Madeleine Bunting discusses the assertions of Chandran Nair, who argues that the world’s poor (specifically those in Asia) should never attempt to attain Western living standards because the result would be environmentally infeasible:
“If Asia continues like the west, the game is over; as people in Asia get richer, they eat further up the food chain. If 500 million Chinese want to eat just one seafood meal a week, it will empty all the seas of Asia. If Asians ate as much chicken as Americans, by 2050 that would amount to 120 billion birds a year instead of today’s 16 billion. To aspire to the western model in Asia is a deadly lie.
Here are some thoughts:
- I am solidly with Han Rosling on this one when he says that we really aren’t in any position to start telling people what their per-capita carbon usage should be until they are our peers (either because they are now as rich as we are, or because we’ve reduced our own consumption to match theirs).
- Nair’s beliefs strike me as being extremely Malthusian in their assumptions (which characterizes the climate change lobby in general) – these arguments typically read as follows “X million people use Y resources now, so of course Z*X million people are going to use Z*Y resources.” Such arguments ignore huge unknowns about how future technological progress will affect consumption. It’s highly unlikely that by the time billions of Asians are able afford their own iPhone 24 that the environmental impact of that iPhone will be as great as it is now.
- The environmental lobby groups have (to my meager knowledge, readers feel free to challenge this) failed to demonstrate that even `normal’ carbon-intensive growth is a bad deal for the average poor person. Most of the areas of the world we expect to see hit hardest by climate change are those which are growing very little, or not at all. Climate change is an externality problem – we have lots of countries not considering the full cost of carbon-led growth. However, we’ve never considered the possibility that, even if we manage to create a system that forces Asian countries to fully internalize that cost, that it still might still make sense for them to choose to grow, grow, grow.
- Nair’s arguments that we need might need benevolent autocracies to counteract a consumption-led model makes me feel even more secure using the Soup Nazi for today’s photo.
- Your thoughts are, as always, extremely welcome.