Deconstructing Consumerism

These lesson plans are oriented towards high school students, but I find they raise important questions for everyone.

Key Idea

Increased global consumerism has vast environmental, economic, and social repercussions. Thought leaders across the globe investigate the unsustainable cultural values at the root of modern consumption.


This film, shot in Ecuador, India, the Middle East, South Africa, and the U.S., provides perspectives from global thought leaders concerning the negative effects of consumerism and globalization. According to the Worldwatch Institute, the United States, with less than 5 percent of the global population, uses a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burning up nearly 25 percent of the coal, 26 percent of the oil, and 27 percent of the world’s natural gas—for mass production of goods and services.

Consumerism, the concept that an increasing consumption of goods is greatly beneficial to the economy was an intentional shift from product utility to desires. The origin of a consumer society as we know it today can be traced back to 18th century England. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the availability of consumer goods greatly increased and for the first time consumers could choose to purchase goods because they wanted to rather than out of need. The rapid expansion of the advertising industry in the 1920s—when American corporations began linking mass-produced goods to unconscious desires—dramatically changed patterns of consumption around the world. Automobiles, television sets, clothing, and household appliances became widely used to express cultural values, and began to take on meaning and shape lifestyles. Consequences of mass consumption include severe environmental degradation, conflict over limited resources, health issues, unsustainable personal debt, and more.


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