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Overconsumption as a form of Injustice

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Source: ‘Group of people protesting against police brutality’ by Mathis P.R. Reading (2020)
https://www.pexels.com/photo/group-of-people-protesting-against-police-brutality-4646819/

Injustice is a very relevant topic when considering societal and environmental challenges – but what is it? Injustice is often defined as the absence of justice or the failure to receive what one believes is due (Yack, 1990) and is often discussed in conjunction with different social issues which can cause other types of injustice to become overlooked, examples being climatic, environmental and energy injustice. Different types of injustice do not act independently though and possess an interconnectedness that is not always seen on the surface.

Overconsumption is a prevailing issue globally and despite ongoing efforts such as the 12th of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (Responsible Consumption and Production), overconsumption persists to be a problem. So, how is overconsumption related to injustice? – well, how is it not? Overconsumption involves the exploitation of resources by those whose needs are already fulfilled. The resources being overconsumed (food, electricity et cetera) are often required to a greater extent in other areas which possess an insufficient amount to sustain populations. These areas that suffer from a lack of resources are often LICs or NICs (Low-Income Countries and Newly Industrialised Countries) and arguably deserve to be as supplied with resources as HICs (High-Income Countries) – this is a perfect example of injustice, people not being given what they believe they deserve and in this case, need. Overconsumption is a relevant issue that is vastly convoluted with diverse types of injustices, as a direct consequence of the overconsumption of manifold resources, so much so that it can be considered omnipresent.

Roughly 40 million tons of food is needlessly wasted in the US every year (Recycle Track Systems, n.d) and even more is overconsumed worldwide, the cause of this being due to masses of consumers

misunderstanding the expiration dates on food labels, subsidy initiatives resulting in farmers disposing of edible food, and general overconsumption of food in parts of the world as a result of consumerism subsequently causing increased obesity. But why do consumers and corporations alike continue to waste such large quantities of food? It’s because they don’t suffer from it, this is a privilege that HICs have over LICs such as sub-Saharan African countries, like Sudan, which endure food insecurity because they have no other choice.

Source: Map of average daily dietary energy availability per capita in 2006-2008 by Internet Geography. https://www.internetgeography.net/topics/an-overview-of-global-inequalities-in-the-supply- andconsumption-of-resources/

21% (World Food Programme, n.d) of Sudan’s population suffer from being food insecure because of floods and droughts ruining harvests, economic decline and inflation causing the public to not be able to purchase food, and conflict and displacement decreasing the pool of employable farmers as well as customers causing a positive feedback loop of economic decline (World Vision, 2022). The challenges that Sudan continues to face and the overconsumption of food that remains widespread in the US show the disparity between the two and exhibit global inequalities in food accessibility and consumption. Energy is another resource that is often wasted fruitlessly despite that its consumption can be reduced easily, for example, 120 billion USD worth of electricity can be saved per year if the transition to energy-efficient lightbulbs were made (United Nations, n.d) but despite this and ongoing technological advancements, energy consumption is still predicted to experience a severe increase (EIA, 2021). Malawi is a sub-Saharan country that is one the least electrified countries worldwide, most of its electricity originates from hydroelectricity, fossil fuel and biomass (Privacy Shield, nd), though hydroelectricity has constrained the energy supply at times as insufficient energy has been produced during low water levels and droughts during recent years (The Guardian, 2017). However, the country also experiences other challenges such as economic inequality with the gap between wealthy and poor seemingly growing every year (Mussa and Masanjala, 2015), the richest 10% of the population account for 46% of total consumption in Malawi and considering there is such a large divide between the poor and wealthy it would not be illogical to assume that the wealthy are the majority of the 11% (Sustainable Energy For All, n.d) that have access to electricity. This displays the electrical injustice that not only exists between different countries on an international scale but is also present within places like Malawi. Another example of an area that experiences a form of injustice internally is the United States. Water in HICs is often treated as an unlimited source but in many places in the west of the US such as Arizona, California, and Nevada, among many others, often experience water shortages (U.S. News, 2021). California is a state that had suffered a five-year drought which came to an end in 2016

but not everyone was affected by this drought evenly, with many of the wealthy residents still using water for non-necessities with one individual seemingly using more (Phippen, 2016). Due to the drought, water prices began to rise with many Californians struggling to pay the increased rates (Bland, 2018) which exhibits the irresponsible consumption by some when comparing those who struggle to pay for water for their livelihoods with the wealthy that continue to consume water for their leisure.

However, when considering different types of injustices and the inequalities that come along with them, we also must consider the potential underlying relationships and the reasons behind them. In many cases these inequalities exist due to racial prejudice or ‘environmental racism’ in which injustices result from prejudice, examples of this being poisoned tap water in Flint, Michigan (Clark, 2018) and another example being hazardous waste disposal in Los Angeles which has shown to be deeply linked with working-class and ethnicity (Boer, 1997).

Source: Circular economy butterfly diagram by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy-diagram

One solution to many modern-day injustices and a move towards more responsible and equitable forms of consumption is the shift to a circular economy model. A circular economy is a “systemic approach to economic development to benefit businesses, society, and the environment” (Ellen Macarthur Foundation, nd). It’s a model that heavily promotes sustainability by reducing and reusing what we consider ‘waste’ for other purposes to diminish the resources that leave the economic system. The circular model would help benefit the communities thereby making them more independent which would aid in their livelihoods and allow for more responsible consumption. A circular economy also calls for more efficient uses and sustainable practices meaning resources like electricity which have little reusability will be consumed more responsibly. The model allows for justice to those who are deprived of essential supplies and others who may live in the area for generations to come.

To review, the injustices the world faces, environmental and social, are often interconnected in terms of the cause of origin and going forward change needs to be made to our economic model and our approach, as a global society, to the consumption and disposal of resources to allow for sustainable economic growth and supplement of resources to those currently denied of what they deserve.

Bibliography

Agence France-Presse., 2017. Malawi suffers blackouts as drought exposes 98% reliance on hydropower. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/08/malawiblackouts-drought-hydro-power [Last Accessed 19/03/2022]

Bland. A. 2018., Californians Are Struggling to Pay for Rising Water Rates. The New Humanitarian. Available at: https://deeply.thenewhumanitarian.org/water/articles/2018/02/27/californians arestruggling-to-pay-for-rising-water-rates [Last Accessed 20/03/2022]

Boer, J.T., Pastor, M., Sadd, J.L. and Snyder, L.D., 1997. Is there environmental racism? The demographics of hazardous waste in Los Angeles County. Social science quarterly, 78(4), pp.793810.

Clark. A., 2018. ‘Nothing to worry about. The water is fine’: how Flint poisoned its people. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jul/03/nothing-to-worry-about- thewater-is-fine-how-flint-michigan-poisoned-its-people [Last Accessed 22/03/2022]

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Mussa, R. and Masanjala, W.H., 2015. A dangerous divide: the state of inequality in Malawi.

Phippen, J. W., 2016. Water, Water Still Is Scarce, Except for California’s Rich. The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2016/05/california-water/483551/ [Last Accessed 20/03/2022]

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United Nations (n.d). Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Available at: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-consumption-production/ [Last Accessed 16/03/2022]

U.S Energy Information Administration. 2021. International Energy Outlook 2021. EIA

U.S. News (n.d). US West Prepares for Possible 1st Water Shortage Declaration. Available at: https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2021-04-17/us-west-prepares-for-possible-1st- watershortage-declaration [Last Accessed 20/03/2022]

World Food Programme (n.d). Where we work | Sudan. Available at: https://www.wfp.org/countries/sudan [Last Accessed 20/03/2022]

World Vision, 2022. Nearly 8 million children in Sudan will require urgent humanitarian assistance in 2022. Relief web

Yack, B., 1991. Injustice and the Victim’s Voice.

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