The First World Consumption Factor

Uighur woman in front of her Lake Karakul yurt

In a New York Times editorial published January 2, Jared Diamond examines the large discrepancy between consumption in first world countries versus developing countries: citizens of the rich world consume an average of 32 times the resources as those in poor countries.

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 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’s a big problem. Yes, it is a problem for Kenya’s more than 30 million people, but it’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.

Diamond observes that as poor countries try to catch up with the rich world, resource consumption and resulting pollution will soar.

Per capita consumption rates in China are still about 11 times below ours, but let’s suppose they rise to our level… China’s catching up alone would roughly double world consumption rates. Oil consumption would increase by 106 percent, for instance, and world metal consumption by 94 percent.

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).

What’s Your Consumption Factor?

Author: Rhett Butler

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