World consumption expenditure (private and public) has expanded at an unprecedented pace, doubling in real terms in 25 years to reach $ 24 trillion in 1998. This expansion has propelled considerable advances in human development.
Steady expansion in health care, safe drinking water and sanitation, and quantitative and qualitative improvements in food consumption have strengthened the capabilities of people for a long and healthy life.
Since 1960, life expectancy has increased from 46 to 65 years in developing countries, and from 69 to 80 years in industrial countries, while infant mortality in developing countries has declined from 149 per 1,000 live births to 65, and in industrial countries from 39 to 13.
Access to schooling, information and communication technology has vastly expanded the knowledge base and the potential of people critical in the rise in adult literacy in developing countries from 48 per cent in 1970 to 72 per cent in 2010.
Expanding consumption of energy, an input of all human activities, has opened myriad opportunities for cooking, heating and lighting as well as for transport, production, communications and technological development. In fact, global energy consumption is growing faster than the population.
There had been a tremendous increase in transport. While the world population has doubled since 1950, means of transport have increased over eight-fold—passenger cars from 53 to 450 million and bicycles from 11 to 112 million.
The past decade of accelerating globalization, and the integration of the global consumer market, have brought rapid changes in consumption patterns, from toothpastes to refrigerators, and led to the spread of global brand name goods.
The rise in the consumption of manufactured products has been particularly rapid in high growth economies in Asia and Latin America. The spread of consumer products is reaching more in the urban elite and middle classes.
There is, however, a poor distribution of the growth of global consumption. A large number of people are not having access to some of the social amenities which are required for a long and healthy life.
Great disparity is found in the consumption of energy. Twenty per cent of the world’s people who live in the highest-income countries consume 60 per cent of the world’s energy, 65 per cent of electricity, 87 per cent of cars, 70 per cent of telephones, 80 per cent of paper, 40 per cent of meat and 85 per cent of total expenditure.
These huge inequalities remain even though consumption has expanded more rapidly in developing countries than industrial countries, especially in such basic essentials as food and energy.
The rising consumption all over the world is the cause of great concern, which is degrading the environment. There is depletion of non-renewable resources. Emission of pollutants is creating unhealthy environment.
There is problem of global warming, sea-level change, ozone depletion, desertification, soil degradation, acid rains and reduction in bio-diversity.
In brief, the rising consumption puts stress on the environment. And, these environmental stresses hurt the poor most severely.
In order to minimize the human impacts on environmental damage, particularly the unequal impacts on poor people, and ensuring environmental sustainability, a number of steps need to be taken.
For example, there should be judicious utilization of resources, reduction of waste generation, poor people’s access to natural resources, their rights and entitlements to common property, low-cost next generation technologies for poor people and changes in production and consumption patterns.
To implement these policies, there should be stronger alliance of people, institutions of civil society and governments. Sooner it is done the better.