In 2017, China came in second on the World Bank’s list of the world’s 50 largest economies with an economy worth a little over $11 trillion. America ranked first with an economy worth $18.6 trillion. We know that China is catching up to our gigantic economy. In fact, the Chinese, whose country is swiftly industrializing, have now surpassed the United States in the amount of energy they use.
If we, America, had the world’s largest economy last year, then that means that we are huge consumers. America has, after all, been termed a “throw-away society.” Okay, so our society is very consumeristic and most of us throw a lot of stuff in the garbage. Isn’t it nice that most of the rich people, the people who can afford to consume a lot, the people who help make our economy so large, don’t have to deal with the fruits of their consumption? Undoubtedly it is nice for them, but it’s not peachy for everyone.
A lot of times, the environmental burdens like landfills and garbage dumps get put in the poorer parts of our cities and country. The inhabitants of those areas are unlikely to put up much of a fuss about it, at least much less likely than the rich consumers. But our garbage also gets “exported” to other poorer countries like India and China (although China has severely limited their intake of our garbage and recyclables). Those countries get paid a pittance for dealing with our trash.
Electronic waste had an especially hard impact on the countries who take it from us. Often in these countries, poorer people sort through trash and pick apart the electronics for tiny bits of precious metals and other valuable components to be recycled. These metals are usually toxic and dangerous, so those people in foreign countries are paying the price for our consumerism.
Perhaps if the environmental burdens were distributed evenly between rich consumers and the poorer people, our country would be better. Perhaps if the rich had to deal with the effects of their own garbage they wouldn’t consume so much.
- Introduction to Sociology by Anthony Giddens, Mitchell Duneier, Richard Applebaum and Deborah Carr