The Domino Effect: Studying the Environmental Consequences of our Lifestyles

Image credit: Enokson, Flickr

By John Anderson

Have you ever wondered how your club sandwich was made? Of course, you knew how it was prepared or cooked. But, do you have any idea how much energy it takes to produce a to-go Subway sandwich? Everything, from our clothes to our houses, comes from the environment. You may not notice it, but your everyday action significantly affects the environment. Sadly, it is not for the better.


Health should be not your only concern when deciding what to eat. Dietary habits directly affect the environment, from production to the landfills. The World Preservation Foundation Conference, held in London, reported that raising livestock and their byproducts contribute tons of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere. That’s 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide to be exact. That is 51 percent of the annual worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Over thirty percent of the Earth’s land surface is used for livestock production, including plants used to feed the animals. Beef alone takes 70 times more land to produce than vegetables.

If all people in the world consumed meat the way Americans do, it would require more than three planet Earths to feed everyone. This is not to say that eating meat is bad, but a diet consisting of primarily meat does not only harm the body, but the environment as well. Imagine, if all people reduce meat consumption significantly, less than one Earth is enough to make everyone full.

Why should you limit food production?

Well, it turns out that 40 percent of all food produced in the United Stated is not even consumed. According to Timothy Jones, an anthropologist from the University of Arizona, over 29 million tons of food are thrown out every year. Seventeen percent of landfills consist of food waste. Americans are not even aware of this.

“I think that without a doubt, when people say that they don’t waste food, they believe it. There’s a huge disconnect,” says William Rathje, a Stanford archaeologist who ran the University of Arizona Garbage Project for years, “People don’t pay attention to their food waste because it goes straight into the garbage or disposal. It’s not like newspapers that stack up in the garage.”

Energy consumption

Capitalism has given you the power to choose the products and services you purchase. This freedom, however, is easily abused and overused. A report by Population Reference Bureau showed that there has been a significant change in the American lifestyle between 1950 and 2005 that has led the nation to consume more. Energy consumption tripled between the said timeline. That’s an increase of petroleum usage from 35 quadrillion Btu to 100 quadrillion Btu. All these are used by the transportation sector alone.

According to the 2002 data gathered in 2006 World Population Data Sheet, also from Population Reference Bureau, the United States contributes more greenhouse gas emissions due to a large number of motor vehicles. While the United States does not have the largest population, it is in the forefront of the estimated number of motor vehicles. The data shows that compared to China, with 12 motor vehicles per 1,000 people, the United States has more motor vehicles, with 779 vehicles for 1,000 people.

Also, wood consumption increased by 171 percent, coal consumption was up 128 percent and water use increased by 127 percent.

Unsustainable development

The global population has evolved from being very primitive and inefficient, to what it is now – the future. Science fiction writers of the last century would envy the things that people can do. From iPhones to smart homes, we are literally living in a science fiction novel. With all this progress comes freedom in consumption. Now, more than ever, people have the purchasing power to choose what they want, when they want it. However, this unchecked progress hurts the environment significantly.

Changes in culture greatly affect how people consume. The so called “MTV culture” is slowly becoming global. Showing other people what’s “in” compels them to consume more than what’s needed. This contributes to creating demands in resources as trends are very fickle and constantly changing.

“… Our consumption of goods obviously is a function of our culture. Only by producing and selling things and services does capitalism in its present form work, and the more that is produced and the more that is purchased, the more we have progress and prosperity,” according to Richard H. Robbins, a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor and an anthropologist in State University of New York, in his 2005 study, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism.

“The single most important measure of economic growth is, after all, the gross national product (GNP), the sum total of goods and services produced by a given society in a given year. It is a measure of the success of a consumer society, obviously, to consume,” he added.

As shown above, products use resources. Increasing consumption drastically affects the environment where the resources come from. What’s more, the waste created by consumption has to go back to the environment. Man-made materials cannot be reclaimed naturally through decomposition. Human waste not only destroys untouched resources, it also poisons the natural environment.

The problem at hand may be big, but even simple means such as sustainable living can aid both the economic and ecological aspects of it. It’s wise to take it one step at a time; however, to make an ever bigger impact, a complete lifestyle change for all of us is needed.

John Anderson is a freelance writer. His works are almost exclusively on web content about home improvement, home security, technology, green and simple living, and business.

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5 responses

  1. Great article, but I wish it would have ended with some insight as to what we all can do in order to start trending toward sustainability. I think it’s great that concepts like this are being brought into the forefront of human consciousness!

    1. I was thinking about that, but with all the ideas in my head, I’d probably make the article a little longer. But I am planning to write about that soon.

      Glad you like the article. Thanks!

  2. One time I took one of those ecological footprint tests and it said that my lifestyle consumes almost 6 Earths. LOL!! Do you think that it’s bad that I’m wasteful? I don’t know what started me on this whole being wasteful thing. It’s just when I moved to that apartment in Farmington I just started leaving the lights, tv, radio, and computer on all of the time. Also I would stay in the shower until the hot water turned cold. It didn’t take very long because that hot water heater wasn’t very good and it was for two apartments. Now I can stay in the shower longer. LOL! Do you think that being wasteful really causes pollution natural resources to run out and global warming? Do you think that when global warming happens that we will have summer all year long?

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