In this Consuming Responsibly series we have highlighted a number of ways individuals can reduce the environmental impacts of their consumption. Because purchasing, use, and end-of product life decisions have a significant effect on the environmental and social consequences of consumption, making an effort to understand consequences of decisions, and then acting upon that understanding so as to minimize negative impacts, is the essence of responsible consumption.
But there is one more critically important element of responsible consumption: accepting responsibility for the environmental impacts of those things we consume. The fact is that everything we purchase or use invariably impacts the environment. This is especially evident in extraction and processing of basic raw materials used in producing buildings, vehicles, electronics, and other products of all kinds. Steadfast citizen resistance to domestic raw material extraction, coupled with high levels of consumption and low rates of materials recovery and recycling, has resulted in a massive shift of consumption-related impacts to locations outside the borders of some of the most developed countries – and the United States in particular.
Because the environmental and social impacts of consumption often occur distant from where finished goods are used or consumed, high consumption brings with it a responsibility to understand the impacts of that consumption, to recognize that exporting impacts through resource importation often magnifies environmental and social impacts, and to understand that resource needs are growing all over the world. Responsible consumers should also be willing to accept a level of domestic environmental and social impact commensurate with domestic levels of consumption, while also doing everything they can to reduce the impacts of their own consumption.
Beyond environmental and social issues, there is another reason for citizens of economically advanced nations to modify behavior regarding raw materials sourcing. At the same time that many advanced countries have been increasing raw materials import reliance, the global economy has been expanding at about double the rate of population, a trend attributable in large part to rapidly rising consumption of goods of all kinds in countries other than those with the most advanced economies. The result is steeply increasing consumption of basic resources globally, as well as rising competition between nations for these resources. Consequently, high import reliance is an increasingly risky strategy.
In this report we examine global trends vis-à-vis consumption and basic materials demand, discuss U.S. net import reliance for basic raw materials and reasons for this situation, and point to specific things that individual consumers can do to both reduce and take greater responsibility for impacts of their consumption. This report focuses on non-fuel minerals and metals, although other resources are also referenced.