Consumerism and climatic change

Officials launch the campain to fight against the use of plastic bottles recently. Sam Ngendahimana.

Consumerism is an economic and cultural ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services. The Theory of Consumerism states that a country that consumes goods and services in large quantities will be better off economically and experience high growth rate. Over last few decades industrialization has pushed production of consumer goods all over world. Post 1990’s globalization has further enhanced consumerism through multinational company’s growth.

It is estimated that 1.7 billion people around the world belong to the consumer class. The consumer class includes people that are able to purchase non-essential goods such as expensive cars, fancy jewellery, and big houses

Consumerism is responsible for manmade climatic change.   High rate of growth in production and consumption of non essential goods has led to deterioration of environment leading to climatic change. According to study from Norway between 60-80 percent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption.

Based on climatic change projections, globally countries will experience changing rainfall patterns, rising sea levels, and higher temperatures that will affect food security, agricultural production, water availability,  public health, among others.

Population, technology, and consumption are considered to be factors responsible for climatic change. Yet of the three factors consumption seems to get the least attention as responsible factor. One reason for this  is that it may be the most difficult to change; our consumption patterns are so much a part of our lives that to change them would require a massive cultural overhaul, not to mention severe economic dislocation.  Again economically also it is not considered as good as drop in demand for products will bring economic recession or even depression, along with massive unemployment.

Global Climatic Change and Consumerism

Consumerism is result of western way of life and consumption. It is not the billions of poor people’s consumption living in developing countries that has impacted climate globally.

According to Oxfam, the poorest 50 per cent of the world’s population are responsible for a mere 10 per cent of “total lifestyle consumption emissions”. Consumerism is predominantly product of lifestyle change and adoption coming from developed countries of the world. Europe and America, for example, with a mere 12 per cent of global population, account for over 60 per cent of worldwide consumption.

Household consumerism itself is responsible for an estimated 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions and between 50% and 80% of resource use. The manufacturing of everyday goods is responsible for 20% of carbon dioxide emissions and 35% of global electricity use.

Africa Consumerism and Climatic Change

Climate change poses a threat to economic growth and long-term prosperity of many countries around the world. Africa is not an exception, considering the actual and potential impacts of climate change and climate variability that will threaten its vulnerable sectors and human population.

Most African countries are experiencing climatic change though their contribution towards it has been negligible. Africa’s population is projected to increase by more than 80 % to 2.2 billion by 2050. Production and consumption must increase accordingly, raising the stakes for all concerned.

Again present growth of industrialization in African countries is high which poses threat to their environment sustainability in future.  Solution of this depends upon which route of industrialization will they choose. One way is that choose the route used by developed countries before using their growth model which has environmental quality deterioration and climatic change consequences , Secondly they have option to choose the growth strategy using learning from experiences of developed countries and  avoiding mistakes made by them. Second option is green growth option using sustainable consumption and production strategy.

Among African countries Rwanda is doing very well towards sustainable economic growth using green growth strategy. Some of initiatives undertaken by Rwanda include the ban of plastic bags, maintenance of minimum forest cover, promoting use of green fuel and energy systems.


Over years there has been surge in production and consumption of manufactured industrial goods. High consumption of goods is not bad if it is environmentally sustainable. This requires that we have to revise our vocabulary of consumption goods.  To this end, countries needed to do impact analysis for all types of consumption goods produced and consumed by consumers.

One of the most powerful shifts to a more sustainable world lies in our everyday choices. Simple decisions such as not buying the latest gadget, choosing to bike rather than drive, or using a reusable water bottle can help to mitigate climate change.

Local governments have an important role to play through the provision of adequate infrastructure, regulation of land use, and other public services that are crucial for urban resilience. Mobilising local governments, in collaboration with national governments, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations, among others, is also critical for an integrated multi-sectoral approach to climate change.

Again educating people about change in life style will also help in reducing negating impact like reducing usage of bottled water, Plastic and polythenes,  reducing usage of high energy consuming vehicles etc. reduce the use of electricity/gas, give up that diesel car or use public transport. Awareness of climate change is a beginning, but understanding of the underlying causes and effects is needed to change behaviour, as well as a major shift away from selfishness and greed.

The writer is a Kigali based economist and consultant.

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