As the American middle class is shrinking and lower socio-economic classes are expanding, why would the Christian Science Monitor dedicate a special section to “The Rise of the Global Middle Class” in its May 23, 2011 issue? First, just because American government and industry (some industries, that is) have allowed our country to be driven to its knees, doesn’t mean that the rest of the world – developing nations in particular – are anxiously following suit; at least not yet.
ExxonMobil expects the demand for energy by developing countries to increase by 70 percent (http://www.exxonmobil.com/corporate/files/news_pub_eo_2010.pdf), by 2030. It sees global demand in 2030 about 35 percent higher than it was in 2005. This is due to two causes: increase in population and most of that increase coming in an expanding middle class.
China is now the number one car market in the world. Rio de Janeiro’s car population has grown 40 percent in the last decade. Here are some other interesting facts. Air travel in India is mushrooming at double digit rates. Air cargo is likely to keep pace with growing middle classes.
But will these growing middle classes become throwaway societies like ours? We toss away electronics, lumber products, toxic waste and even energy (don’t forget to turn off your computer before you go to . . . . bed, work, breakfast, dinner, watch TV, other). We have come across a variety of estimates about how much energy Americans waste. The variance is due mostly to how one defines waste. But don’t be surprised to learn that half of our energy is wasted unnecessarily. Overuse of air conditioning, energy for lighting that primarily goes to heat production, not turning off appliances and computers, “vampire” appliances that consume electricity even when they are off. We have seven clocks going in our home that can’t be turned off, including the range, microwave oven and telephones. Come on, our gas stove needs a clock?)
Add to that the amount of energy we waste due to a lack of, or unwillingness to use, mass transit. In spite of the economic mess our nation is in, we are still an obscenely wealthy society overall. But the shame is that we are losing our place as a leader in many fields including population policy, environmentalism, energy efficiency, and waste control.
We seem to be standing on the sidelines as China takes the lead in wind and solar power development and electric car research. India, while wrought with population problems, gets one third of its energy from renewable resources. And while it’s likely that due to their mushrooming middle classes these two countries will have more severe environmental and energy problems than the United States, it’s still the U.S. that uses a quarter of the world’s energy.
Regrettably, unless we humans ratchet up energy efficiency big time, all the efficiencies we are now implementing won’t be enough to overcome the expanding populations, especially those of the middle classes.
Add to that the amount of waste we produce – human, animal, industrial and consumer – and ever-diminishing water supply per person, and we’re in for a world of hurt.
America should step up to its responsibility as a world leader by taking the lead in convincing the global community that there is Enough of Us. And the first step in that endeavor is our society setting an example by convincing itself to think twice before making children.