Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Coming Soon - 3-Billion More "Big Mouths" to Feed

The world's middle class is on the verge of a population explosion.   Sorry, Earth.  Of the 7+ billion people on the planet today, about 1.8-billion are considered middle-class or make that consumer class.  By 2030 that sub-2 billion is expected to burgeon to just under 5-billion strong, churning away on their computers to order crap from Amazon.

Middle-class consumers will increase to 4.8 billion by 2030 and 95 per cent of them will be from developing countries, said United Kingdom Foreign Secretary's special representative on climate change, Prof Sir David King.

He said, currently the world has 1.8 billion middle-class consumers and that three billion more were expected by 2030.

"Ninety per cent of that growth will be from the Asia-Pacific region as cities in the developing world face the steepest challenge," King said at the Low Carbon Cities (Opportunities and Challenges) forum held at British High Commissioner Simon Featherstone's residence in the capital, Monday.

King said due to the increasing middle class consumers, several challenges included the fact that 95 per cent of food production was highly dependent on oil, 80 per cent of the world's population live in areas with high threat to water security.

He said 60 per cent of the world's ecosystem was already either degraded or unsustainably used and 11 per cent of remaining natural areas could be lost by 2050.

"Based on climate change such as rising sea levels and temperatures, it is clear we must radically change our behaviour soon," he said.

Could this really happen?  Could the planet stand up under the weight of five billion mega-consumers?  Can we do this without triggering collapse?  The answer is pretty obviously, "no." 

Around the world we're  running a huge ecological deficit.  We're already consuming renewable resources - mainly water and biomass - at 1.5 times our planet's replenishment rates.  The evidence is inescapable from rivers that no longer flow to the sea, aquifers so severely drained it can be measured by satellites, the collapse of global fisheries, deforestation and desertification, plus air, soil and water contamination of all forms. 

And then there's this crushing reality - world population density.

Ninety per cent of this massive, new middle class growth is expected to come from the Asia Pacific region which already struggles under the highest population density on the planet.  That's also the region tagged to be hardest hit by climate change.  Can anybody say "street scene from Blade Runner"? 

To try to put this in perspective, a study came out several years ago that examined America's 100-million post-war population increase.  It concluded that those 100-million, by virtue of their formidable middle class footprint, were the equivalent of a billion Indians.   So this report claims we're going to be adding not just a hundred million but three billion new mega-consumers. 

Here's something else to bear in mind.   In a world running out of stuff, especially renewable resources essential to production of goods and services, this new 3-billion will be looking for a bigger share of what you probably already consider your pie.  There's only so much stuff to go around and you're going to have to give up some of your stuff so that they can have their share.  Don't worry, the market will see to it if we haven't already gone for our guns by then.

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