Jared “Guns, Germs, and Steel” Diamond on consumption

Check out this article in yesterday’s NYtimes in which the illustrious Professor Jared Diamond discusses the big problem with worldwide consumption rates.

Jared Diamond

Diamond is a really gifted writer and he’s got a penchant for geographical analysis which you don’t hear often. Turns out that the “Developed” World consumes way more per capita than the “Developing” World and that the later seems to want to become more like the former regardless of the potential shortages. So we can’t all be rich and wasteful forever. Who knew?

In “Guns, Germs, and Steel”, Diamond basically outlines this theory that all of our global inequities as determined by world history, including consumption rates, can be followed back to geographical accident.

Also, according to this article, Europeans have a higher standard of living by every conceivable measure yet they consume far less than Americans. Interesting!

For me though, because I’m becoming something of a China nerd, the most interesting part is the following:

“Among the developing countries that are seeking to increase per capita consumption rates at home, China stands out. It has the world’s fastest growing economy, and there are 1.3 billion Chinese, four times the United States population. The world is already running out of resources, and it will do so even sooner if China achieves American-level consumption rates. Already, China is competing with us for oil and metals on world markets.

Per capita consumption rates in China are still about 11 times below ours, but let’s suppose they rise to our level. Let’s also make things easy by imagining that nothing else happens to increase world consumption — that is, no other country increases its consumption, all national populations (including China’s) remain unchanged and immigration ceases. 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.”

Will China ever catch up? Will people ever start consuming equally? Will our resources run out?
Will scarcity lead to catastrophe?

Things tend towards equilibrium, so it’ll all balance out in the end of course…whether or not that eventual end will allow for human civilization is the question.

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