Saturday, January 12, 2008

32 Times More Equals Collapse

Jared Diamond in the beginning of the New Year wrote in the New York Times that 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.

Now we are at 6.5 billion people on this planet, and that number may grow to around 3 billion within several decades. Presently 5.5 billion people of the developing world are growing in numbers while we in the industrialized countries consume 32 times more than the rest of the world.

How many more people can the world sustain? Our developing countries make an increase in living standards a primary political goal to become industrialized. How can we in the rich countries lessen our material consumption since the poor wish to enjoy the American Dream of a high-consumption lifestyle? As millions of people in the developing world wish enjoy the first-world lifestyle how much carrying capacity can this planet take unless we humans use less? There is not enough pie to go around now to if humans are going to survive here.

Just look at China as the leading developing country seeking to increase per capita consumption rates at home. China is the world’s fastest growing economy with 1.3 billion Chinese, or four times the United States population. Yes, our world is already running out of resources rapidly since China is quickly reaching American level consumption rates.

Presently the per capita consumption rates in China are still about 11 times below ours. If they rise to our level and nothing else happens to increase world consumption (no other country increases its consumption, all national populations -including China’s remain unchanged and immigration ceases) just alone China’s would roughly double world consumption rates. Look at the markets for oil and metals to as evidence. Oil consumption would go up by 106 percent, and world metal consumption would increase by 94 percent.

Now if India as well as China were to reach our US rate, world consumption would triple. Finally, if the whole developing world were suddenly to catch up to the US rate it would be as if the world population ballooned to 72 billion people or world rates would increase elevenfold.

We do not have a choice to but everyone on this Earth has to produce, and use less. Otherwise we will suffer major global consequences.

*Jared Diamond is a Professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, is the author of “Collapse” and “Guns, Germs and Steel.”
His article is at