources, a five-lesson scheme of work for KS2, 3 and 4, completely free.
As an individual you can:
- Consider if your next purchase is essential
- Think about what you wear:
- Ensure you resell or recycle old clothing
- Do your shopping at second-hand shops, there are many online outlets if you cannot get down to your local high streets
- If you need to buy new clothes, go for quality over quantity, considering what material they are made from and the company that produces them. Also, think about the materials your clothes are made of. For example, have you tried eco-friendly, sustainable and comfortable clothes made from hemp yet?!
- Be more conscious of your electronics:
- Ask the question, do I need that phone/tablet/console/computer upgrade?
- Resell old electronics, if they still work, or try and repair them if they break – more and more companies are making this possible
- If the above is not possible, please recycle your old electronics.