I happen to be a big fan of geographer-eco-anthropologist and author, Jared Diamond. This week, I spied one of his op-ed pieces in the NY Times, comparing the consumption rate of us first-worlders-living-the-good-life with the rest of the global inhabitants. Enviromental alert: we have a consumption factor of 32. Diamond give us an interesting take on how our consuming habits impact the big picture. An excerpt, from The New York Times:
The average rates at which people consume resources like oil and metals, and produce wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia than they are in the developing world. That factor of 32 has big consequences.
Most of the world√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s other 5.5 billion people constitute the developing world, with relative per capita consumption rates below 32, mostly down toward 1.
The population especially of the developing world is growing, and some people remain fixated on this. They note that populations of countries like Kenya are growing rapidly, and they say that√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s a big problem. Yes, it is a problem for Kenya√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s more than 30 million people, but it√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s not a burden on the whole world, because Kenyans consume so little. (Their relative per capita rate is 1.) A real problem for the world is that each of us 300 million Americans consumes as much as 32 Kenyans. With 10 times the population, the United States consumes 320 times more resources than Kenya does.
…If India as well as China were to catch up, world consumption rates would triple. If the whole developing world were suddenly to catch up, world rates would increase elevenfold. It would be as if the world population ballooned to 72 billion people (retaining present consumption rates).
Some optimists claim that we could support a world with nine billion people. But I haven√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t met anyone crazy enough to claim that we could support 72 billion. Yet we often promise developing countries that if they will only adopt good policies √¢‚Ç¨‚Äù for example, institute honest government and a free-market economy √¢‚Ç¨‚Äù they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people.
…People in the third world are aware of this difference in per capita consumption, although most of them couldn√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t specify that it√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s by a factor of 32. When they believe their chances of catching up to be hopeless, they sometimes get frustrated and angry, and some become terrorists, or tolerate or support terrorists. Since Sept. 11, 2001, it has become clear that the oceans that once protected the United States no longer do so. There will be more terrorist attacks against us and Europe, and perhaps against Japan and Australia, as long as that factorial difference of 32 in consumption rates persists.