Overconsumption is a situation where resource use has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem. A prolonged pattern of overconsumption leads to inevitable environmental degradation and the eventual loss of resource bases. Generally the discussion of overconsumption parallels that of overpopulation; that is the more people, the more consumption of raw materials to sustain their lives. Currently, the inhabitants of the developed nations of the world consume resources at a rate almost 32 times greater than those of the developing world, who make up the majority of the human population (5.5 billion people).
The theory was coined to augment the discussion of overpopulation, which reflects issues of carrying capacity without taking into account per capita consumption, by which developing nations are evaluated to consume more than their land can support. Green parties and the ecology movement often argue that consumption per person, or ecological footprint, is typically lower in poor than in rich nations.
Planned obsolescence is, by definition: "a method of stimulating consumer demand by designing products that wear out or become outmoded after limited use." This is a key factor of over consumption. While we have the capabilities, resources, and technology to create products that could last one a lifetime, producers do not practice this efficient idea because if they did, they would generate little profit and crumble under the competitive free market system.
A fundamental effect of overconsumption is a reduction in the planet's carrying capacity. Excessive unsustainable consumption will exceed the long term carrying capacity of its environment (ecological overshoot) and subsequent resource depletion, environmental degradation and reduced ecological health.
The scale of modern life's overconsumption has enabled an overclass to exist, displaying affluenza and obesity. However once again both of these claims are controversial with the latter being correlated to other factors more so than over-consumption.
In the long term these effects can lead to increased conflict over dwindling resources  and in the worst case a Malthusian catastrophe. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, has said: "It would take 1.5 Earths to sustain our present level of consumption. Environmentally, the world is in an overshoot mode."
The Worldwatch Institute said China and India, with their booming economies, along with the United States, are the three planetary forces that are shaping the global biosphere. The State of the World 2006 report said the two countries' high economic growth exposed the reality of severe pollution. The report states that
The world's ecological capacity is simply insufficient to satisfy the ambitions of China, India, Japan, Europe and the United States as well as the aspirations of the rest of the world in a sustainable way.
The idea of overconsumption is also strongly tied to the idea of an ecological footprint. The term “ecological footprint” refers to the “resource accounting framework for measuring human demand on the biosphere.” A study by Mathis Wackernagel has shown that the global ecological footprint was in overshoot by .4 global hectares per person, or roughly 23%. Of these developing countries, China presents the largest threat. Currently, China is roughly 11 times lower in per capita footprint, yet has a population that is more than four times the size of the USA. It is estimated that if China developed to the level of the United States that world consumption rates would roughly double.
The most obvious solution to the issue of overconsumption is to simply slow the rate at which materials are becoming depleted. To consume less is to watch these economies suffer. Instead, countries must look to curb consumption rates while allowing for new industries, such as renewable energy and recycling technologies, to flourish and deflect some of the economic burden. A fundamental shift in the global economy may be necessary in order to account for the current change that is taking place or that will need to take place. Movements and lifestyle choices related to stopping overconsumption include: anti-consumerism, freeganism, green economics, ecological economics, degrowth, frugality, downshifting, simple living and thrifting.
Overconsumption in the USA
The United States uses double the resources that it produces, pulling from other countries to produce the goods for its population to consume. The goods are not just simple perishables like food, energy, and light building materials. The United States also consumes the most clothing items, metals, plastics, electronics, and even health hazardous chemicals.
- Diamond, Jared: (2008-01-02). "What's Your Consumption Factor?" The New York Times
- Effects of Over-Consumption and Increasing Populations. 26 September 2001. Retrieved on 19 June 2007
- Brown, Lester R. (2011). World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. Earth Policy Institute. Norton. p. 7. ISBN 113654075X.
- Renner, Michael (January 2006). "Chapter 1: China, India, and the New World Order". State of the world 2005: A Worldwatch Institute Report on progress toward a sustainable society.. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-32666-7. OCLC 57470324. Retrieved 2009-09-14.
- Wackernagel, Mathis; Russ, Thomas (ed.) (2008). "Ecological footprint." In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth January 23, 2007; Last revised November 18, 2008; Retrieved April 6, 2010]
- Fifty Possible Ways to Challenge Over-Commercialism by Albert J. Fritsch, SJ, PhD
- Why people hate fat Americans by Daniel Ben-Ami
- Optimum Population Trust
- UN Division for Sustainable Development, Agenda 21, Chapter 4 – "Changing Consumption Patterns"
- Footprint For Nations
- The Story of Stuff (video)
- Energy statistics-Oil Consumption by Country
- World Energy Use Graph
- Global GDP by Country