Overconsumption and Overproduction: How to Live Sustainably in a Capitalistic Society

Should consumerism be the last thing we accomplish as a species, after all this evolution and the miraculous series of accidents that granted our sentience? Would that not be an utterly dull and inane end to our history?
— Robert Wringham, Escape Everything! Escape from work. Escape from consumerism. Escape from despair.

I love this quote. It sums up the era we are in right now so well. After all we have learned as a species, how we have evolved in efficiency, technology, and knowledge, it would be very sad for it to all end at the hands of our own broken system. 20% of the population consume 80% of the natural resources. Seems broken on both ends of the spectrum if you ask me. So how can we do our part to live sustainably in a capitalistic society? Let me start by differentiating the two terms.

What is overconsumption?

In overproduction, goods are produced in excess — well beyond the demand of consumers. In the Great Depression, factories and farms designed more goods than people were able to afford; leading to price drops, factory closings, and layoffs, the result of this being an endless cycle of need and poverty.

What is overproduction?

When an ecosystem is overextended, it cannot support its resources. In doing so, overconsumption depletes the earth of valuable natural resources, including forests, fish, soil, minerals, and water — causing ecosystems to collapse, habitats to be destroyed, and species whose survival is vital for the functioning of the cycle of life to be threatened.

So, why you should care?

You now might be asking, but, how does this affect me personally? Which might seem insensitive but is totally fair because on the surface, it doesn’t. We are a part of the 20% — with resources available at our disposal. We have running water, a healthcare system, medicine, safe living conditions, the true impact of this problem doesn’t quite reach you yet. Though 80% of humanity is without those things. They don’t have the systems set in place. Much of that 80% is without simple access to water, let alone clean water. Their access to medicine and proper care is limited. Their resources and accompanied wealth has been taken away through war and politics, leaving them no opportunity to build systems for themselves.

We underestimate how quickly this can all be taken away from us too. We are not entitled to these resources by rules of the current system. What is naturally available from the earth has been commercialized and sold to benefit the vast minority; an even smaller percentage has acquired unimaginable wealth from it. Those who control the system in which capitalism is built. Currently, we are able to purchase the resources, and goods we need because there is profit to be made.

Once the amount of resources becomes so limited due to over consumption and over production that 20% will shrink further and further. Natural resources will become more expensive, inflation will continue to rise, and we will not longer be able to afford our livelihoods. We will all eventually fall into that 80% range as it turns to 85…90…95…

So the title of this post is a bit misleading…

With the current trajectory, there is be no way to live sustainably in this system indefinitely. This isn’t new news. While I will continue to encourage you to be mindful of your choices, conserve what you have, and provide tips on how to live more sustainably, it’s with the intention of conserving our resources not correcting the problem. It’s the easiest way we can show gratitude for the abundance we have, and lead a conscious life instead of being wasteful with the things that are of unimaginable wealth to the majority of the world.

I encourage you to educate yourself, reevaluate your priorities, and challenge your perspective on the current systems in place. Choose to live sustainably not only for yourself, but for the 80% currently without. If we are in fact able to change the current systems and policy hurting them, it would be wonderful if we had some resources left to share with everyone. If you need a place to start, check out other posts on my blog. There are so many simple tips and tricks I have posted in terms of what you buy, how to reuse what you have, and make the most of it while you do.

Advocate for change

I want to add that there is no need to feel guilting for the system you were born into — or for the privileges you might have in this current system. Quite frankly, there isn’t time for that. It’s all about what you choose to do with those privileges once you are equipped with the knowledge.

To make the biggest impact, you need to identify where you sit within the capitalist system and how you can use that privilege to help others. Advocating for change consciously and effectively takes humility and courage. You need to learn from those who are most affected by the system you benefit from. Listen to their priorities and needs instead of what you might think is right. There is no real way of you understanding someone else’s experience until you have heard it directly from them.

As a white woman, there is only so much of this I can speak on. To find a solution that is fair and equal for all, everyone’s voice needs to be heard. I encourage you to reach out to POCs and marginalized communities, consume their content, and help elevate their voices. Find out who they are voting for, what issues matter most to them, and how they believe we should move forward.

Put simply, in order to live sustainably with what we have left, we need to change the system. In order to change the system, we need to truly understand the aspects that are broken in order to correct it.

I’m curious to know, do you agree or disagree with my perspective on this matter? Let’s start a discussion in the comments.

Hey, Claudia here

I am a senior graphic designer, a dog mom, an advocate for a zero-waste lifestyle, climate change, and sustainability. My articles are based on personal experience and well researched to give you the best source of information for all things zero-waste.