Resource Impacts of Consumerism
Consumerism is closely linked to marketing and manufacturing. The three work together as a trinity. Marketing creates the need in the consumer for a product or service which is then provided by the manufacturer.
Chris Clugston’s Societal Overextension Analysis
Societal Overextension Analysis is an analytic tool developed by Chris Clugston, a contributor at the Post Carbon Institute which attempts to quantify the degree to which a society is living beyond its means ecologically and economically.
In Chris’s words:
“Ecological overextension measures the portion of our current ecological resource utilization behavior that is unsustainable—i.e., the percentage of goods and services produced, provisioned, and utilized domestically through our overexploitation of natural resources and natural habitats.”
Example 1 : 2007 American Production Ecological Overextension
In 2007, the US used approximately 7 billion tons of natural resources—energy resources and non-energy mineral resources—to produce, provision, and utilize $13.84 trillion worth of goods and services in America. Of these resources, approximately 90% were nonrenewable natural resources, the ongoing use of which is unsustainable. Nonsustainable, nonrenewable is the status quo in America and probably applies to almost everyone on the planet:
- 93% of US primary energy was produced from nonrenewable (unsustainable) natural resources; only 7% was produced by renewable (sustainable) energy sources;
- 90% of US electricity was generated by nonrenewable (unsustainable) natural resources; only 10% was generated by renewable (sustainable) energy sources;
- 87% of the non-energy minerals used as raw material inputs to the domestic US production of goods and services were newly extracted (unsustainable); only 13% were either recycled (8%) or renewable (5%) [sustainable].
Given that approximately 90% of the natural resource inputs to the 2007 US economy were unsustainable, it is estimated that 90%, or $12.46 trillion, of the corresponding output—the US production, provisioning, and utilization of goods and services that occurred during 2007—was unsustainable as well.
Example 2 : 2007 American Consumption Ecological Overextension
Approximately 96.5% of 2007 US total consumption level of $16.82 trillion was unsustainable. That is, $16.23 trillion of US production, provisioning, procurement, and utilization of goods and services in 2007 was enabled by nonrenewable natural resources and/or pseudo purchasing power. Supplies associated with these resources are finite and dwindling; they will peak, decline, and exhaust.
Figure 2: Graph of 2007 US Societal Overextension
To check out the references or see more of Chris’s article, go to the Energy Bulletins at the Post Carbon Institute.
In his analysis, Chris has inventoried 89 metals and minerals that are critical to the operation of any industrial economy. He has found that 69 of them are already scarce and are getting scarcer. At most, substitutes will be found for perhaps a dozen of them and any one shortage can bring the industrial edifice down. Industrialism is therefore unsustainable; under capitalism, socialism or any political system in between.
The inescapable conclusion is that the current industrialized way of life is unsustainable—it cannot, therefore, be “fixed”; it must be displaced. Richard Heinberg, author of Peak Everything argues that we must, paradoxically undo and replace a great deal of mechanization that was created in the 20th century with human power. According to Chris Clugston, attempts to perpetuate the existing lifestyle paradigm simply waste remaining, and increasingly scarce, time and resources. The only recourse is to transition voluntarily, beginning immediately, to a sustainable lifestyle paradigm, one in which we live within our means ecologically and economically—forever. Should we fail to do so, quickly, the consequences will be horrific.
How quickly are the world’s mineral and metal supplies running out?
- antimony, which is used to make flame retardant materials, could run out in 15 years
- silver could run out in 10 years
- zinc could be used up by 2037
- both indium and hafnium – which is increasingly important in computer chips – could be gone by 2017
- indium price 2003 – $60 USD/ Kg.
- indium price 2006 – $1,000 USD / Kg.
- terbium – used to make the green phosphors in fluorescent light bulbs – could run out before 2012
- Platinum is a vital component not only of catalytic converters but also of fuel cells – and supplies are running out
- If all the 500 million vehicles in use today were re-equipped with fuel cells, operating losses would mean that all the world’s sources of platinum would be exhausted within 15 years
- gallium and indium will probably contribute to less than 1 per cent of all future solar cells – a limitation imposed purely by a lack of raw material
- Years of minerals left if world consumes at 2007 rate – 58 years
- Years of minerals left if world consumes at half the US rate – 20 years
Figure 3: Predicted Supplies of Minerals and Metal 2007 – courtesy of New Scientist
– David Cohen, Earth’s Natural Wealth: An Audit, New Scientist 2007