Why an expanding global middle class is going to cause us all problems
Much has been made of recent announcements that the world’s population is not going to peak at 9 billion in 2050, but will rather increase for the rest of the century, hitting over 11 billion by 2100. This is clearly a major concern. More people mean more things that people need: more food, more water, more “stuff”. All of that will put further pressure on a planet that is already finding it increasingly difficult to manage the 7 billion people that already exist.
But there is another demographic change that is even worse: an expanding middle class. Lots of poor, hungry, people don’t make a huge impact on world resources. What does make a big difference is the middle class, who want higher protein diets and more material wealth.
According to the Sierra Club:
…between 1900 and 1989 U.S. population tripled while its use of raw materials grew by a factor of 17. “With less than 5 percent of world population, the U.S. uses one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper,” he reports. “Our per capita use of energy, metals, minerals, forest products, fish, grains, meat, and even fresh water dwarfs that of people living in the developing world.”
He adds that the U.S. ranks highest in most consumer categories by a considerable margin, even among industrial nations. To wit, American fossil fuel consumption is double that of the average resident of Great Britain and two and a half times that of the average Japanese. Meanwhile, Americans account for only five percent of the world’s population but create half of the globe’s solid waste.
Electric power consumption in the United States was a staggering 13,395 kWh per capita in 2010, but by contrast, in China and India, it was just 2,944 and 626 kWh per capita, respectively.
As Asia’s middle class expands they will demand the same levels of consumption enjoyed in the US and the West. But according to the OECD:
The size of the “global middle class” will increase from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030. The bulk of this growth will come from Asia: by 2030 Asia will represent 66% of the global middle-class population and 59% of middle-class consumption, compared to 28% and 23%, respectively in 2009.
That level of middle class growth with the multiplier of their desired resource consumption is going to cause significant strain on our planet.
How are we going to manage?