“It is true that countries like Kenya and Pakistan and some other developing countries have high population growth rates. And that is a real tragedy for Kenya and Pakistan, which are trying to improve their lot but are getting overwhelmed with more people to feed,” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond told Living on Earth
host Bruce Gellerman in a recent interview. “But it’s not a tragedy for the rest of the world because those people in rapidly growing third world countries don’t consume very much. The real tragedy for the world is the growth rate of population and consumption in the first world.” Diamond’s comments echoed points he made in a January 2008 New York Times
op-ed, in which he argued that total consumption
, not total population, is the real threat to Earth’s dwindling natural resources.
Diamond believes we should focus on reducing consumption rates in affluent societies, where the average person consumes 32 times more resources than the average person in a developing country. “Whether we get there willingly or not, we shall soon have lower consumption rates [in the United States and other developed countries], because our present rates are unsustainable. Real sacrifice wouldn’t be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates,” wrote Diamond. “Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher.”
Diamond also struck an optimistic tone in “Environment, Population, and Health: Strategies for a More Secure World,” an article in Environmental Change and Security Program Report 10: “Every one of our problems—deforestation, overfishing, water scarcity, and toxic waste—is of our own making. Therefore, we can choose to stop causing them.”