Americans consume too much and that is going to change dramatically.

January 6, 2008 | By | 4 Replies More

Jared Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, as well as the author of  “Guns, Germs and Steel” and “Collapse.”  In an op-ed piece in the January 2, 2008 NYT, he reports that American rates of resource consumption are horribly out of wack with the rates of other inhabitants of the world and that Americans are due for a substantial adjustment:

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 . . .

Yet 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 . . .

[W]hether we get there willingly or not, we shall soon have lower consumption rates, because our present rates are unsustainable.Real sacrifice wouldn’t be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life.


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Category: Consumerism, Environment

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    The quote that, for me, sums it up best (it might even come from Diamond's excellent book, 'Collapse') is that we must stop treating our planet as an infinite department store and an infinite garbage can.

    The other concept to remember is that our planet cannot sustain a substantial fraction of the global population at the current level of consumption in America, much less at some higher level than today. This has major significance as China and India increase the size of their middle class populations and, along with it, their levels of consumption.

    For another view of things, look at the maps of the world's imbalances, mentioned here:

  2. Vicki Baker says:

    Very interesting maps, grumpy. Looks like Africa has the best "deal" in terms of war deaths vs. military spending.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    Interesting observation, Vicki, though "best" would not be the word I would choose to describe Africa's ratio of deaths to spending.

    Also interesting is the ratio for the U.S.A. I often wonder how much better off America would be as a nation if its leaders were to spend more effort building alliances with other countries and less effort shopping for more military equipment. To hear Republicans describe America's military preparedness, one might think a squad of guys in a Zodiak (inflatable boat) could conquer the country, when in fact America outspends the rest of the world combined and is almost certainly more safe from serious military threat than any other nation on the planet.

  4. They need all the military equipment to invade other countries.

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