Negative impacts of material & immaterial types of affluence on environment
When people talk about affluence, they usually associate it with abundance of material possessions or valuable items—especially items that are not “so common” or available.
Seldom is affluence associated with things that are either common, almost available to everybody, or in the possession/vicinity of everyone. In most cases, affluence isn’t associated with things that are almost evenly distributed or accessible to everyone, such as air, time, space, etc.—we may call such things “immaterial possessions”.
It’s sad to see that when certain things/possessions are in abundance, most people become more self-centered, materialistic, and only pay more attention to pollution and environmental degradation when the negative effects of their affluent lifestyles affect their health, or the income generated from their commercially profitable business(es).
Material & immaterial types of affluence
Environmentally-speaking, all of us are affluent because we have things or possessions that are almost available to everybody.
Some people fall into a category I may call “the materially affluent”, while the same people and others fall into a category I may call “the immaterially affluent”. Why? Because the materially affluent have available or abundant cars, industries, electronics, etc.—they have possessions that are not so common or available to everybody. On the other hand, the immaterially affluent have air/atmosphere, space, time, etc.—they have possessions that are quite common or available to everybody.
But mind you—in a way—the immaterially affluent poor also contribute to pollution caused by industries owned by the materially affluent rich people. How? They contribute by working in industrial processes of production or disposal that contribute to environmental pollution.
We can conclude that almost all of us are immaterially affluent because we have almost equal access to an appreciable amount of air, land or space which we can use; the only problem is that when it comes to waste management and disposal, people misuse these things a lot. Another thing that should be noted is that immaterially affluent people have almost an equal amount of/access to air, time, space—intelligence can also be included.
On the other hand, we can also conclude that most people are not materially affluent because they don’t have (or don’t have enough) cars, industries, electronics, etc.
In one way or another, all of us might be guilty of being recklessly extravagant in the way we use our material or immaterial possessions. Extravagance is an attitude that is quite difficult to change, especially when possessions are in abundance.
Mismanagement of material and immaterial possessions has caused pollution in the environment to such an extent that the aesthetic quality and productive capacity of atmosphere, water, soil and landscape have been impaired; in other cases, some ecosystems have been completely damaged.
Apart from the fact that material affluence and excess/unnecessary purchase of possessions lead to littering of wastes in the environment, immaterial affluence—associated more with the poor who aren’t materially affluent—also leads to littering of waste in the environment, in the same way that material affluence does.
In summary, any excessive, inappropriate and trivial use of material and immaterial possessions could lead to environmental degradation of the atmosphere, land and water bodies (rivers, oceans, seas, etc.) in any part of the world.
The downside of material & immaterial types of affluence
The downside of material and immaterial affluences is the negative impact that both types of affluence have/have had on the environment. Negative impacts easily occur because both materially and immaterially affluent people have the ability to acquire resources or possessions at almost any time, and from almost anywhere in the world. Also, most people use resources without looking for/at the harmful environmental impacts of the high-consumption and largely wasteful lifestyles associated with using such resources.
The lifestyles of many materially-rich consumers in countries like U.S.A., India and China, are built upon growing affluence, which leads to high levels of unnecessary consumption and waste of resources. This type of affluence is based mostly on mass advertisement, and the belief that by buying more and more material goods, one would likely be able to have more joy, fulfillment and happiness—unfortunately affluence doesn’t always bring these pleasures.
Affluence affects the environment both positively and negatively, and leads to mismanagement and unnecessary depletion of resources, and environmental damage. Many people who are materially and immaterially affluent have embraced an extravagant lifestyle and imposed a lot of burden on the environment because they easily access and misuse material or immaterial possessions—they use possessions in recklessly wasteful ways.
Negative impacts of some activities associated with material and immaterial affluence
Records and studies of negative impacts of affluence on environment have shown that many people manage material and immaterial possessions in ways that have damaged the Earth’s land, air and water bodies—especially when proper waste management practices are not employed. Some activities associated with negative impacts include:
- pollution of land and rivers with solid, human and animal wastes. These types of pollution (caused by the affluent lifestyles of the materially affluent rich and immaterially affluent poor) expose people to air and water-borne diseases.
- preparation and use of wheat, rice, meat, food, and production of coal, fertilizer, steel, cement, etc., have created bye-products which have been littered in the environment, and degraded the air/atmosphere, land, and many water bodies.
- production of televisions, cell phones, refrigerators, electronics, etc., has created solid waste bye-products which have also caused pollution in the environment whenever there has been improper disposal.
- production, and use of fuel-efficient cars have led to air/atmospheric pollution and caused a lot of discomfort and diseases, especially in populated cities.
- industrialization has created products that have polluted and choked many water bodies to such a extent that some water bodies are devoid of fishes and other forms of marine life.
- production of ammunition and nuclear weapons has provided an available platform for people and nations to engage in wars, thus destroying houses and property, and polluting large quantities of air, land and water bodies.
- generally, people use their money or time in acquiring material or immaterial possessions as they see fit, and they face little or no supervision or interference from regulatory bodies or governments.
- most times, people acquire/use what they have acquired for trivial reasons: they seek social status and base their self-worth on the quality and quantity of their acquired possessions.
- mass advertisement, and campaigns of consumerism—whichever ways they are portrayed in the media—lead to ever-increasing pollution, scarcity of renewable and non-renewable resources, and many other forms of environmental degradation all over the world.
- while a small percentage of humanity enjoys the benefits of material affluence, and a much higher percentage enjoys the benefits of immaterial affluence, the negative impacts of both types of affluence contribute to the loss of health and life among both the poor and rich in every country.
- the rate at which waste is being collected from one environment and dumped in another, seems to be unprecedented. Often, when improvements occur in one environment, another environment gets worse because the waste simply has to go somewhere.
- production processes often create large amounts of waste than useful products. Packaging, distribution, use and consumption of products produce large quantities of waste.
- it’s in the nature of human beings to be consumers: we have to consume in order to survive. However, consumers should learn and try to consume responsibly.
- the future of life on this planet will depend on how we create policies that could reduce our own environmental problems.
- if we can tackle materially or immaterially affluent lifestyles that create negative impacts on our environment, we’ll likely be able to address most environmental issues.