Consumerism and Its Effect on Climate Change


Consumerism is both an economic and cultural ideology that emboldens the attainment of goods and services. According to the theory of consumerism, consumption of goods and services in large quantities means a forward-looking economy for the respective countries and a high growth rate to match. In the last few decades industrialization has led to an increase in the production of goods across the world, and this has been augmented by the globalization that occurred from 1990 onwards that saw massive growth of multinational companies thus, further enhancing consumerism. As of Atkinson (12), largely, consumerism is liable for manmade climate change, and this assertion emanates from the thinking that an increased rate in production and consequent consumption of nonessential goods has adversely affected the environment thus, leading to climate change. Most of the impacts on the planet emanate from household consumption (D’Aveni, 42). Other sources that are responsible for climate change are population and technology. In as much as household consumption has significant effects on climate change, it has received the least attention. Lammi, Petteri and Päivi (142 argues that, this disparity is likely to due to the difficulties there are in embracing change because consumption patterns have since been embedded into the human fabric that any change would require an overhaul of the entire culture. Moreover, severe economic dislocation is highly likely to result, and this is in addition to the increased likelihood of a drop in demand for products, which can cause an economic recession or depression, accompanied by colossal unemployment. This paper explores the whole issue of consumerism by looking at capitalism that is the heart of environmental pollution, with advertising being the driving force behind unsustainable production and consumption of nonessential goods and services.

Research question: How does consumerism contribute to climate change?

Advertising driving consumerism

            Consumerism dates back to the inception of capitalism in the 16th century. By the 18th century, consumerism began intensifying owing to the rising middle class that had resources to spend on luxuries. Capitalism had brought with it began concerted efforts by companies to maximize profits, and to achieve this, more sales had to be made hence intensified marketing began to sway people’s choices (Lehmann and Robert, 362). Moreover, the advancements that came with industrial revolution especially in machinery led to an increase in production, and in one way or another, markets for the goods had to be created. As a result, material possession through buying of goods and services became a way of life back then in many parts of the world. This culture continues today and it is predominant in the luxury market whereby it encourages spending on non-consumer goods such as cars clothes and gadgets. According to Featherstone (81), Consumers buy these goods and services to remain fashionable, and it is certain that the search for better is never-ending as the number of non-essential goods and services continue increasing in the backdrop of a market environment that is saturated with advertisements.

Advertising is one of the many types of marketing, and it is certain that marketing strategies work to encourage consumption of goods and services.  This consumption is normally driven by search for uniqueness among consumers and Barreau (67) describes it as a universal human motive. However, it is worth noting that culture and social status moderate this tendency of search for uniqueness, and advertisements leverage this vulnerability across societies to achieve improve sales. According to Egea et al (651), Advertising campaigns exploit different society’s values in the sense that to reach different peoples of different cultures and social status the campaign is created in a way that matches the appropriate values of the target society. However, of note is the fact that marketing strategies that appeal to the consumers’ search for uniqueness are effective in high-status groups whose members are inclined towards independence than for members in lower status groups who are inclined towards interdependence(Barreau, 67). The aforementioned statement then explains consumerism in a refined way because hyper-consumption is brought about by purchase of non-essential goods and services, and this is certainly the preserve of the members of high-status in the society. Therefore, marketing campaigns are targeted to certain consumers, and in so doing, satisfy the motives of the consumers, which is sealed when the purchases occur. In this regard, advertising practices are persuasive in nature, and they are likely to determine a person’s decision to make a purchase because of their capacity to buy and not merely driven by need (Egea et al, 657). These practices lead to hyper consumption, and hence waste because of abundance of goods and services that do not have consumers, or simply the goods and services that go bad or have a reduced lifespan hence discarded more often than not.

Consumerism and environmental degradation

The world now is driven by consumer economics, and it is certain that consumer economics influence every aspect of people’s lives. According to Gjoko (3), the way people consume reflects the peoples’ culture, attitudes, and behavioral characteristics. Consumer culture theory revolves around the study of people’s consumption choices and behaviors from a cultural standpoint. This means that a large part of what a person does, values or is defined centers on his/her consumption of stuff (Featherstone, 86). In the last three decades, the advent of internet has transformed older systems of technology in not only communication, but also transportation and manufacture (Gjoko, 197). The technology has resulted in increased mobility of people and goods, and the information that has been enabled by the technology has not only accelerated, but also expanded consumerism, with the result being hyper-consumption among the populace.  The marked efficiency and virtualization gains of networked devices such as the computer, phone, and tablet have enabled hyper consumption (D’Aveni, 42). First, the devices themselves together with their peripherals and other accessories are objects of consumption for they become rapidly redundant due to constant rapid improvements. In the process, a rapid turnover of these products is created leading to pollution from plastics and other toxic chemical trash (Gjoko, 198). Secondly, technology has seen to it that household appliances and machines are computerized thus the reduction in their lifespan and durability becomes inevitable, and this dematerialization continue to stimulate an expanded and accelerated consumption (Lammi, Petteri, and Päivi, 143). Therefore, upsurges in volumes of consumption and the greater than before tendency of products becoming obsolete have increased pollution and waste dramatically.

The capitalist system has aided an absurd and unreasonable logic of unrestricted expansion and accumulation of capital, and this is because of its drive to ensure maximum production of goods and services, and hence profits. According to Atkinson (176), the aforementioned narrow-minded levelheadedness is inherently contradictory of the living environment, which is dependent on long natural cycles for renewal. This emanates from the fact that capitalism is dependent on short-term calculus of profit and loss, and thus creating a disconnection, which breeds environmental degradation (Lammi, Petteri, and Päivi, 145). Of note is the fact that environmental degradation is not about ecocidal capitalists standing in the way of green capitalists, but rather the system itself, which continues to be based on harsh competition, demands for returns for investments made, and the quick search for profits (Löwy, 19). In such a situation, ecological equilibrium is destroyed, and it is definite that partial reforms are insufficient but rather the replacement of the quests for profits with environmental and social rationalities, which in essence means that a paradigm shift is needed in what it means to be civilized and rethinking of technology, is inevitable.

Advertising is also at the heart of this mass production for it is meant to ensure high profit margins for luxury goods. Paradigm shift is likely to be characterized mainly by changes in production and consumption (Lehmann and Robert, 372). However, it is worth noting that the problem of the capitalist nature of economies has not been what most people refer to as excessive consumption, which then attracts the solution of limiting consumption, but about consumption that comes from satisfaction of false needs instead of concentration on satisfaction of genuine needs. According to Löwy (21), real needs can be differentiated from false needs by the fact that, false needs are a result of advertising, which is a system that functions to manipulate mental processes of the populace. In this regard, advertising invents false needs, and this is because of the capitalistic nature of firms to create demand for its massive products and services through various marketing techniques Some of the techniques include trickery in advertising and planned outmodedness of products and services (D’Aveni, 47). This then means that the claim of free market ideology of supply being a response to demand is false, because in the current capitalistic economy, the demand is created to ensure maximum sales. In this regard, advertising yields this consumerist demand, and because authentic need has to be satisfied for continued survival of man, it can be distinguished from the false need by attenuating the aspect of advertising (Atkinson, 204). Therefore, capitalism and marketing are not only linked intimately, but are also so pervasive to the extent that they have pushed the environment and ecosystems to the brink of failure in meeting human needs by reducing al values to cash and ensuring maximum accumulation of wealth hence the culture of  consumerism. The result is unprecedented accumulation of wastes which then lead to ecological disasters due to massive pollution and hence an anomaly in the ecological equilibrium of the earth system, and unprecedented change in the global climate with massive damage.


It is evident that consumerism is a creation of the capitalist society which is bent on maximizing profit. At the heart of this society lies unlimited production and expansion of goods and services, and because the demand is naturally incline to satisfaction of genuine needs, the demand for these surplus goods and services, most of which are luxurious in nature and thus false needs, has to be created. Advertising plays a crucial role in this cycle, and contrary to the belief that demand drives supply, the increased supply of the resultant products of a capitalist society beyond those required for survival has led to creation of demand in response to the supply of these false needs. The result has been a change in the global climate as the system is increasingly becoming unsustainable due to environmental degradation that is brought about by waste accumulation and pollution. This is a fine recipe for disaster and it spells doom for the ecological equilibrium of Mother Nature if mitigation efforts are not initiated to break the cycle. A lot remains to be seen as regards the sustainability of capitalism, and it is noteworthy that a turnaround time is here and now, and even though the change will be gradual, it is necessary.