Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Predicting the Future

What’s Your Consumption Factor?

by Jared Diamond / in The New York Times

To mathematicians, 32 is an interesting number: it’s 2 raised to the fifth power, 2 times 2 times 2 times 2 times 2. To economists, 32 is even more special, because it measures the difference in lifestyles between the first world and the developing world. 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.

To understand them, consider our concern with world population. Today, there are more than 6.5 billion people, and that number may grow to around 9 billion within this half-century. Several decades ago, many people considered rising population to be the main challenge facing humanity. Now we realize that it matters only insofar as people consume and produce.

If most of the world’s 6.5 billion people were in cold storage and not metabolizing or consuming, they would create no resource problem. What really matters is total world consumption, the sum of all local consumptions, which is the product of local population times the local per capita consumption rate.

The estimated one billion people who live in developed countries have a relative per capita consumption rate of 32. Most of the world’s other 5.5 billion people constitute the developing world, with relative per capita consumption rates below 32, mostly down toward 1.

The rest after the click ...

My comment: They don't hate us for our "freedom." They hate us for our "license" (see n, definitions 3, 4a and 4b).

Inequalities in consumption are stark. Globally, the 20% of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures — the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%. More specifically, the richest fifth:
  • Consume 45% of all meat and fish, the poorest fifth 5%
  • Consume 58% of total energy, the poorest fifth less than 4%
  • Have 74% of all telephone lines, the poorest fifth 1.5%
  • Consume 84% of all paper, the poorest fifth 1.1%
  • Own 87% of the world’s vehicle fleet, the poorest fifth less than 1%

My comment: We are starting to see the consequences. People in poverty aren't dumb. They're getting angry. If you're concerned about the origins of terrorism, the difference between their access to the worlds resources and our access is a good place to start looking for them. It would also be a good place to start looking for solutions. We can either continue to strengthen our military options with the unspoken goal of killing all the angry people of the world or we can start considering what we can do to eliminate the vast disparity between those who have and those who don't.

  • Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day.
  • The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.
  • Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
  • Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.
  • 1 billion children live in poverty (1 in 2 children in the world). 640 million live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health services. 10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (or roughly 29,000 children per day).

Source: Anup Shah, Causes of Poverty,, Last updated: Monday, December 10, 2007

My comment: So, you want to maintain your lifestyle? Be careful what you wish for. In the end, it could be a disaster ... for you and for everyone around you ... to the ends of the earth.

Seeing into the future isn't that hard.

1 comment:

Trudy said...

great article Joe. I forwarded it to two of my friends. thanks