How Does Consumerism Drive Industrial Pollution?

Economic growth is an important factor in improving human wellbeing, but it also drives industrial pollution through increased demands of production.

Learn how economic development drives industrial pollution and how it affects human health and the environment.

Economic Demand Drives Industries

Industrial growth is the direct result of economic development. Rising incomes and economic growth allow consumers to purchase more goods and services, which further allows industries to increase their production.

Increases in industrial development result in both positive and negative externalities. While it allows economies and human welfare to increase, increased industrial production also results in increased pollution that impacts both the environment and human health.

Benefits of Economic Demand

Economic growth is a primary driver of human welfare. When economies thrive, so do the people. Economic growth comes in the form of increased jobs and pay, which n turn allows people to increase their consumption of goods and services. This further stimulates economies and leads to:

  • Less poverty
  • Improved education
  • Improved medical services
  • Increased investment in public services 

These benefits are known as externalities, where the consumption or production of goods and services affect outside parties. Externalities can be beneficial in the form of increased GDP, but can also be harmful.

Read more: What are the Impacts of Industrial Externalities?

Negatives of Economic Demand

While increased production and consumption greatly propel human development and wellbeing, they can also negatively impact pollution. When economies grow and people have a greater ability to purchase goods and services, these increased demands on production can result in dramatic increases in pollution. Increases in industrial production directly result in increased:

  • Resource harvests
  • Resource refinement
  • Manufacturing
  • Distribution

Each of these steps in the supply chain can result in dramatic effects to the environment, resulting in:

  • Airborne emissions
  • Pollution of solid and liquid wastes
  • Habitat degradation
  • Water consumption

Our increases in consumption promote demand for industrial production, which is often performed by unsustainable practices that substantially harm the environment. Pollution from industries is not only a major threat to the environment, but to human health as well.

Read more: How Supply Chains Impact the Environment and Human Health 

Air Pollution

Air pollution is a consequence of industrial growth and a significant negative externality. Many of the goods we purchase are products of oil and ore. The refinement of these materials produces significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, which not only contributes to climate change but also has a major influence on human health. Emissions from industrial pollution can result in:

  • Respiratory diseases
  • Cancers
  • Asthma
  • Heart conditions

Communities living within the vicinity of factories are disproportionately affected by their emissions and can have significantly greater health concerns. Our increased demand for goods directly impacts air pollution and further drives the risks to these communities.

In addition, our increased demands for worldwide goods impact the distribution of products, which results in emissions from transportation and shipping. Shipping currently accounts for approximately 17% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. As industries grow, they can increase the spread of their distribution and ship their products much farther across the world. Our increased demand for goods from across the globe increases the emissions that result from long-distance shipping.

Read more: How Industries Impact Air Pollution

Water Pollution

Water pollution is another negative externality of industrial growth. Producing the raw materials that industries use to create our products is one of the leading causes of water consumption. 19% of all water consumption on the planet is used for industrial purposes, including resource production (i.e. timber, cotton, leather materials), as well as resource extraction for oils and ores. Currently, over 6% of the world’s population lacks access to clean drinking water, and industrial water consumption is a major driver of this. Our increased demand for industrial production drives this water usage, and furthers the limitation of clean water sources across the world.

In addition to using massive amounts of water for production, water pollution is a direct result of improper industrial waste disposal. Byproducts and chemical waste are often disposed of in waterways, resulting in pollution through:

  • Chemical waste and heavy metals
  • Microfibers from synthetic clothing
  • Solid waste

Read more: How Industrial Pollution Affects Water

These pollutants can significantly damage ecosystems and waterways, as well furthering limitations to clean drinking water. Our consumption of manufactured products steadily increases the ability for industries to produce and distribute their products, which further increases their contributions to worldwide pollution.

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