Sunday, June 8, 2008

WHEN everyone lives like an American

A few years ago I wanted to write a piece called "If everyone lived like an American, would we be f'd?"

The idea was to take the amount of pollution, garbage, energy consumption, etc., the average American produces or uses, multiply that by the population of the planet and see if or when the total would rise above the Earth's ability to support that level of usage.

I never got around to it. But, more and more, I think we might get to find out. This is from the May National Geographic, which focuses on China:
China produces - and consumes - nearly a third of the world's steel, more than longtime industrial powers Japan, Germany and the United States combined.

Authorities have added 171 new pop culture phrases to China's national language registry.
Number of McDonald's drive-throughs in 2005: 1
Number expected by the end of 2008: 115

Coal consumption has more than doubled since 1990, and even the world's largest coal producer can barely keep up. China is constructing the equivalent of two midsize coal-fired power plants each week - adding a capacity comparable to the entire U.K. power grid each year. What does that mean for the planet? China recently surpassed the U.S. in carbon dioxide emissions.

Up until the 1990s, China produced most of the oil it needed to keep its economic engine running, but breakaway growth in transportation and plastics production doubled China's oil consumption. Imports have swelled over sixfold in the past decade.

This flaming drink costs $12 in Guangzhou. Ain't that America.

Image: Randy Olson.


Keich said...

The flaw in your assumption, Travis, is temporal. Put simply, living like an American is constantly changing. Change is never static. It's kind of ridiculous to think that Americans 50 years from now, when perhaps certain parts of the world catch up to where we are now, that we will pollute as much per capita. Energy will be much more efficient. If you don't believe me, look at an automobile today and compare it to one that rolled off the assembly line in 1958...

Lucid Idiocy said...

Very true. But, as a theoretical exercise, the point was not to predict a end-of-the-world date.

It was to show the differential between the way I live in Macon, and the way a farmer lives in China.

And that our way of life may well depend on a lot of other folks in the world not living it.

Keich said...

So is this about some sort of simplistic populism?

The American way of life depends on poverty elsewhere?

How do you explain the standard of living 20 or 40 years ago then? Our trade deficit was much smaller, more goods were produced and bought at home, and yet, Americans still lived better than the Chinese, et al...

Could it be that our system just produces better results?