Consumerism endangers life on Earth

Image: Kushnir


Citizens are not interested in their level of consciousness, even less their existential problems. It matters that they are consumers

Considering human history, we find that hunger was, for centuries, a permanent problem. As we have, unlike animals, no specialized body to guarantee our subsistence, right from the beginning there was an urgent need to find what was necessary to satisfy hunger, either by extracting food directly from nature or by conquering it through work.

The big turning point came around 10 years ago with the introduction of irrigated agriculture. Along the great rivers of the Middle East, Egypt, India and China, irrigation began to be used to produce more products as well as to domesticate animals such as chickens, pigs, sheep and goats. The surplus that eliminated hunger was produced. Simultaneously, it must be said, war arose, as the armies carried enough food to face the enemy, as for example, between the Mesopotamian empires and Egypt, the political powers of the time.

Everything changed with the advent of the industrial age in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries onwards until today. Mass production began with the possibility of meeting human demands. It so happens that this technical-scientific development took place within the framework of capitalism. In it, since its inception, the division between the owner, owner of land and the means of production, and the worker who only owns his workforce was established. This division has been exacerbated over time to the point that today the owners of natural and technological wealth control the globalized economic system with immense disadvantage for wage earners, leaving millions and millions without access to the fundamental goods of life.

The situation was aggravated by the so-called “Great Transformation” whereby a market economy was transformed into a market-only society. Everything has become a commodity from human organs, knowledge, truth, news, etc.

The capitalist logic is to profit from everything, through the unlimited exploitation of the goods and services of nature, through a fierce competition between all those who are in the market, supposedly free and an individual or corporate accumulation that competes with the State in the management of public thing.

Production obviously seeks to meet human demands for food and subsistence, as long as such a process is profitable. Production itself is taken to the market and earns its price in the game of competition, without care for natural resources and environmental contamination (considered an “externality” to be resolved by the State). As it is a matter of generating unlimited wealth, products that are not necessary for life, but important for making money, began to be produced.

So along with necessary consumption, consumerism arose. Consumerism is characterized by the acquisition of superfluous goods and services, not necessary for life, in view of economic gain. A large part of the production is destined to the production of such superfluous items, generating consumerism mainly of the rich classes, but also of society itself.

To stimulate it, advertising, talking images, seductive pictures, music, youtubes, well-oriented films, to get people to consume such and such a product. Citizens are not interested in their level of consciousness, even less their existential problems. It matters that they are consumers.

The fact is that the culture of capital was created. Most products (TVs, cars, appliances, clothes, sneakers and countless other items) fall under obsolescence – they are made to last for a certain time, forcing consumers to replace, buy and consume them.

Practically all of us are hostages of the culture of capital, forcing us to change products from time to time, either because they have become obsolete like a computer or because of general obsolescence. We are aware of the intrinsic strength of a culture that penetrates us through every pore and naturalizes the lifestyle. How difficult and long the process of overcoming her by another is. It is the consumerist culture that continually renews and prolongs the perpetuity of capitalism.

However, in recent years we have been confronted with the limits of the Earth. A limited planet does not tolerate unlimited consumerism. By the way, we need more than one Earth to meet the consumption of 8 billion people and the consumption of pomp and luxury of the opulent classes.

We became aware of the so-called “Earth Overshoot Day”. The Earth Overshoot Day). Each year, organizations that study the sustainability of the planet provide us with data. In this year 2023 it was identified on the 2nd of August. This means that on this day, natural goods and services, essential and renewable for our existence, hit rock bottom. Logically, the trees, air, soils and waters are there. But all of them increasingly diminished, polluted and unsustainable.

The Earth, a systemic and living super entity, by not giving us what we demand, responds with more warming, with more extreme events, with more decimation of biodiversity and more harmful and even lethal viruses. The whole relationship is defined in the articulation between “biocapacity” and the “ecological footprint”. Biocapacity means nature's capacity to be resilient and to regenerate itself. The ecological footprint tells us how much biocapacity that region or country has. The more complex the region is, with cities, population and industries, the more natural resources it demands.

At this moment, as serious as the increase in global warming is, is the rapid overloading of the Earth. Our lifestyles are depleting the supply of goods and services necessary for life. It is urgent to change our consumption style, making it sober, solidary and self-limiting. Xi Jinping proposed for all of China the ideal of a “sufficiently supplied society”. We must learn to live with enough and what is decent, reduce energy consumption and seek alternative and less polluting means of transport.

If we don't make this agreement with everyone, our existence on this planet will be miserable and even impossible.

*Leonardo Boff is an ecologist, philosopher and writer. Author, among other books, of Inhabit the Earth (Vozes) (

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