Oh Dear Jared, Oh Dear.

I\’m afraid that Jared Diamond has got things terribly, fatally, wrong here. Well, fatally for his argument, at least.

Per capita consumption rates in China are still about 11 times below ours, but let’s suppose they rise to our level. Let’s also make things easy by imagining that nothing else happens … China’s catching up alone would roughly double world consumption rates. Oil consumption would increase by 106 percent, for instance, and world metal consumption by 94 percent.

If India as well as China were to catch up, world consumption rates would triple. If the whole developing world were suddenly to catch up, world rates would increase elevenfold. It would be as if the world population ballooned to 72 billion people (retaining present consumption rates).

Some optimists claim that we could support a world with nine billion people. But I haven’t met anyone crazy enough to claim that we could support 72 billion. Yet we often promise developing countries that if they will only adopt good policies — for example, institute honest government and a free-market economy — they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people.

The problem with this argument is that there really are people crazy enough to insist that we can support 72 billion people. But you may not think that they are total lunatics, for they are the IPCC. Yes, the International Panel on Climate Change does indeed think that we can support 7 billion (their prediction in the A1 family) all of whom have a living standard equal to (at least on average) that of a US citizen in 2000. Seriously, look it up here at the SRES. Using the same construction as Diamond, those 7 billion living high on the hog in 2100 are the same as the 72 billion he talks about.

So far from not having met anyone crazy enough to think this is possible, Diamond needs to realise that everyone worried about climate change believes that very thing. For the models being used to predict future CO2 emissions have, at their heart, this very assumption. That living standards will continue to improve, that there will be convergence in living standards and that that convergence will be upwards, not down.

Now I don\’t mind if Diamond wants to insist that this is not possible. That\’s up to him. But if he does want to then he\’s also got to revise his view of climate change, because that is based not on the idea that this increase in wealth is impossible, but that it is certain.

One or the other, not both.

2 thoughts on “Oh Dear Jared, Oh Dear.”

  1. Tim,

    Diamond points out that living standards are *not* tightly coupled to consumption rates. The IPCC does not predict that 7 billion can thrive at the consumption rates of the current US. Please read the stuff you quote before drawing obviously false conclusions from it.

    Tim adds: The IPCC most certainly does state that 7 billion can thrive at an average GDP per capita higher then current. His living standards not tightly linked to consumption is as you say, true, but he’s making the argument that Europe is richer than the US in non GDP ways. Which isn’t what the IPCC is saying at all. The A1 family is looking specifically at wealth as measured by GDP.

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