Can everyone on earth be rich? Not rich in relative terms - in a world of billionaires, millionaires would feel poor - but in terms of the lifestyle choices that today only the rich enjoy: in particular, in stuff (personal technology), space (low-density living in proximity to nature), and speed (geographic mobility). The world's population is expected to stabilise at around 9bn and then decline.
Can 9bn people enjoy stuff, space and speed?
The austerity school says no. The earth's environment will be devastated if 9bn human beings attempt to enjoy the average standard of living of a middle-class individual - much less a rich person - in Europe, North America or Japan. Not only should the majority of the world's people resign themselves to poverty forever, but rich nations must also revert to simpler lifestyles in order to save the planet.
But the pessimism of the austerity school is unfounded. There may be political or social barriers to achieving a rich world. But there seems to be no insuperable physical or ecological reason why 9bn people should not achieve something like the lifestyle of today's rich, with technology only slightly more advanced than that which we now possess.
July 1, 2004
9 billion people living in harmony with the environment
Michael Lind argues in his article, Worldly Wealth, that a future population of 9 billion can enjoy the lifestyle of today's rich without crippling the environment: