3rd world impact of western global warming politics
May 13, 2005 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Western societies seem intent on maintaining standards of living with unsustainable consumption rates. The resultant world ecological debt has caused climate changes that arguably have greatest impact on the world's poorest nations. World Wildlife Fund-UK reviews the prospects for sustainable consumption while a Canadian academic group releases a paper identifying the top 10 areas in nanotechnology that could help reduce 3rd world poverty.[MI] previous
posted by peacay (48 comments total)
This link to a 16.5.05 New Statesman article was meant to be included in the 2nd sentence of the post. I read the article and then my computer crashed. Now the site wants money from me. So I'm not sure if it's a once only read or if the 24hr deadline is up and everyone has to pay. It was this article that contrasted the ideas of western ecological debt versus 3rd world monetary debt/poverty and was basically the reason for constructing this post. I won't try and paraphrase it, but suffice it to say that it wasn't my personal idea to marry up global warming with 3rd world poverty. However... res ipsa loquitur
posted by peacay at 8:03 AM on May 13, 2005

This is entirely serious question because I don't *get* what this is about.

If the problem is the consumption of resources and the "footprint" of each individual, then how does helping the third world alleviate that? That is, if we bring the entire third world into the first (?) world, then don't we just bring billions of more consumers into the fold thereby adding more consumption and creating a larger footprint?

An unrelated subquestion is whether it is possible to reduce the "3rd world" or poverty. Whatever the relative standard is, there will always be those that are on the bottom of the lists of poverty and advancement...
posted by dios at 8:36 AM on May 13, 2005

Incredibly I actually agree with dios here. I'm going to wash my hands repeatedly now for having typed that.
posted by clevershark at 8:39 AM on May 13, 2005

Did those academics actually get paid to write about what uninvented devices will solve world hunger? I didn't see any mention of the tricorder.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:46 AM on May 13, 2005

Well, I think you've got several issues here - one, that we should find ways to reduce western consumption to address environmental impact concerns, and two, that we should find sustainable methods to alleviate third world poverty without increasing their environmental impact to first-world levels.

so ultimately the problems are the inequity of our rates of consumption when there are those who have too little for even basic subsistence living, and that while we need to address these issues, we need to do so while setting an example of sustainability, not wanton consumption.
posted by stenseng at 9:16 AM on May 13, 2005

we need to address these issues, we need to do so while setting an example of sustainability, not wanton consumption.

No one is stopping you from setting whatever example(s) you'd like.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:25 AM on May 13, 2005

And no one's stopping you from being a willfully ignorant self-indulgent snark. Welcome to America. However, if we are to put any stock at all in the work of the best minds in environmental science, AS A SOCIETY, we're going to have to cut back our consumption methods and models drastically.

Further, if we really as a society place any stock in the principles that we are all created equal, and that we are all endowed with inalienable rights, such as life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, then we must come to the conclusion that it's immoral and un-American in principle for any person, regardless of race or nationality, to go without, when the resources are available to prevent it.
posted by stenseng at 9:44 AM on May 13, 2005

The environmental movement and the American Left have, to their credit, been eager to call bullshit on the lies (err, spin) unashamedly and relentlessly peddled by the administration; meanwhile they make claims such as "we're going to have to cut back our consumption methods and models drastically," while conveniently ignoring the authoritarianism and costs (implicit and explicit) necessitated by such a regimen.

Not to mention the whopper that a policy of coerced redistribution necessarily follows "inalienable rights, such as life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness."
posted by Kwantsar at 9:57 AM on May 13, 2005

In other words, I was calling you out for "framing the issue," a practice for which your fellow travelers routinely excoriate your ideological opponents.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:58 AM on May 13, 2005

Thanks stenseng.

This post derives from the coincidence of timing of these 3 articles....

1. The New Statesman thingy which I only briefly read (but it was the first one I saw and I then found these next two, wrote the FPP, went out for a smoke and kaplooy! - pc crashed) -- so if someone wants to email the N.Statesman article to me I'd be grateful - that was the main article and I'll concede the line of thought of the FPP is a bit less than crystal clear without it being front and centre.

2. The about article the UK govt. having the chair for G8 and not carrying through on promised funding to '3rd world' (just leaving aside Dios's semanticophilosophical observation about that term) countries to help them fund global warming reduction initiatives.

3. The publication about the nanotech review -- and rolypolyman, that sort of study may have somewhat arguably ethereal qualities to it, but it is meant to give the govts of poorer nations (and the nanotech. world at large too) some ideas about what a bunch of leading medico-scientists think are the nanotech strategies that will most effectively help in reducing 'poverty' (& health related) -- "the most urgent problems".

The (arguably tenuous) line between all these (just discounting the 'filler' articles, which are relevant but perhaps tangential) -- the idea being put forward by New Statesman is that poorer nations face substantial monetary debts which are at least partly (but I think the article was much more vehement than I am articulating) due to the consumption rate of the western world and its contribution to global warming -- and that these climactic effects have caused more naturual disasters (floods, el nino, droughts) that have had a greater impact on those very same poor nations who are waylaid with debt -- they are thus being hit with 1.massive foreign debt from among other things the high cost of fossil fuels that in turn derives from western consumption rates (generalized, yes) that are greatly limiting their ability to provide better social care (leaving aside the question of their political systems for the moment) 2.natural disaster consequences which are due (yes, in part, but substantial nonetheless) to western consumption/global warming effects.
And then we have Blair dancing around promised assistance and the wellknown line of the American adminstration to fundamentally question the existence of this thing they call 'global warming'.

Ummm......does that kind of show the line of reasoning? The WWF article on sustainable consumption came out yesterday also -- that's why it's included; I didn't really go looking for a hippy angle particularly - but of course our attitudes to personal consumption/car use patterns/ political pressuring etc all come into this.
posted by peacay at 10:01 AM on May 13, 2005

If the problem is the consumption of resources and the "footprint" of each individual, then how does helping the third world alleviate that?

Kind of a development on what stenseng said, but I think the fundamental crux of it is this. If you tell Americans (who we'll let stand in for the whole first world for a minute here) "we all need to consume less and have a suckier life in order to save the planet," people are going to remain in denial, because that idea is unappealing to everyone (except luddites and ascetics). But if you put it more in terms of "we need to live within our means," and then follow that up with efficiency-increasing and consumption reducing technologies, then you stand a chance of winning people over (it would also help to re-jigger the incentive structure to make people internalize the costs of disproportionately high consumption). So basically it comes down to a focus on keeping our standard of living as high as possible while bringing our consumption in line with feasible limits.

Now, you can take all those same technologies and spread them among the third world, and that would conceptually allow them to reap all the benefits of our high (albeit slightly less high that at present) standard of living, with correspondingly fewer of the detrimental effects to the environment. It's a little pie-in-the-sky, along the same lines as all those theories that dumping a lot of computers and cell phones on the third world would allow them to "skip over" the industrial revolution and go straight to the information society, or something.

But the reason those efforts failed (arguably, at least) is that they did little to impact the lives of 3rd world people in ways that were relevant to their actual problems; for example, sending a lot of computers to Kenya doesn't provide electricity for them, it doesn't cure malaria or AIDS, and it doesn't fix famine conditions in part of the country. Whether it would be a different story to, e.g., replacing all fossil fuel generation with renewable sources is anyone's guess. You could argue either way.

An unrelated subquestion is whether it is possible to reduce the "3rd world" or poverty. Whatever the relative standard is, there will always be those that are on the bottom of the lists of poverty and advancement...

This is a bit of a specious argument; of course there will always be 2 ends to the income distribution spectrum, but the lower end need not be SO low. There has been real progress in the last couple of decades, particularly in India and China, towards seriously reducing the number of people who live in extreme poverty. The overall income gap is widening, interestingly, but it appears this is not inconsistent with bringing people out of poverty.
posted by rkent at 10:09 AM on May 13, 2005

What alternative do you propose to a significant reduction in consumption?

Do you believe that it's ethical for us to continue our current rate of consumption unchecked?

Do you believe it's in keeping with the values this nation was founded upon to allow significant portions of human society to go without needlessly?

Also, no one but YOU mentioned anything about authoritarian measures, coerced redistribution, or fellow travelers.

I'm not advocating FORCING anyone to do anything, I'm simply suggesting that common sense, the preponderance of scientific evidence, and a functional sense of what is and is not moral and ethical, should lead to aforementioned conclusions.

Can't hack the argument? Have to make pejorative socialist insinuations instead? How original.
posted by stenseng at 10:11 AM on May 13, 2005

Oh...the upshot is this: N.Statesman reckons western world should write-off 3rd world debt because they're essentially the cause of it. Big thesis? Yes. But a worthy argument nonetheless. gah! I often seem to get dragged into my own posts against my better judgment And on preview...rkent writes much more betterly than moi.
posted by peacay at 10:12 AM on May 13, 2005

So let me see that I understand the logic:

1. Americans drive SUVs.
2. This causes the cost of gas going up because of supply and demand.
3. The cost going up causes third world nations to go into debt to afford expensive gas.
4. Americans SUVs cause tsunamis/doughts in arid parts of the world because of whatever.
5. Third world also goes into debt to alleviate effects of the tsunamis.
6. This is bad for the environmet and the third world.

The fix of this is to help the third world out financially so that they can afford to use expensive gas and SUVs?

Or, to cut our consumption down to the point where supply and demand makes it cheap enough for third world countries to use gas and SUVs cheaply? Or simply, transfering the use of such things to a different source.

Seems either way, we are incresing the ecological footprint.
posted by dios at 10:14 AM on May 13, 2005

Oh yeah. I realize that, in economic terms, "standard of living" is pretty much defined in terms of how much we consume, but I was trying to point at the difference between consumption of raw resources (especially in ways that damage the environment) and economic consumption, i.e., the purchase of goods and services. It seems like the next major technological push will have to be towards keeping economic consumption up, while reducing ecological consumption.

Either that, or figuring out how to grow crops in a huge dust bowl at the middle latitudes.
posted by rkent at 10:19 AM on May 13, 2005

Dios, I don't think anyone limited this to consumption of fossil fuels. We're talking about general resource consumption, it's level of efficiency, and it's net environmental impact.

everything from how much electricity we use, how much hydrocarbon based plastics we recycle, how much food we consume, how those foods are grown and transported.

What we're talking about is developing a general increase in efficiency of resource management. Both to reduce our own ecological footprint here in the first world, and as a set of "best practices" to export to developing nations.
posted by stenseng at 10:24 AM on May 13, 2005

If the problem is the consumption of resources and the "footprint" of each individual, then how does helping the third world alleviate that?

The fix of this is to help the third world out financially so that they can afford to use expensive gas and SUVs?

No, the idea is to help the third world because we (in industrialized nations) have taken many of their natural resources by force or by capital.

It's not a matter of giving third-worlders SUVs to drive. It's more a matter of making sure they don't starve and that their land isn't destroyed.

Did you read the New Statesman article? (I know there's a variety of diversions in the post itself.)

The ecological debt problem of climate change, if it is to be solved, will still require a proper global framework, eventually giving everybody on the planet an equal entitlement to emit greenhouse gases, and allowing those who under-emit to trade with those who wish to over-emit. But such efforts will be hollow unless the argument to cut consumption can be won at household level.

To refuse the challenge would be the deepest hypocrisy. We have demanded that the world's poorest countries reshape their economies to pay service on dodgy foreign debts. It would be an appalling double standard now to suggest that we couldn't afford either to help developing countries adapt to climate change, or to cut our emissions by the 80-90 per cent considered necessary.

The language of restraint on public spending permeates our public discourse, yet the concept of living within our environmental means still escapes mainstream economics. That will have to change.

Well said.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:25 AM on May 13, 2005

Dios, I think your "The Argument Is About SUVs" summary is a bit disingenuous. Your argument seems to be:

1. We consume a lot because we can
2. If we stop consuming a lot, there will be more left over
3. Someone else will consume it if we don't
4. There is no hope

The idea is broader than simply SUVs and fuel costs, though that's a component. Even SUVs are only one manifestation of the problem -- we have a terribly inefficient and wasteful transportation infrastructure. We're cutting funding for public transportation here in Chicago, which only promises to make things worse.

If we seek to develop 'low footprint' technologies and approaches, we can maintain a reasonable standard of living with much less resource consumption. When we've hammered them out, they can ALSO be used in the third world to increase the standard of living without increasing their footprint to classic 'First World' size.

What baffles me is that Endless-Resource proponents like the Cato Institute and others have always said this was the SOLUTION. "We're humans! We'll invent new things and come up with new approaches! Everyone will benefit!" But when one tries to advocate that, so many people shoot it down as being a bad thing. As if waste is a virtue.
posted by verb at 10:34 AM on May 13, 2005

Ok. I think I'm getting closer to understanding what the point of all this is.

It's a green issue. We have to save mother earth.
Or is it a reparations issue: we use a lot of resources, we should pay people for what we did.
Or is it an equality issue? Whatever we got, other should have too.

Or is it all of the above?

Is the end game of this sort of rhetoric that we all live in a completely sustainable eco-friendly enviornment1, and that we are all equal in relative wealth, access to resources and standard of living?

1 This idea ignores the obvious problems of population growth and technology needing energy.
posted by dios at 10:34 AM on May 13, 2005

Okay, stenseng, you're content to say "we need to consume less," and leave it at that? Leaving the shoe to magically hover in mid-air? Because if you're simply making value judgments for kicks and giggles, I retract my criticism, and I apologize for interrupting your onanism.

And to answer your questions: None, I believe that my consumption is ethical, and even if I felt that yours wasn't I'd mind my own fucking business, yes. I can hack your argument, and I hardly think that following your statements to the conclusions that inevitably follow them constitutes "mak(ing) pejorative socialist insinuations."
posted by Kwantsar at 10:35 AM on May 13, 2005

Nice ahhh... streamlining there dios. Umm...no: the point wasn't so much about giving 3rd world SUVs -- the point is that if they aren't paying 1/2 their GDP (that figure was quoted in N.Statesman for Mozambique if I remember correctly) for servicing debt (primarily to IMF) then they will be better able to tackle fundamental social problems that all of us here never have to deal with -- 'poverty' for wont of a further thesis, if you will (just sidestepping urban western 'poverty' I know). Eradicating debt is to give them the opportunities that our nations were founded upon and the global warming is the WHY WE OWE IT TO THEM.
This is a BIG thing -- debt & global warming & increasing health qualities in 3rd world & individual reductions in western consumption leading to less pollution & thus less global warming & thus less deleterious effects upon these nations. The 'ecological footprint' is a term from the WWF - it has a place and yes, of course, if you raise the standard of living of a few billion people then such effects will only increase (to what extent may be at least partly the function of things like what the nanotech group advocate) - but without debt, these nations would be better able to eradicate deprivations our societies have never really encountered. And arguing from the point of view that raising 3rd world living standards will be bad for the environment is disingenuous - we created their debts.
posted by peacay at 10:37 AM on May 13, 2005

dios: Or is it all of the above?

Kind of, yeah. But I'm not approaching this from a political lefty world hugging standpoint. Rather, based on the reasonable conclusion that 1st world consumption has been responsible for a lot of 3rd world self sufficiency monetary problems, it is OUR debt. Balance sheet. We have used 3rd world credit to fund our lifestyles. We must eradicate the debt. We need to pay our dues is the argument overall --- but to get to there you have to examine such things as global warming and its origins.
posted by peacay at 10:42 AM on May 13, 2005

Nice little trick there, Dios. "Technology requires energy. Therefore, developing energy-efficient technology still requires energy. It's a waste!"

No one's talking about making a perpetual motion machine; even things like attacking cultural expectations of having a green, lush front yard in the middle of the Arizona desert would cut down our use of water. That doesn't magically make us creatures-who-don't-use-water, but it does reduce things in a measurable way with little impact on 'quality of life.' That's not 'the point' but one small example of the kinds of changes we can begin to make.

Saying that it's pointless because the population still grows and technology takes energy is like saying that cutting one's living expenses is pointless, because we still have to eat something. No one is suggesting starvation -- just cutting back on the nightly prime rib basted in Saudi crude.
posted by verb at 10:53 AM on May 13, 2005

We need to pay our dues is the argument overall.

"Reagan proved deficits don't matter."
--Dick Cheney

That's the attitude you're up against, peacay.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:54 AM on May 13, 2005

Kind of a side note, but I think a lot of 1st World consumption could be reduced without actually decreasing quality of life one bit. Your perceived "standard of living" is largely a matter of expectations, which are often shaped by advertising. But you don't have to buy everything you see on TV to have a comfortable life. I can't speak for other 1st World countries, but I'd guess that at least 30% of American consumer spending is on stuff that could be omitted without any impact on health, comfort, or safety. Fashions change faster than clothes actually wear out, so we rush to buy new clothes. Some people have to have a new car every 3 years or so. Even stupid little things like cell phone cover plates: there are posters in the metro here encouraging teenagers to get a new cover with a picture of their latest boyfriend (the ads are clearly aimed at girls) every time they dump the previous loser. If you cut out crap like that, you could probably reduce our footprint considerably, especially when you account for the associated packaging and transportation costs.
posted by Quietgal at 11:02 AM on May 13, 2005

"4. Americans SUVs cause tsunamis/doughts in arid parts of the world because of whatever."

I totally want a Toyota Tsunami.
posted by weston at 11:14 AM on May 13, 2005

OK -- just so everyone is on the level playing field -- here is the New Statesman article. And for the record, it's their 1st world ecological v 3rd world monetary debt thesis -- not mine. It's just something that caught my attention. I don't disagree and note it to be in a practicality sense, very complex.
But I'll stand by all the FPP links - they are only 'diversions' if you don't take proper regard for all these (very fucking big) angles to the fundamental intertwined 'problems'......and thanks whoever it was for the email

"Why we owe so much to victims of disaster
Andrew Simms
Monday 16th May 2005

At the G8 summit, Brown and Blair should think of our debts to Africans, not
theirs to us. We have stolen their share of the planet's resources. By Andrew

If you want to know how to tackle global warming, try the simple wisdom of
Wilkins Micawber in Dickens's David Copperfield. "Annual income twenty pounds,
annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness," he
said. "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and
six, result misery."

It is rarely understood this way, but climate change is really a problem of
debt. Not a cash debt, but an ecological one. Environmentally, we're living way
beyond our means, spending more than the bank of the earth and the atmosphere
can replace in our accounts. It is this debt - not the hole in the nation's
public spending plans - that ought to have been the subject of the election
campaign. And it is this debt - not the financial debts of poor nations to rich
- that should guide the thinking of the Chancellor and other western leaders as
they approach the G8 summit in July.

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have set Africa and global warming as the summit's
key themes. Yet newly released documents reveal one of the government's more
embarrassing oversights. It was agreed at an international summit, more than
three years ago, to create a special pot of money to help poor countries cope
with climate change. Britain, alone among major European aid donors, has failed
to contribute to the "Least Developed Countries Fund".

For years, we have been pilfering from the natural resource accounts of the
rest of the world. When the people of Asia, Africa and Latin America decide
they want to spend their fair share of nature's equity, either it won't be
there or we could be on the verge of a crash in its already overstretched
banking system. If the whole world wanted to live like people in the UK, we
would need the natural resources of three more planets. If the US were the
model, we would need five.

It's not just that we owe these countries for our profligate use of the
planet's resources. It is also that they suffer the worst effects of our
overuse. The most vulnerable people in the poorest countries - particularly
children and women - are in effect paying the interest on our ecological debts.
According to the World Disasters Report, the number of mostly climate-related
disasters rose from just over 400 a year in 1994-98 to more than 700 a year in
1999-2003, with the biggest rise in the poorest countries.

The sight of a Mozambican woman giving birth in a tree during the great storms
of 2000 is seared into the world's consciousness. Mozambique was desperately
poor and burdened with debt payments. The floods were the worst for 150 years.
Not only had its potential to develop been mismanaged by western creditors,
Mozambique was left more vulnerable because it had to choose between preparing
for disasters or spending its meagre resources on health and education. Now, in
a warming world, Africa's rainfall, so crucial to its farming, is about to
become even more erratic.

The story is similar outside Africa. In the mid- to late 1990s, at the height
of the Jubilee 2000 debt cancellation campaign, nearly half the Jamaican
government's spending went on debt service. The island is rich in natural
resources, but it was getting harder for it to earn a living from exporting
crops such as sugar and bananas. Yet, under pressure from the IMF and the World
Bank, the money available for social programmes in Jamaica was halved.

Angela Stultz-Crawle, a local woman who ran a project in Bennetlands, Kingston
to provide basic health and education services, saw the consequences at first
hand: reductions in health programmes, in education, in road repairs, in
lights. "Just walking around," she said, "you see people living in dirt yards,
scrap-board houses. It is repaying. Every day you hear the government come out
and say, 'Oh, we have met our IMF deadlines, we have paid,' and everyone
claps." Again, Jamaica is particularly vulnerable to the extreme weather that
climate change will make more frequent. Last year alone, two major hurricanes,
Ivan and Charley, skirted its shores.

So across the developing world, the poorest people suffer from two crises, to
neither of which they contributed: financial debt (which their governments are
repaying) and ecological debt (which our governments aren't repaying).

In case after case - the IMF-approved kleptocracy of Mobutu's Zaire, the
collu-sion with corruption, asset-stripping and violence in Nigeria's oilfields
- the responsibility for financial debts lies at least as much in western
capitals as in developing countries in the south. Yet, to win paltry debt
relief, poor countries had to swallow the economic-policy equivalent of horse
pills. Even the Financial Times commented that the IMF "probably ruined as many
economies as they have saved". Yet we still expect poor countries to repay most
of their debts, despite the effects on their people's lifestyles. Rich
countries, faced with ecological debt, will not even give up the
four-wheel-drive school run.

The widening global gap in wealth was built on ecological debts. And today's
economic superpowers soon became as successful in their disproportionate
occupation of the atmosphere with carbon emissions as they were in colonial
times with their military occupation of the terrestrial world. Until the Second
World War, they managed this atmospheric occupation largely through exploiting
their own fossil-fuel reserves. But from around 1950 they became increasingly
dependent on energy imports. By 1998, the wealthiest fifth of the world was
consuming 68 per cent of commercially produced energy; the poorest fifth, 2 per

In 2002, many rich countries were pumping out more carbon dioxide per person
than they were a decade earlier, when they signed the UN Framework Convention
on Climate Change. Now, with Africa and climate change at the top of the G8
summit agenda, there couldn't be a better time for a little paradigm shift. If
Blair and Brown want to show leadership, they could relabel the G8 as the
inaugural meeting of the ecological debtors' club, and start discussing how to
pay back their creditors down south.

But is there any chance that the advanced industrial economies could make the
cuts in consumption needed to clear their debts? Perhaps we should ask the
women recently seen reminiscing about VE Day, women who during the world war
had to keep house under severe constraints. After all, global warming is now
described as a threat more serious than war or terrorism. Drawing on articles
in Good Housekeeping, and on guides with such titles as Feeding Cats and Dogs
in Wartime or Sew and Save, they enormously reduced household consumption - use
of electrical appliances, for example, dropped 82 per cent - while at the same
time dramatically improving the nation's health.

The ecological debt problem of climate change, if it is to be solved, will
still require a proper global framework, eventually giving everybody on the
planet an equal entitlement to emit greenhouse gases, and allowing those who
under-emit to trade with those who wish to over-emit. But such efforts will be
hollow unless the argument to cut consumption can be won at household level.

To refuse the challenge would be the deepest hypocrisy. We have demanded that
the world's poorest countries reshape their economies to pay service on dodgy
foreign debts. It would be an appalling double standard now to suggest that we
couldn't afford either to help developing countries adapt to climate change, or
to cut our emissions by the 80-90 per cent considered necessary.

The language of restraint on public spending permeates our public discourse,
yet the concept of living within our environmental means still escapes
mainstream economics. That will have to change. "Balancing nature's books"
could be the simple language that enables the green movement to resonate with
the public. Imagine opening a letter from the bank over breakfast to learn
that, instead of your usual overdraft, you had an ecological debt that
threatened the planet. I wouldn't want to be there when the bailiffs called for
that one.

Andrew Simms's Ecological Debt: the health of the planet and the wealth of
nations is published this month by Pluto Books (£12.99 from

This article first appeared in the New Statesman. For the latest in current and
cultural affairs subscribe to the New Statesman print edition."

posted by peacay at 11:17 AM on May 13, 2005

So this is a third world debt post. Thanks. I get it now.
posted by dios at 11:48 AM on May 13, 2005

I hope the complexities of hospital protection don't stretch you toooo much. Reductionism is a fine tool just like the apple peeler. Just remember to stop when you get to the core. But you may still remain hungry.
posted by peacay at 11:53 AM on May 13, 2005

Nice little trick there, Dios. "Technology requires energy. Therefore, developing energy-efficient technology still requires energy. It's a waste!"
posted by verb at 10:53 AM PST on May 13

That wasn't my point. My point is that 200 years ago, we didn't need much electricity. We now have an enormous and exponentially increasing technology industry. For instance, your computer, Ipod, TiVo, cell phone, MRI machine, tandem mass spectrometer, etc. all takes energy to run. And everyday, thousands of new things are invented. They all need energy. So, if we can make things use 1 battery instead of 3, that's great. Unfortunately, I will now have 2 more new things that need batteries.

We also have exponential population growth. A year from now instead of X number of people using an Ipod, it will be X+100000, etc. Instead of X people drinking and consuming fresh water, we have X+100000, etc. These are facts which are irreversible.

How is limiting my consumption going to change those effects? Can it offset it? It certainly can't eliminate it. At some point, even if I am consuming 1 unit of resources, the number of people will reach a level that it is still unsustainable.

Seems to me that bringing the third world into the first world will accelerate resource consumption. So maybe the wiser approach is to wait until the 1st world reaches this level of environmental perfectionism, and then work the 3rd world into the fold (if we are looking at this from purely a resource allocation angle).

In case you are wondering my point with all of this, it is pretty simple: focusing on consumption is completely pointless. The effect of demographics show that consumption is a losing argument (effective production is the only way to keep up). And it certainly seems like a losing proposition if we are going to focus on getting more consumers by bring more people into the heavy consumption world. If this is all about eliminating third world debt, then this environmental discussion is out of place. Apologies.
posted by dios at 12:04 PM on May 13, 2005

I think that one of the big downfalls in this country and across the first world is the over-emphasis on marketing departments and big business. Notice that the word 'consumer' has largely supplanted 'citizen'?

I think that ultimately things will become so bad that there will be a need to supplant democracy in this country (and perhaps others) to right the wrongs inflicted by dictators who have crowed about freedom and democracy while in fact withholding it both within and without worldwide, amidst accusations of a lack of patriotism in supporting 'my country right or wrong'.

Like Bush says "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier... just so long as I'm the dictator." (Dec. 18, 2000 - shortly after his contentious victory in the Supreme Court that resulted in his becoming president)

I think before this is all over we will have to acknowledge we do in fact live under a dictatorship and that our government is a sham and needs to be replaced, not only for the good of democracy and freedom here, but for the good of the entire world.

At that point we can concentrate on getting rid of all the marketing/big business/greed-inducing garbage that this society has been brainwashed into supporting.
posted by mk1gti at 12:06 PM on May 13, 2005

By the by -- here's the UK and USA sites for Andrew Simm's book: Ecological Debt. Guardian article by him March '05, New Statesman article Nov' 04
["Andrew Simms is Policy Director of the New Economics Foundation (a leading think-and-do tank in the UK working to create environmentally sound and socially just economies)"]
posted by peacay at 12:12 PM on May 13, 2005

dios: The effect of demographics show that consumption is a losing argument...

What do you mean by that exactly?

And it's just not so simple a world that when the subject of 3rd world debt is on the table that we must sidestep comingled issues such as consumption and global warming. They are married.
posted by peacay at 12:15 PM on May 13, 2005

mk1gti, do you ever get bored of sounding like such an ignorant Chicken Little? Obviously your understanding of the difference between democracy and dictatorship is as pathetic as your understanding of history and tyranny. Seems to me that we just had an election (and we will have another in about a year) which shows that you are complete moron when you say things like "We will have acknowledge we do in fact live under a dictatorship." It is so completely ignorant what you are saying that I am amazed that people who agree with you about Bush aren't embarrassed that you are a fellow traveller.
posted by dios at 12:16 PM on May 13, 2005

"So this is a third world debt post."

Seems more like a reparations post to me. Simms is arguing that the rich countries have large obligations to the poor countries, based on their past emissions of greenhouse gases (beyond a sustainable level, i.e. a level that wouldn't change the climate).

In more detail:

Suppose that you have a renewable resource R. It can be harvested at a rate r indefinitely. (If R is CO2 emissions, r would be the number of billion tonnes of CO2 that can be emitted annually without destabilizing the climate.)

If R is jointly owned by n individuals, and we assume that each individual has an equal right to the resource R, then each individual would have an entitlement to harvest the resource at a rate r/n. (For CO2 emissions, n would be the total world population, since the global atmosphere is shared.) Individuals could trade these entitlements: someone who wanted to use more of the resource could buy the rights of someone who didn't need it. So the entitlements could be given a price.

If R is being harvested at an _unsustainable_ rate, this would correspond to "borrowing" against future consumption of R; and the individuals consuming R would acquire an obligation (debt) to reduce their future consumption of R. Again, these obligations could be traded, so they could be given a price.

The point of Simms' article is that the rich countries are rapidly accumulating an unmeasured debt to the poor countries, based on their excessive emissions of CO2; and that to be fair, these debts should be repaid.

Of course, we don't live in a fair world, and we don't have mechanisms to allocate, price, and enforce these entitlements and obligations, either past or current. In practice, the monetary value of such debts would have to be negotiated, and the poor countries don't have much to bargain with.

Personally, I'm concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, but I think trying to tie it to the effects on poor countries isn't that useful. I think you have to convince people that it's in their _own_ interests to avoid destabilizing the climate, e.g. because screwing up the Gulf Stream will have catastrophic effects on Western Europe's climate, or because global warming will lead to horrific droughts in North America. You need a mechanism to divide up the resource among countries (e.g. Kyoto), to avoid the free rider problem. And then you have to make the connection between individual interests and the collective (national) interest, e.g. through carbon taxes, tradable permits, subsidies to encourage greater energy efficiency, awareness campaigns, better technology that's more energy-efficient / emits less carbon dioxide, etc.
posted by russilwvong at 12:19 PM on May 13, 2005

peacay, I thought I explained that, but let me try again.

Suppose I consume 10 units of resources. Demographics show that eventually there will 10 people for every one of me. So even if all 10 of us limit our consumption to 1 unit, the next result is the same--10 units consumed(and you already have told us that it is unsustainable). The effect of population growth/demographics shows that we will ultimately lose the fight...
posted by dios at 12:20 PM on May 13, 2005

Well said, russilwvong.
posted by dios at 12:21 PM on May 13, 2005

Why worry? The next ice age will take care of overconsumption.
posted by MillMan at 12:28 PM on May 13, 2005

dios, that is quite an interesting hypothetical. I'm not sure if you plan on following it up by connecting it to reality, but that would be an even more interesting exercise.

Even given your reductionist premise, I would say that reducing one's consumption to "one resource unit" would be good. Why not? It sounds like you're using c'est-la-vie-cynicism as an excuse for inaction.

Unless of course I'm completely confused by what you're saying; I am advocating the development of lower-impact technologies. In other words, reducing our consumption. As we figure out ways to have high standards of living with lower impact, the Third World has better opportunities to improve without thoroughly shredding the planet as well.

All of your statements to date seem to conclude with a shoulder-shrug of "Why should we bother?" and I can't help but see this as depressingly narcissistic. Why, indeed, should we bother to do anything but sit on a luxurious leather SUV seat while watching DVDs in the dashboard while stuck in rush hour traffic to get to a steak dinner in a city with no public transportation?
posted by verb at 12:33 PM on May 13, 2005

Thanks, dios.

George Washington: "A small knowledge of human nature will convince us, that, with far the greatest part of mankind, interest is the governing principle; and that almost every man is more or less, under its influence. Motives of public virtue may for a time, or in particular instances, actuate men to the observance of a conduct purely disinterested; but they are not of themselves sufficient to produce persevering conformity to the refined dictates and obligations of social duty. Few men are capable of making a continual sacrifice of all views of private interest, or advantage, to the common good. It is vain to exclaim against the depravity of human nature on this account; the fact is so, the experience of every age and nation has proved it and we must in a great measure, change the constitution of man, before we can make it otherwise. No institution, not built on the presumptive truth of these maxims can succeed."

I don't think it's possible to solve the environmental problem if we assume that as a starting point, we have to change human nature and get individuals to act against their self-interest, on behalf of people everywhere.

I think a better starting point would be to try to get people to think more about their individual _longer-term_ interests (e.g. it's prudent to save for retirement instead of overspending on short-term consumption), and possibly more about the collective _national_ interest (e.g. reducing oil consumption will reduce the flow of cash to the Middle East, and indirectly to groups like al-Qaeda, so maybe higher gas taxes / fuel-efficiency standards are a good idea).
posted by russilwvong at 12:44 PM on May 13, 2005

"AS A SOCIETY, we're going to have to cut back our consumption methods"
Dream on, Alice.
"if we really as a society place any stock..."
We don't. Before you get America to give a fuck about the rest of the world, you are going to have get America to give a fuck about the poor, the needy and the environment within our own borders. Good luck there, Superman.
posted by mischief at 12:46 PM on May 13, 2005


Do you ever get tired of sounding like an apologist for tyranny? This is a country of royalists and supplicating boot-lickers. Which category do you fall into? As for me, I'm an American who has lived through the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and into this century. Since that time I've seen this country dive straight into the crapper. Anyone who knows this country's history knows about the fight against the carpet baggers and robber barons, persons who now control this country and revel in it.
You strike me as bootlicker. Lick my boots?
posted by mk1gti at 1:27 PM on May 13, 2005

how does helping the third world alleviate that?

This reminds me of the argument regarding birth control and resource use. Each of us westerners uses a *vastly* greater share of world resources than a third-worlder, yet what is our focus? Third world birth control. Partly because we don't want to/can't tell people here that they can't have as many kids as they want -- it's a "god given" right. Of course, a clean water source or arable land does no good to a third world family if it's in my backyard, so birth control makes sense in every resource pool, but we refuse to put the focus on ourselves.

If you tell Americans (who we'll let stand in for the whole first world for a minute here) "we all need to consume less and have a suckier life in order to save the planet," people are going to remain in denial

Long time ago, when I worked for Greenpeace, we were discussing the "three R's" (reduce, reuse, and recycle if I have to tell you) and how to work toward incorporating this into people's lives. It was decided, sadly but with some truth, that the emphasis should be put on recycling. While one is supposed to follow these in order -- because if you reduce you don't *have* to waste the resources to make the commodity in the first place nevermind reuse it, and if you reuse you don't have to remanufacture for use again, but the fact was, the other two would mean impacting on people's lives, even if only in a minor way. Easier to have people separate their garbage, and even that they don't do very well. (and at the same time, tell themselves "I'm doing my part")

Anyway, leave people their illusions that the "developing world" can reach our level of comfort without us giving up anything (yeah, those coffee bean pickers really appreciate their rate of pay so I can have my dollar coffee) or the world giving up on us as a species (plummeting viable sperm rates, anyone?). When the bulk of westerners figure out that fair distribution means *no one* having what we have now, we're going to see behaviour and attitudes that make us think our current contemporaries are angels in comparison.
posted by dreamsign at 7:53 PM on May 13, 2005

This is a message I wrote about 7 hours ago before going to bed -- I emailed dios and he was going to post it on my behalf if the server came back up. To be fair, I won't edit it.

dios: What do you mean by that exactly? - forget that - didn't read your post properly. I see what you're saying. I completely disagree with you, but I do see what you're saying.

We owe the 3rd world BIG time. Eradicate the debt.
We are overburdening our limited resources -- we have to develop the means to reduce per capita consumption. There's been thoughtful contributions up thread about the banal underpinnings of our western capitalistic societies (and I'm not going to the rep-lib whipping post because I'm outside of USA) -- such as the phone panel advertizing and consumerocentric portrayal of the modern (erstwhile) citizen -- these aren't merely token representations, they are fundamental flaws in unchecked circumstances, given the global warming considerations. Do we demand it or are we lulled and bamboozled into becoming these consumer driven buyerbots?
It's not working. These small consumerist promoting things, when added, all together give rise to the assertions by Simms that we need 5 planets to fulfill the whole world's consumption levels if they were to match those of USA.
The facts are in and the earth is on the slide. We can't just rely upon the notional hope for production efficiencies of the future. Manufacturing and business are concerned almost exclusively with return to the shareholders so they can't be relied upon to address these global problems. This is why, on this topic anyway, I don't see it as sooo much a political science discourse. It's mathematical or algebraic at it's most simplest. It may well be that right wing thinking applauds the striving and manouvering of businesses to latch onto the elusive dollar by all means, but it just won't stack up on any premise anymore in the presence of the 200-odd year domination of resources monopolized by the west as a whole and those consequential environmental concerns we all must bare; together with the crippling debt that has been chained upon the 3rd world. And to disregard the plight of those subjugated nations in the obvious face of our environmental misdeeds simply because it might be easier to effect efficiencies in the 1st world while the subjugation continues is incredibly bloodyminded, high and mighty, master knows best anachronistic frippery. We are smart enough now to know what the effects are. And I think we are smart enough to see tha t instead of relying on the blatantly selfserving industrial megawanderings to meet society's needs, we have to refashion thought at the top level and draft realistic legislation that actually provides incentives for people to walk instead of driving, to build smaller houses, to make do (still in a comfortable way) with less consumerables -- to do all those things we all know but won't adopt because industry lags behind reality.
And we have to write-off the debt because it IS owed.
OK russellwvong, it is admittedly complex and there's a bunch of things that come into it in terms of personal incentives and the like. The main reason 3rd world debt is being tied to global warming strategies is because this is the only way on a cause and effect, international, primemisterial, presidential way, that the playing field can be levelled. (and because Blair virtually put it there by his spoken priorities) It can be explained - we fucked up and we are still fucking up and the losers from the fuckup can't even supply a modest number of their citizenry with electricity. I better stop...been struggling here for a bit. This stuff is complex and the links may well be tenuous, but it's no reason to deny realities or blatantly ignore varying levels of compromise.
posted by peacay at 8:38 PM on May 13, 2005

Very, very good post about the whole situation as it is.
The thing that really rang home for me was an article some time ago (can't reference, too many double martinis on a Friday night) about how the whole planet is really just an organism, many-celled but essentially one, composed of first-world, second-world and third-world as well as all the birds and the bees and everything in between and how it reacts to a stimulus, whether good or bad. In the case of bad, like an anti-cancer cell in a human body fighting off the bad. The bad in this case being Al-Quaida and their followers and the American Christian Right and their followers as well as conservative Republicans of any stripe. They can fight all they want, destroy all they want, but inimitably they will lose and lose badly and worse than they ever expected they could lose because the organism overall, whether it be Gia or Earth or United Earth or The United Nations will triumph eventually. It will triumph because any and every being, cognizant or not, liberal or republican, will ultimately realize the truth that is writ for us all throughout eternity and it is not to live as slaves sucking up to a corporatist teat that takes more than it gives.
It is ultimately about all of us, throughout creation and throughout history. And history is the ultimate judge in all of this. History has always, always judged against those who argue for stagnation, maintaining the 'status quo', against advancement. Living history has always decided against conservatives and their ilk and always will. They have no chance and never did.
posted by mk1gti at 10:05 PM on May 13, 2005

mk1gti...while I don't subscribe necessarily to much of what you've written, two things you mention are worth touching upon. Firstly, I've tried/hoped by having such a broad posting that the usual bitchfight that develops around individual topics on the perennial republican/democrat merry-go-round could be sidestepped, because the polarity of American politics these days seems to me as an outsider to merely get in the way of having a considered discussion. It's not beside the point but it is an obstacle to engaging debate. Unlikely as it may be as an outcome here, it hasn't so far plunged to the normal depths of ranting and venomous attack with blood on the floor.

Secondly, your "takes more than it gives" echoes the opening argument in the Simms New Statesman piece about 'misery' simply being the state where we spend (consume) more than we have. Perhaps it is a slightly utopian over reach to equate our western ecological debt with 3rd world IMF debt but those that will otherwise attempt to dissect these components apart and forge more simplistic frames of reference for argument, risk not accounting for all the contributions to the world's balance sheet. That's as much why both western eco/3rd world monetary debt deserve to be considered together. That, and the looming G8 summit in Scotland in July are sufficient justifications in my humble assessment. and it's peacay, not peachy - just sayin'... Would it were that articulation skills of Washingtonian proportions were within my own sinning bag of attributes. *sigh* That was a great, great quote russilvwong.
posted by peacay at 10:44 PM on May 13, 2005

Loved what you wrote peacay, and here's more food for thought. George Washington was quoted but here's someone truer to my heart, and hopefully truer to the hearts of every true American out there as well as every living being the world over:

"I have sworn upon the Altar of GOD eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."- Thomas Jefferson.

I feel sure that when Jefferson wrote those words he wasn't necessarily speaking of human beings in general, but every living being across the face of the earth. I guess only time will tell . . .
posted by mk1gti at 11:11 PM on May 13, 2005

Sneak back -

This post was probably a bit wide in scope particularly as I couldn't be sure about the New Statesman article being accessible. Bummer about that.

At least when an FPP includes 3rd world reparations, global warming, G8 summit and reneging by Brits with skepticism by US AND nanotechnology recommendations for 3rd world health relief, then bloodletting is kept to a minimum from scattergun confusion. TMI > wrath
posted by peacay at 6:33 AM on May 20, 2005

« Older Car dealers' hype beaten by internet facts   |   "Family Values, My Ass!" Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments