Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Solution to Overconsumption?

Consume more!
Or so claimed an analyst on NPR Friday, while also deriding Buy Nothing Day. He started off on a note that gave me hope –listing some of the problems caused by overconsumption. But then he said that the entire economy would collapse and all of America would be poor if everyone observed Buy Nothing Day. (Somehow I think the economy could survive one day without purchases, but hey, what do I know?) Then he compared Floridians with others in similar environments, and pointed out how much better off the Floridians are because they have stronger houses able to withstand hurricanes better than their counterparts in the third world. Which is true, I’ll grant him that, but he neglected to mention that part of the reason storms are so fierce these days is a direct consequence of overconsumption. He then somehow used this comparison to make the leap to his conclusion that everyone in the world needed to consume more, especially the third world. More of everything –meat, grain, steel, water, etc. Until they all matched American lifestyles.

By this point I was barely listening. I was completely dumbfounded. How could anyone come on the radio and claim this? Now I don’t know what his motives are. Maybe he is just altruistic and wants everyone in the world to live a good life. (A very grand goal and one I also hold.) Or maybe he just wants to make one hell of a profit. Either way, he’s dead wrong. While its true that some people need more –principally food and water –Americans need to consume far less.

What would happen if other countries were able to reach the standard of living of the average American? It’s easy to calculate that –or rather, the resources it would entail. Lester Brown, of the Earth Policy Institue, calculated how much resources China would consume if everyone lived at our level. Which, by the way, will be in 2031 by his calculations. You can find these figures on page 10 of his book Plan B 2.0. The short hand is that China would need: 2/3 of the current world grain harvest (which has all ready declined for the past 7 years running), 305 million tons of paper annually (double the current WORLD need –there go the forests!), 99 million barrels of oil a day (current world output is 84 million, and PO is imminent), 1.1 billion cars, and a paved area for them equal to the total amount of land rice is harvested on today.

And that’s just for China. Every other country in the world is also dreaming the American Dream. This just is not possible. I don’t know how else to phrase it –we’re in deep trouble. People are all ready dying in India due to lack of water; in Australia, water is so precious it is now being stolen in some provinces. World grain harvests have declined so much all ready that only 57 days stands between the entire world and famine.

And the way out of this mess is to consume more? That is the ideology of the cancer cell!

I’m doing my part to reduce my consumption. I want to be able to tell my grandkids that I did my best not to contribute to the mess we’re making of the planet.


Anonymous Liz said...

I think you should write to them or him saying this. You are very right on. They should know.

11/29/2006 7:04 PM  

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