Global Themes

On Globalization & Venture Capital

Globalizing Consumption, American Style…

A few weeks ago, I read an article in BusinessWeek on the 300 millionth baby born in the USA and the implications of US’ large (and growing) population and its enormous consumption of resources for the rest of the world. 

As Victoria Markham wrote in that article, My daughter and I watched the U.S. Census Bureau Population Clock tick its way, second by second, to the magical 300 million mark…At the historic moment (my daughter) asked: “Why does that matter?” 

The answer may be more disturbing than she–or any of us–knows, because the U.S. is a world leader not only in gross domestic product, per-capita income, innovative technologies, and many health and educational standards, but also in a more dubious measure: our environmental footprint.” 

The U.S. population has the largest per capita environmental imprint in the world, with greater impact on many of the planet’s resources and ecosystems than any other nation on earth. Indeed, while we represent just 1/20th of the global population, we consume disproportionately higher amounts–at least one-fourth–of practically every natural resource (in the world).” 

A little mathematics would suggest that if the rest of the world was to consume at US levels, we will need five times as much of every natural resource that we have today…put another way, the rest of us, on an average, consume a sixth of what an average US citizen does…even if you factor in waste, this consumption pattern is simply not sustainable. 

It hardly sounds credible for a country that consumes this much to advice the rest of the world (particularly the parts that are still struggling with a fraction of these resources) to make “wise choices” that do not harm the environment. 

And yet in almost every article that I read about global warming and carbon emission, there Is mention of how the growth in China and India (and the consumption patterns and choices followed by their citizens) will shape our environment in the decades to come. Thrown in, oftentimes is “advice” (no doubt, well-meant) to these countries to do more (e.g. control pollution, reduce emissions, decrease reliance on environmentally-unfriendly sources of power such as coal etc) 

Of all the countries in the world, the US is perhaps least qualified to take the high ground on global warming and carbon emissions. In spite of being the biggest generator of smokestack and tailpipe gases (which almost everyone agrees has contributed to global warming), it refuses to ratify Kyoto or accept clear emission reduction targets. 

Against this backdrop, calls to other countries to do something about global warming sound hollow at best and hypocritical at worst. 

China and India badly need energy and power. There is such an enormous need for it (and such a severe existing shortage) that they will probably choose any viable option…and development needs are so acute that there is unlikely to be room for long-term, strategic decision-making in the choices that are being made. This is not to justify the situation but that’s probably the way it is and will be in the short term. 

What can the rest of the world do in such a situation? For one, open its purse strings and offer access to leading environmentally-friendly technologies – at a price that is viable and feels practical. This would mean that in some cases at least some of these technologies would need to be shared for *free*. 

But neither people nor countries like *free* gifts – so such access to technology must be linked to commitments towards their usage. 

Unless (and until) this happens, I am afraid more coal-based plants will be built, more river waters will be polluted and more land will be lost to deforestation.  Secondly, by consciously and visibly reducing their consumption of natural resources, energy. Again, the US is best placed to take the lead in this regard – that does not mean that the rest of the developed world bears no responsibility.  

It burns my heart to see taxi drivers in Japan sleeping in their taxis with the engine running and the air-conditioning “on”…or to see over-sized vehicles across US (it is difficult to call them “cars”) being driven to shopping malls just a couple of miles away – usually with no one except the driver in them. 

Spare a thought for the poor farmer or the labourer making a daily trek of a few miles in the heat and cold of India and China. 

Think where would we be if a third of humanity (China and India) consumes the way America does? …think what might happen if we globalize consumption – US style. 

November 18th, 2006 Posted by | Development Issues, Globalization | no comments

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