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For almost as long as I can remember we have been saying that the United States, with 5 percent of the world's people, consumes a third or more of the earth's resources. That was true. It is no longer true. Today China consumes more basic resources than the United States does.

Among the key commodities such as grain, meat, oil, coal, and steel, China consumes more of each than the United States except for oil, where the United States still has a wide (though narrowing) lead. China uses a quarter more grain than the United States. Its meat consumption is double that of the United States. It uses three times as much coal and four times as much steel.

These numbers reflect national consumption, but what would happen if consumption per person in China were to catch up to that of the United States? If we assume conservatively that China's economy slows from the 11 percent annual growth of recent years to 8 percent, then in 2035 income per person in China will reach the current U.S. level.

If we also assume that the Chinese will spend their income more or less as Americans do today, then we can translate their income into consumption. If, for example, each person in China consumes paper at the current American rate, then in 2035 China's 1.38 billion people will use four fifths as much paper as is produced worldwide today. There go the world's forests.

If Chinese grain consumption per person in 2035 were to equal the current U.S. level, China would need 1.5 billion tons of grain, nearly 70 percent of the 2.2 billion tons the world's farmers now harvest each year.

If we assume that in 2035 there are three cars for every four people in China, as there now are in the United States, China will have 1.1 billion cars. The entire world currently has just over one billion. To provide the needed roads, highways, and parking lots, China would have to pave an area equivalent to more than two thirds the land it currently has in rice.

By 2035 China would need 85 million barrels of oil a day. The world is currently producing 86 million barrels a day and may never produce much more than that. There go the world's oil reserves.

What China is teaching us is that the western economic model—the fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy—will not work for the world. If it does not work for China, it will not work for India, which by 2035 is projected to have an even larger population than China. Nor will it work for the other 3 billion people in developing countries who are also dreaming the "American dream." And in an increasingly integrated global economy, where we all depend on the same grain, oil, and steel, the western economic model will no longer work for the industrial countries either.

The overriding challenge for our generation is to build a new economy—one that is powered largely by renewable sources of energy, that has a much more diversified transport system, and that reuses and recycles everything. We have the technology to build this new economy, an economy that will allow us to sustain economic progress. But can we muster the political will to translate this potential into reality?

Source: http://www.just-international.org/, Sep-16-2011  
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Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Dec-15-2011)   Web site
I am not an expert on China, but I follow various stories in good sources. It seems that they are trying to plan for sustainability, but the jury is out whether they can really do it. It appears like trying to turn the Titanic, but with a few minutes of earlier warning than the real Titanic had. The end result is not yet known.
  
Comment by: City Worker (Nov-13-2011)   

I take it back. Only parts of China are self-sufficient. And while I'm at it......they do some negative things we don't, like kill off exotic, rare animals like some rare tigers for what I consider ridiculous totally ineffective remedies.
  
Comment by: City Worker (Oct-28-2011)   

There's a great DVD, by the BBC, "Wild China", that shows how the Chinese use everything..... nothing goes to waste. It says they're self-sufficient in spite of their being the most populous country in the world.

  
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About author/contributor Member: ScottCarlin (Scott Carlin) ScottCarlin (Scott Carlin)

Member: ScottCarlin (Scott Carlin) I have been teaching Geography and Environmental Studies at Long Island University since 1993. I taught at LIU’s Southampton College and, more recently, the C.W. Post Campus. Most of my activities at LIU have related to sustainable development. In 2007 I initiated the Long Island Climate Solutions Network, http://www.licsn.org.

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