I’ve been reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman recently and my prediction based in part on information gleaned from his book is the depletion of the oxone layer and global warming is just one of many problems the world is going to face in the next couple of decades. I expect much sooner than melting of the polar ice cap leads to all the lowlands of the earth flooding we are going to face huge blows to our lifestyles based on the incredibly rapid rise in consumption by the expanding middle class in rapidly developing countries. Here are a few facts from the book to consider:
- Although the population of the world is expected to grow by 1 billion people in the 12 years from 2008 to 2020 the middle class population is expected to grow by 1.8 billion people.
- The average American consumes 32 times as much in raw materials as the average citizen of an underdeveloped nation. For every rural Chinese or India farmer who moves to the city and rises to middle class status, and consumes like an American, the consumption of the world increases dramatically. In the last 30 years 200 million people in just India and China have emerged from poverty and joined the middle class. There are hundreds of millions more right behind them.
- Since the fall of the Iron Curtain the number of automobiles in Moscow has increased from about 30,000 to over 3,000,000. This is a 100 fold increase, and Russia, a traditionally large exporter of petroleum products is going to be consuming a lot more of their own fuel.
- Between 2000 and 2006 the number of Chinese tourists traveling abroad increased by 300%. Just the airplane travel, hotel use and gasoline use related to this travel is huge.
I’m writing about this on a health blog because there are certain to be huge health care consequences of this vast increase in the size of the world’s middle class. As the costs of fuel, food and raw material go up, the cost of maintaining a U. S. lifestyle is bound to increase. This is likely in the short term to lead to financial, emotional, and cultural stresses. That is likely to lead to pressure on our already strained mental health resources.
The effects on our environment of the rise in consumerism of the rapidly growing middle class are going to have health consequences also. Everything from increased carbon dioxide emissions, pollution related health issues, clean water shortages, and food distribution costs are going to have health consequences. I’m neither an economist nor an urban planner, but I predict that much sooner than the lowlands of California are swamped by rising water levels from global warming, Americans are going to face major lifestyle changes based on the economics of raw materials, energy costs, and political unrest in the developing world related to shortages in everything that it takes more money to buy.
On the one hand it’s exciting and encouraging to see vast numbers of people around the world beginning to rise from poverty and destitution into a middle class existence. Still the consequences of this are inevitably going to be increased consumption, and this is going to lead to unexpected and unintended consequences.
All in all I recommend Hot, Flat, and Crowded to our national leaders, urban planners, and health care gurus. I expect we will be facing the issues addressed in this book sooner rather than later.