Problem 1 - The Two and One-Half Billion People

   This post concludes the serialization of the first chapter of the Original Green [Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability].

   I promised that this first chapter would be the bad news of the book, but the discussion on the conserving economy swerved firmly into good news instead. But let’s close this chapter with a sobering discussion of the most massive piece of bad news that’s out there: it’s a problem of immensely large numbers.

   Until now, the world’s biggest ecological disaster was the American middle-class lifestyle. Sprawl, super-sizing, and slurping of the lion’s share of the world’s resources has had a huge impact, but that’s about to change... because today, there are 2-1/2 billion people living in China and India, who have until now lived within agrarian societies, consuming very few resources per person.

   But now, their countries are industrializing, and the 2-1/2 billion are moving off the land and into the cities, just as millions of Americans did during the Great Decline. And as the 2-1/2 billion move into the cities, they come face-to-face with images of something they may never have seen before: the American middle-class lifestyle. And they want it. And who are we to tell them they can’t have it? How could we even attempt to do that?

   The problem is obvious: the environmental problems we have now get multiplied by seven in just a few years because there will be seven times as many people trying to live the American middle-class lifestyle. Imagine in seven to ten years when a billion cars that don’t even exist today get on the roads in China and India. What will that do to the price of gas? What will that do to air quality? What will that do to the global climate?

   So the world’s biggest ecological disaster is no longer the American middle-class lifestyle, but rather the export of the image of the American middle-class lifestyle. We haven’t even begun to understand the impacts of multiplying our problems by seven. Is there any question as to whether it’s time to find better ways of solving these problems than what we’re currently doing?

~ Steve Mouzon

© The Guild Foundation 2013