In the land of milk and honey

What an era we live in, especially those of us who inhabit the prosperous regions of the world. We heat and cool our homes with the flick of a switch. We amuse and educate ourselves through the inlimited information that comes to us via a screen. We drive in cars or are taken on all forms of transport to places all over the world. We use machines to abolish menial work in the home. Even though, according to figures released by Oxfam, 2018 saw a fall of 11% in the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population, the number of people who continue to survive in extreme poverty has fallen (to about 10.7% of the world’s population in 2013 when the figure in 1980 was about 42%). The fall in extreme poverty has been attributed to industrialisation and rising productivity. Improved global health and education have also contributed to the rise in improved material living conditions. Improved access to clean water has helped to stimulate economic growth. Many of the extreme poor lived in China and India but the fast growing economies of these countries have contributed to the fall in global poverty. The world’s economy is still growing and is projected to lift more people out of poverty.

So a growing global economy is a good thing for the inhabitants of this earth?

Consider the washing machine. It has eliminated a great deal of the drudgery involved in washing clothes that controlled women’s lives. Surely women all over the world have a right to the freeing up of time that a washing machine bestows? As Chinese families buy more white goods in order to increase their level of comfort to match that of the West, per capita energy consumption is rising above the global average. For many families in China the purchase of a washing machine has been a recent event. Their consumption of energy is still below that of countries such as the US. For families in the US it is an established practice to use hot water in the washing machine and dry clothes in clothes dryers wheras in China families tend to use cold water and to hang their washing out to dry, currently, that is.

The world is experiencing rising energy consumption, an increase of 2.3% in 2018, fuelled by increased global population and large-scale economic development. There was an increase in the consumption of fossil fuels; in natural gas consumption and in coal-fired electricity generation in 2018. CO2 emissions rose to an all time high in 2018, 37.1 tonnes. All countries contributed to this rise due to more cars on the road and a renaissance in the mining of coal.

So, globally, are we all entitled to an increase in our standard of living? Should there be a ceiling? Should we who live in the wealthy countries of the world cut back on our consumption and welcome those who live in poverty to improve the quality of their lives? “Given that economic growth, in nations that are already rich enough to meet the needs of all, requires an increase in pointless consumption, it is hard to see how it can ever be decoupled from the assault on the living planet.” George Monbiot, Guardian 26, Sept, 2018.

For conservatives such Boris Johnson and Margaret Thatcher it is technology and the private market economy that will solve the problem of climate change. But is it economic growth and consumerism that are the factors that will push energy consumption over the tipping point?

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