The world is wallowing in something called affluenza apparently. What you and I might call that hugely welcome climb up out of the absolute poverty which has historically afflicted the human race is instead the rapine of the planet in pursuit of trivial desires, transient pleasures.
Hmm, well, OK, possibly so. However, we do rather insist that any such analysis needs to make some connection with the observable reality outside the windows of those ivory towers. We might even be something appalling, right wing even, to so insist but there we are, we do.
Which gives us this headscratcher:
It is physically impossible for the production of stuff to grow exponentially for another thousand years. It’s probably impossible for it to grow exponentially for another hundred. And if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, the trajectory of human consumption will need to change radically in the coming decade. It’s not complicated. Everyone knows that we need to change direction; the debate is about the timing.
Consider the following. Billions of tonnes of food are thrown away each year because fruit has spots on it, because leafy vegetables show signs of snails, or because producers put misleading “best before” dates on their packaging. Billions of tonnes of oil are transformed into plastic bottles, which, while lasting for thousands of years, are intended to be used once and then thrown away.
We do agree, entirely, with the idea that infinite physical expansion in a finite physical space is not possible. However, we also prepared an entire little book on the subject of how pressing those limits were.
Which leads us to a little consternation at the idea that billions of tonnes of oil are transformed into plastic bottles. For we cannot work out how anyone could possibly believe that.
Not that these figures are accurate but they'll do. Global oil consumption is of the order of 100 million barrels a day, 35 billion barrels a year. Some, -ish, 5 billion tonnes a year. Billions in the claim we take to be two or more. And we're really very certain indeed that 20% or more of global oil consumption does not go into making plastic bottles for water.
One closer, but still hugely exaggerated (it is a measure of the production and transport of bottled water, not the making of the bottles), claim is one third of one percent of US energy usage. The equivalent, even including the energy costs of the entire system, of something more like 35 million barrels for that country. The feedstock for the bottles tends not to come from oil anyway, 85% of it from the bits of natural gas that can't be shoved down the pipelines, the other 15% from the detritus of oil refining that we can't put into cars and planes.
That initial claim is therefore nonsense. The very best we could say about it is that they've missed three zeros on their numbers and being out by three orders of magnitude really doesn't inspire confidence. A slightly less charitable reading would be that they've simply no idea of the subject under discussion. Or possibly just have no general idea of the size of the world and the quantities in it.
Very much more importantly though if they're going to get simple things like this wrong then what of the more complex parts of their analysis? Like the existence of this affluenza thing in the first place?