17.1.15

THE DOWNSIDE OF BROADLY SHARED PROSPERITY?

I'm deliberately using an expression popular on the left to note a new outburst of sectarianism on the left.
The conclusion that the world's dominant economic model—a globalized form of neoliberal capitalism, largely based on international trade and fueled by extracting and consuming natural resources—is the driving force behind planetary destruction will not come as a shock, but the model's detailed description of how this has worked since the middle of the 20th century makes a more substantial case than many previous attempts.
Some days its tough to be trendy and radical. The 1950s went from an era of Babbitry (the immediate perception) to an era of less inequality and union contracts generating middle class incomes (a more recent perception) to capitalism sowing the greenhouse gases of the planet's destruction.  And globalization -- the Perpetually Aggrieved are troubled more by the losses of purchasing power in the Rust Belt than they are by the emergence of two or three United States's worth of middle classes elsewhere -- is now a contribution to that destruction.
A worrying trend, notes the paper, is how a growing global middle class—exemplified by those in the BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—is an increasing threat to the planet as the consumer mindset established in the OECD nations, particularly the U.S., spreads.
Reason's Ronald Bailey proposes that people contemplate a trade-off. "Is the energy and climate debate really an argument about morality, pitting those whose standard is a flourishing humanity against those whose standard is a burgeoning natural world?"  Perhaps, or perhaps it's the Perpetually Aggrieved, making yet another "see that big house, see all those little houses" assertion.
Before the Industrial Revolution, human societies were mainly powered by human muscles. The average person burns 2,000 calories per day. A gallon of gasoline contains 31,000 calories, the amount energy a human body burns in 15 days. The machines that Americans use every day to power their homes, commute, work, and play, consume about 186,000 calories per person—the equivalent of 93 human servants consuming 2,000 calories daily.
Here's one calculation (I have not reviewed the model or studied the footnotes) of the effects of continued fossil energy use in the presence of anthropogenic warming.
Without climate change, people in 2100 would supposedly be 10 times richer. It is really more just for people today with global average per capita incomes of $10,000 to sacrifice so that people living in 2100 will have average incomes of $100,000 instead of only $80,000?
Or for people, worldwide, to go cold turkey on fossil fuels, and return to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when knighthood was in flower and life, even for the titled nobility, was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short?

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