Consumerism, Economic Growth, and Climate Change in China

Shijie Yin, University of San Francisco


The world economy entered the age of high mass consumption as early as the 1920s.1 Consumption has heavily influenced economic growth; thus, consumerism has become a trend worldwide. With modern financial crises being overcome by increased government spending and the stimulus of consumption, the dependence of economic growth on these factors has been reinforced. Nevertheless, each government faces a dilemma. On one hand, they launch stimulus policies to encourage consumption; on the other hand, the international community has made little progress in emission reduction caused by economic growth. Faced with this impasse and paradox, few scholars address the situation bluntly or fully. This paper examines how consumerism has reshaped post-modern society in complex ways, negatively impacting the environment while catalyzing the economy. Looking at China as a case study, this research looks at the intersection of economics, consumer behavior, and climate change. By situating China globally, we see how consumption simultaneously drives economic growth and carbon emissions; while it is challenging to mitigate the impact of environmental harm, it is crucial that we do so. But how do we maintain economic stability while not harming the environment? There is no good, simple answer to this question. Yet there is still hope. We must act now and reduce carbon emissions by adopting lifestyles that provide low-cost solutions. Our actions—along with governmental intervention and technical innovation—can take us on the right path.