During the second half of the 20th century, the humanity consumed so many natural resources and produced so much waste that this amount exceeds the amount of depleted resources and debris created by people who have ever lived on the Earth before. Scientists believe that natural resources which extracted from the Earth’s interior are growing in arithmetical progression, while the population is expanding in geometric progression. For this reason, in future, the Earth will not be able to feed so rapidly growing the population. Thus, the humanity has to face the issue concerning high levels of consumption and waste disposal and think about the future generations. Use of goods and services has become a way of life for many people, who cannot imagine their living without it.
Satisfaction of the needs of such “great consumers” has pushed further development of industry, which has both positive and negative effects. Positive effect lies in new progressive technologies used in industry to produce goods and services which are necessary for the population. Adverse effect lies in tremendous amounts of waste generated by plants and factories, which the Earth is not able to absorb any more. Therein lies a problem. The Earth does not provide people with enough resources for everybody, and people produce so much waste that the Earth is not able to absorb. Various international organizations including the United Nations have addressed the issue trying to find ways out. Thus, such term as ‘sustainable consumption’ appeared.
The purpose of the current study is to discuss such term as “sustainable consumption” and to decide if sustainable consumption can exist in the modern world. The paper will also focus on high levels of use of Western countries, the problem of waste disposal and sustainable development.
Sustainable consumption in the modern world
Such term as “sustainable consumption” appeared relatively recently to describe the patterns that people should follow to protect the Earth from a total disaster. To define “sustainable consumption,” it is necessary to define the word “sustainable” separately.
According to the Webster’s dictionary, “sustainable” means something that can continue in future. “Sustainable consumption” is the use of goods and services that satisfy basic needs and improve quality of life while minimizing the use of irreplaceable natural resources and the by-products of toxic materials, waste, and pollution.”
The humanity has almost reached the top of its technological development, but now it became evident that if we do not stop and think about the future generations, we might be the last generation to live on the Earth. It has been noticed that the developed countries consume much more goods and services than the less developed countries do. Thus, the standard of living, living conditions and other critical qualitative characteristics of people’s well-being are higher in the developed countries. But the developing countries also have the right to become developed, and this is what they are now trying to do. However, it may have a dramatic effect on the humanity in a whole. So, what is the way out? Speaking objectively, people in developing countries also have the right to have a higher standard of living, that’s why it is up to the developed countries to evolve strategies to decrease the number of goods consumed and waste produced. Of course to achieve such a goal all the states have to participate in the process of development of new strategies and help to implement them, and the reason for saying that the developed countries should lead this process is because they have the potential to do so.
Speaking about a high-consumption lifestyle, which is so prevalent nowadays in Western countries, it is necessary to emphasize that the problem does indeed exist, and a lot of ecological researchers have proved it. Since the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism the humanity received the opportunity to access a broader range of natural resources and to develop progressive technologies allowing to satisfy the growing needs of people. However, the price that the humanity is paying for its consumption is much higher than we can think.
Successful development of industry has lead to the vast production of goods and services, which, no doubt, improves the lives of people worldwide. With the technologies, the humanity possesses nowadays it is possible to find the way how to use every resource on the Earth, but there’s no guarantee that there will be any resources left after all. It is believed that Western European countries are consuming more natural resources and ready-made goods (Great Britain, Germany, France and others), the United States of America, Japan, Australia and some countries in the Middle East, which possess vast oil reserves. Several reasons are explaining high level of consumption in the industrialized nations. The first goal is a high standard of living. When people can buy something why shouldn’t they do so? It is the primary principle impelling people to buy a second car, for example. In the majority of Western countries, people prefer to live in urban areas, where they would need a car to go to work and shopping. And this is where environmentalists’ concerns come from. Air pollution with the exhaust fumes coming from the thousands of vehicles working on fossil fuels is one of the significant environmental problems of the present day, especially, when the number of these cars on the roads worldwide is rapidly increasing. Western countries are considered to be the richest in the world and comprise those 20 percent of the population with the highest level of consumption.
It is widely believed that the growth of population is the primary factor which determines the amount of goods and services consumed. However, the situation appears to be different. The number of people living on the Earth nowadays is a little over 6 billion; this number increases daily for about 200,000 people. So, by 2030 it is expected to count 8 billion people. But it is impossible to state that the consumption will grow in the same proportion.
Population growth in developed countries is much lower than in the developing ones. For example, in Great Britain, the number of people is increasing by 100,000 annually, while in Bangladesh the population growth is about 2.4 million a year. “However, per capita, carbon dioxide emissions (an indicator of consumption of fossil fuels) in Britain are 50 times higher than in Bangladesh. Consequently, the 100,000 other British residents cause more than twice the amount of carbon dioxide emissions than do the 2.4 million Bangladeshis” . Thus, it is necessary to note, that the growth of population doesn’t necessarily mean consumption growth. It happens because developing countries do not have the opportunity to provide their people with necessary goods and services, while people in the developed countries continue to increase their share in the world’s consumption. Here is the example to prove it: “Since 1950 the world’s richest 20% has raised its per capita consumption of meat and timber two-fold, its car ownership four-fold, and its use of plastics five-fold, while over the same period, the poorest 20% has increased in number, but has hardly raised its consumption at all. Speaking about the United States inhabited by five percent of the total number of people living on the Earth, it is considered to be one of the highly developed countries, consuming the largest amount of goods and services. For example, it “accounts for 22 percent of fossil fuel consumption, 24 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, and 33 percent of paper and plastic use”. However, the United States is not the only one to consume so much water, energy, and natural resources, because other developed countries are also responsible for the increase of their share in world’s consumption.
Will there be enough resources to feed the generations, which will live on the Earth after us? This matter remains unclear. However, there is another issue concerning current world consumption that threatens the well-being of not only future generations but also our generation.
This issue is a waste produced by thousands of plants, factories, and households worldwide. Besides general waste such paper, plastic and other substances that can be recycled, our natural environment is being polluted with so-called hazardous wastes, which include nuclear wastes radioactive wastes, different solid wastes, toxic, chemical and biochemical wastes. It is possible to recycle some of them; however, recycling of hazardous wastes requires a large investment, which entrepreneurs are not ready to pay. Waste disposal is the second constituent of sustainable consumption. Because the humanity consumes energy in large quantities, it also produces hazardous radioactive waste coming from nuclear power plants. Such waste is usually produced in the form of used fuel rods. Though fuel rods are already used, they contain hazardous levels of radiation which may cause deaths and health problems of a lot of people. Every power plant has several reactors, every one of which produces about 30 tons of radioactive waste. The period of nuclear decay is very long. Thus such radioactive waste should be isolated and kept in specially constructed containers for hundreds of years, which is of cause very costly. There are several methods of the disposal of radioactive waste; however, such developed countries as the USA and Canada chose to use mined geological repositories to store their radioactive waste. This method is also popular in such countries as Great Britain, Finland, Germany, Spain, Japan and other developed nations. “Although Canada and the United States have chosen not to reprocess their spent fuel waste, other nations do so, resulting in a smaller quantity of waste for an eventual disposal site. France and Great Britain, for example, reprocess spent fuel to produce uranium and plutonium and real waste products”. Nuclear waste recycling is an essential method of implementing sustainable consumption because someday there might be no place to store used nuclear fuel rods and other radioactive waste. Though it has been already offered to commercialize radioactive waste by building mortuary to keep radioactive waste in some countries, from my point of view, it won’t help to improve the ecological situation, but it will only worsen it. It is sad to realize, but being one of the most harmful industrial wastes radioactive wastes are not the only ones produced by the humanity nowadays. Such waste as paper, glass, plastic, and others can be recycled. However, not all people realize it and keep throwing it away rather than bringing to particular recycling agencies.
We notice a strong interrelation between sustainable consumption and sustainable development. To answer the primary question of this study about the possibility of the existence of viable use, it is also necessary to discuss the issue concerning sustainable development. As there is no exact definition to describe sustainable consumption, there is no precise definition to define sustainable development. Generally speaking, sustainable development is such technological development which is designed to satisfy the needs of the current generation without causing harm to the following crops.
While some people consider sustainable development to be a sort of balance between economic growth and protection of the natural environment, others put the different meaning into the term “sustainable development,” meaning “dramatic reductions in economic growth in the industrialized countries coupled with massive international income redistribution.” We all know about the economic correlation between production and consumption usually shown by the graph of supply and demand. People’s needs stimulate the development of new products and new technologies; however, it is also possible for the producers to change the preferences of consumers, by offering them something new. It is obvious that people who consume much will not stop doing so, so it is necessary to develop such technologies, which would allow satisfying the growing needs of the humanity and at the same time will protect our natural environment. Maybe it seems a bit unrealistic, but I don’t see any other ways. It is impossible to create “sustainable consumers,” who will produce no waste because people always produce waste, which can either be recycled or not. Another aspect of sustainable development is the use of renewable resources. The humanity has already developed several strategies concerning the use of renewable resources, and one of them is the use of fuel cells instead of fossil fuels.
Currently, fuel cell industry attracts more and more investors and businesses, while many countries are getting interested in fuel cells, considering possible opportunities and benefits of the industry. Obviously, fuel cell industry will go globally, creating a new competitive environment. The countries playing the leading role in the production of fuel cells include the USA, Germany, Canada and Japan; and many other countries are already starting to make strategic investments into the development of their fuel cell industry. According to many scientific types of research and surveys fuel cell industry will continue to develop, and during the next 10-20 years, its products will become available for consumers all over the world.
Ecologists support the use of fuel cells in automobiles because of it a better alternative to fossil fuels. Fuel cells can be renewed, while the fuel cell automobile would be a clean vehicle, with shallow energy requirements and reduced emissions. The only problem with fuel cell industry is the high cost, which makes it challenging to purchase fuel cells for ordinary people and use it in their cars.
Thus, it is possible to say, that sustainable development very much determines the possibility of lasting consumption, which is so vital in the modern world. A lot of ecologists believe, that unless the humanity stops consuming so much energy, water, and other resources and produce hazardous wastes in such large quantities, future generations have less and less possible to live a healthy life or even live at all.
It is necessary to make a judgment having spoken about sustainable consumption and sustainable development. It is hard to say if sustainable use is possible. From my point of view, sustainable consumption is reasonable, but not now and not in the nearest future.
Sustainable consumption will be only possible when all countries realize the importance and benefits of it. It should be implemented in all the nations rather than in just a few ones because it will be only valid globally but not regionally. As mentioned above it is impossible to promote sustainable consumption without developing new progressive technologies to support it. And the only problem is its high cost. Many other burning problems in the world should be solved, including the famine in developing countries, military conflicts, terrorist attacks, etc. Thus, governments of many nations are trying to take care of them and not think about the ecological catastrophe which threatens the world. In my opinion, the developed countries should promote sustainable consumption as we can create new technologies and public policies encouraging sustainable consumption. The government should support entrepreneurs to invest money into reprocessing of radioactive waste disposal and recycling by providing them with some benefits, lower taxes, for example.
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