Overconsumption as Ideology

Implications for Addressing Global Climate Change

in Nature and Culture
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  • 1 School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Northern Arizona University, USA diana.stuart@nau.edu
  • 2 Department of Sociology and Gerontology, Miami University, USA gunderrm@miamioh.edu
  • 3 Department of Geography, Planning and Recreation, Northern Arizona University, USA brian.petersen@nau.edu
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Abstract

In response to climate change projections, scientists and concerned citizens are increasingly calling for changes in personal consumption. However, these calls ignore the true relationship between production and consumption and the ongoing propagation of the ideology of overconsumption. In this article, we draw from Western Marxist theorists to explain the ideology of overconsumption and its implications for addressing global climate change. Drawing from Herbert Marcuse and Guy Debord, we illustrate how production drives consumption, how advertising promotes false needs and excess, how these power relations are concealed, and how they undermine social and ecological well-being. Specific to climate change, continued widespread support for increasing levels of production and economic growth will undermine efforts to reduce carbon emissions and limit global warming. Given the relationships between production and carbon emissions, effective mitigation efforts will require significant systemic changes in work, production, consumption, advertising, and social norms.

Contributor Notes

Diana Stuart, PhD, is Associate Professor in the Sustainable Communities Program in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University. Her research examines environmental and social issues in industrial agriculture and how to transition to a more sustainable food system. Her work has explored ways to increase wild biodiversity, reduce fertilizer pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and support animal welfare. E-mail: diana.stuart@nau.edu.

Ryan Gunderson, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Justice Studies in the Department of Sociology and Gerontology at Miami University. His current research projects concern the potential effectiveness of proposed solutions to environmental problems; the social dimensions and environmental impacts of technology; and the renewal of classical and mid-twentieth century sociological theory. E-mail: gunderrm@miamioh.edu.

Brian Petersen, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography, Planning and Recreation at Northern Arizona University. His research and published work focuses on climate change adaptation and landscape level conservation. His work draws on both social and natural science perspectives to interrogate contemporary natural resource and environmental challenges. E-mail: brian.petersen@nau.edu.

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