The industrial revolution at its core created the ability to leverage economies of scale through new production technologies. Central to this paradigm was separating producers from their source of production, thus increasing the efficiency of production and simultaneously creating consumers of goods. The industrial revolution "systematized" processes to create "things" more efficiently. As the industrial revolution spreads across the world, however, we are realizing the consequences of its global application.
"Consumerism" grew rapidly as the people of an increasingly industrialized world were marketed to in order to spur on increasing consumption of goods. Increases sales are necessary to perpetuate the system. Over the past century this trend is increasingly evident as world consumption has expanded at an unprecedented pace, with private and public consumption expenditures reaching $24 trillion in 1998, twice the level of 1975 and six times that of 1950. In 1900 real consumption expenditure was barely $1.5 trillion. The idea was that humanity would benefit from improved lifestyles and life quality from the industrialized system's efficient concentration of production and consumption. However, the reality is beginning to hit home that never ending increases in production and consumption are unsustainable as the world becomes more developed. The notion that more is better is coming unglued. Now it is more important that we figure out how to use what we have. The industrial revolution is becoming a less relevant solution; thus the dawn of new solutons.
Examples of over consumption and unsustainable systems that evolved from the industrial and consumer society are every where. The global obesity epidemic is an excellent example. The number of overweight people rivals the number of underweight people for the first time in history. While the world’s underfed population has declined slightly since 1980 to 1.1 billion, the number of overweight people has surged to 1.1 billion.The population of overweight people has expanded rapidly in recent decades, more than offsetting the health gains from the modest decline in hunger. In the United States, 55 percent of adults are overweight by international standards. A whopping 23 percent of American adults are considered obese. And the trend is spreading to children as well, with one in five American kids now classified as overweight.… Obesity cost the United States 12 percent of the national health care budget in the late 1990s, $118 billion, more than double the $47 billion attributable to smoking and its has only become worse.
At its current growth rate, the amount of grain and paper that China would need in 25 years’ time equals 70% of all grain production in the world and 200% of paper production. More oil will be consumed at that time than all of the global oil production of today put together. The UN and the World Bank recently issued an extensive report on the state of the world. It did not make for an amusing read.
Out of the 25 natural resources sustaining life on Earth, nearly 20 are endangered. If every single person in the world consumed like Europeans do, it would take more than two Earths to sustain it. Americans consume even more, at a rate according to the same calculation would require four Earths.
The consumption rate of the world cannot continue and it is necessary that the foundations of the industrial revolution be undone. We cannot proceed on the basis of more is better. We are moving towards a new revolution, this time directed by the limits of our planet and the many associated risks of our consumerism practices.The era of the new revolution will ultimately eliminate at its core what the industrial era advanced - segregating producers from their means to produce thereby driving consumers to consume more than they need in order to maintain an inefficient production system that cannot be sustained.