Jared Diamond and the Consumption Factor

Linked with Jared Diamond, USA.

Published on Dissident Voice, by Thomas Riggins, January 7th, 2008.

People making a New Year’s resolution to consume less should bolster their resolve by reading Jared Diamond’s What’s Your Consumption Factor? in Wednesday’s New York Times. (1/2/08) However, your or my individual consumption may not make a big difference. Diamond, the author of Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse, is addressing a civilizational problem regarding the difference in consumption levels between First World countries and the developing world.

To make a long story short, the US and other First World countries account for about one billion people who out consume, on a per capita basis, the 5.5 billion people in the developing world by a factor of 32 to 1.

That is we use oil and gas and metals and produce wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases at a rate 32 times that of the non developed world. On this scale of 1 to 32, China is about a 3 and India even lower. So the problem with pollution and depletion is clearly in our back yard.


The problem is the poorer countries want to have a better life style; they want to develop, but it is just impossible for them to catch up to our 32 level. Diamond gives the example of Kenya. Kenya has about 30 million people, its consumption level is 1 while the US with 300 million has a 32 level. We have 10x the population but consume 320x the resources. If the poor countries, including China and India, really attained out advanced consumption levels it would be as if the present 6 billion earth population became 72 billion at present consumption rates. This is impossible since the earth’s resources cannot sustain anywhere near the equivalent of 72 billion people …

… What is the problem here? We have just seen the EPA shoot down California and other states’ attempt to impose fuel efficiency standards on automobiles. The fisheries and forests will, presumedly, continue to be overexploited (we have known about this for years yet it continues).

The basis of capitalism is maximizing profits. Exxon-Mobile and other corporations are not going to give up market share and profits to make the world a fair place for everyone. That is just not the nature of capitalism.

What Diamond is asking for is a world wide regime based on central planning that could rationally allot and share the world’s resources. Who could administer such a regime. The United Nations? Is there any hope that the US or any other of the major capitalist powers would cede their economic sovereignty to the UN or any other transnational organization and renounce the free-market as the means for regulating globalization in favor of a central planning and management scheme?

Reality may force this upon the world and my hunch is that if it does it will be rather messy. A specter is haunting Europe once again. (full text).

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