The Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production

Table of Contents


The purpose of this essay is to show that people affect the environment negatively because of the social, cultural, and economic activities that they engage in regularly. The resulting increase in environmental degradation causes negative effects on people. These include increased morbidity rate, famine, and limited access to natural resources such as water.

Therefore, the thesis of the essay is that people affect the environment. The essay will begin with a discussion on how the environment affects people. This will be followed by a discussion on the effects of people on the environment. The discussion will lead to the conclusion that the environment will have little or no adverse effects on individuals if people do not affect it negatively.


The environment determines people’s ability to produce adequate food, maintain good health, and engage in economic activities. However, the quality of the environment has been deteriorating rapidly since the 19th century. As a result, the environment has affected people in the following ways.

First, agricultural production is constrained in nearly every country due to changing climatic conditions and poor soil quality (Titilola & Jeje 2005, pp. 116-144). Global temperatures have risen by nearly 1.530F in the last 100 years (Chauhan 2008, p. 67). In addition, the level of rainfall has been declining steadily. These changes have led to reduced productivity in agriculture, thereby causing famine in various parts of the world.

Second, the environment has had negative health effects on people. The presence of toxic pollutants in the air is one of the major causes of chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma. Moreover, approximately 3.7% of the global disease burden is attributed to unsafe water and poor sanitation (Hertwich & Tukker 2010, pp. 5-110). The increase in global temperature has resulted in a rise in the prevalence of vector-borne diseases such as malaria.

Changes in the environment have also caused deaths through natural disasters. For instance, heat waves and extremely low temperatures often cause deaths in North America. In Africa and Asia, floods often destroy homes, transport infrastructure, and food crops, thereby exposing people to the risk of starvation and acquiring diseases such as diarrhea.

Third, the environment affects people by limiting their participation in economic activities (Martino & Zommers 2013, pp. 6-36). The environment has not been able to replenish the stock of raw materials that people need to produce various goods.

For instance, the supply of fossil fuels has always been insufficient because they are non-renewable. The resulting reduction in the level of economic activities has increased poverty and the level of unemployment in various parts of the world.

The effects discussed in the foregoing paragraphs are mainly caused by the negative effects of people on the environment.

Therefore, they should be considered as the byproducts of pollution rather than the effects of the environment on people. One of the factors that increase the negative effects of people on the environment is rapid population growth (Manjuath 2007, p. 68).

In the last five decades, the population of the world increased by approximately four billion people. This has led to increased deforestation to facilitate access to adequate land for human settlement. Undoubtedly, deforestation is the major cause of decreased rainfall and poor air quality.

In particular, cutting trees interferes with the water cycle by reducing transpiration. The resulting reduction in water vapor in the atmosphere leads to a decline in rainfall. In addition, deforestation promotes soil erosion and an increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Rapid population growth has also forced various countries to resort to intensive farming activities in order to ensure food security. This involves using pesticides, irrigation, and inorganic fertilizers to improve output in the agricultural sector.

However, using inorganic fertilizers and pesticides cause soil pollution, which in turn limits the survival of plants (Singh & Sidhu 2006, pp. 37-48). Moreover, irrigation has led to inadequate water supply since the agricultural sector accounts for nearly 70% of water consumption globally.

In this context, reduction in food production can be directly attributed to the negative effect of rapid population growth on the environment. The increase in population has been accompanied by a rise in the generation of human wastes. Poor disposal of human wastes has led to contamination of water bodies, thereby causing waterborne diseases.

The rapid change in the pattern of consumption is another factor that increases the negative effects of people on the environment. Consumption has rapidly shifted to manufactured goods since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This increase is attributed to the fact that manufactured goods are considered fashionable and effective.

However, the consumption of manufactured goods causes environmental degradation through increased generation of wastes (Hertwich & Tukker 2010, pp. 5-110). For instance, most manufactured products are packaged using materials such as plastics, which pollute the environment because they are non-biodegradable.

The rise of tourism and harmful recreational activities such as waterskiing and off-road truck racing also cause environmental degradation. For instance, tourism is one of the major causes of water pollution in coastal areas. This has led to the destruction of coral reefs, thereby causing a limited supply of seafood.

Undoubtedly, the greatest impact of human beings on the environment occurs through the economic activities that they engage in to achieve their financial objectives. Producing various goods and services requires the use of raw materials such as minerals and fossil fuels. Increased production has resulted in the overexploitation of natural resources (Agyemang 2013, pp. 32-40).

For instance, world oil reserves are expected to be depleted in the next four decades due to the ever-increasing use of petroleum products in production and transportation. Therefore, world economic growth has been declining due to overutilization of resources rather than the inability of the environment to provide the raw materials that are necessary for production.

The use of fossil fuels in production and transportation causes the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are the major causes of global warming, which has been going on in the last ten decades. Global warming refers to “the general increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere due to the greenhouse effect” (Manjuath 2007, p. 91).

Global warming is associated with adverse climatic changes and severe health effects. For instance, fatal heat waves normally occur when extremely high temperatures and humidity last for several days. Moreover, prolonged heat usually causes drought and forest fires that destroy trees and wildlife that people depend on for timber and tourism, respectively.

The ability of the atmosphere to hold moisture usually increases as temperature rises. The resulting increase in precipitation causes destructive floods. Similarly, warming of the oceans causes powerful tropical hurricanes and typhoons that usually destroy lives and properties along coastal regions. This shows that natural disasters such as floods and droughts occur due to the negative effects of people on the environment.

Global warming also increases the spread of diseases by promoting the multiplication of disease vectors such as mosquitoes and pathogens, such as bacteria (Amechi 2009, pp. 109-128).

Apart from global warming, economic activities cause pollution through the discharge of industrial wastes into the environment. This increases the prevalence of waterborne and airborne diseases. Moreover, industrial wastes often pollute the soil, which in turn reduces the output in the agricultural sector.

The consequences of the negative effects of people on the environment have led to the implementation of several policies at the national and international levels to prevent pollution. At the national level, countries focus on using legislation to prevent deforestation and discharge of industrial wastes (Sands & Peel 2012, p. 78).

Furthermore, most countries are promoting organic agriculture to protect the environment. However, these efforts have had little positive effects on the environment due to poor implementation and conflict of interests. For instance, the EU and the US are the most vocal supporters of environmental protection. However, they continue to promote the use of petroleum-based fuels in their territories to avoid economic stagnation.

In developing countries such as Nigeria, corruption prevents the implementation of environmental laws. At the global level, several treaties have been implemented to reduce environmental degradation. Some of the notable treaties include the Kyoto Protocol and the Montreal Protocol (Alexandre & Shelton 2007, p. 89). These treaties have failed due to a lack of commitment from various countries to reduce pollution.

For instance, the Kyoto Protocol was expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries by 5% by 2012. However, the level of greenhouse gas emission has increased by 58% since the adoption of the protocol in 2005 (Sands & Peel 2012, p. 78).

This failure is mainly attributed to the fact that the US, China, India, and several developing countries did not abide by the protocol. Overall, the increase in global warming and pollution, as well as the reduction in the population of various plant and animal species, indicate that human beings have had negligible positive effects on the environment. Consequently, they should be held accountable for environmental degradation.


People affect the environment negatively through overexploitation of resources and pollution. This has led to droughts, floods, famine, natural resource constraints, and poor health outcomes. These problems are direct consequences of the ecological footprint of human activities.

In particular, environmental problems such as draughts and waterborne diseases occur because people engage in activities that cause pollution. This means that the environment will not have negative effects on individuals if human beings do not downgrade its quality. Therefore, people affect the environment, whereas the latter is not capable of affecting the former on its own.

The efforts that have been made to protect the environment have achieved very little. As a result, environmental degradation continues to rise despite the availability of laws and resources to reduce it. Thus, human beings should take responsibility for environmental degradation and its negative consequences. In addition, commitment should be enhanced at the national and international level to implement effective environmental protection policies.


Agyemang, I 2013, ‘Environmental degradation and assessment: a survey of the literature’, International Journal of Educational Research and Development, vol. 2. no. 2, pp. 32-40.

Alexandre, C & Shelton, D 2007, A guide to international environmental law, Koninklijke Brill, Leiden.

Amechi, E 2009, Poverty, socio-political factors and degradation of the environment in Sub-Saharan Africa: the need for a holistic approach to the protection of the environment and realization of the right to environment’, Law, Environment, and Development Journal, vol. 5. no. 2, pp. 109-128.

Chauhan, B 2008, Environmental studies, University Science Press, New Delhi.

Hertwich, E & Tukker, B 2010, Assessing the environmental impacts of consumption and production, UNEP, Geneva.

Martino, D & Zommers, Z 2013, Environment for development, World Commission on Environment and Development, Geneva.

Manjuath, N 2007, Environmental studies, Person Education, New Delhi.

Sands, P & Peel, J 2012, Principles of international environmental law, Cambridge University Press, New York.

Singh, J & Sidhu, R 2006, ‘Accounting for the impact of environmental degradation in agriculture of Indian Punjab’, Agricultural Economics Research Review, vol. 19. no. 1, pp. 37-48.

Titilola, T & Jeje, L 2008, ‘Environmental degradation and its impacts for agricultural and rural development: the issue of land erosion’, Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa, vol. 10. no. 2, pp. 116-146.

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