Wednesday, January 02, 2008

On Consumption

Jared Diamond Talks About No. 32

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.

Diamond, the author of “Collapse” and “Guns, Germs and Steel,” then goes on to list 32 consequences of the west's consumption...

O.K., not quite; that's a cheap gimmick that Diamond doesn't resort to, but he does describe how increasing consumption is not sustainable (to use that over-used word):

We often promise developing countries that if they will only adopt good policies — for example, institute honest government and a free-market economy — they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people.

While you think about that, I'm off to pour some extra gasoline I have down the sewer drain.


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