Monday, August 27, 2012

Can You See Where This is Headed?

Apparently the world is on the cusp of the "Consumption Revolution."

The developing economies are surging, opening up what could be a $30-trillion a year demand for, well, stuff - stuff that affluent consumers sometimes buy.

A report by McKinsey’s business and economics research arm, McKinsey Global Institute, calls it “the biggest growth opportunity in the history of capitalism.”

“We think it’s bigger than when the plow was introduced,” report co-author and MGI director Richard Dobbs said. “And this is a thousand times the size of what happened with the British Industrial Revolution.”

Allow me to, politely, call "bullshit" on this story at this point.   For starters, to feed this sort of demand for products, will require a lot more resources than the Earth can provide and vastly more energy than our civilization can burn if we're to have a snowball's chance in hell of seeing this century out without a major war.

Consumer goods production inevitably demands two things - cheap fossil fuel energy and vast amounts of virtually free water - in addition to labour, plant and materials.   And, of course, all those consumers and the lesser folk who make the stuff they consume need food, shelter and the other necessaries of life, a lot of those things also in limited supply.

When it comes to food and water, emerging economies are staring at a massive wall.   Global warming has already broken the hydrological cycle that used to bring predictable, measured and sustained precipitation essential for agriculture, replacing that with regional droughts, floods or, in some cases, cyclical drought and floods.   It's gotten to the point that leading water science types are warning that, within the next forty years, mankind is going to have to go vegetarian if we're to feed the population predicted for 2050.

Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to research by some of the world's leading water scientists.

"There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected 9 billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations," the report by Malik Falkenmark and colleagues at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) said.

"There will be just enough water if the proportion of animal-based foods is limited to 5% of total calories and considerable regional water deficits can be met by a … reliable system of food trade."

As the Global Footprint Network announced recently, Earth Overshoot Day, the date each year on which mankind exhausts a full year's supply of renewable resources, arrived on August 22nd.   Just six years ago that didn't arrive until October 9th.   The Consumption Revolution being forecast by the McKinsey business consultancy will propel Overshoot into overdrive.

Here's something else McKinsey has overlooked.   Of the BRIC countries, Brazil alone has the instruments of governance to wrestle with this transition.   China doesn't, India doesn't, even Russia doesn't.   How will they cope with the social and political dimensions of evolving into First World consumer societies?    Good luck with that and pass the poi.

1 comment:

Claudio Timbers said...

all those consumers and the lesser folk who make the stuff they consume need food, shelter and the other necessaries of life, a lot of those things also in limited supply. Spices